On Being Tumblr

On Being Tumblr

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.
Sifting Through ScreensAndy Dayton, Associate Web Producer
The image above is a photo of artist Nam June Paik's video installation "TV Buddha." It’s always been a favorite of mine for its clever take on the practice of meditation — a Buddha statue “contemplating” a live video image of itself. This picture is one of the photos that we considered for our recent program, "TV and Parables of Our Time," but it didn’t end up making the final cut.
Choosing images for our programs is one of my favorite parts of this job, but it’s not always easy. The best image usually contains some mix of aesthetic appeal, editorial relevance, and that slippery, hard to pin-down thing we call “sensibility.”
"TV and Parables of Our Time" was no exception. I initially proposed to Trent (SOF’s online editor) using images from the TV shows Krista and Diane Winston discussed (much like our Web site for "A Return to the Mystery"). After talking it over a bit, we decided this conversation deserved a different approach — so it was off to Flickr, Getty, or any other place I might be able to find the right image.
 (photo: gianmerizzi/Flickr)
 (photos: Sebastien Tixier/Flickr, matratze/Flickr, Wweeggee/Flickr)
I struggled to figure out where to start searching for an image with this program. The most obvious starting point was to start with an image search for “television,” but that seemed a little too easy. I came back to Trent with a set of images (included above), pushing the one you see on top with the young girl facing sideways. Unable to find something directly related to the program (other than the presence of a television), I had mostly gone for images I found visually interesting. Trent’s advice: keep looking.
I find that there’s no sure-fire way to accomplish this task, but it often helps to have more than one set of eyes looking to get it right. It’s real easy to get attached to one element of the program — in this case, the image of a  television — and lose track of the larger message. On my second round of searching, I encountered photos of “TV Buddha” and got excited to have found something I already loved — hoping I might be able to make it work for the show. Talking it over with Trent — someone a little less infatuated with the image’s content — helped me realized that, while it may have been a cool image, it wasn’t the right fit for the program.
 (photo: Andrea Volpini/Flickr)
 (photos: Moonfall Pix/Flickr, Gianluigi Calcaterra/Flickr, David Boyle/Flickr)
I finally came back with one last set of images (above), which included the photo we ended up using, on top. Not only did I like the image, I also appreciated the quote that the photographer included on the photo’s Flickr page. From the Egyptian screenwriter Mohammed Amer, on the subject of Egyptian musalsalat (TV series): “One of the most important things soap operas have done is encourage the public to condemn terrorism.”
I liked that it kept with one of the themes of the program — the power of televised storytelling to help us cope with contemporary issues — but came from a different cultural perspective: Egyptian television rather than the American-made shows discussed in the program. My one concern was that the image seemed a little grainy, but Trent’s input was that the image quality didn’t make it less compelling.
Oh yeah, and I did manage to sneak Nam June Paik into the Web site. Another image I’d found on the last round of searching included Paik’s large installation "Megatron/Matrix," which we ended up using for the site’s secondary pages.  (photo: Garrett Miller/Flickr)

Sifting Through Screens
Andy Dayton, Associate Web Producer

The image above is a photo of artist Nam June Paik's video installation "TV Buddha." It’s always been a favorite of mine for its clever take on the practice of meditation — a Buddha statue “contemplating” a live video image of itself. This picture is one of the photos that we considered for our recent program, "TV and Parables of Our Time," but it didn’t end up making the final cut.

Choosing images for our programs is one of my favorite parts of this job, but it’s not always easy. The best image usually contains some mix of aesthetic appeal, editorial relevance, and that slippery, hard to pin-down thing we call “sensibility.”

"TV and Parables of Our Time" was no exception. I initially proposed to Trent (SOF’s online editor) using images from the TV shows Krista and Diane Winston discussed (much like our Web site for "A Return to the Mystery"). After talking it over a bit, we decided this conversation deserved a different approach — so it was off to Flickr, Getty, or any other place I might be able to find the right image.


(photo: gianmerizzi/Flickr)


(photos: Sebastien Tixier/Flickr, matratze/Flickr, Wweeggee/Flickr)

I struggled to figure out where to start searching for an image with this program. The most obvious starting point was to start with an image search for “television,” but that seemed a little too easy. I came back to Trent with a set of images (included above), pushing the one you see on top with the young girl facing sideways. Unable to find something directly related to the program (other than the presence of a television), I had mostly gone for images I found visually interesting. Trent’s advice: keep looking.

I find that there’s no sure-fire way to accomplish this task, but it often helps to have more than one set of eyes looking to get it right. It’s real easy to get attached to one element of the program — in this case, the image of a  television — and lose track of the larger message. On my second round of searching, I encountered photos of “TV Buddha” and got excited to have found something I already loved — hoping I might be able to make it work for the show. Talking it over with Trent — someone a little less infatuated with the image’s content — helped me realized that, while it may have been a cool image, it wasn’t the right fit for the program.


(photo: Andrea Volpini/Flickr)


(photos: Moonfall Pix/Flickr, Gianluigi Calcaterra/Flickr, David Boyle/Flickr)

I finally came back with one last set of images (above), which included the photo we ended up using, on top. Not only did I like the image, I also appreciated the quote that the photographer included on the photo’s Flickr page. From the Egyptian screenwriter Mohammed Amer, on the subject of Egyptian musalsalat (TV series): “One of the most important things soap operas have done is encourage the public to condemn terrorism.”

I liked that it kept with one of the themes of the program — the power of televised storytelling to help us cope with contemporary issues — but came from a different cultural perspective: Egyptian television rather than the American-made shows discussed in the program. My one concern was that the image seemed a little grainy, but Trent’s input was that the image quality didn’t make it less compelling.

Oh yeah, and I did manage to sneak Nam June Paik into the Web site. Another image I’d found on the last round of searching included Paik’s large installation "Megatron/Matrix," which we ended up using for the site’s secondary pages.

(photo: Garrett Miller/Flickr)

Comments
Download

Opening Clip, from Battlestar Galactica
Trent Gilliss, online editor

As I wrote yesterday, Krista and crew went gung-ho on the audio clips from TV series for this week’s show. We included a good number of clips and I thought that would suffice. So, as I was editing Krista’s journal for this week’s newsletter, I find her enthusiasm hasn’t yet waned, as she has promised her devoted readers that they could listen to the Battlestar Galactica clip selected to open the top of the program.

Here I, with Nancy’s help, have isolated, encoded, and uploaded an mp3 for your ears. It’s quite compelling, and I’m glad Krista made the offer.

Comments

The Gospel According to Battlestar Galactica
Mitch Hanley, Senior Producer

Ever since Krista got me hooked on Battlestar Galactica a couple of years ago, I have noticed very few episodes that didn’t offer some not-so-subtle references to Judeo-Christian theological influences. There are countless examples throughout the program’s four seasons: a “chosen” or select group of survivors travelling great distances trying to find the prophesied “home”; the twelve tribes of mankind; transitioning from pantheism to monotheism, etc. But one of the more blatant is the refrain at the end of most speeches in BSG, “So say we all” — basically serving the same function when a congregation says “Amen” after a part of a church liturgy. And hearing the pantheistic human characters say “Gods damn it” still catches me off guard.

In this week’s program, "TV and Parables of our Time," USC professor Diane Winston notes how the writers of BSG would also weave issues found in today’s real-life news into their story lines. She cites the detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib as one example. Winston goes on to suggest that maybe we need good storytelling in order to process the events happening in our world, and that trying to understand the complexity of these events only through news media may not be enough.

As someone who finds the Bible in desperate need of an editor, I wonder if I would find the biblical stories more compelling if they had spaceships and cool sound effects and thrilling scores. Would I find the messages more relevant? I don’t know. It does makes me wonder if these modern narratives like Battlestar Galactica need to have familiar touch points, such as religious rituals and themes that we grew up with, in order to make a space-based story somehow more accessible to our terrestrial lives. Or do they just borrow from great stories, many of which can be found in religious texts? What do you think?

Comments

The Burden of Good Television

Trent Gilliss, online editor

The production staff diligently spent hours selecting clips from their favorite television series for inclusion in this week’s program with Diane Winston. We’ve even got a title: "TV and Parables of Our Time." Somehow, I am told, downloading and watching 24 and Lost and Battlestar Galactica and The Wire is really hard work. Ah fellow producers, “you suffer for your soup.” *grin*

The professor of religion and media at USC appealed to the heart of Krista’s eclectic consumption of TV series on DVD. After all, they actually have sat together and watched the tube. This enthusiasm spilled over into our search for actualities from these episodes.

And, this passion bore itself out in last week’s cuts and copy session. The script was extraordinarily rough. There were at least five spots for audio clips from some of those series. Then it really got messy — two or three clips with an average length of 3-5 minutes (one more than 8 minutes) were included in the listen. Heads were spinning.

What I experienced was an insider’s perspective. Script was trying to explain too much of each plot, and the opening scene from 24 (“8:00 AM–9:30 AM” - season 2, episode 1) was heavy. So we sussed out the needs of various listeners and focused on illustrating or accentuating a point made at the out-cue. The result: a much better, more listenable production.

What I realized is that I don’t watch that much TV — well, except for my utter obsession of the Tour de France on Versus — and felt a bit sheltered, out of the loop actually, when talking about these dramatic series. Not being part of these conversations and the larger culture is isolating. I’m an outsider who can only politely smile and lean in when Krista and Mitch and Colleen and Nancy start discussing characters like Snot Boogie and McNulty, or Cylons and Caprica, or Jack Shepard and John Locke.

My hope is that an unknowing perspective helps those of you who are in the same boat that I’m in. That Thursday’s podcast clues you in rather than leaving your face pressed against the window watching the family sit in front of a toasty fire, chomping on popcorn and sodas, with a 42” HD screen glowing in the background.

So, here’s a list of the episodes and scenes we considered. I’ve flagged in bold the clips we’re using.

Scene from The WireThe Wire. The vernacular of the characters is difficult track at first, but somehow your ear tunes in after a while and you get the gist. Nevertheless, the distinct dialects and slang used eliminated a lot of great scenes from consideration for the radio.

  • "Misgivings" (Season 4, episode 10) - In the scene we chose, Colvin meets with Miss Shepherdson to seek permission to continue the alternative class.
  • "Final Grades" (Season 4, episode 13) - This scene presents Colvin meeting with Wee-bay in prison and asks if he can adopt his son Namond.
  • "Corner Boys" (Season 4, episode 8) - Colvin gives speech about corner boys to the alternative class.
  • "Refugees" (Season 4, episode 4) - Here, Mr. Prezbo (Pryzbylewski ) tries talking to his class after a student has been slashed.

Scene from Battlestar GalacticaBattlestar Galactica. Probably Krista’s favorite series. And so we found a place for three clips in the program.

Scene from LostLost

  • "White Rabbit" (season 1, episode 5) - We used two scenes from this episode: one where Jack Shepard tells the group that they have to learn to live together or die alone, and the other in which John Locke speaks dramatically about looking into the eye of the island and seeing its beauty.
  • "Exodus part 2" (season 1, episodes 24/25) - A rich discussion between Jack and Locke on science and faith.
  • "There’s No Place Like Home, parts 2 & 3" (season 4, episode 13) - Locke says the island is a place where miracles happen and tries to persuade Jack to stay on the island.

Scene from HouseHouse. A late entry to the production process that wasn’t part of the first cuts and copy session. A clip from this series was selected because it’s a different genre of drama and it is a popular series still in production.

  • "Informed Consent" (season 3, episode 3) - Here we have multiple scenes featuring a patient who wishes to die and not be treated while Dr. House tricks him into continuing testing/treatment.
  • "Damned if You Do, Damned if You Don’t" (season 1, episode 5) - A scene where Dr. House and a nun with a mysterious ailment debate God and faith.
  • "The Socratic Method" (season 1, episode 6) - We strongly considered this scene with Dr. House and his nemesis Dr. Cuddy about the ethics of using unapproved protocols to shrink a patient’s tumor so it could be operated on.
Comments

Hollywood in the Classroom

Nancy Rosenbaum, Associate Producer

Students who enroll in Diane Winston’s "Religion, Media and Hollywood" class at USC get to watch a lot of good TV. Even better, some of the best TV writers and producers in the business visit their classroom to discuss the influences, themes, and ideas undergirding their shows.

Fortunately for the rest of us, many of these guest lectures are videotaped. Take this 2007 talk by Ronald D. Moore, executive producer of the sci-fi series Battlestar Galactica. He spoke to Winston’s students about the religious influences embedded in the original 1978 version of Battlestar Galactica, including Mormon theology, numerology, and the signs of the zodiac. Moore talks about his development of the mythology of the 2004-2009 version of Battlestsar Galactica to reflect modern concerns around religious fundamentalism and a clash of civilizations propelled by different beliefs.

Part I

Part II

You can also check out other videos from Winston’s class, including House and Nancy Miller, creator and executive producer of Saving Grace. Both of these shows were mentioned in Krista’s conversation with Winston for our upcoming broadcast, “TV and Parables of Our Time.”

Comments

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?

Comments

Mr. Rogers

Rob McGinley Myers, Associate Producer

A few weeks ago, Mr. Rogers came up at one of our production meetings, and Krista mentioned that she would have loved to interview him if he were still alive. I remember reading somewhere that Fred Rogers’s original intention in creating a television show was to try to find a space in TV broadcasting for grace.

Not a few days had passed when an episode of Mr. Rogers appeared on my family’s Tivo as a suggestion. I don’t know if PBS has just recently begun rebroadcasting the show, but I decided to see if my kids could connect with him, considering that they watch almost nothing but cartoons.

Having not watched the show myself in almost 30 years, I was surprised to realize how much I actually enjoyed it, especially the mini-documentaries about various factories (in this case, a sleeping bag factory). There’s something extraordinarily reassuring about watching one of the ordinary objects of our lives being constructed piece by piece.

My children were equally captivated, and within minutes my 3 year old was talking

back to the screen when Mr. Rogers asked her a question. Somehow, through the medium of television, he was able to make a genuine emotional connection to a girl that had been born a year after his death. In a CNN profile, Rogers said, “The whole idea is to look into the television camera and present as much love as you possibly could to a person who might feel that he or she needs it.”

Fred Rogers would have been 80 next month.

Comments