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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

The “Lion King” Is Al Swearengen
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor

Last Monday, Krista strode into the office that morning immediately asking if anybody had seen the premier of NBC’s new series, Kings. I had; I liked it. Krista was obviously excited about the story’s biblical reference point to the story of King David and its compelling analogs for characters — not to mention that she might just be latching on to a new series after Battlestar Galactica’s recent finale. (I know, I’d just write BG, or BSG, but most people wouldn’t understand this short-hand; I know I wouldn’t have.)

Diane Winston, the Knight Chair of Media and Religion at USC who recently published Small Screen, Picture: Lived Religion and Television, had given her a heads up about the show and urged Krista to watch it. Sounds like we may be interviewing Winston for a potential summertime program on what’s happening with religion and spirituality in popular culture.

Like Nancy Franklin, I was shattered when I heard that the HBO series Deadwood was cancelled. My favorite character was the megalomaniacal saloon owner Al Swearengen (Ian McShane) — a man who was as viciously cunning and and pragmatically regal (willing to wash blood stains off his wood floor even though he commandeered from his second story chambers) and inhumane as they come. When he was virtuous, it was often base, but I loved him for his acts of kindness, even though they were somewhat demented.

Seeing McShane on the premier of Kings was like hearing the male cardinal calling out in the fresh spring air after a long, hard, cold winter. Despite all the intriguing biblical allusions, I dig that the show is futuristic without dating itself, and this is where Franklin nails it in The New Yorker:

It’s imaginative, and its familiar outlines don’t prevent it from being engrossing moment by moment. In fact, it’s engrossing in a rather maddeningly clever way, in the sense that you can’t tell exactly when the series is taking place. It could be ten years from now, it could be thirty years from now, or it could be that the world being depicted is an alternative version of the one we’re in right now; it looks like it, give or take a few buildings and the place-names. Watching the show, you feel a tension as you try to decide whether it’s holding a mirror up to the present or whether it’s making an argument about where the world may soon be headed.

Did anyone else watch it? Is anyone else hooked like I am?

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Stepping Outside the “Moral Matrix”

by Andy Dayton, associate web producer

Recently on my way to work I watched Jonathon Haidt’s TED talk on “the real difference between liberals and conservatives.” I’m sure it’s no mistake that this talk was published last week — whether you aim to participate or not, partisanship is almost impossible to avoid this close to an election.

In his talk, Haidt breaks down human moral values into five basic elements, then shows how an individual’s placement on the liberal-conservative spectrum is determined by how much emphasis that person puts on each of these values. Once an individual settles into a particular place on that spectrum, that person becomes stuck in what Haidt describes as a “Moral Matrix” (yes, he is alluding to the movie) — we cease to be able to see a moral reality other than our own. The major thrust of Haidt’s talk seems to be that, even though it’s human nature to settle into a moral viewpoint, we can all benefit from “taking the red pill” and stepping out of our “Moral Matrix.”

This interests me especially because, while for many it’s something to work toward personally — like recycling your plastics or eating enough leafy greens — for myself and the rest of the SOF staff it’s a job requirement. Being new to journalism, this is one of the things that caught me a little bit off-guard when I first started working here. For a good portion of my life I have seen political involvement as an inherently virtuous activity — something any upstanding citizen should do. So it was a little strange to realize that as a producer for a journalistic program I was now obligated to think about “conflict of interest” when considering my involvement in any kind of political activity. This issue has become more present than ever now that we are in the middle of producing a two-part series focusing on American politics (you may have already seen the preview of Krista’s conversation with Amy Sullivan), and as our staff discussion of the presidential election sometimes walks the line between editorial analysis and personal belief.

This brings me to one other thing that interested me about Haidt’s presentation: although his message was about moving away from partisanship, he also acknowledged that the audience he was speaking to was predominately made up of social liberals. However, rather than challenge this bias, he definitely played directly to the crowd with the sort of humor he used. It seems that there’s an unavoidable irony in this approach, but perhaps Haidt felt it was more constructive to say “hey, I’m one of you” so that his message would be more openly received. I couldn’t help drawing another parallel to Speaking of Faith: as a public radio program, we can often find ourselves in a similar predicament — both in the makeup of our listenership and of our colleagues. How much is it acceptable to “play to the crowd,” if at all? Do you feel that Speaking of Faith is operating inside a particular “Moral Matrix,” and if so, how?

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