Category Archives: Television

Good News from a Far Country

My guess is that Alaska is a state most Americans know little about. For example, one Alaskan commented that he has met people from the lower 48 who didn’t even know his home was a state. (I can relate. When I lived in Finland, one American asked me,”Where is that? In the Pacific Northwest?”)

We do know some things, however. For most of us, we know that it is far away.

Politically savvy folks are aware that controversial former governor and vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin comes from Alaska. In addition, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that the state is cold. All a person has to do is look at a map.

Some might even know it has oil reserves and lies across the Bering Strait from Russia (only if it is because Governor Palin is alleged to have said she could see the country from her house).

Like a lot of the US landscape, Alaska once belonged to a foreign power. The United States bought Alaska from Russia back in 1867 for two cents an acre. The purchase was called “Seward’s Folly”. William Seward was the American secretary of state at the time who engineered the deal.

Seward was actually an able politician who many thought would become the Republican nominees for president in 1860. Instead, Abraham Lincoln got the nod. As far as I know, Seward’s negotiations under President Andrew Johnson to buy Alaska  from the Russians involved no collusion.

If we know anything about the state, it’s probably from the media or televisions shows such as the Discovery Channel. For some reason this land mass, the largest state in the Union, has been front and center in my own media experience of late. Unfortunately, the digital fare I have viewed has been of the tawdry variety.

My first recent encounter with Alaska involved a viewing of “The Far Country”, a 1954 film starring American hero Jimmy Stewart. (He’s a personal luminary of mine, too.) In this flick , the “everyman” star plays a 19th century Old West cattle drover named Jeff Webster who can’t seem to avoid trouble.

After a  long cattle drive in the lower 48, one in which he shoots two men working for him, Webster boards a ship with his herd and arrives in Skagway, Alaska. He immediately is arrested by a corrupt judge named Gannon for interrupting one of the man’s hangings.

Webster drives his cows through town, right  by Gannon’s gallows. The bovines jostle them while the judge is attempting to execute “justice”.

Stewart avoids jail time, but Judge Gannon fines him a sizable amount. He makes the cowboy turn over his herd to “tbe government”.

Not to be outdone, Webster steals his cows back and drives them across the border into Canada.

He lands in the Canadian gold mining town of Dawson, which compared to Skagway is a place of virtue. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for the vile criminals from the American village to show up in Canada. They want to make an ill-gotten fortune off of the hard working  and law-abiding gold miners and shop keepers in Dawson.

The epitome of American “can do”  spirit and individualism, Stewart in the role of Webster tries  to take on the gangsters on his own. He does have allies in the form of his old cow hand (Walter Brennan), a teenage girl with moon eyes for him, and a femme fatale saloon owner who can’t decide whether she wants to stay with the crooks or connect with cow poke.

(SPOILER ALERT)

In the end, after losing his aging partner to murder at the hands of evil thieves, and with the help of the mixed-up female saloon owner Ronda Castle, Webster wins the day. The lady gives her life to save Jeff.

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Jimmy Stewart plays Jeff Webster, a rugged individualistic cowboy who learns some big lessons about people from saloon owner Ronda Castle.

Jeff not only learns a big lesson from her about about his “leave me alone” stance on life, but he also gains wisdom from the previously cowardly townspeople. They show up en masse with weapons drawn to shoo off the bad guys while Stewart lays wounded in the street.

“The Far Country” kept me riveted to the story in a kind of prurient way. I couldn’t look away from the scurrilous activities of the criminals. I began to detest them so much that I hung around to make sure they got their just desserts.

Only Chuck Norris and his old “Walker, Texas Ranger” TV series could make me hate fictional thugs so much. When that show was on, I was always happy when Walker beat the hell out of them (figuratively speaking) at the conclusion of the story.

My  experience of sleazy behavior coming out of Alaska hasn’t been limited to this old movie.  The news recently brought us a story in which an Alaskan Airline female pilot accused a colleague of drugging and sexually assaulting her on one of their jobs.

The news describes her allegations in much detail. As with the creeps in “The Far Country”, I wanted the alleged perpetrator male pilot punished after I read this story.

Even if I wanted to partially excuse the Alaskans for the scandalous acts revealed in these stories by writing “The Far Country” off as an act of fiction, I can’t. The town of Skagway was indeed a place run by a criminal element in the late 19th century.

However, any Alaskan could rightfully protest that I am singling out their beautiful northern region unfairly.  The could say that not the only ones with an inclination to sin, and they would be right. Human law breaking is universal and goes back a long way, probably thousands upon thousands of years if the scientists are correct on the dating of the origins of man.

As I watched “The Far Country” I was reminded that what the Bible says about mankind is true.  Contrary to modern popular belief, the Scriptures indicate that all of us have hearts which are prone to produce evil.

Our evil practices have had dire consequences and still do. One of the reasons that God brought on the Flood at the time of Noah was because of the slimy aspects of human nature. Genesis tells us that “God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” He instructed the only righteous man alive to build a boat because He had had enough.

Things haven’t changed much since the Noah account laid out in the Bible.  As exemplified by the pilot story from Alaska, opening any news site today will attest to that.

The United States  is currently swamped with the degrading actions of human beings who act like animals. We have come a long way from our beginnings.

Purportedly, America was founded by a religious people. I hedge because in our day this civic doctrine has been disputed, but I believe history shows that many of our early leaders were Christians.

What has happened over the last 2.5 centuries to turn the US into a moral quagmire that resembles the state of affairs God encountered at the time of Noah?

According to J. Vernon McGee, a pastor who still has quite a following despite having been deceased for 30 years, a nation’s decline  begins with the collapse of religion. This crash leads to moral awfulness and eventually to political anarchy.

“Where did our trouble begin?” asked McGee. “Our trouble is primarily spiritual. Actually it goes back to the church.

“The church went into apostasy.  Then it entered the home,”said McGee on one of his radio programs.

Many Americans today put their  faith in political leaders. However, McGee called the hope that a political party can solve the issues facing America “perfect nonsense.”

His recommendation? “What we need today is to get back to a spiritual foundation,” said the pastor.

McGee suggested that without this spiritual revival, the resulting political anarchy will lead to America succumbing to the will of  a “strong man”, i.e. a dictator. History attests to this scenario.  The fall of the weak German Weimar Republic resulted in the rise of Adolph Hitler.

The story of Skagway, Alaska portrayed in “The Far Country” shows this process, also. Judge Gannon ran the town as his own personal fiefdom. Not surprisingly, the film says nothing about the presence of religion.

No priest or deacon is shown standing up to the wickedness of the nefarious people in the film. By default, Skagway was a town ripe for the misrule of a wicked ruler like Gannon.

Far Country Gannon

Judge Gannon, the wicked ruler of Skagway. To his right is conflicted saloon owner Ronda Castle, who eventually helped save the people of Dawson from him.

At the end of the second decade of the 20th century, America is far worse morally than it was 30 years ago and appears to be moving toward the political anarchy of which McGee spoke. The idea of the United States having a dictator as a leader was once stuff of fiction. But if McGee is correct, the United States is now in a conditon that the impossible is now possible, if not probable.

America is  moving toward the same kind of culture which was ancient Isralel once possessed present when the nation was ruled by individual judges. During that period, the Scriptures say that people “did what was right in their own eyes.”

God raised up ordinary men to rescue them, but only after they cried out to God. Once Israel was saved, the people reverted back to their wicked ways.  McGee called this pattern “the hoop of history.”

In “The Far Country”, Jeff Webster was similar to one of the biblical judges in “The Far Country”. He was not the best of men himself, but he had enough decency in him to take a stand and provoke the the folk of Dawson to stand up to the invaders from Skagway.

Saloon keeper Ronda Castle was also an unlikely heroine. An ally of Judge Gannon, her love for the inherently good Jeff and her own flicker of goodness led to the rescue of the people of Dawson.

America could use a Jeff Webster now. For that matter, we could even use a Ronda Castle kind of person. Maybe the rescuers of the United States won’t be paragons of virtue, but God has used many to accomplish His purposes. Once, he even used a talking donkey to save Israel.

If heroes or heroines  do not arise in the United States, we could be toast.  However, I haven’t personally lost hope. I realize God can bring them from anywhere, even a far country.

For example, refugees entering Europe,  aren’t all radical religious fanatics. Some are godly believers in Jesus Christ.  Today I read of a family of Iranian Christians in spiritually entombed Sweden who are active in their faith.

Most of Europe is thought to be like Sweden, i.e. dead spiritually and in many ways farther along in the moral awfulness and political anarchy of which McGee spoke.  Perhaps God in His wisdom has directed the hands of the continent’s leaders to open their borders so that His people can bring Europeans to faith.

It is possible that God has allowed similar open border politics in America to do the same thing in the United States.  Could it be that God is implementing His wisdom in this way?

Solomon wrote of this kind enlightenment . He penned this verse in the biblical book of Proverbs:

“Like cold water to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.”

May God bring His good news to our own spiritually parched land. It’s up to Him how He does it.

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Filed under Bible, Christianity, Classic Films, God, immigration, Jesus Christ, Justice, Media, Original Sin, politics, redemption, religion, Revival, Spiritual Warfare, spirituality, Television, Temper of the Times, Theology, Uncategorized

Guts and Glory: Profiles in Courage from TV and Film

A fewJessica Pearson has reached a crossroads, one that she hasn’t seen coming.

Standing in a courtroom, the high-energy attorney featured on the hit TV series “Suits” must decide if she will stay and defend a man who is on trial for his life, or leave for an emergency meeting to save her New York law firm.  In the past, her choice would have been a no-brainer.

Jessica is the founder and managing partner of her firm. She has already shown that she will do anything to maintain its position and her power.

The attorney has aided and abetted the fraud perpetrated by Mike Ross, an employee who has posed as a brilliant attorney for the firm, but in fact did not attend law school. Jessica has also chosen her job over her lover Jeff Malone.

(SPOILER ALERT)

But now she has found her soul. As she defends Leonard Bailey, a man who is to be executed for murder but has been given a new trial, Jessica recalls why she became an attorney. She remembers that she went to law school over the objections of her father in order to help people.

As a result of this epiphany, Jessica tells her other desperate partners, hovering in the courtroom to drag her to the meeting, to take a hike. She goes on to perform an astounding cross examination of a key witness that causes the judge to free Bailey.

When Jessica walks into the hall, a rival lawyer who has witnessed her defense tells her how amazing the cross was. She replies that she believes it is the pinnacle of her career.

Ironically, this admiring attorney had earlier attempted to poach Jessica from her firm, expecting it to crash. Jessica turned him down.

At the end of the episode, she announces to her partners that she is leaving the firm. She knocks on Jeff’s door that night to tell him that she wants to leave with him for Chicago, where he intends to begin a new job.

Walking away from a career with lots of power and money to pursue your true calling and the love of your life is not easy as it might seem.  It carries a big risk.

Sonny Weaver learned that being true to yourself and your convictions can put you in jeopardy. In his case, he is under threat of losing his job as general manager of the Cleveland Browns in the 2014 film “Draft Day”.

Like Jessica, he has people hounding him at crucial times as he tries to make decisions about what players to pick during the NFL draft.  The biggest problem, though, is that his aging playboy owner wants him to “make a big splash” in order to put buns in the stadium seats. Defying him means obvious curtains for Sonny.

Furthermore, the team’s new coach, a Super Bowl winner for another team, carps at his general manager as Sonny wheels and deals during the draft. They appear to have major philosophical differences as to how construct the team.

In addition, current and aspiring players are lobbying Sonny during the day. Brian Drew, the Browns’ quarterback, trashes his office when he learns that his general manager has paid a king’s ransom to Seattle in order to gain the number 1 draft pick.

It is assumed that the Browns will pick a star college quarterback with the choice. That’s certainly what Sonny’s owner expects him to do. When that happens, Drew figures he is toast.

The coach hates this idea of a rookie quarterback taking over the reigns of the team, too. He believes Drew will run his offense better.

On top of his on-the-job issues, Sonny also must fend off his loved ones who want his time and attention during this critical period. His girlfriend, who is also the financial whiz for the Browns, announces that she is pregnant.

Sonny and her keep meeting in a closet to discuss their relationship during draft day. When he asks his girlfriend what she really wants, she says “I don’t want to be a secret.”

Furthermore Sonny’s mother Barb picks draft day to discuss the provisions of his father’s will. His Dad, a legend for the Browns, decided that he wanted his ashes placed at the 50 yard line of the practice field which is named after him.

Barb wants to do the ceremony then and there. Sonny is adamant that he won’t participate. This doesn’t stop Barb. She leads team personnel onto the field to distribute the ashes without her son.

Clearly it is complete chaos at Browns headquarters. In the midst of it all, Sonny keeps his head.

He does this because it is His dream to pick the players HE wants and to build the team HIS way. As he dickers with other team’s general managers he works toward that goal.

When the first pick is announced, Sonny has picked a linebacker whom he loves. He believes the hyped quarterback will be a bust, but that his choice will be a star.

The angry owner hops a plane from the draft site to go to Cleveland and fire him. Not only does he arrive at headquarters and say to Sonny “you’re a dead man”, but the coach also tells Sonny that he quits.

“I can’t coach a team that has no future,” the coach says. Sonny asks him to hold on.

He also tells his owner to give him five minutes. If he doesn’t like what he sees after that, then he can fire him.

Sonny then amazes everyone. He not only gets back all the picks he traded to move up to number 1, but also gets a star punt returner and drafts a stud running back, which pleases the coach.

The owner tells him, “Congratulations. You have some balls.”

At the end of the day everyone is happy. Sonny and his girlfriend have weathered their storm. His mother is pleased when she hears that she will have a grandchild.

The fictional stories of Jessica and Sonny tell this writer, this real life person, that if he is to imperil himself his confidence had better not be of the false kind. I had better have a clear foundation of beliefs that will help me to withstand the opposition to my choices.

In my next post I will explain what that firm ground is for me.

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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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