Compelling storytelling, accuracy and service to citizens in election coverage are recognized by the 2015 Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Television Political Journalism. The awards, given biennially since 2000, are named for the distinguished journalist and longtime CBS anchor. The award encourages and showcases journalistic excellence in political coverage, particularly innovative, issue-focused coverage that informs viewers about their electoral choices and recognizes coverage that helps viewers understand who the candidates are, what the issues are, and how the electoral choices will affect their lives.
The awards will be presented at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Friday, May 15. For more information, including the winning entry videos, visit www.cronkiteaward.org or read the press release..
Is it possible drones might, uh, entertain us in the future? Cirque du Soleil already has the answer. more>>
CGI (computer-generated imagery) rules in Hollywood, right? Not for everything, it turns out. Several top filmmakers got together with neuroscientists and cognitive psychologists to compare notes on where audience members direct their gaze and what sort of tricks directors use to focus and hold onto that attention. Can you guess the two elements in action films for which CGI just doesn't cut it? (Link opens in new window; scroll down for clip of Iron Man 2 with an overlay of eye-tracking software) more>>
Afraid your new infographic-intensive presentation will bore people? What if it were turned into a game? A Dutch company has developed Metrico, which replaces traditional game narrative with infographics. more>>
Mourning Becomes Collective
The tragic passing of actor Robin Williams becomes a case-study in how social media is changing how we grieve. more>>
Museum-quality digital art...coming soon to a screen in your home. more>>
Who appear to be the new kings of Twitter, social media strategy and branding? ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, currently terrorizing large swaths of the Middle East. They've even built their own app. Where's the fail whale when you really need him? more>>
The jury is still out on the relationship between violent video games and real world violence ...but that may be about to change. A new study due later this summer finds that areas of teens' brains linked to empathy become muted by violent images when exposed to them over long periods of time. Another study, from Canada's Brock University, found that children who played violent video games for significant lengths of time were not as morally mature as other children their age. more>>
Fashion flip: designers have long been thrilled to get their clothes into movies (think Ralph Lauren and Annie Hall), but now a filmmaker is preparing to market the clothes from his new film directly to customers. Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class) hopes viewers of his James Bond spoof Kingsman: The Secret Service will admire the Savile Row look of the suits in the movie enough to pay Gucci-level dollars. more>>
Who can protect Los Angeles from the next big earthquake? How about this woman? And revisit the Lear Center'sstudy about the first Great Shakeout, a mass earthquake drill which has since become an annual event. And just in case, remember it's duck, cover, and hold!
A new UPenn Annenberg Public Policy Center and Pew Research Centerstudy shows that regular viewers of the Colbert Report during the 2012 election were better educated about campaign finance law after the "Citizens United" decision than viewers of traditional news shows. Read it and weep....or laugh.
Care for an artistic interpretation of what climate change might feel like? You're welcome!
More blurring of the line between real life and entertainment: Thai protesters angry at the recent military coup are borrowing a three-fingered salute from the science-fiction hit The Hunger Games to express their resistance. Military leaders are monitoring the movement closely.
What's the relationship between science and telling ourselves stories? Closer than you think. Read this terrific article from Nautilus. about the long, complex link between scientific progress and stories we make up.
We're awash in big data now, even as we try to clearly visualize it graphically. Perhaps a look at old data visulizations can inspire us. Take a look at this absolutely beautiful Erie Railroad organizational chart from 1855. Wow.
Much Ado About Moocs...a short two years after educators and techies embraced Massive Online Open Courses as the gateway to a new golden, egalitarian age of higher education, the cursor seems to be stuck, blinking, on the screen: a new study shows that only half of those who registered for a course ever watched a lecture, and then only 4 percent completed the courses. And a joint San Jose State University-Udacity experiment has failed completely. ThisNYTimes article explains the reboot.
There's a new tool in the struggle to get action on climate change on everyone's agenda: insurance company actuarial tables. more>>
There's no link between exposure to media violence and actual violent behavior, right? Not so fast. A new meta-analysis of 217 studies published between 1957 and 1990 suggests that exposure to media violence is a risk factor for violent behavior, much in the same way that second-hand smoke is a risk factor for cancer. more>>
Did you ever think chocolate could be entertaining, and compellingly so? Watch what some clever Germans have devised. more>>
Fox News seems to have discovered the science behind making people distrust science. A new study explains how. more>>
Do you tweet during television shows? A new study analyzes the interesting connections between Twitter and TV. more>>
Can puffs of air be the next big thing in online entertainment interactivity? Disney Research thinks so and their new tool, Aireal, is pretty dazzling. more>>
Are you still just playing Grand Theft Auto on your Kinect? Take a gander at what a dance company and engineering firm in France have been doing with the gaming device. more>>
Since the NSA leaks were revealed, "meta data" has been all the buzz. Find out what it means and what it looks like here.
If all you've got in your paintbox are pixels, can you still be an artist? The exhibit "Into the Pixel" offers some interesting answers. more>>
The book is the first book to bring the image of the journalist in popular culture into the field of journalism studies and to cover the image of the journalist in all aspects of popular culture - film, television, radio, fiction, video games, Broadway plays, etc -- can be purchased here.
Marty Kaplan Moderates Zócalo Public Square Panel
Those Jingoistic, Nationalistic, Patriotic Cartoons
Lear Center Director Marty Kaplan guided this discussion about the power and cultural position of cartoonists, propagandists and satirists in time of war, from WWI to the present day. Panelists included the Getty Research Institute's Nancy Perloff, cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz and scholar and author Chris Lamb.
Popular Music Project Director Josh Kun offers a moving cultural history plus a slice of autobiography in his terrific NYT Magazine story about the last barn dance on a working family farm in the upper Midwest.
R.I.P. Leonard Nimoy
In another time and galaxy, Lear Center DirectorMarty Kaplan interviewed the gifted Leonard Nimoy on his Air America show, So What Else Is News? Listen to the audio below.
"Tell Me A Science" was presented by Lear Center Director Marty Kaplan at the National Academy of Sciences' third Sackler colloquium, as part of the panel titled, "The Power and Patterns of Communication of Science through the Entertainment Culture."
The colloquium offers scientists, communication practitioners, and opinion leaders the opportunity to discuss issues of mutual concern, share successes and ongoing questions, and fine-tune their understanding of how lessons from research can drive effective communication of scientific topics.
Lear Center Senior Fellow Neal Gabler takes a wide-ranging, sharp look at edginess in our culture and our current media favorites in his latest LA Times op-ed. Read it here.
Norman Lear in Conversation with Phil Rosenthal
Norman Lear is set to appear at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills on March 12 for an on-stage conversation with Phil Rosenthal, creator of Everybody Loves Raymond. The event will be part of the "Arts & Ideas: Conversations at the Wallis" series, in conjunction with Writers Bloc. Info and tickets here. Thursday, March 12, 2015 :: 7:30PM
Check the Technique: Hip Hop as Methodology
What is the history behind the making of some of hip hop's greatest albums and songs? How are tracks made? How can the process of assembling a track be applied to larger social and cultural practices?
Inspired by the publication of Check the Technique V.2, journalist Brian Coleman's second volume of "Liner Notes for Hip-Hop Junkies," this discussion looked at hip hop production practices and the hip hop creative process as both musical techniques and social techniques.
Participants: Brian Coleman, journalist and author of Check the Technique Vols 1 & 2, and Rakim Told Me: Wax Facts Straight From The Original Artists Adrian Younge, composer, arranger, producer (Venice Dawn, Souls of Mischief, Ghostface Killah) Brother J, from legendary Hip Hop crew X Clan Brian 'B+' Cross, photographer, filmmaker, UCSD professor, and author of It's Not About a Salary, It's About a Reality: Rap, Race, and Resistance in Los Angeles Oliver Wang, CSULB sociologist, DJ, journalist, and author of Classic Material: The Hip Hop Album Guide Monalisa Murray, DJ, hip hop record label and promotion veteran
The degree of personalization and algorithmic curation used in the delivery of mobile news was a key theme at ONA Mobile, which brought together an international array of digital-savvy journalists in the organization's first convening outside the U.S. The Lear Center's Media Impact Projectsponsored the conference, in part, because we see mobile fast-becoming the primary platform for news delivery. And, although mobile is still very much in a Wild West phase, where accepted standards are few and far between, the opportunities to measure real impact on people's lives is simply unprecedented.
As many speakers acknowledged, mobile is "very hard" but the pay-offs are definitely worth the pain. Between the rigors of submitting to Apple, maintaining mobile-responsive websites, reformatting for Snapchat, and navigating the ever-changing rules at Facebook, mobile news providers are constantly challenged to make it pithier and make it relevant. In many ways, I'd argue that mobile pushes journalists to achieve a new level of rigor in reporting.
Issues of customization and curation came up repeatedly, with an acknowledgement that "personalization" is not as straightforward as you might think. As Buzzfeed's Stacy-Marie Ishmael explained, people don't live static lives. We are in different situations throughout the day, with constantly shifting priorities informing our decisions on how we allocate our limited attention. Truly informed news curation and delivery would take into account each individual's changing needs and desires: the golden chalice for the media business. Deliver enough distracting news alerts that don't offer enough value to interrupt someone's day and your notification privileges will be promptly revoked.
I'm really interested in the ways in which big data can be harnessed to better serve audiences, and so I was thrilled to attend an entire session devoted to Customizing Mobile Content: Human, Machine or Both? The panel featured Tom Standage from The Economist, one of those rare news publications that's actually in the black. Standage argued that Economist readers respect the acumen of its reporters and prefer the publication's 100% human curated approach, and the complete lack of customization. Indeed, The Economist doesn't offer a single personalization option on any of its platforms. Standage referred to it as "the opposite of the Daily Me."
Rich Jaroslovsky, a digital veteran who launched wsj.com, represented an entirely different approach. With his new effort, SmartNews, he proposes the algorithm as editor. He's trying to quantify quality by analyzing patterns of usage of news content on 10 million URLs in order to identify 1000 news stories worth distributing to their user base. A firm believer in the evils of filter bubbles (I'm not), Jaroslovsky claimed that the SmartNews curation process eliminated ideology from the equation and provided an objective view of what news was worthy of attention. Jaroslovsky bristled at the notion that the SmartNews algorithm might reflect any of the human biases of its makers, which mystified me and at least a few others in the session.
The New York Times' Farhad Manjoo delivered the final presentation at the conference, which turned out to be a rather breathless exhortation to get on Snapchat now and witness the weird new rules for media engagement on mobile.
Manjoo is not the first social media expert to tell me in no uncertain terms that Snapchat is THE app to watch. Snapchat's deeply counterintuitive approach to "social" - there's no opportunity to share anything or like anything, really - turns all of the incentives of social media upside down and completely defies accepted standards for social media currency. Snapchat's "phone first" philosophy, in which there are no links just swipes, is a bit mind-boggling for digital natives over the age of 14. But old-schoolers who remember the days of must-see TV were surprised to hear about the un-archivable, un-shareable professional media content (including a reality show) that only lasts a day.
Where is the value here, the savvy audience asked, and how are we supposed to harness the power of Snapchat for our news organizations? Manjoo seemed a little unprepared for the question but eventually determined that news organizations ought to explore the value of discovery over sharing. In my mind this suggests a tight focus on pleasing the individual person rather than regarding that consumer as a node on a potentially profitable distribution network. While I see a huge amount of social value in the participation in social networks, it will be fascinating to see whether this new twist on the social formula will lead to more deeply engaging media experiences that approximate something closer to dreams than memes. How news organizations might benefit from this sea change is about as murky as media metrics.
"Oh, by the way, Leonard," I say into the phone, as breezily as I can feign, "what did you think about Diane's belt?"
Leonard Nimoy is on location in Cambridge, Massachusetts, preparing to direct The Good Mother for Disney, starring Diane Keaton. I'm the executive on the movie, on the lot, where a studio chieftain and I have just watched the makeup, hair and wardrobe tests Leonard had shot. (I won't identify the mogul, but it's unlikely you'd know his name.)
"What about Diane's belt?" Leonard replies, not remotely breezy, more like, do not go there.
"Didn't you think it was kind of wide? So wide it pulls your eyes from her face?" I am trying my best to translate the order the studio honcho had barked in the screening room -- "Tell him to lose that goddam belt!" -- into a casual afterthought.
Silence. Then: "Where did you say you went to college?"
He knows where, it's located in the city where he's shooting, but I answer.
"And after that? Your next degree -- where did you get that?"
I tell him. This call is not going to a good place.
"And then a Ph.D., if I'm not mistaken. Where's that from?"
I have now named three of the world's most storied universities.
After another excruciating silence: "Tell me. Is this what you thought you'd be doing with that education?"
"Yes," he muses, "I can see how having to tell me what some imbecile suit doesn't have the balls to tell me himself -- that must be fairly difficult for someone as bright as yourself." The words are brutal, but the tone is Vulcan.
"I'll give him your regards," I lie.
It's a miracle that a near 30-year friendship could rise from ashes like that, but it did. I loved hanging out with him. At birthdays and seders, in the classroom and on the radio, talking politics or parenting, Leonard and his wife Susan generously opened their hearts and home to me. And after all those years, having been reamed by Leonard Nimoy remains pretty much the coolest thing about me.
The Good Mother was the second picture that Leonard directed for Disney, after the hit comedy Three Men and a Baby. But The Good Mother was no comedy. Disney chairman Michael Eisner was slipped the unpublished manuscript of what the New York Times would call "Sue Miller's phenomenally assured, morally troubling and meticulously precise first novel," and it struck him as a descendant of classics like The Scarlet Letter and Ethan Frome. When it was assigned as an overnight read for the production executives, including me, we already knew he wanted to option it, so it surprised me how much I hated the story.
It tells of a divorced mother who finds herself in a custody battle for her young daughter, whom she loses after her new boyfriend, an artist, helps her discover her long-repressed sexuality, an erotic awakening depicted (in my reading, anyway) as the gateway to parental negligence. At the meeting to discuss how much to pay for the book, who should write the screenplay and what actresses could get an Academy nomination for playing the lead, I -- a lone voice at the table -- said I thought the book's message was reactionary: The cost of feminism is sin, and its price is tragedy. For half an hour, Eisner and I sparred over what The Good Mother was about and who would want to see it. Afterward, I wondered how much I actually believed what I'd been saying, and whether my big mouth had just lost me my job. Instead, I learned the next day that Eisner had decided I should be the executive on the film's development, under the tutelage of the aforementioned suit.
A beautiful screenplay by Michael Bortman landed Leonard as director, who cast Keaton as the mother, and as the boyfriend he persuaded the studio to let him hire an Irish actor whom no one at Disney except the casting director had heard of: Liam Neeson. Keaton kept her belt; I kept further imbecilities from the director, and my objections to the allegory to myself; and within a year, Leonard delivered a cut of the movie.
Like most studios, Disney's custom was to test directors' cuts of movies in front of audiences, so it would be possible to make changes, and develop a marketing campaign, based on their reactions. A test screening of The Good Mother was held at a multiplex deep in the San Fernando Valley. Afterward, we sat glumly at the back of the theater, empty except for the focus group, as we heard them say the movie was a downer. In their words and in the comment cards, there was no whiff of my problem with the story. No one thought it was anti-feminist, anti-sexual, anti-anything; they just wanted to be entertained.
Leonard was unconvinced. He pointed out that this audience, recruited in a suburban mall, was a complete mismatch for the picture, whose sweet spot was cosmopolitan adults who would find its moral complexity rich and uplifting. The studio agreed to test it again, in San Francisco. The response was better, but not much.
Back in Burbank, we met with Leonard. This meeting was run by someone higher up the food chain than me -- not the suit, but someone Leonard seemed to trust when he made his last picture. The first words out of the executive's mouth: "This movie has cancer."
Now Three Men and a Baby had been a huge cash cow for Disney. Any other director, especially someone the studio wanted to stay in business with, would have been enraged by this provocation. But Leonard instantly found his Spock.
"I see," he said, without a flicker of emotion. "And what course do you propose?" I was surprised he didn't add "Captain" to the end of his question.
"We would never take final cut from you, Leonard. But if you want to shoot a different ending, we'll step up to the cost, and you can compare the scores and decide which way to go. It'll be your decision."
Silence -- the kind I knew well. Then: "What do you mean, 'a different ending'?"
"A happy ending. Joint custody. She keeps the kid."
I haven't seen any mention of The Good Mother in Leonard's obituaries, perhaps because so few people saw or heard of it. Would it have done better box office if Leonard had caved? Even King Lear was a bomb until Nahum Tate's happy-ending version of 1681, in which Lear lives and Cordelia marries Edgar. The Good Mother wasn't Shakespeare, but Leonard stuck to his guns. He also razzed me about that belt for the next 30 years.
The entertainment industry is notorious for adjusting its numbers to service an often inscrutable bottom line. And all of us -- including everyone who variously produces or consumes media content -- have been ill-served by cookie-cutter audience segmentation techniques and panel-based research methods that cannot account for what's happening in the "long tail" of our global cultural economy.
The insidious audience segmentation techniques that valorize age, race, gender and income over every other facet of human identity have contributed to a media system rife with stereotypes about how humans tick. The tremendous data sets emerging from social media networks offer us the opportunity to understand ourselves, and our engagement with media, in a far more nuanced way (check out my TED talk about this).
«We want media makers to have a far more sophisticated and detailed understanding of their audiences needs, values and taste»
For the last two years, I have been co-principal investigator on a major new research initiative at the University of Southern California: the Media Impact Project is a global hub for the best research on measuring the impact of media. Supported by the Gates, Knight and Open Society Foundations, I'm optimistic that we can help make media more accountable to audiences and contribute to a better understanding of the role that media plays in people's lives.
Our vision here? Ultimately, we want media makers to have the resources to make data-driven decisions. Rather than depending on their "gut" alone, we encourage them to grapple with meaningful feedback information that demonstrates how real people have engaged with their work and what effects that interaction has produced.
We also want media makers to have a far more sophisticated and detailed understanding of their audience's needs, values and taste. For me, it's really an issue of respect. Our media environment should be respectful and responsive to the needs of global audiences, rather than painfully engineered to fit stereotypical notions of the interests of a few prized demographic groups.
As we recognize the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, we can't help but consider what's changed ... and what hasn't. After the recent attacks in Paris there are renewed worries about how we communicate the Holocaust to new generations, especially as the ranks of survivors and witnesses dwindle away.
Media and technology are always leveraged in one way or another for educating, historicizing and memorializing, but with subject matter like the Holocaust, the stakes seem even higher that we get it "right."
Last year marked the twentieth anniversary of Schindler's List, Steven Spielberg's landmark film that introduced the Holocaust in all its murderous horror to an entire generation. The Shoah Foundation invited me to participate in a conference that reflected on the film's impact while looking at new media and other new technologies that can be used for testimony and memorialization.
Much of my recent research has been on the social impact of social media and so I was excited to explore how these new technologies, and the valuable data they produce, can be leveraged by Holocaust scholars.
As with all new technology, there's a great deal of anxiety about its social repercussions, and particularly how it should be used to tell stories about something as highly charged as the Holocaust.
Recently, I've been focused on measuring the impact of media, which I regard as a tremendously powerful educational tool, particularly when it's embedded within compelling stories. I believe that films like Schindler's List play a very important role in our culture, introducing people to topics that most would prefer to avoid, and triggering conversations - around dinner tables, beside office coolers, and in the media - that give us an opportunity to face history and decide what we will learn from it.
Having worked in the entertainment-education video game industry, I have first-hand experience developing and evaluating the effects of interactive media. It seems abundantly clear to me that multiple media forms can be - and should be - mobilized to help people develop a more nuanced understanding of complex subjects such as the Holocaust.
Rachel Baum, one of my terrific panelists at the Shoah Foundation event (check out the video of our panel), offered a nuanced argument about how holograms might change how we think about Holocaust testimony. Baum sees the intrinsic value of a memorial that seems "uncanny" - a feeling that many people report when engaging with simulacra, convincing imitations of reality that can be confused with reality itself. But the hologram of Pinchas Gutter is not trying to fool anyone into thinking it's really him. Because of the novelty of the technology, we are forced us to acknowledge the strangeness of these testimonies in a way that traditional media cannot.
But once you hand the reins of power over to an audience - and that's exactly what you're doing with any interactive media - it's hard to predict what people are going to do.
Walden warns us that if we simply chastise young people for misusing new media to represent the Holocaust, we risk perpetuating a "sub-culture of unethical virtual memorialisations which purposely 'rebel' against critics." The Web is teeming with images of contemporary atrocities - how can we develop and dispense ethical guidelines for producing, distributing and consuming that material?
One necessary step is to take a methodical look at how the Holocaust is being represented in new media. Our panel included Israeli scholar Aya Yadlin-Segal, who had intended to perform a study of journalistic discourse around the Oscar win for Iran's A Separation, which incensed many Israelis who were rooting for their own country's entry in the Best Foreign Film category, Footnote. Yadlin-Segal shifted her focus to the online comments on these stories, which she regarded as a construction of a collective memory of the Holocaust. In informal public venues like these, scholars have the opportunity to see what lies beneath and beyond the more carefully constructed rhetoric of official Holocaust memorial. Yadlin-Segal found commenters comparing the Iranian film to a painting by Hitler and equating its Oscar win to the German's victory in the 1936 Olympics. The underlying presumption was that the Oscar was given for political, not artistic, reasons, and Iran's win provided evidence that Jewish persecution continues and that every Jewish generation will experience a Holocaust.
Social networks, whether physical or virtual, offline or online, are often used explicitly or implicitly for survival purposes. Paris Papamichos Chronakis, our third panelist at the Shoah event, presented fascinating research on the social networks developed among Greek Jewish survivors at Auschwitz. As minority Sephardic Jews among mostly Ashkenazi prisoners, it was especially important for Greek Jews to establish social ties with others who understood their Hebrew accents (they didn't speak Yiddish) and their distinctive culture. Papamichos Chronakis used social network analysis of audiovisual testimonies to reconstruct those relationships, which he represented in chilling spreadsheets that demonstrated how friendships ended with selection for the gas chamber.
Now that we have ready access to the data and technology to perform these kinds of analyses, I how no doubt that we'll see a lot more research on social networks and survival strategies. Scholars are sure to look at how social networks operate in different types of genocidal situations, which continue to plague us. Future research should help to explain whether new technology has fundamentally changed the equation between survival and social networking or whether it has simply reinforced a very basic human impulse. Either way, it is imperative that we explore how these powerful new technologies of mass self-communication (as Manuel Castells would put it) can be harnessed to ensure that genocide becomes a bitter memory rather than a constant future threat.
Mary Ann Vecchio kneels by the body of a student lying face down on the campus of Kent State University, Kent, Ohio on May 4, 1970, following the shooting of students protesting the Viet Nam War. Photo was winner of Pulitzer Prize. Photo by John Filo/AP
On May 4, 1970, when 29 Ohio National Guardsmen shot 67 rounds of ammunition at a group of unarmed Kent State University students protesting Richard Nixon's expansion of the Vietnam War into Cambodia, killing four students and wounding nine others, I was the president of the Harvard Lampoon, the nation's oldest college humor magazine.
Campuses across the country erupted in protests, some of them violent. Four million students at 450 colleges and universities went on strike. Some Harvard students may have supported Nixon's widening of the war, and some may have found a way to forgive the Kent State shooters, but I didn't know any of them, and certainly not on the Lampoon. We were furious, and since lampooning is what we did, that's how we channeled our rage.
Though I didn't know it then, this was the same year that Charlie Hebdo first appeared, as the rebranding of a weekly called Hara-Kiri, which had been banned by the French government for a cover mocking the effusive press coverage of former President Charles de Gaulle's death by contrasting it with the media's relatively restrained attention to a nightclub fire that killed 146 people the week before.
The broadsheet that the Lampoon published four days after Kent State didn't get us banned, but it aspired to the same tastelessness. Our format was a parody of the treatment Nixon was getting in the establishment press. We thought the papers were bending over backwards to be respectful toward a paranoid warmonger while showing contempt for student protesters, whom they portrayed as dirty draft-dodging druggies. So we decided to out-do the sycophantic media by dialing the suck-up into the red zone.
Under the headline "Famous Dick Shrinker to Lobotomize Punks," we reported approvingly the news that Nixon's former psychiatrist had developed a pencil-and-paper test to screen American children aged six to eight for "anti-social attitudes and potential for hostile behavior." Another item lauded Nixon's appointment of Tommy, the deaf, dumb and blind pinball wizard immortalized by the Who's rock opera, as his top advisor, "'who can tell me all I need to know to run the country.'"
But the story that pushed the envelope farthest was "Tricia Nixon to Wed Jew." Mr. Right was a nice boy from Yale studying to be a dentist. "Asked if marrying outside her faith posed a problem, Trish cooed, 'Not really. The ancient Jewish custom of....'" I cringe at the words that came next; they describe the blood libel, and I won't repeat them here. That custom, Trish continued, "'really differs very little from the policies Daddy advocates. I think every girl wants the man she weds to share those special little pleasures of her Pa.'"
I can easily imagine a cartoon depicting that scene. It would resemble any number of cartoons on the cover of Charlie Hebdo, and it would similarly polarize its audience -some finding it wicked, even blasphemous; others, hilariously on target. If the hate-speech rules on many college campuses today had been in place back then, publishing such a story could well have gotten us hauled up before a disciplinary board.
What might our defense have been? The genealogy of satire runs from Aristophanes to Mad Magazine, Voltaire to Colbert, Swift to "South Park," Orwell to "The Onion" and "The Interview." Freedom of speech must include the freedom to outrage. If you have to fight fire with fire, you have to fight indecency with more indecency. Rudeness subverts oppression. Crudeness ventilates orthodoxy. Laughter strips the emperor naked. Satire is a check on power. Why else would tyrants and fundamentalists bother to ban and punish it? "He rolls the executions on his tongue like berries," wrote Osip Mandelstam in "The Stalin Epigram," a poem that condemned him to exile and death. Last month in Cairo, Bassem Youssef, sometimes called the Egyptian Jon Stewart, was fined millions of dollars for satirizing that country's president and military leaders. Last week in Paris, imps were murdered by fanatics for making fun of fanaticism.
Of course barbarians and dictators can be just as jovial as cartoonists or college kids. Comedy can kill. I know there's a line between humor that dehumanizes and lampoonery that democratizes. If nothing is sacred, nothing is civilized. But who gets to draw that line, how do you demarcate the holy, without privileging the very authority that parody exists to challenge?
On the back page of the Lampoon's Kent State broadside, we ran two quotes. One is an excerpt from Mark Twain's 1905 essay "The Damned Human Race," as relevant to 1970 as when he wrote it, and as miserably apt today. The passage ends with this:
"Man is the Religious Animal. He is the only Religious Animal. He is the only animal that has the True Religion - several of them. He is the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself, and cuts his throat if his theology isn't straight. He has made a graveyard of the globe in trying his honest best to smooth his brother's path to happiness and heaven. He was at it in the time of the Caesars, he was at it in Mahomet's time, he was at it in the time of the Inquisition, he was at it in France a couple of centuries, he was at it in England in Mary's day, he has been at it ever since he first saw the light... - he will be at it somewhere else tomorrow."
The other quote accompanied a drawing of a girl kneeling over the body of a Kent State student, based on a photo by John Filo, who would win the Pulitzer Prize for it. In that iconic image of terror and grief, her arms are outstretched in agony, her face contorted by a silent scream. The words are from King Lear: "Nothing will come of nothing. Speak again."
As long as the only animal that has the True Religion is at it somewhere else tomorrow, the obligation of satire will be to speak again. And to speak against.
I was very pleased to be invited by the National Endowment for the Arts to participate in a lively symposium addressing perhaps the most important issue in the arts these days: how do we justify public funding for the arts?
For those of us who frequently attend arts and culture events, the question seems silly. Doesn't everyone realize that humans are hard-wired to respond to compelling stories and visuals, whether they manifest themselves as sculpture, video games, concerts or novels? Isn't it clear that music and movies can bridge the most profound political divides and move hearts and minds?
As we see arts programming melt away in cash-strapped public schools, we have to acknowledge the awful truth -- that arts and culture is considered a luxury, not a necessity, and justifications for their value must be proven rather than assumed.
Both the NEA and the UK's Arts & Humanities Research Council, which co-sponsored the symposium, position themselves as agencies harnessing the power of art, culture and leisure to improve the lives of citizens and invigorate and strengthen communities. The problem, of course, is proving that their funding strategies actually achieve these often hard-to-measure goals.
Measuring Cultural Engagement: A Quest for New Terms, Tools, and Techniques summarizes a two-day session that brought together a wide range of researchers, using both traditional and new-fangled techniques, to describe and measure the myriad forms of cultural engagement that take place in all types of physical and virtual spaces. I'm hoping that this report will jump-start an international effort to revisit our presumptions about what counts as cultural engagement (Instagramming a photo from a museum, for instance) and taking advantage of new technology to better measure that engagement. Arts and culture organizations should feel more confident about the possibility of measuring the impact of their work, not only to fundraise but also to make the crucial course-corrections that all creative enterprises must make when they are committed to achieving complex goals.