Academic journal article CineAction

Television Discourse and Governmentality: Considering Da Vinci's Inquest and Da Vinci's City Hall as Citizen Projects

Academic journal article CineAction

Television Discourse and Governmentality: Considering Da Vinci's Inquest and Da Vinci's City Hall as Citizen Projects

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION: The Da Vinci Series, Governmentality, and Political Economy

The episode begins with a blurry shot of we do not know what. The shot slowly sharpens to reveal a close up of a woman's feet in high heel platform shoes. It is nighttime and she walks on a glistening wet street, suggesting she might be a prostitute. We hear a car pull up and we watch as she climbs in and is driven away. The shot rack-focuses from close up to long shot to reveal another sex-trade worker further down the road. Although the shot is in colour, the setting, dark atmosphere, and high contrast cinematography all evoke a strong feeling of film noir. we are on the wrong side of the tracks, in seedy territory, immersed in urban decadence. We almost expect to cut to a private eye, to Sam Spade or Mike Hammer on a stake out; or to a sexy but deceitful femme fatale running away from her crime. But instead we cut to the back seat of a limousine where two men debate the merits of a red-light district in Vancouver, Canada. This is no film noir, This is episode three of the first season of Do Vinci's City Hall, entitled "Isn't Very Pretty But You Can Smoke It" (November 6, 2005), and the men in the limo are newly elected mayor Dominic Da Vinci and his assistant Sam Berger. As the scene continues, the two men pull over to the side of the road and exit the limo to meet Paula, the head of the Prostitutes' Association. Mayor Da Vinci then explains to his sceptical companions exactly how he imagines his red-light district will work, how it will be regulated, and how he expects the city police to play a helpful role in his plan--whether they like it or not. In less than five minutes we have shifted from the expectations established by a certain filmic style to something entirely different: governmentality and biopolitics. But this is nothing new for the Da Vinci series.

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The Da Vinci series began in 1998 as Da Vinci's Inquest on Canada's public broadcaster, the CBC, and was produced by the private production company Haddock Entertainment. It aired for seven seasons as Da Vinci's Inquest, for one season as Da Vinci's City Hall, and officially ended on June 14, 2008 as a CBC made-for-television movie called The Quality of Life. In 2002, when the show began its fifth season, it was broadcast in 45 countries worldwide. (1) Until recently repeats aired in Canada on the specialty channel Showcase and currently the first three seasons are available on DVD through Acorn Media, Along with the Degrassi series, the Do Vinci series is one of Canada's most successful television productions; and like the Degrassi series its success seems the result of a direct engagement with real matters of public concern--an engagement so direct that key consultant to the show, Larry Campbell (the inspiration for the Da Vinci character), used the show to run for mayor of Vancouver in 2002 and as mayor initiated controversial harm-reduction policies promoted within the discourse of the show. (2)

This analysis will use a Foucauldian governmental approach that borrows from political economy. A governmental approach is a context-specific approach that analyzes cultural institutions, products, and discourses in terms of tactics and strategies of influence and control where power and knowledge work together to regulate, manage, problematize, and maintain and/or change behaviour and thought. (3) This approach assumes that "discourses structure action, belief and conduct" (4) and it has been applied to both film and television. (5) It also assumes that discourses compete with each other as "wills to knowledge" and "wills to power" in what Foucault calls "truth games." (6) Understood in this way, discourse is both more and less than ideological. That is, this approach understands that tactics and strategies can be resisted, rejected, and contested both by those addressed and by others seeking to address the same audience. As Foucault says, "[t]he power relationship and freedom's refusal to submit cannot . …

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