What could top interviewing Marilyn Manson, the Rolling Stones and the Spice Girls? “Making a real difference,” according to Avi Lewis (BA 1988 UC), former MuchMusic personality and the brashly opinionated host and a producer of CBC Newsworld’s counterSpin.
For the past three years, the 34-year-old has challenged some of Canada’s top thinkers to debate the burning issues of the day. It’s a kind of thinking person’s question period. “We’re in the midst of an intense debate drought in Canada,” says Lewis, who will take a hiatus from broadcasting next year. “Part of being a good politician now, in opposition or government, is that you only venture into debates if you’ve framed and won the argument beforehand.”
Not so on counterSpin, where the live audience takes up the heated debate in the studio. And the viewers at home? Says Lewis: “We’re in counterSpin nirvana when people start yelling at the TV.”
A member of Canada’s leading socialist family (father Stephen led the provincial New Democrats, grandfather David the federal, and mother Michele Landsberg and wife Naomi Klein are left-leaning authors and journalists), Lewis has become a gadfly in his own right. “I grew up in a generation that was told it was cynical and disengaged,” he says. “Now the people who are effectively challenging the political process are outside the political process.” – Margaret Webb
The host of CBC Radio’s Definitely Not The Opera (DNTO), Nora Young (BA 1986 UC), is definitely not a diva. Each Saturday afternoon, her four-hour show takes its half-million listeners on a road trip across pop culture – spinning tunes, yakking about books and film and veering off to explore the soft shoulders of digital culture.
While DNTO investigates both mainstream culture-makers and scrappy independents, Young, 37, prefers paths less travelled. “Digital technology has made it easier for small players to get books, CDs and films out there,” she says. “I have a do-it-yourself spirit, so I like to bring attention to artists doing things that don’t have big budgets.”
Young, in her seventh year hosting, began to feed her journalistic curiosity during her student days as theatre critic of The Newspaper, but her interest in technology and culture was sparked in a political economy course, studying the impact of computers on the economy.
“It was like a light going on,” says Young. “[Computers] define the economy of our age and shape how we relate to each other. There are tangible benefits to being able to communicate with people all over the world, but technology is making our relationships shallower and more use-oriented.” – Margaret Webb
Ruby Bhatia sits in the living room of a Bombay designer, sipping a mango drink and smiling the smile that is beamed daily into millions of Indian households. She is here to pick up the dress that she will wear to host the Bollywood Music Awards in New York. As co-host of Good Morning India, a lifestyle show that airs across India weekday mornings, Bhatia is famous. Really famous.
At 18, she came to the university as a part-time philosophy student at U of T at Scarborough. When she was 19, she won the Miss India-Canada pageant and the grand prize of a ticket to Bombay. “Of course, India’s rich spiritual and philosophical heritage attracted me,” says Bhatia. However, her pragmatic goal, when she flew there in 1994, was to line up a job in the city’s huge film and entertainment industry.
Bhatia soon landed a contract with Channel V, a music television station, and quickly became India’s sweetheart. She hosted such programs as the Kinetic Mega Show, where she interviewed India’s best-loved stars. Her move last year to Good Morning India is a career shift to a more serious gear at the age of 27. Although the show is light – features include where to find good food at Goan resorts – it’s a big change from her days as a veejay.
Bhatia’s studies have not been forgotten. She plans to complete her philosophy degree at the University of Bombay this year. “I don’t want to be a star all the time,” she says. “Studying brings me down to earth.” – Sarah Elton
A U of T lab is working with actors, writers and directors on how they could harness AI and other emerging technologies to generate new ideas and – just maybe – reinvent theatre