Living the Dream.

The complainant, Lloyd Mildon, thought the use of the phrase “living the dream” in relation to the Green Party in an election night broadcast was sarcastic and an editorial comment on the party’s results. Host Andrew Chang used it in relation to the fact that the party could hold the balance of power. The idiom can be used literally and ironically. I found in this case it was used in good faith.

COMPLAINT

You thought Andrew Chang made a “sarcastic and unhelpful remark” when talking about the B.C. Green Party during the provincial election night broadcast. He said the Greens were “living the dream” which you took to be a reference to the low number of seats they had won. You said it “appeared to mock and disparage the results of the Green Party.” You stated that the common use of this phrase is negative and sarcastic, and that is how Mr. Chang intended it:

In common English usage the phrase "living the dream" is rhetorical and sarcastic. It's commonly used when it is quite obvious things are NOT going well. If one were to speak to someone in a bad situation or working in an undesirable job, and you were to ask that person "How are you doing?" a common answer may be "Livin' the dream, Buddy. Livin' the dream."

You thought Mr. Chang was editorializing, which is unacceptable:

There is no place in the dissemination of that news for editorial comment, or the appearance of editorial judgment. That's my job. And I believe Mr. Chang crossed that line, and did inject an editorial comment. Or, even if he did not cross that line, he appeared to cross it, which is pretty much the same thing.

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

Wayne Williams, the news director for CBC News in British Columbia, responded to your concerns.

He told you that Mr. Chang did not intend to be sarcastic about his reference to the Green Party. He explained that there was a context for using that phrase as the election night results unfolded:

One of the big stories of the night was the Green Party. It increased its popular vote significantly and is now just one seat short of reaching official party status. Perhaps even more interesting that evening was the possibility of the Greens holding the balance of power as the NDP and Liberal remained within a seat or two of one another. Going from a single seat to holding the balance of power and having potentially significant influence in a minority government is, "living the dream." That isn't sarcasm. It's a reality and a fair comment.

He said that putting Mr. Chang’s remarks in this context indicates that he was not using the phrase in a sarcastic or demeaning way.

REVIEW

I agree with Mr. Williams that the remark should be taken in context. For the preceding 15 minutes of so, the narrative that Mr. Chang and his studio panelists were pursuing was the fortunes of the Green Party in the context of the overall results - it appeared that the party might very well hold the balance of power, and they had increased their seat count. Mr. Chang used the term dream more than once, and he did it in conjunction with an explanation that if they managed to reach four seats, they would have party status. A little later he turned to one of the panelists and said:

Look at the bottom of your screen right now, the Greens leading or elected in three ridings. We can tell you that that third riding is Cowichan Valley, where if the Greens were going to make inroads beyond two seats, that’s probably where it would happen. Sonia Fursteneau, the Green candidate in the riding. And I suppose Kevin, this is the Green’s dream come true right now - to be leading or elected in three ridings but more importantly to potentially hold the balance of power if neither of the other two parties make a majority.

The second reference, the one you found so objectionable, came about 4 minutes later after a recap of the seat count at that time. He said:

You look at the ridings at the bottom of your screen, I don’t know what more there is to say. The Liberals leading or elected in 42. The NDP tied, 42, and the Greens living out the dream with three seats to their name, the way things stand right now.

I understand the term living the dream can be taken sarcastically, but it is also used literally. One reference I found summed it up best I think:

Leading an ideal life, especially in relation to one’s career (sometimes said ironically to mean the opposite.)

This was a live broadcast. Mr. Chang was highlighting the change in the Greens’ fortunes in what appears to be a positive light in several spots in the programme. I accept that you heard it as sarcastic, and I suppose that is the danger of using an idiom that has more than one meaning. I did not take it in that sense after repeated viewings. All the discussion leading up to this reference was that the Greens were in a position of power to influence who would form the next government. Having reviewed a segment of the broadcast and heard the phrase in context, I do not find a violation of CBC policy.

Sincerely,

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman