Category Archives: Classic Films

How my TV viewing influences my writing

I have always had an awkward friendship with writing.

When I was in journalism school our connection was more of a love/hate relationship. There were times I was really “jazzed” about a career in print. Then there were the other times.

When I got out of school, I gave a fair to middlin’ effort in finding a job with a newspaper. However, as I lived in our nation’s capital I faced a dilemma. My attempt at looking for work locally was akin to a high school player attempting to sign on to the Washington Redskins to play professional football. I lived in  a major league city where the big boys and girls already had a spot on the team.

What I needed to do was go to small town America to hone my skills and gain some experience. At least, that’s what I was told.

But at the time I was a big city guy and liked DC. So I demurred. Ironically, I have spent about a third of my life in Podunk since then, but working as an educator instead of reporting on hog futures.

I haven’t given up on writing though. The romance is gone, but I still feel married to it.

The desire to be in print and get paid for my prose has waned and I write as a hobby now. The “what might have been” in terms of a professional writing career got up and left a long time ago.

But I still have a goal. My highest objective is to use words to influence people. I’ve had this ambition since high school, when I was a sports reporter.

I have learned from the experts that I don’t have to have “feelings” for my writing in order to produce. In fact, the gurus tell you that you just have to keep at it. So I do.Most writers have spells they just don’t feel like putting words to page, so I know I have lots of company.

What helps me to generate is to know my interests and write about those things.

What are the kinds of stories I gravitate too? I think I can tell by what I watch on television. For instance, the programs I have recorded on my DVR are a good indicator of my favored genres.

The other night I was watching TV with a friend and he couldn’t believe the number of programs I have recorded. I told him that I the reason I have so many recordings is that I scan the menu of programs offered by the satellite provider and click on those that arouse my curiosity.

If my predilections were determined by the number of recorded programs on the DVR, the analyst would  note that I am drawn to humorous stories. I must have 30 recordings of the 1990s situation comedy “Frasier.’

It is no wonder this show is constantly available after 20 years. Like “M.A.S.H” and “Seinfeld”, the sitcom is a series of one liners wrapped around a story. The writing is superb.

In addition to  providing a list of amusing stories, my DVR also reveals my penchant for history. I’ve always loved history. In fact, I minored in it in college. Thus, I tend to watch stuff that provides me with insight into the events and lives that came before me.  I especially like military history.

I have numerous historical accounts presented by American Heroes Channel. Right now I am recording “Apocalypse: World War 1”. The series is filled with over 300 vintage pieces of film documenting the conflict.

I have also spent hours and hours watching Turner Classic Movies. The channel provides history within history. Not only do I get a story of days gone by, but the films themselves are documentation of earlier times. The stories give us a look at the technology and culture of the early to mid 20th century.

Recently my friend and I watched  “The Gallant Hours” (1960). It was unusual for an American movie.  Even though it was a film about war, there were hardly any battle scenes or explosions. The focus was on the characters, especially naval commander Bull Halsey, a man who helped the US Navy defeat the Japanese in the Pacific in World War 2.

“The Gallant Hours” was ahead of its time in its biographical story telling.  Released in 1960, it used the “up close and personal” technique developed by ABC’s Roone Arledge later. At the time Americans were not that interested in Olympic sports, or foreign countries for that matter, so Arledge lured us in with his features on their private lives. Arledge focused on the challenges the athletes faced and overcame to become an Olympic hero.

Indeed, “The Gallant Hours” combined several features draw me in to a story.  For example, the docudrama style combined the Hollywood embellishment of fiction with the facts of the characters’ real lives.

In addition to tales containing  humor and history, I am also drawn to mysteries, especially the kind represented by crime shows. This interest surprises me in that I have never thought of myself as someone interested in depictions of wrongdoing. But the truth is, I watch a lot of “Law and Order” and “NCIS”.

I think what attracts me about these stories is the gradual revelation of the truth I get from detectives, police, lawyers, witnesses and criminals. I have always enjoyed researching something and then presenting the results. This is why I have been able to stay in teaching so long.

Sports also provide a compelling narrative. Every weekend I record a NASCAR race. While auto racing is not at the top of my sports viewing, I share an interest in it with friends and relatives. This season I have watched a race almost every weekend.

Last weekend at Talladega the unique story was about Ricky Stenhouse.  Up until that Monster Cup series race he had never entered victory lane. Stenhouse has mainly been known as Mr. Danica Patrick, the boyfriend of the only female driver in the series.

Races at Talladega are known for their massive wrecks. The TV announcers kept talking about the “Big One” they expected. It did not materialize until the end. Stenhouse managed to escape the carnage and get the checkered flag.

Of course, the Internet was full of pictures of Danica hugging and smooching Ricky and . Who said sports doesn’t have romance.

As I reflect on it, the subject matter may initially attract me to a show, but what keeps me coming back again and again is good writing.  I admire stories on TV that are well written and I believe I subliminally desire to emulate those who create them.

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Filed under Classic Films, Media, Television, Uncategorized, writing

Responding With Love in a PC Culture

I have to admit that this aging dude has a hard time understanding today’s youth. And I have taught college since the early 90s. An upsetting experience I had with a Millennial last night has just added to my perplexity.

I love classic movies, so when I saw that The Jazz Singer (1927)  was on Turner Classic Movies, I made a plan to watch it in a student center on my local college campus. The National Film Registry selected this film as one of its culturally, aesthetically or historically significant movies. It is the first full length feature film with sound.

There is a well-known scene in this flick when star Al Jolson puts on black face and then sings. I didn’t even think about that clip as being part of this movie when I turned it on. But with about 30 minutes left,Jolson is shown putting on the blackface in his dressing room before a Broadway play. When he appeared on the screen, I heard a female voice say,”Oh my God. Turn it off!” At first I ignored it, but I finally decided to move to another seat with another TV out of her and her friend’s view. This young lady and her friend were African American students.

But apparently this wasn’t good enough for her. She followed me and told me to turn the film  off in my new location. “It’s disrespectful,” she said.

I said,”Ok” and wanted to add “say please” but decided it was not in my best interest and turned it off. I went to get my stuff near them and said,”I get it (why she was upset), but I see it as history.” She wasn’t pleased from her facial expression and I added,”But I turned it off.” She replied (to her credit),”Thank you for turning it off. Have a good night.” She looked away from me and obviously didn’t want to engage me on the subject anymore (Not to her credit.)I sat down for a few minutes, but I felt shamed and left.

Part of the reason I felt shamed was that I am a person who has tried quite hard to understand the African American view on things for a long time, but somehow I missed that perhaps Jolson’s blackface would be upsetting to someone in a classic movie. I actually took the time after I got home to write and call Turner Classic Movies and ask them if they had discussed broadcasting “The Jazz Singer” with African-American consultants.

I wrestled before bedtime with my feelings after my encounter with this girl. I went back and forth. On the one hand I thought she was right to be offended, although I wasn’t sure quite why since the movie was almost 90 years old.  On the other hand, I wanted to know where I should draw the line on such things. For example, should I not watch a World War 2 movie which shows a swastika for fear that a Jewish young person might get offended.

I checked in with some people to find out how they felt about my experience. (They were white.) A couple folks understood her feelings, but thought she overreacted. Others thought that the young lady was “punishing me” for not bowing down to cultural norms of political correctness.  She could not let my viewing of this movie pass in this public setting, but felt compelled to say something, although privately her and her friends might have watched the film and laughed at is outdated characterizations.

After a night’s sleep I have come to my own conclusions. This woman chose to publicly humiliate me.  My problem with this young lady was not in her value system. My problem was in the way she chose to handle her discomfort. The better way would have been to approach me privately, explain to me that what I was viewing offended her, and ask me politely to turn it off. Instead she loudly issued commands to me. This girl’s approach to me was form of fascism.

To her, I had committed a crime and I needed to be publicly punished, perhaps especially because I was an older white male.  Neel Burton M.D. (2014) explains:

“To humiliate someone is to assert power over him by denying and destroying his status claims. To this day, humiliation remains a common form of punishment, abuse, and oppression; conversely, the dread of humiliation is a strong deterrent against crime.”

Once she had inflicted her “punishment” on me so that she was satisfied I was “corrected”, she felt no need to continue a communication with me.

Burton helped me to understand my reaction to the woman’s strategy. I felt violated and was not sure how to proceed in trying to maintain my right to view what I damned well please.

“When we are humiliated, we can almost feel our heart shriveling,” writes Burton. He notes that  we become focused on our humiliation, experience as plethora of negative emotions and internalize our humiliation to such a degree that we lose sleep, have nightmares, become depressed and even consider suicide.

Not only that, but humiliation also erodes our ability to defend ourselves according to Burton. Negative reactions to the humiliation such as anger and violence are useless in any case, he says, because they “do nothing to repair the damage which has been done.”

Burton adds that the only solution is to learn to live with the humiliation, which takes self esteem and strength, or give up our lives completely.

In practical terms for me, the latter means not necessarily giving up my whole lifestyle, but it could mean giving up watching certain films in public. I suppose this is doable, if for no other reason as it it will show kindness to others like this offended black woman.

I am informed by my Christian faith on this approach. The Apostle Paul talked of welcoming others, but not in an argumentative manner. He advised that we should not put a stumbling block in the way of others because of our insistence on upholding our own freedoms.

So I believe I took the correct approach in my actions last night. If giving up my right to a film somehow adds glory to God, then I am all for it. I will just have to trust him to deal with people like this young lady in the way they treat me and others when they are resentful.

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Filed under Classic Films, Uncategorized