Category Archives: television

A Black Experience Resource Guide for Curious White People

Civil rights march on Washington DC, August 28, 1963.
Courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration.

Earlier this week a friend expressed a dawning realization about the realities that black Americans face on a daily basis that she has never had to worry about. She discussed bearing witness to the overpolicing of recent protests she was seeing, and listening to a professor point out that it was just the latest illustration of the plight of black people in America. I wondered whether she had seen Henry Louis Gates interviewed—he’s a nationally known Harvard professor who was arrested by police who believed he was breaking and entering his own house in 2009. Just this morning I watched an interview where SNL comedian Michael Che confessed “I don’t think 9-1-1 is for me.”

One need not look too far to find a person of color who has had a disproportionally heavy-handed interaction with police. Even adorable Amber Ruffin shared her story of being a nervous new teen driver and being targeted by a cop. The Black Lives Matter movement may have started with the death of Trayvon Martin, but Martin’s death was by no means the first young man killed because of his ethnicity.

Pondering, I realized I could help people like my friend—white people who are just opening their eyes to the plight of their fellow man and/or systemic racism, but may need some guidance in learning more. I’ve spent a lot of time over the last 25 years seeking out and absorbing voices of the “other”—racial minorities, QUILTBAGs, women, generally the people who aren’t traditionally covered in public school.

This is another way of saying I totally dig social history, but most people aren’t familiar with that term.

If you don’t understand why people are protesting in such massive numbers, the onus is on you, white person, to educate yourself about these matters. Close your mouth and open your ears. Ask thoughtful and sensitive questions. Seek out work created by someone who is very different than you. Consider discussing with others if you have a difficult time understanding the material. Here in Portland, Multnomah County Library created the Everybody Reads program to feature one book per year in aim of getting more people talking about these less-heard voices.

Following is a list of works I think would have some valuable information for people just starting to learn about the modern black experience, persisting dynamics, and why people are so damn angry right now.

BOOKS:

  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X. This is a book I think about frequently. There’s so much to learn! If Malcolm X was discussed at all in schools beside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., he probably sounded really threatening. Not only had Malcolm parted ways with the Nation of Islam by the end of his life, but the last several pages (written solely by Alex Haley, without Malcolm) are heartbreaking. One of my weirdly-specific favorite passages is when he talks getting his conk done—this passage just skims the surface but black hair in general is definitely a thing that you should know about.
  • Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism by James Loewen documents evidence of “sundown towns”—places where you didn’t want to be out at night if you weren’t white. Loewen narrows the focus of his lengthy book to just the state he was living and teaching in, Illinois—but acknowledges that sundown towns existed in every single US state, and some still do, although not explicitly.
  • The March triology. Living legend and current US Senator John Lewis collaborated with artists to produce a trilogy of graphic novels about his life. Each one is packed full of civil rights history and behind the scenes struggles, through the eyes of a young man finding his way through life.
  • The Hate U Give. Released in 2017, this young adult book by Angie Thomas caught fire with adults as well. Inspired by the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, readers unfamiliar with 2Pac will never forget what THUG LIFE means—and why it’s important—after reading this book.
  • Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison can be a rewarding read, but I’ll admit I had a lot of support to parse it during my freshman year in college. (The literary executor of Ellison’s estate, John Callahan, was a professor at my school.) If I was reading this for the first time I would definitely consider discussing with a book club, and maybe even work from the readers’ guide the publisher provides online.

MAGAZINES:

  • The 1619 Project was the vision of Nikole Hannah-Jones, a journalist who has since won a boatload of awards for the work, including a Pulitzer Prize. The very first boat carrying slaves from Africa landed on the shores of Virginia in 1619. Now, 400 years later, slavery still impacts the United States economically, culturally, medically, in housing, and well, the effects of slavery can be seen pretty much everywhere. There’s an accompanying podcast that won an(other) award recently, but it all began in The New York Times Magazine on August 14, 2019. Nikole Hannah-Jones goes by Ida Bae Wells on Twitter, in reference to Ida B. Wells, a 19th century pioneering black journalist you should also get to know.

FILM:

  • Roots is entirely worth the many hours you’ll spend watching it. It was a television must-see when it originally aired in 1978, and even today I love it when an unexpected star turns up. I’ve heard the book is amazing as well, and based on Alex Haley’s writing in The Autobiography of Malcolm X, I believe it. But I have watched the Roots miniseries at least twice and have not yet read the book.
  • Do the Right Thing made a huge splash when it was released in 1989, and is still entirely relevant today. Spike Lee intentionally plays with his audience’s assumptions about a key character depending on their color. Anyone familiar with Eric Garner’s death will be haunted by a contemporary viewing of this movie. Definitely a movie worthy of reflection and discussion with others.
  • 13th: Produced and directed by Ava DuVernay, this documentary about the mass incarceration of people of color includes a succinct timeline connecting the Emancipation Proclamation and our current prison system.

PHOTOGRAPHY:

This list was co-curated by Steven Newton!

Even though I’ve exposed myself to a lot of these voices over the years, I am by no means an expert. Hell, I have yet to read James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston, or Maya Angelou! There are other books about white privilege I haven’t gotten to yet either.

Educating yourself about new things can be a long (but rewarding!) process, so I think it’s helpful if someone can help steer you at certain points along your journey. If you have questions about any of the above recommendations or other cultural questions, ask them and I’ll do my best to help. Or if you’re not totally new to these ideas, feel free to comment with your recommendations as well!

Personal storytelling is an engine of humanization, which is in turn an engine of empathy.

Lindy West, The Witches Are Coming

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Exploring Mt. Hood Glacier Caves on Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Oregon Field Guide

We had a few pretty common meditations in MPub, and two of them were about the future of digital media in publishing and how digital media could be used creatively to tell good stories. At the time many of my classmates were enthralled by The Wilderness Downtown, a song by Arcade Fire and HTML5 website.

Personally, I wasn’t that impressed.

This week though, I happened to catch a website that I thought was doing really interesting things how they told a story using a website. Thin Ice: Exploring Mount Hood’s Glacier Caves is a big project set to kick off the 25th anniversary of Oregon Field Guide. Click that link and read the story. Scroll down and take note of images appearing as you read, and how multimedia ancillary material is presented. Background images are possibly the most thrilling thing about this page, as the photography is beautiful and the background actually changes as you scroll into each new chapter of the story.

Bestill my beating heart! In my mind, this site is a far better use of digital media and way more compelling than ebooks. As an ex-employee of Oregon Public Broadcasting, I am not surprised they’re leading the way in terms of both quality content and innovative use of media.

If that’s not quite enough, check out this behind-the-scenes preview video of Thin Ice: Exploring Mount Hood’s Glacier Caves on Oregon Field Guide, airing October 12th.

Thanks to Ed Jahn for tweeting about his project at just the right time to catch my attention!

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October 5, 2013 · 8:00 AM

Fonzie and Other Montana Celebrities

Yesterday I listened to my beloved Wait! Wait! Don’t Tell Me! podcast, and the weekly guest for their game “Not My Job” was none other than Henry Winkler. You know—the Fonz. Cool, shark-jumping Fonzie. (As well as Yale School of Drama grad [1970], which makes me insanely jealous, as they rejected my application to their dramaturgy program in 2003.)

It turns out that Henry just released a book about fly fishing…in Montana! It’s called I’ve Never Met an Idiot on the River. As he explained on Wait Wait, he fishes in Montana every single summer.

There are a number of celebrities, as it turns out, that have spent time in Montana. My landlord used to work for Jim Nabors (aka Gomer Pyle), whose home is in Whitefish. Andi MacDowell used to have a home in Missoula near the University of Montana, as well as a ranch down in the Bitterroot Valley. Keifer Sutherland and Emilio Estevez used to spend a lot of time around Whitefish—my landlord met Julia Roberts when she and Keifer were a thing. Infamously, the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski lived outside of Lincoln (and I visited his place!). Joe Montana’s son Nate currently plays football here for the University of Montana (which I found out about when he was arrested for drunk driving.) Then there are the notable people who were born here, such as Dana Carvey and David Lynch. Gary Cooper and Myrna Loy lived just a few houses apart as they grew up in Helena.

It seems there are notable people everywhere. Not too bad for a state with a population fewer than one million!

So of course I went directly to the internet to find out where Henry Winkler fishes. Was it near Missoula? Could I meet him? According to this Distinctly Montana article he frequents Firehole Ranch, just outside of West Yellowstone—a five hour drive from Missoula. In fact, the ranch even has a photo of him on their main page!

While I had considered a trip through Yellowstone on my way back to Portland, since summer is over it’s unlikely I would be able to meet Henry. Besides, if I caught up with Fonzie—the coolest guy on the planet—I might end up like Tom Hanks, just kinda making an idiot of myself. 🙂

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A Visit to Cicely, Alaska

Northern Exposure, an adventurous, charming, intelligent, amazing television series fully captured my heart, brain, and soul way back in 1994. Three books I’ve never considered getting rid of are the NX trifecta that was released while the show was on the air:

  
Not only did I buy The Northern Exposure Cookbook, a wasteland for vegetarians like myself, but I’ve kept it for several years now. The Northern Exposure Book has a handy episode guide, and the Chris-in-the-Morning book continues to inspire whenever I read a quote from KBHR’s philosophical, gentle, and smoking hot DJ.

My love for NX has persisted through hardship. When I first started watching the show, it came on at 10pm when my parents were going to bed. So I wouldn’t disturb them, my dad would turn the volume down so low on the television that even I had a hard time hearing the dialogue from six feet away. But still I watched. Then in August 1996, when my dad and I were heading home from Yellowstone, I convinced him to find the illustrious Roslyn, Washington, where the series was filmed. However, as we drove around town it didn’t occur to him that I might want to get out and stay a while. It was really hard for me to ask favors of him back then, so I never got any quality time with the town of my dreams.

After fifteen long years, I recently rectified that situation on my way to Missoula, Montana. Part of my decision to make the drive in two days was that I could do side trips…and it wasn’t long before I was dead-set on visiting Roslyn again. It would be a chance to finally bury one of my big regrets.

When I arrived, I brought Atticus out for a bathroom break, and we passed by Cafe Cicely. The two women inside came out to meet Atticus and give him treats. One of them runs the local animal rescue, and graciously gave us a bowl of water which we could continue to use on our journey. After I enjoyed an inexpensive mango sorbet ice cream, Atticus went back in the car and I headed over to Cicely’s Gift Shop, inside Dr. Joel Fleischman’s office.

Like the women across the street, the man tending Cicely’s Gift Shop was extremely friendly and had lots of time to chat. As the entire gift shop is a shrine to NX (“Dr. Joel Fleischman” is still painted in the window, and the structure has not changed since Universal filmed the show), he told me tales of how far people had come to see Roslyn (Israel was the furthest as of five days ago). He had moved to town from the east coast after becoming a fan of the show.

After seizing the opportunity to support the local economy with the purchase of a KBHR pint glass, NX long-sleeved T-shirt, and a legitimate copy of the “More Music from Northern Exposure” CD, I walked around town and shot some photos of buildings used in the show, and some that weren’t. The man at Cicely’s Gift Shop said that town opinion was divided about which town history to embrace: Roslyn’s past as a mining town, or its rebirth as the set of NX. There are scads of mining towns in this region, but it seems the people embracing the NX connection have it figured out, and are keeping their businesses afloat because of it.

See more photos from my visit here.

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Resisting the Idiot Box

Today’s post over at Becoming Minimalist, “Ten Reasons to Watch Less Television,” reminded me of some books that have made a great impact on how I live.

Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television by Jerry Mander (his real name!) is the landmark theoretical work of the anti-TV movement. As I whittle down my bookshelf, this is a title that I haven’t been able to part with yet. Instead of telling you just how much television I watched growing up, let’s just say this book blew my mind with its revolutionary anti-TV thinking.

The four arguments, each of which comprise a section of the book, are 1) The Mediation of Experience, 2) The Colonization of Experience, 3) Effects of Television on the Human Being, and 4) The Inherent Biases of Television. Sounds a bit wordy. The book is rather academic, but Mander goes places that others don’t. Awesome places.

One of the more abstract concepts he discusses, which took my brain a while to comprehend, revolves around what’s physically happening when someone watches television, from the type and patterns of light entering the eyes to the fact television viewers are being socialized to be passive participants in the world. Much of what he discusses has nothing to do with content–it doesn’t matter if you’re watching a game show or a documentary–another reason his book is an important read.

After discovering this book in 1998, I undertook my first TV fast, where I didn’t watch any television for a week. It went well–I seemed to gain a lot of time in the day, and even got to cross a couple other books off of my to-do list.

In the years since, I’ve done the TV fast several times, often as long as a month at a time. (I didn’t discover TV Turnoff Week until later.) One time in September 2003, I kept a log during the experience. Here’s an excerpt:

It seems to me that how my relationship with television works…is that when I come home, I eat, and there’s not much else I can do when eating except watch television. Then, it just sucks me in for hours. I could turn it off, but then I might forget to turn it on again for that great documentary on in a half hour, etc.  Ultimately the nights fly by, and all because it’s hard to do things while eating. Then again, eating while watching television isn’t very healthy…

That particular TV fast was spurred by having read The Plug-In Drug by Marie Winn. Focusing more on the effects of television and advertising on children and families, Winn discusses television’s impacts on child health and development. Television’s influence on kids’ creativity, the lack of physical exercise leading to obesity (the edition I read was published in 1977…the problem has only gotten worse!), kids becoming über-consumers early in life because of targeted advertising. Although I’m not a parent, it’s easy to recognize how my own childhood was influenced by watching television, and how it even impacts me today. As an adult, I was given food for thought about how television discourages connection with other human beings and the world around them.

These days the telly at my house is off way more than ever before.

Feel like you don’t have enough hours in the day? Feel kinda blasé and numb during your “free” time? I’d recommend exploring the relationship you have to your television. Read more–there’s a great list of books here, or check out Kill Your Television. Do an experiment–give up television for a week and see what happens. Clean your house. Go for a bike ride. Read to the kids.

It’s amazing how much more you can do when television isn’t sucking up so much of your time.

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