Tuesday, November 22, 2011

News & Pepper Spray Class Outline

Today I decide to make use of our shortened Thanksgiving week and do the job that I'm supposed to do. That is, teach media criticism. It's late in the semester. Some things have gotten put off or lost in the shuffle. For my television criticism class, that's been discussion of the news. One reason I don't typically dwell on news in television criticism is that it's an area I know gets attention elsewhere in the curriculum. Aside from that, outside of the field of Television Studies, for many in academia, TV criticism = news criticism. There's plenty else to talk about, and I usually do.

This kind of thinking has allowed me to not dedicate too much of my time to a subject which greatly frustrates me: Fox News. And yet, it must be dealt with. What I did today was use the Occupy Davis Pepper Spray incident as an opportunity to examine how news entertainment mediates events and renders them meaningful in particular ways. I started with my typical lecture material on the history of the news going back to the Camel/Plymouth News Caravan in the 1950s. I have a DVD which includes one 15-minute broadcast. This shows the sponsored format of the news, the reliance on library film footage, and also the role of the media in defining/speaking to the nation. It concludes with a great promo for NBC bringing an atomic test in the Nevada desert to audiences...arms race as TV event. Below is a different episode, but pretty much the same deal.

I'll skip over the rest of the lecture on the rising stature of TV news, from making up for the Quiz Shows, to "loss leader" status, to the Vietnam War and the post-Watergate investigative journalism mania. Cue Network. Bottom line, 80s and 90s news is just another profit-generating entity. Thus, news must be entertaining. Here we discuss Hallin's strategies to make the news entertaining. Must students grasp right away Character, Conflict, Dramatic Structure, Images/Graphics, the News Family, and then the fun one, Populism. Actually, they tend to get that one, too, but it does require a bit more teasing. We talk about "man in the street" type interviews and the celebration of common wisdom, but today we added a bit more nefarious version to the mix. That is, the rampant anti-intellectual hypocrisy of Fox & Friends (which my colleague Jeff Jones is currently writing about as not so much "news family" as "high school clique").

We watched the following clip from the Daily Show, in which Stewart "outs" Carlson's intellectual cred in the face of her claims she doesn't understand such mind-boggling concepts as "double-dip inflation" and "czar". This is about the halfway point of the following clip.

Kitchen Cops, that ain't. Interesting conversation about populist performances by political candidates followed: for example, George W. Bush clearing brush. Then we watched this clip from O'Reilly Factor with Megyn Kelly talking about how pepper spray is one of the basic food groups. Basically. I decided to show this clip prior to the unedited YouTube footage of the Occupy Davis incident, because it really shows some aggressive meaning-making going on.

Where to start? That must be watered down pepper spray? I'm disgusted again and I can't finish this post. If it meant I could subsequently vomit on Megyn Kelly and Bill O'Reilly, I might take a hefty dousing myself. No questioning of ethics. O'Reilly pisses me off not by just saying we can't Monday morning quarterback the police, but asserting we can't tell what's going on. Yes, we can. We don't need this explained. It's self evident. Also: notice how the clip edits together Davis footage with that from Berkeley, which does show protesters physically clashing with police. This helps lend credence to the suggestion we can't "know" how the protesters were behaving or whether the police action was warranted. Bullshit. Seriously. Can't revisit.

Then there is the complete 8 1/2 minute clip. I showed this and asked how understanding of the event changes when seeing the entire thing. Thank goodness the BoingBoing article that featured this clip (or was it a Facebook post) that said to watch the whole thing. Otherwise, I might have given up. It truly is a revelation.

My students' reaction was immediate and echoed my own. While they may have started with the question in their heads of whether the actions were somehow warranted, by the end what is impressive is how they have taken power. Watch footage of protests on television, and who wants to be a part of that? Here you see a crowd of protesters in control, effectively shaming the police. It stands as an inspiring piece of television, as well as a disgraceful document of nonchalant abuse of power.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

More Derelict Modern at Camp K Photos

See the related blog post.

Derelict Modern at Camp K

Last weekend I visited Camp Karankawa, the Boy Scout Camp on Lake Corpus Christi, for the first time in 24 years. When I was in Boy Scouts, we spent a week there each summer earning merit badges, doing "KP" duty, trying to stay hydrated, and occasionally shooting 22s. Also, lots of carefully timed troop shouts to win the scout spirit award. Camp K hasn't changed much in those years at all, save the recent marvelous addition of two first-rate restroom and shower facilities that have replaced the two-seater pit toilets in each site. For the record, I will definitely take Camp K for one weekend in November in my thirties over Camp K for a week in June in any of my preteen years.

Nothing much has changed over the years at Camp K, and that led to a revelation. While walking the camp to plan a hike for the cub scouts, I came to this group of cottages that have housed the camp counselors for many years. I was struck by their modern style. More to the point, I was struck by how similar these structures were to the "Surfhouse" design that my friend and architect Mark Meyer designed in consultation with me and my wife. Kid #3 came along and that house didn't get built. But compare the camp cabins and this one elevation.

Mark and I both attended Camp K during some formative years, and while Mark has gone on to a career in architecture, I also remain a fan of architecture and in particular modern design. Was Mark channeling memories of Camp K when he designed the Surfhouse? Aside from the shed style of our house, one of its distinctive characteristics was the clerestory, very much like the screened area on the camp cabins. I decided to take some pictures to send to Mark.

The cabins only had screen doors, and as I approached to check out the interior, I caught a glimpse of a familiar form inside. There it was, a Saarinen armchair like the one sitting in my current living room. Well, a little worse for the wear of the hand-me-down life at Camp K. A woodpecker was stuck inside the cabin, and when I came in to take photos, he unfortunately started desperately flying into the screen to escape. I took a few quick shots and left to check the other cabins. To my surprise, three of the other cabins also had these Saarinen arm chairs in different upholstery. How long have these chairs been sitting out at Camp K? I never served as a camp counselor (one week a year was enough for me). But I tried to remember back to my year as a senior patrol leader. Had these chairs been in the office then? Surely Camp K didn't go straight to Knoll to outfit its counselors' cabins. No, it's pretty clear these cabins were just the end of the line for the chairs. They probably started out at the scout executives offices, then made it to the office at Camp K, then the counselors cabins, if I had to guess.

What about the design of the cabins themselves? I haven't begun to investigate. I'm just glad Camp K hasn't torn them down yet. Actually, despite their decrepit shape, someone visiting for the weekend was apparently staying in one during my visit, as I saw a scout shirt and bag inside.

Also, maybe some of us were positively inspired by these cabins without knowing it. On the other hand, how many camp counselors were turned off from modern design forever after their time at Camp K? I'd be interested to hear what sleeping in one of these during June and July was like. How effective was that screen clerestory? And what about those chairs? Trust me, they were pretty much in the "wouldn't pick up on the side of the road" shape.

How many were turned off by modern design because they lived with one of those stinky things for a summer? Still, I have to believe there's some good design samaritan out there seeing to it that these chairs haven't yet been tossed, and the cabins not yet bulldozed. I have met the camp ranger and it is not him.

Then again, I've seen that despite the new restrooms, the other structures at Camp Karankawa are pretty much as they were in 1987. Probably just a matter of time before these are gone. For now, these chairs live out their final days in unexpectedly appropriate structures.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Beavis & Butthead: the Resurrection

It was not Beavis and Butthead, but Bill and Ted who once said there was something strange afoot at the Circle K. I'm enjoying the return of Beavis and Butthead on MTV, mostly because Mike Judge is in fine form and the guys are as funny as ever. I'm also enjoying weird juxtapositions watching the show and visiting the website. Something strange is afoot at the Circle K. Bringing Beavis and Butthead back has revealed some weird wrinkles and ruptures in the MTV audience. Consider the framegrab below, which suggests viewers of Beavis and Butthead both expected to actually have the ability to score, and be in the market for a Cadillac. The Trojan sponsorship also extends to the TV show...this is not the result of my own web surfing trail of data, in other words.