Television

Looking for Truth, Beauty, and Love

Fred Rogers, the creator and host of the children?s TV show, Mister Rogers? Neighborhood, died in 2003 of stomach cancer, just a little more than two years after he stopped filming new episodes of his show. But Mister Rogers, his on-air persona for 40 years, died this past September, slain by the hand of PBS programmers who removed his show from the daily menu of kid?s programming sent to PBS affiliates.

Of course, PBS claims that Mister Rogers isn?t dead, and technically he isn?t. They still send him out on the weekend feed, so many local stations are running him once a week. There is a pale shadow of his neighborhood on the PBS Web site, and the network claims it will expand that online content, someday. But the fact remains that if you have to find the weekend schedule online and program your video recorder to get a mere 30 minutes per week, or have a high-speed Internet connection to view the few snippets on the Web site, then Mister Rogers might as well be dead.

The death of Fred Rogers a few years ago was a tragedy for the Rogers family and for his many friends in his adopted hometown of Pittsburgh. But it didn?t change very much for his audience. We knew with absolute certainty that the spirit of Fred Rogers had simply left the Neighborhood of Make-Believe for that mysterious realm known as Someplace Else and was now spreading peace, love, and understanding on an infinite scale. (And, yes, I know I just made a backhanded case for the canonization of St. Fred, and so be it.) Fred?s physical death wasn?t that hard for us to take because he had left us a monumental gift?his hundreds of hours of humane, artful, and relentlessly life-affirming shows.

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine December 2008
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

The politics of PBS

Faced with widespread public outrage over his attempts to institute a regime of conservative “political correctness” at PBS, Kenneth Tomlinson resigned in September as chair of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. But that wasn’t the end of the story. In November, CPB Inspector General Kenneth Konz issue a report that detailed Tomlinson’s persistent violations of CPB rules, and even some violations of federal law.

Konz found that Tomlinson had violated CPB procedures by directly intervening to get the program The Journal Editorial Report on the air. The Report is a weekly half-hour show featuring columnists from the extremely conservative editorial page of The Wall Street Journal. Konz also found that Tomlinson violated federal laws when he hired a Republican political consultant for a report that, among other things, tallied the “pro-Bush” and “anti-Bush” sources on PBS and NPR programs. The report also criticized Tomlinson for consulting with the Bush White House over the hiring of new CPB President Patricia Harrison (a former chair of the Republican National Committee).

All of this is good news, so far as it goes. Tomlinson is gone, but Harrison remains. The Report is still on the air, and our puny public broadcasting institutions remain pathetically vulnerable to the next strong breeze from Congress, the White House, or corporate America.

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine February 2006
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Extravagant Welcome

Many mainline churches see multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns as the latest evangelistic tool, but none hit the news like the “God is Still Speaking” campaign from the United Church of Christ—in part because major TV networks classified the ads as “advocacy” spots and rejected them. The first series, aired on cable networks, showed gruff bouncers turning away select worshippers at the church door—including racial minorities and gay and lesbian couples—followed by the text “Jesus didn’t turn people away. Neither do we.” The newest ads, to be launched in March, promise to be as quirky and cutting-edge as the previous ones.

“These commercials are like modern parables,” campaign coordinator Ron Buford told Sojourners. “When people see these ads, they get it.” In fact, the ads won the Association of National Advertisers annual award for multicultural excellence. Buford is confident that future ads will build on this response, saying, “They will be funny, hard-hitting, and they will make the point.”

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine January 2006
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Airing the Future

Airing the Future

Television history was made in the Middle East during the summer when a documentary exploring solutions to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was aired in Hebrew and Arabic on Israeli and Palestinian stations. It also was broadcast to the Arabic-speaking world on the Abu Dhabi satellite channel. The Shape of the Future, a four-part series developed by the conflict resolution group Search for Common Ground, featured rabbis, Palestinian religious leaders, and political analysts from both sides. “As a longtime supporter of Search for Common Ground’s work, I am delighted that Abu Dhabi TV is airing this series,” James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, told Sojourners. “This is not surprising, however, since ADTV has consistently demonstrated that it is committed to presenting forward-thinking programs to its Arab viewers.” The series focused on the future, not the past. It does not include scenes of violence or historical footage, said producers.

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine December 2005
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Faux News

Liberals and conservatives agree-

Liberals and conservatives agree—the media is badly biased," opines The Daily Show’s "senior media analyst" Stephen Colbert. So what’s the cure for news that claims to be fair and balanced but is often distorted? Answer: Fake news that is clearly distorted but which turns the phrase "fair and balanced" on its head with equal-opportunity mockery—denying presidents, candidates, and pundits the dignity usually afforded them by mainstream media.

Jesus humiliated his opponents on occasion (Luke 13:17) and never hesitated to put leaders in their place (Matthew 23). Through his documentary films and short-lived television series, Michael Moore elevated to an art form the ability to take people who think they’re important and make them look dumb. His embarrassment of corporate America, however, left his shows (TV Nation, The Awful Truth) without sponsors—and a satire-shaped vacuum in an America already aching from a declining Saturday Night Live.

Comedy Central’s The Daily Show has stepped into the void. Anchor Jon Stewart was mocking Bush’s war a year before it was popular to do so, with coverage bearing titles such as "Mess O’Potamia" and "Rationalization: Iraqi Freedom," punching precision holes in the administration’s "mission accomplished" and "bring ’em on" bravado. When other networks were still broadcasting cheerleading embeds, the show’s derisive dissent was Prozac for post-protest depression.

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine June 2004
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Indecent Exposure

It'

It’s been several months now, but I know you’re still waiting to hear: "Was Sojourners’ pop culture columnist shocked by the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show?"

Frankly, no. I didn’t see it. The last time I watched the Super Bowl was in 1991. I don’t much like football. When I want to see young American men having their bodies crunched, mangled, and poisoned for the sake of corporate profit, I watch the Iraq war news.

But where else, you may ask, can one go to see shallow, narcissistic pop stars rip off articles of clothing? We don’t need football for that. For that we have MTV, the music video cable outlet that produced the notorious gridiron spectacle. And that brings me to the point. That tawdry Super Bowl display was just one more example of what can go wrong from corporate media monopolization.

So what do media monopolies have to do with Janet Jackson’s sad stab at reviving her career? It really is all connected. Viacom—one of approximately five remaining television companies in America—owns CBS, which broadcast the Super Bowl, and MTV, which produced the halftime show. That’s the "synergy" media execs were all slobbering for in the ’90s. Back in the days when CBS owned itself and wasn’t in the music video business, the halftime show would have been the business of the network’s sports division. And we all would have been spared a lot of embarrassment.

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine May 2004
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

God on TV

"We believe in heaven and that Tim is with God," says a Catholic woman who lost her husband in the 9-11 attacks. In Denver, an anti-abortion protester shouts at a man accompanying his partner to an abortion clinic, "Turn to Jesus instead of your sulkiness."

"Their spirit, their whole being is in that space, so that makes [Ground Zero] sacred," says a woman leading a campaign to declare hallowed the site of the former World Trade Center buildings.

Welcome to the poignant and contradictory worlds of U.S. religious life. These are just a few of the arresting quotes from last fall's early weeks of the PBS award-winning show Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly. Program host Bob Abernethy brings a stately eminence to the weekly format of feature stories that explore two or three controversial issues, a look at religious headlines around the world, and calendar events significant to many traditions.

The first weeks took viewers deep into the issues of the day. The shows contained portraits of two widows (one Catholic, one Jewish) grieving the loss of their husbands, an interview about whether accused priests charged with sexual abuse retain their civil rights, debates on a U.S. pre-emptive strike against Iraq, video footage of abortion protesters explaining their confrontational work in front of abortion clinics, and reports from Taize spiritual communities in Europe and Chicago.

The excellence of the program lies in its presentation of the range and complexity of America's religious landscape. U.S. viewers will gain new perspectives on their own religious communities and insights into the often-unknown communal rites of their religious "others." They will ponder the momentous conflicts erupting between Jews, Christians, Muslims, and others, yet also witness the shared commonplaces that bind people together across the many divisions of U.S. religion.

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine March-April 2003
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Spiritual Lessons from The X-Files

Fox-TV's The X-Files has ended nine years in which a duo of FBI agents investigated unexplained phenomena—killer bees, government conspiracies, freaks-of-the-week, magical children, UFOs, near-death experiences, religious mysteries—and uncovered a few spiritual lessons:

The Truth is out there. In these postmodern times, when the very nature of truth is called into question, it has been great to know that someone believes the truth actually exists. As extraordinary FBI agents Dana Scully and Fox Mulder keep the faith, so do we.

I want to believe. A poster with this slogan hangs in the X-Files office. Kind of a modern take on what the father of a demon-possessed boy said to Jesus before the healing: "I believe. Help my unbelief." The desire to believe is sometimes the best we can do.

Trust no one. Reminiscent of Jesus' statement to the rich young man, "No one is good but God." The spiritual lesson here is not the imperative to "trust no one," because often on The X-Files trust is crucial to survival. Even though there were plenty of people and entities not to be trusted, the real spiritual lesson from the series is "be careful who you trust."

Government denies knowledge. In X-Files mythology, the government is in cahoots with a powerful secret cabal that hides "the truth" in order to keep the public from becoming panicked or disillusioned. The X-Files exaggerates, but there is a lesson here. Those who joined the civil rights movement to fight government-sanctioned racism, or gave sanctuary to refugees fleeing U.S.-backed insurrections in El Salvador, and who now plead for restraint in the new "war on terrorism" know that government PR cannot be taken at face value.

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine July-August 2002
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Pages

Subscribe