Category Archives: Media and Society

I’m Thinking I’m Back

OK…

It has been four long years since my last post. I started this blog what seems to be a long time ago for reasons I can’t even remember. Probably more of a thought exercise than anything. But as time went on, it became clear that I just didn’t have the drive or passion to keep posting thoughts or articles or photos or anything, really, on a daily basis.

The Tide Is Shifting

The more I read, the more I wade through the awful mess the Internet has become the more I want to vent. Take a look at any Yahoo! news post on any given day and scroll down to the comment section. It will be filled with the most vile, racist, homophobic, transphobic, ignorant screeds since the beginning of the written word.

For example, Yahoo! posted a story story, $35,000 Offered In Rewards In Milwaukee Girl’s Shooting. A 9 year-old African-American girl was shot and killed. Instead of genuine concern for the plight of the inner cities, of the proliferation of guns and gun violence, for the parents of this child, we get this from some guy whose handle is Skylar:

A breeder of future criminals died. She’s sucked society of more than $35,000 in her lifetime.

And from from Kaylee:

“This story has been updated to clarify that that Za’layia Jenkins was declared brain-dead ” … Isn’t that normal for blacks ?

I could go on and on, and some time in the near future, I just might.

Now What?

Now what? It’s a good question. I have zero expectation that any of what I write here will ever be read. The Internet is a big place and this is a very, very small and un-publicized blog page. That won’t stop me, not for a while anyway.

Things I feel I need to vent on might include politics, education, unabashed hatred of everything that isn’t white, straight and Christian. The love affair we are having with guns right now. How ignorance has become not only a virtue but also an election platform. How the conservatives follow the fascist playbook, page by page, and never get called out for it. How modern journalism has failed this country. You know…stuff like that. So read. Don’t read. I don’t care. My next post will be a theory that I have been working on that I like to call The Global Village Idiot Syndrome.

Thanks.

 


We Have Taken A Turn For The Surreal

America is heading into an odd zone and I have no idea when it started. The issues we find important are insignificant and the significant issues are always the fault of someone else. Gas prices, poverty and looming war are significant. Do we talk about these and offer solutions? No. Instead, people are pointing fingers and blaming the President. While the GOP is looking to place blame-bombs around the country, they are touring America, pandering to the religious right and pretending that discrimination is the safest bet for America’s future. And, as a people, we are allowing it. Again, I have to state that this is, at best, a little odd and, at worst, marking the end of our democracy, our country and our future.

You Women Just Need To Hush

How did contraception become a hot issue? I know that the issue began when the White House announced that employers who offer insurance to their employees must give the option to include contraception. Even if the employer objects on moral grounds. Of course, the moral objection argument is aimed squarely at churches where contraception is considered to be against doctrine. It is hard for me to believe that some of the people who are screaming about the audacity of the pill haven’t used contraception of some sort at some point in their lives. Whether we are talking about the pill, condoms, a calendar or something altogether different, there are people out there who just don’t want to be parents. And that is their right.

However, the GOP, the party of small government, doesn’t want some of you to have birth control available to you, not just at your job as a church secretary, but at all. And somehow, this idea is gaining ground. According to an article written by Connie Cass and Jennifer Agiesta, GOP candidate Rick Santorum “says he wouldn’t try to take away the pill or condoms. But he believes states should be free to ban them if they want. He argues that the Supreme Court erred when it ruled in 1965 that married Americans have a right to privacy that includes the use of contraceptives.” This is the same candidate who stated that John F. Kennedy’s stance on the separation of church and state made Santorum “want to throw up.” President Kennedy, in a speech he made in 1960 to Southern Baptist leaders, said, “So it is apparently necessary for me to state once again — not what kind of church I believe in for that should be important only to me, but what kind of America I believe in.” Santorum is of a different belief. He obviously wants to be president and he obviously wants to push his religious agenda from the Oval Office and, in my opinion, that is the one place in America that doesn’t benefit from a religious agenda.

He Said What?!?

In his effort to connect with the blue collar, hard working NASCAR fans in America, Mitt Romney was at this year’s Daytona 500. He showed up just two days before the Michigan Primary and attended the driver’s meeting and toured the infield and spoke to people.  That’s fine. I got a chance to interview Maureen Reagan when she was campaigning for her father in Dover Delaware at the Budweiser 500 in 1983. A NASCAR race is a great place to connect with “the people.” But where Ms. Reagan was open, honest and direct about why she was there and what she hoped to get out of it, Mr. Romney came across as a bit disingenuous. When asked if he followed NASCAR closely Romney said, “Not as closely as some of the most ardent fans, but I have some great friends that are NASCAR team owners.” Of course he does. I don’t and out of the 150,000 fans in the grandstands, I doubt if many of them hang out with NASCAR team owners either. But this is a minor hiccup compared to Rick Santorum.

Mr. Santorum has a problem understanding that some people are not like him. His last great pronouncement against the president was to call him a snob. And how does Barack Obama wear his snobbery on his sleeve? He wants everyone to go to college or, at least, have a chance to go to college. For that, Rick Santorum says, “What a snob. He wants to remake you in his image. I want to create jobs so people can remake their children into their image, not his.” Rick Santorum wants to be the candidate for lowered expectations.

Obama’s actual statement on higher education was actually well tempered and in line with American values. “And so tonight, I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training. This can be community college or a four-year school; vocational training or an apprenticeship.  But whatever the training may be, every American will need to get more than a high school diploma.  And dropping out of high school is no longer an option.  It’s not just quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country — and this country needs and values the talents of every American.”  It makes me want to wave a flag. And I have two in my office right now. An American flag and a United States Marine Corps flag. Rick Santorum, however, sees this call to pull ourselves up by our own boot straps as more liberal garbage.

Rough Seas Ahead

I am not sure where America is heading. The GOP wants to come across as God-fearing, hard-working friends of the common man. But while they are shaking hands at the Daytona 500 they are looking to legislate morality and cut funding to the poor and elderly.  While they are claiming to be middle-class Americans, they are casually making $10,000 bets on TV and saying that $374,000 isn’t a lot of money. While they are proudly pounding the bible, they seem to forget what the good book says. They say that corporations are people, they say that birth control pills make women promiscuous, they say that college is for snobs. And all across the red states, voters believe that the GOP is the party for them. Sure they’re not wealthy and never will be. Sure they want their kids to be successful but now that makes them snobs?

I have no answers and I am not the least bit sure about how this election will play out. It worries me that voters will cast their votes for the GOP candidate solely for the reason that they hate him less than they hate Barack Obama, their records on the issues notwithstanding.

Why This Matters

The name of this blog is Teaching Television: Media, Education And Why It Has To Work Together.  If our young people are not aware of the issues and how they affect their lives, they can never grow up to be well rounded citizens capable of making a difference. Instead of creating a nation of self-aware future leaders we are in danger of creating a generation of self-absorbed people incapable of solving problems or thinking on their own. And that is frightening.


Is Journalism Dead?

When I was young, the TV news was very important. First, there was a half-hour of local news and then a half-hour of national news. The local news had all the news that happened in my viewing area and it left the national news for the networks. Local interest stories, local sports and the weather. I lived in Washington, DC so a lot of what passed for local news was also, to an extent, national news. But the bulk of the real news was handled by the networks and in my house, it was Walter Cronkite.

Walter Cronkite (November 4, 1916 – July 17, 2009) was there when America went to war in Europe. He was a part of the “Writing 69th“, a group of 8 journalists who were allowed to go on bombing missions over Germany. He landed in a glider to cover Operation Market Garden and he reported on the Ardennes Offensive more commonly known as the Battle of the Bulge. He was often called the Most Trusted Man in America and was a solid, solemn voice during troubled times including the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. I was a strong proponent of NASA and the American race to space. To this day, I can remember his barely contained glee as Apollo 11 landed on the moon.  He reported from Viet Nam and he was always there.

Even as a child, I knew that Walter Cronkite was a very special man. He was serious and he was, obviously, important. I vaguely remember my parents making time to watch the CBS Evening News and I remember that Mr. Cronkite held my attention, even at a very young age. And as I look back, I have to wonder what he would think now about the sorry state of journalism in this country.

“Objective journalism and an opinion column are about as similar as the Bible and Playboy magazine.”  ~Walter Cronkite

In Cronkite’s day, there were very few places to get your news. You could watch TV, listen to the radio or buy a newspaper. The TV news cycle was longer than it is today. There was a morning show and an early evening newscast. It gave the networks around eight hours to fill the upcoming news cast so stories were weighed against each other and only the stories that were deemed important enough to report made it to air. Of course that means that some of the “lesser” stories were passed by and left to the newspapers to report. It was a system that worked but that was not without some flaws. There was no way to report everything to everyone and make everybody happy. On the other hand, it also meant that network news time was not taken up with stories of drugged out celebrities who missed a court date.

Fast forward to the 21st Century. Now our news cycles never end. MSNBC, CNN, Fox, CNBC, CSPAN have all filled a void that might not have needed filling. Now, instead of filtering the news based on national impact, anything goes. In order to fill a 24 hour newscast the networks have to add a lot of fluff, celebrity news, talking-head “experts”, analysts and opinion. The problem comes when opinion masquerades as news.

Editorials have always been a part of the news cycle. A certain amount of opinion is necessary to get the pulse of a nation. But the editorial has evolved from a single page in the Sunday paper to iconic commentators who have managed to eclipse the issues they speak on. Rush Limbaugh was one of the first superstar radio talk show hosts. His strong conservative opinions reach millions and he is seen, by many of his listeners, as the final word on all things political. But his opinions are not news, they are not mainstream and, some, are not even based on fact. Remember, he is the one who played the song, “Barack the Magic Negro” on his program.

Fox news is another outlet that masks opinion as news. Never in my lifetime has there been a news network that has worked so successfully to be the propaganda wing of a political party. They show unflinching support of the conservative way of life to the point of attacking the Muppets for their stand on corporate America. Fox Business Channel host, Eric Bolling, said on air, “It’s amazing how far the left will go just to manipulate your kids, to convince them, give the anti-corporate message. Hollywood, the left, the media, they hate the oil industry. They hate corporate America.” The attack on the Muppets may have made prime time but it made little sense. Claiming that Hollywood hates corporate America is a lot like saying General Electric hates corporate America. Only an editorialist with an agenda would conveniently forget that film studios are a part of corporate America. When a movie like Toy Story 3 makes over a $1,000,000,000 worldwide, it should be hard to claim Disney is anti-capitalism. But Bolling did just that and no one called him on it. In spite of the fact that The Muppets (2011) was a Disney release, Fox claimed that “Hollywood” was indoctrinating our children in their left-wing agenda. Disney owns 10 TV stations, a dozen or so networks if you count ESPN as one network instead of 13.  They own movie studios, restaurants, radio stations, merchandising companies and, if my memory serves, they have a couple of  popular theme parks. And yet, somehow, Disney is anti-capitalism. News and opinion collide in a cloud of false outrage.

“Our job is only to hold up the mirror – to tell and show the public what has happened.” ~Walter Cronkite

Newsman Alfred S. Ochs took over the New York Times in 1896. He was facing stiff competition from the sensationalist papers of the time but wanted to build a newspaper based on reporting “the news impartially, without fear or favor, regardless of party, sect, or interests involved.” I have to think that there are still journalists who know that they are not the story, that what they are reporting matters and that their own agendas, thoughts, preconceived notions and opinions are meaningless when telling the facts. But in a world where opinion counts as news, where bloggers are seen as journalists and where journalists want to be stars, I have to worry. Being a journalist should be a sacred trust. It should be an honor to report the news “without fear or favor.” It should be but it isn’t. There are no more Walter Cronkites to look up to. When Jon Stewart can become the most trusted newsman in America for anchoring what he calls a fake news show, it just might be too late.


The End of The World As We Know It…

…and it’s making me a little queasy. (apologies to REM)

I have always said that the end of the world would be televised. But when I said that, I was referring to a huge 2012 kind of apocalyptic ending. Cameras would roll to the last second and some junior reporter would be finishing his or her last live stand-up in front of an earth rending, lava spewing crevasse. I was not prepared, however, for how the world really ended or, for that matter, that end would come and go without anyone really noticing.

The Reality Game

The end of the world was not marked with lava plumes or giant CG inspired tidal waves or even a really big squid from outer-space. Nope. It was marked by a new show on Spike TV, Repo Games. The show is produced by the same group that brought Jersey Shore to our televisions so…at least we know it’s going  be classy. Right? Right?

Repo Games is built on the premise that there are people out there who are so desperate, so down-on-their-luck, that they will

Repo Games on Spike TV

do just about anything to keep their heads above water for just one more day. So, halfway through an auto repossession, they are offered the chance to win their car back, paid in full, by answering three out of five trivia questions while being insulted by a repo man. All for our entertainment. The fact that people actually agree to this is testament to both the power of television and state of our economy. By sinking this low, by turning misfortune into entertainment, we are all diminished.

I watched one episode of Repo Games and it made me feel dirty. As far as game shows go, it just might be the worst ever. It isn’t fun and, unless you’re the kind of person who laughs when someone is hit by a car, it isn’t funny. The “contestants” are a cross-section of society but most are poor and uneducated. They are first hit with a notice of repossession and, during the initial shock, they are asked if they want a chance to win the car back…all while being insulted, put down and treated like a human joke. Answer three out of five trivia questions correctly, and the show pays off your car. Miss three questions and you get to watch your car roll off in the sunset.

The COPS Connection

Producers like to call the show a hybrid of Jeopardy and COPS. They are, of course, wrong on both accounts. We watch Jeopardy to see other people show how smart they are and we play along to see if we are just as smart. It makes us better if even by a little bit. COPS is also different. The people who make it on to COPS have done something to deserve being there. They have broken the law and even though the show states that everyone is assumed innocent, we also know that the producers of COPS aren’t offering Get-Out-of-Jail-Free cards to the good folks who show up on COPS. Jeopardy is a game show, one that has stood the test of time. COPS is, at heart, a documentary look at crime and law enforcement. But Repo Games? It is exploitive and it’s sad.

Don’t Get Me Wrong

I know that everyone who has ever had a car repossessed is having it taken back for missing payments. I understand that by signing a loan contract, the buyer is agreeing to make those payments on time and that after 90 days of missed payments, the car is going back to the bank. I get all of that. What I just don’t get is this…Why do we have to put it on TV for the entertainment of others? Not all repossessions are the result of “deadbeats” are they? The economy went in the toilet three years ago. People all over America lost their jobs and their income. They lost their homes and their cars. All because Wall Street treated American finance like a game and now we want to play out the extreme financial problems of our fellow citizens for laughs. It’s unacceptable and, as I said earlier, it diminishes all of us.


Now In 3D!

3D is all the rage. Again. I personally find it difficult to sit through a 3D movie without way too much eyestrain but people seem to enjoy it so more multidimensional movies are being made and the process is creeping into our homes with 3D TVs and video games. But being an old-school kind of guy (I have yet to buy a cell phone. I am waiting for them to catch on…), I remember with fondness the red and blue glasses of my youth. They came in comic books and magazines and they turned those weirdly colored pictures into an adventure. Those old anaglyph images have regained their “cool” so I have been fooling around with converting some 2D photos into 3D. I would like to bring 3D creation into the classroom somehow but I am still working out the details.

I thought I might share some of the results from my little experiment. One little detail. You need some red/blue glasses to see the 3D effect. The pictures are 2D conversions and are the result of my very first efforts. I intend to refine my skills but these aren’t so terrible…Feel free to offer tips or tricks or to just be critical.

 

First we'll take Manhattan...

2D to 3D conversion.

Took this picture on the way home one day.

2d to 3d conversion.

2D to 3D conversion.

2D To 3D Conversion

Let me know if they work or don’t work.


Journalism? Conservative Cannibalism Keeps Fake Scandals Alive

Yes. The country has been taken back. Back to a time when gentility and civility did not exist. Back to a time when divisiveness was de rigueur. Back to a time when disrespect was common, racism was fun and facts never got in the way of a good story. The so-called Tea Party Movement was able to shift this country even further towards the right with a simple grass-roots movement which, in turn, was backed by a simple corporate news conglomerate and some billionaires who want to keep the conservative agenda alive. The best way to do that is, of course, to keep the huddled masses huddling.

Facts?

Facts just get in the way of a good story. Why bother with finding out of a story is true when it plays so well on the radio and TV? Point in case? The President’s trip to India. Earlier in the week, an unnamed source from an unnamed agency stated that President Obama was on his way to India and that the trip was going to cost $200 million dollars a day and that there were to be 34 warships and an aircraft carrier going as well. Once the story hit the Internet it was picked up by the conservative news services. Suddenly Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck and Sean Hannity even the freshly elected Michele Bachmann were all harping on the President’s big, extravagant, luxury ridden trip to India. Never mind the fact that the Pentagon laughed at the notion of committing 10% of the US Navy on a peacetime visit. Never mind the fact that Factcheck.org did the math and pointed out that $200 million a day is more than the Iraq war cost. Never mind the fact that no one in the White House ever said anything. That the Secret Service doesn’t release this sort of information to anyone. Ever. And why shouldn’t we mind the facts? Because they just get in the way of a good story.

When pressed by Anderson Cooper for some additional information about the numbers, Michele Bachmann stated, “Well these are the numbers that have been coming out in the press…” Well of course they are. And that leads us back to Beck and Limbaugh and Hannity and Fox News and every other member of the corporate conservative news machine. They have stopped reporting the facts and started reporting what each other reports about the facts. To say, “It’s in the press” is tantamount to saying “Fox News is reporting that Fox News has said (insert fake scandal here)…” Fox News is now a self-perpetuating, fake-scandal reporting, fact-ignoring juggernaut. It exists by feeding off of itself to the extent of hiring the very same people they pretend to report on.

It’s On The Internet

Eric Bolling from Fox Business News might actually deserve the credit for getting this ball rolling on his Fox program, “Follow the Money.” He ran a package with numbers quoted from an Indian website. Numbers that were not substantiated, verified or accredited. But hey, it’s just the news…right? And to absolutely prove he was right, Bolling added this little gem:

“I will tell you unequivocably, I am not making this up, this has been reported, go to the Internet, go take a look.”

Go to the Internet and take a look. Does that mean that if it’s on the Internet it’s true? Good. What else is true then? Let’s start with one I found on Drudge. “REPORT: US Military to build kilometer-long bomb-proof tunnel – so Obama can go to the Ghandi Museum…” Really? I thought that I should read the article before commenting on it. Or linking to it on my blog. Drudge should try that once in a while. The article starts out by condemning the American mind-set. The author, Pandurang Mhaske, writes, “It could give a sense of superior American organization, or be an indicator of a deep-set persecution complex. It could also be a manifestation of Uncle Sam’s penchant for a show of strength.” Deeper into the article, Mhaske describes the tunnel. “The tunnel would be a kilometer long and measure 12ft by 12ft — enough to let Obama’s cavalcade pass through. The tunnel would be centrally air-conditioned, fitted with close-circuit television cameras, and will be heavily guarded at every point, including, of course, its entry and exit.” Sweet. But wait! There’s more!

Mhaske wrote, just before describing the tunnel that it would be built by American military engineers IN JUST ONE HOUR! “They came up with a quick solution which left the Indians accompanying them amazed: A bomb-proof over-ground tunnel — to be installed by US military engineers in just an hour.” Amazed indeed. The only amazing part will be if any of this is even remotely true.

Other “True” reports on the internet include:

  • The Pentagon was not hit by a jet liner on September 11, 2001. BUT…
  • The Pentagon was built on occult symbols that can only be seen from the air but that are hidden and “barely discernible albeit almost complete.” It was done for undisclosed reasons by undisclosed people.
  • The moon landings were hoaxed.
  • UFOs have been visiting earth for centuries and much of what we are, we owe to our alien pals.
  • Atlantis existed.
  • George W. Bush was a Mass Murderer.

All on the Internet so, according to Fox News, all true.


Paper Wads and Spongebob: When Is It Time To Grow Up?

The picture is a pile of paper wads from a single day. Paper wads. The custodian forgot to finish sweeping the floor and left this in the middle of the room. (Sweeping floors is difficult for a one armed man I guess. He’s not an amputee or anything. I have just never seen him working without a cell phone plastered to his ear.) I have actually watched a student who regularly comes to class with no paper get up, walk across the room and borrow a piece of paper just to wad it up to throw it at someone. Mind you…This particular student won’t use paper to turn in an assignment or anything like that. He just likes to throw paper at other boys.

It made me start to wonder something. Is throwing paper wads a childish activity? Does it rate up there with pulling pigtails and spitballs? Or do grown-ups throw paper wads as well? I know that, as an adult, I have never thrown a paper wad at a colleague. Well, maybe once in a newsroom back when we still used typewriters. And I was either frustrated or flirting. Or both. Probably both. So maybe it is not the paper wads themselves I am worried about. It might be the importance of the paper wads. They just aren’t that important to me but to my 15-18 year old students, paper wads rank up there with cell phones, iPods and girls. And way above education.

So I soul search a little. Was throwing paper at another boy or in the vicinity of a trashcan as important to me when I was in high school? I think I have to say, “No. It wasn’t” I think I was way too busy doing other stupid things but I really can’t remember what those things might have been. Girls were definitely on the list. So were cars and making money. Music? Perhaps but it was all on LP and AM radio. I worked a lot in the summer and after school too. Maybe I didn’t have enough time for paper wads. So I am going to go out on a limb and say that it is a pretty silly thing to do at school when learning is supposed to be taking place.

SpongeBob Is The Antichrist

A sixteen year-old boy or girl should not care about cartoons. Cartoons should not play a significant role in any teenager’s life. But is this as true as it once was? A decade or so ago, some broadcasting genius realized that there was a vast and relatively untapped market out there to exploit. A veritable Bakken Formation of potential ad sales. That market was, of course, tweens. Entire networks soon opened up and were marketing directly to the 8 – 12 year-old demographic. The market expanded as program directors ordered shows that appealed to a wider age group. Parents could chuckle at the Fairly Odd-Parents and the little side jokes their kids would never get. They were too busy laughing at fart jokes and animated spit takes. And then there was SpongeBob. I think that SpongeBob just might be the Antichrist. Or is he?

I read this quote in the Atlantic. The article was SpongeBob’s Golden Dream by James Parker.

“SpongeBob is one of the greatest believers in the American dream in all of children’s entertainment,” says Greg Rowland, whose consultancy, Greg Rowland Semiotics, has performed brand analyses for Unilever, KFC, and Coca-Cola. “He’s courageous, he’s optimistic, he’s representing everything that Mickey Mouse should have represented but never did. There’s even something Jesus-like about him—a 9-year-old Jesus after 15 packets of Junior Mints.”

SpongeBob. Not only has he surpassed Mickey Mouse in terms of potential, he is like young Jesus on a sugar rush. Of course this might just be the definition of Antichrist…That and a broad appeal. Certain cartoon characters work because they reach across age demographics. Instead of being for 8 – 12 year-old viewers or 13 – 16. Now we can market to 8 – 25 or 35 or 55 year-old audiences. And that way, we never have to grow up. And that is a problem.

I don’t remember my father watching cartoons with me. He may have watched Bugs Bunny with me but I am sure that if he had, I would remember. Dad was a very busy guy and he worked very hard. Please recall that years ago, if a kid wanted to watch a cartoThe Monkeeson, he or she had to wait until Saturday morning where the big three networks aired them for three or four hours. That was it. And my dad used his Saturdays to sleep in. He deserved it. And he knew that Mom would be up and that the cartoons we were watching were harmless. So we sat and watched cheaply animated cartoons like Space Ghost, the Herculoids and Jonny Quest. Some weirder shows like H. R. Pufnstuf and the Banana Splits. And the Monkees. I have to admit, I still love the Monkees. And Lancelot Link.

Anyway

So anyway…these broad appeal cartoons that started popping up in the 1990s have helped stunt the emotional and intellectual growth of our teenagers. I can mention groundbreaking TV shows in my classroom like Seinfeld or 24 and it results in blank stares. If I mention SpongeBob, even in passing, I can lose control of the room. Everything from a rousing chorus of, “Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?” to “SpongeBob? That’s my show, Boyeee!” Nobody gets that excited over Masterpiece Theater. But if we live in a perpetually stunted state of intellectual development, when will we willingly grow up? I once heard someone say that the definition of being an adult is developing the ability to listen to the William Tell Overture and not think of the Lone Ranger. I guess that doesn’t really apply anymore…

 

 


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