Everything can’t be a popularity contest

Russell
Russell Wangersky
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I was delighted when Sherman Downey and the Ambiguous Case, a band from Corner Brook, won the CBC Searchlight competition for Canada’s best new band. I like the band’s music, and they are an engaging bunch — and on top of that, the song that they had in the competition was better than each of the songs it came up against.

I was less than delighted about the process of the competition, especially as the contest reached its last few competitors and local CBC anchors began explaining, on air, how you could vote multiple times for Downey, as long as you were careful to vote from a series of different computers and electronic devices. Every device, it seems, gets its own vote.

Now, you can argue that explaining that to radio listeners was simply an effort at levelling the playing field — everyone else voting for every other band could also vote multiple times, using the same system. That being said, I found it a little discomforting to find myself being told, essentially, how to cheat the system to help someone win a contest.

After all, the CBC itself had set the system up in an effort to keep people from simply sitting at their terminals, clicking “vote” over and over again, with the idea being “one person, one vote per day.”

Finding an end run around that, even in a small way, seemed like an unfair advantage.

That’s because the reasons for voting go far beyond making the best choice. Sometimes, people in this province are urged to go out — in a variety of online competitions — to vote for a certain finalist solely because that finalist happens to be from here. Kind of a “help give a neighbour a leg-up.”

In a small province keenly aware of the disparity between it and its bigger neighbours, that kind of call to action can — and does — motivate the population in a way that doesn’t seem to happen in larger provinces, which seem less concerned about waving their own particular flags.

In fact, some of the bigger provinces don’t seem to care if the winner is from their province or not.

It’s become a kind of tradition here, though. After all, even our government rigs online polls, apparently seeing no problem in deliberately projecting an appearance that they’ve created a carefully structured political machine, rather than having any honest wish to know how the public feels.

Networking for votes is fine, I suppose, for some contests; picking possible new superstars through for-profit telephone calls on “American Idol” lets the public have a voice for whatever reason they actually decide to vote, whether it’s a matter of talent or simple geography.

But that networking has a darker side, especially when the effort to rig results extends beyond offering a singer an opportunity and into, say, the dispersal of charitable funds.

More and more charitable foundations are asking the public to “vote” online to pick projects that should be funded. The Aviva Community Fund gave away $1 million to charitable causes last year, describing the process like this: “1) Think of an idea that will have a positive impact in your community. 2) Enter it in the Aviva Community Fund competition. 3) Get everyone you know to vote for it.”

That’s happening with larger funding bodies, too — meaning that, among other things, charitable organizations have to spend valuable time “getting the vote out” in an effort to find funding for valuable projects.

And the simple fact is that a partially informed public, voting with simple clicks of a mouse, is not the best judge of which projects should be funded, where global needs are highest and where there might be clear overlaps.

You shouldn’t have to make one particular brand of suffering the most popular or the sexiest in order to have it addressed.

Almost by definition, the greatest needs are the ones that are the most outside of the public consciousness. They are not everyone’s favourite band.

Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s

editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at rwanger@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: CBC, Aviva Community Fund

Geographic location: Corner Brook, Canada

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Recent comments

  • crista
    May 10, 2013 - 12:52

    Not up set and not nuts like you would suggest???? what is going on that you do not under stand is we know the truths and proof ???? and when some one tries to insult your intelligence it can get disturbing at times????and some one that can not interpret rights from wrong what is it that tells you,that you are nuts and upset,then there has got to be a lot of strange people that seem to know what they are talking about,leave it for you to decide and not being sarcastic like some one would think????

  • crista
    May 08, 2013 - 16:08

    well wrote article,because you have got to be careful how you use your words for what you have wrote and it is a shame your articles and comments and because you speak out and give your opinion they are trying to find out who is saying it so they can act on it or get some one to try and re-direct the chit chat as what some one called chit chat and while here they don't want you to know any thing and you explain it and tell what is right from wrong in your own words and you are ignored do this sound any think like the band you wrote about in your article???? and look at what has gone on and going on???? and what are the concerns of the day(s)???? and what is really being done???? and you were told what that is???? and it still seems like nothing is being done???? only what is being done????

    • david
      May 09, 2013 - 19:09

      You seem upset. And a bit nuts.

  • Herb Morrison
    May 07, 2013 - 19:56

    Just as often, people in greatest need are indeed within the public consciousness. Unfortunately, their need is addressed by a judgementa, finger- pointing segment of society, which seeks to place the responsibility for a person's undesirable situation, squarely on the shoulders of the person, who is a victim of circumstances , which are either beyond their control, or not of their own creationmaking. The resulting stigmatization, and marginalization of the needy is one of the blights on contemporaty Society, and perhaps represennts an attempt by Society to shirk its' responsibility for the well-being of others. Portraying people a something less than human is not an effective manner in which to deal with Social deprivation. What soes it say about the moral fiber of the Society in which we live, when a popular pastime is inflicting hardship on persons who can't defend themselves against the injustices being heaped on them

  • Cyril Rogers
    May 07, 2013 - 15:11

    Indeed, Mr. Wangersky, the fact that the government routinely engages the stacking of votes on topics of discussion, in an effort to sway public opinion...all at taxpayer expense, since their salaries all come from public dollars...suggests that they are not fundamentally sure of their own positions on anything. We elect people to represent us but when that representation is skewed by a small voter turnout, the process is badly flawed and, in my opinion, makes many of their actions and decisions questionable, to say the least. Consider, for example, Muskrat Falls. It is, bar none, the most significant expenditure of public dollars this province has ever seen. Yet, it was denied a full and open public hearing. It was gross hypocrisy as well when they spent close to $500 thousand dollars on a propaganda campaign last fall to extol its virtues prior to a foregone vote in the HOA..... it was pointless, and yet was a blatant example of this government's obsession with optics. Given its sheer financial magnitude, this project should have been put to a referendum, and given a full and public examination, prior to a vote. Anything less was a sham........ and shows their disregard for the people's ability to make an informed decision. Some people willfully refuse engage in a critical examination of such important public expenditures but the vast majority would, in my opinion, want the right to vote, even if they choose to support such a project. We are not peons...yet our governments are increasingly treating us with the greatest of contempt and reducing everything to popularity contests.

  • david
    May 07, 2013 - 12:12

    When it comes to the decisions made by the Newfoundland government, it would be an enormous step forward if it WAS a popularity contest. Whatever this is...a unique "term dictatorship".....hasn't worked for 60 years.