Good morning, Anonymous—
First and foremost, thank you for listening to our program for eight years. This means you’ve been listening since the beginning when we started broadcasting nationally on public radio stations in 2003. What a journey that has been!
As to your critiques about "Monsters We Love: TV’s Pop Culture Theodicy," thank you for the feedback. It helps make us a better, more responsive program in the future and I’d be glad to address your two points. The assumption that we’re catering to a younger demographic isn’t correct. It never came up in any editorial planning meeting or scheduling discussion. Today’s television viewers come in all ages and races. This show came about in part because a fair number of our colleagues and friends over the age of 50 are talking about True Blood, Mad Men, and other shows in the office kitchen, the yoga studio, and at the local coffee shop. And so is Krista. We wanted to embrace this experience and insight, treating it as a production value in and of itself.
That said, we are trying to open up a bit more and taking some fresh approaches. For a few shows each year, we will be address popular culture more directly when we can. We’re trying to serve many types of sensibilities, and this is one area that’s been neglected in my opinion. It’s a stretch area for us and we’re continually trying to find our producing voice for these types of shows.
As to your point about Diane Winston and our host’s “personal TV viewing habits” being a digression, I don’t think of it that way. The intent is to be inclusive as possible, creating an inside-the-room atmosphere. As a producer, I encourage her to show more of her personality in these types of shows about entertainment and culture. Isn’t that part of the power (and the fun) of television: being able to talk about scenes intimately with other people, even acquaintances.
She gives herself over, openly and honestly, to the questions about the material and the conversation. This tone and style had her step out from behind the microphone a bit more than usual so that she wasn’t just an outside observer who feels disconnected from what’s being talked about. Her questions come by way of familiarity and research. She’s a fan and a journalist. This line is a tricky one, and it may move depending on the individual ear.
You are not alone in your criticisms. Some listeners objected to this type of subject matter being on at such an early hour on stations, i.e. the talk about zombies and vampires. Others objected in that we didn’t address particular programs they were watching. But, we also heard from a new group of listeners, via email or Facebook, who appreciated the show. This serves part of our mission too.
Thank you for sticking with us all these years and for adding to the discussion. Hopefully this brief note adds to your understanding of our decisions and we’ll do better next time. Please let us know if we don’t.
Trent Gilliss senior editor
by Susan Leem, associate producer
Tethered between stone and sky. (photo: Enrico Marongiu/Flickr, cc by-nc-sa 2.0)
This week’s show has a theological term in its title that sounds obscure, even impenetrable: "Monsters We Love: TV’s Pop Culture Theodicy." Depending on your view of an omnipotent God, it could be both. ”Theodicy” attempts to answer ancient questions like, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” and “If God is good, why does evil exist?”
The television shows mentioned in “Monsters We Love” are filled with “amoral zombies” and “loving vampires” and “righteous serial killers," as Krista Tippett puts it. At the core of this theodicy is the question of what makes "good" people different from characters we can register instantly as "evil."
The Greek philosopher Epicurus came up with his own twist on the problem of evil, the “Epicurean Paradox”:
“Is God willing to prevent evil but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence, then, evil.”
Merriam-Webster describes theodicy as a “defense of God’s goodness and omnipotence in view of the existence of evil.” And on the free will of human beings, one explanation of free will theodicy suggests that God values good choices from humans only if we have the free will to make them. This leaves the possibility for a misuse of free will, and evil choices. For St. Augustine, evil results from the failure of humans to exercise moral responsibility, not God.
What is it about watching the moral failing of others that draws millions of viewers to these TV shows? Maybe it has nothing to do with their final choices or even their failings. For me, it’s empathy for seeing someone else struggle between choices of good and evil in situations where it’s not clear to me how free their will actually is.Comments
by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
A mass of people dress up for the Toronto Zombie Walk. (photo: Sam Javanrouh/Flickr, cc by-nc 2.0)
For some reason we’re experiencing a zombie moment. From zombie crawls across the globe to the record-breaking 11 million people who tuned in to watch the season premiere of AMC’s The Walking Dead, zombies are seemingly everywhere this season. Even sober institutions like The Centers for Disease Control are using zombies to teach us about disaster preparedness.
As we get ready for next week’s interview with Diane Winston, the Knight Chair in Media and Religion at the University of Southern California, we’re wondering about this collective obsession with the walking dead. Why do you think zombies (not to mention other semi-humans like vampires and werewolves) are so appealing to our imaginations right now? Is it campy escapism from our economic woes? Or could it possibly be a reflection of how many people are feeling at this moment — like the walking wounded?
by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
Women gone wild. The rise of the anti-hero. Reenchanting the world. Nostalgia for the recent past.
These are just a few of the themes peppering our television landscape. How do these narratives reflect who we are (or want to be)? Why are we longing for stories about these kinds of characters and situations at this particular moment? Where do religious themes and imagery figure into the latest crop of television storytelling?
What shows or characters capture your attention? Send us your ideas for clips by October 27. Here’s what we’ll need from you as virtual producers:
Oh, and don’t forget to let us know who you are. Let the production begin!Comments
by Susan Leem, associate producer
Photo by Robert Francis/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
The A&E television show Hoarders is hugely popular for so many reasons. Maybe we see our inner hoarder in their characters, or just want to be shocked at the sight of extreme stuff. But when writer Amy Gutman decided to declutter her storage space, she developed a fascinating idea about why our stuff is so important to us.
For decades, she paid nearly ten thousand dollars for a storage unit to avoid letting go of her things, and recently came to see much of it as worthless. In trying to comprehend how she could have kept these things for so long, she suggests that for some people our stuff is tied to our character, our being. Gutman pulls from her memory banks (but not her vast repository of stuff), Margaret Jane Radin’s paper on Property and Personhood:
"Most people possess certain objects they feel are almost part of themselves. These objects are closely bound up with personhood because they are part of the way we constitute ourselves as continuing personal entities in the world. They may be as different as people are different, but some common examples might be a wedding ring, a portrait, an heirloom, or a house.
One may gauge the strength or significance of someone’s relationship with an object by the kind of pain that would be occasioned by its loss. On this view, an object is closely related to one’s personhood if its loss causes pain that cannot be relieved by the object’s replacement. If so, that particular object is bound up with the holder. For instance, if a wedding ring is stole from a jeweler, insurance proceeds can reimburse the jeweler, but if a wedding ring is stolen from a loving wearer, the price of a replacement will not restore the status quo — perhaps no amount of money can do so.”
Clearly there is no end to what kinds of objects can be imbued with this kind of meaning. One question that has not only legal but philosophical implications is how much of personhood is the culmination of experiences. And maybe those experiences are deeply tied to property, where some may find the necessity and pain of attachment. The one thing I wished Gutman had revealed in the article was how she released her attachment to her stuff.Comments
Krista Tippett, host
I discovered Lost just a few seasons ago and immersed myself via Netflix with the zeal of a convert. Trent has been asking me to blog about Sunday’s finale, but honestly I’m stumped — still trying to wrap my mind around what it means. For now I am happy to pass on this from Diane Winston, one of my favorite observers of how we are telling the story of our time on television.
She called her blog on the finale "The Day After" and it starts like this:
"Last night’s Lost finale may have done more for mainstreaming religion than Mitch Albom’s bestsellers. All around the Internet—from forums and blogs to MSM sites and academic journals—musings on faith, redemption and the power of love are suddenly de rigueur. Here’s one good wrap-up of first-wave critiques, but also check out Brent Plate’s excellent overview for Religion Dispatches. Plate revels in Lost's religious mash-ups and pop-culture mixings because the show's ultimate meaning is key: 'Whether Locke or Shephard or Austen are saviors or demons does not matter. The hero is the community, the living together.'”