A Choice of Weapons

“Nothing came easy. I was just born with a need to explore every tool shop of my mind, and with long searching and hard work. I became devoted to my restlessness.”—Gordon Parks 

We were re-watching the late Gordon Parks‘ documentary, Half Past Autumn last night. And among the many books Parks wrote in his life is 1967’s A Choice Of Weapons.

I feel compelled to read it, and furthermore, be an activist for art education.  There’s something that happened a few years ago that still sticks with me…

I was volunteering for my company, reading to 2 boys, or they were practicing reading to me.  The kids were about 7-8 years old and class troublemakers. Basically I was there to read with these kids so they could practice their reading, and so class could go on schedule without interruption. One day, unbeknownst to me, a local art therapist (AT) came to the school. Had I known I would have rescheduled. Anyway, the AT invited the kids to a room of large tables, about six chairs each, with pieces of paper, pencils, and crayons. She had a boombox playing soft, tranquil music in the background. She asked the kids to draw whatever they felt like.

I like to draw, I can draw, but I wasn’t going to show off in front of children. I slowly and carelessly doodled a penguin mom and baby in a cartoony way.

When I looked up, the kids at our table were not drawing–instead, they were watching me. Some handed me cash to do theirs. I didn’t accept any cash, and didn’t do any kids work for them. I was completely appalled at this experience. I still am years later.  

I knew this was an underprivileged K-4 school when I volunteered, and the emphasis was on literacy more than anything else. But I was and still am angered that these kids probably hadn’t had anything like an art class since coloring in daycare or kindergarten; why else would they be stumped and just want to get it over with? Why would 7-8 year olds not be thrilled to “play on paper’, and draw from their imaginations? I know they had it in them, all children do.

If the minimum investment is made in American children, how do they know their value and potential, and share that value and potential with the world? As American children, they deserve so much better than what they are getting. 

  • It scares me when kids (who aren’t even teenagers yet) are just doing what they have to do to pass the test or fulfill a task.
  • It scares me that we expect talent to be displayed early on in many activities, or a kid just shouldn’t bother with it at all. A talent, even if someone possesses it, must be practiced regularly to increase skill and mastery. By encouraging quitting instead, all we teach a kid is give up when things are difficult, and keep looking. And life promises much more difficult than easy. Quitting everything means achieving nothing.
  • It scares me when I encounter kids don’t have art, music, theater, or PE in their school. If they didn’t have it, they won’t demand it for their kids, and they won’t care about arts in their community, or on a national level. 

 So A Choice of Weapons is on my list.I have a feeling its themes are as timely as they were in 1967.

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Journalism and Infotainment, pt. 2 of 2

So I had all those items bulleted out, with commentary, and then I paused. No one really wants to read all that. As a popular meme says, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.” So, to keep things short….

To me, The Internet and the Daily Show (and its spinoff the Colbert Report included) are two positive developments in an otherwise sad, overly tabloid, negative media landscape in the last 30 years.

What troubles me about right-wing media of today is not the expression of different views, it’s the style. It’s the reducing the opposition to a label. The being loud, rude and dismissive to guests (or callers). It’s talking over or interrupting people being interviewed. Everyone has an opinion, and they should be belligerent about presenting it. It’s giving some stories barely 20 seconds and giving trivial, baser stories way too much attention with overplayed, repetitive footage.  To paraphrase a Seinfeld joke, I’m not offended as a liberal by these trends, I’m offended as a journalist.

Jeff Bezos, the Amazon billionaire, just took over at Washington Post. As of this writing, I have no idea how he votes. I am hoping Bezos’ worldview and style is very different than what Murdoch’s influence has created and influenced, and furthermore, that it shows more respect of multiple viewpoints. Because that seems to be sorely lacking right now.

Journalism & Infotainment in My Lifetime, pt. 1 of 2

I grew up in the 1970s-80s in a house without cable or a microwave.

Cable and microwaves were hip things to have in your house back then, and we had neither. Things like that are a big deal when you’re a child, but fast forward to adulthood: they’re a family inside joke, and of little consequence. I can agree cable isn’t worth the cash, and I don’t have 30+ channels these days, either. And I did learn to use a microwave, after an awkward experience in college*.

What’s funny is, for all the things that seemed like a big deal and then faded in importance, there were other things where the opposite was true. They were on the periphery of my young life,  I didn’t think much about them. But they’ve become big trends over 5, 10, 20, years, and possibly as a result of other things I, nor anyone else, saw coming. I don’t know who you are or your age, but I will bet the same phenomenon will happen in your life, personally and culturally, the big things start out as little things.

Anyway, culturally I’ve listed media developments chronologically by their creation date:

  • Syndicated Hollywood news, Entertainment Tonight, 1981. Entertainment Television (E!) arrives on cable in 1987. 
  • Syndicated TV talk shows. Phil Donahue was THE name in TV tabloid talk shows. He was the first to run around the studio with a microphone to let the audience ask questions. He started in 1967, grew in popularity, moved to Rockefeller center and NBC in 1982. By the late 1980s-early 1990s, though, he was being crowded out of his niche by Geraldo, Ricki Lake, Sally Jesse Raphael, Jerry Springer, Montel Williams, and rising queen of daytime, Oprah Winfrey. Donahue was off the air in 1996.
  • Infomercials, roughly 1984-1985. (in 1984, The FCC got rid of regulations about commercial content on Television that were put in place in the 1950s-1960s.)
  • The arrival of CNN in 1985, spawns a 24-hour newscycle on television.  
  • The Challenger blowing up in January 1986. They played the footage on the news over and over. 
  • The arrival of syndicated news shows on network TV around 1986: A Current Affair, Inside Edition, Hard Copy. 
  • The arrival of Fox Broadcasting network, 1986. Fox was heavily syndicated, and aired shows the others wouldn’t. It’s longest series to date is the Simpsons, which was just some cartoon on the Tracy Ullman show back in the day.
  • The repeal of the Fairness Doctrine by Ronald Reagan, 1987.
  • Rush Limbaugh show arrives on NYC talk radio, 1988. 
  • The Real World airs on MTV, 1992.
  • The Internet (it was about 40 before it was accessible to average folks by the mid-1990s.) 
  • Fox News Network, 1996.
  • The Daily Show, 1996 (its creation probably owes some credit to SNL’s Weekend Update, 1975.)

For the list above, I checked my years with Wikipedia. I admit my own memory is faulty on the specifics, and things tend to blur together. Or I remember something arriving in my local TV or radio market, or when it really hit its stride with its audience, instead of its actual creation date. 

In my next post I’ll look at each bullet as compared to now.

*When I went to college, I made the rookie mistake of trying to ‘nuke’ a bagel. When it inevitably turned into a smelly, fiery brick, I took it, ran to my dorm bedroom,  threw it out the tiny window where a empty large dump-container awaited it on the brick patio six stories below. They make microwaveable bread now. I don’t buy it and I refuse to eat it.