Singing about Revenge and Forgiveness
by Amara Hark-Weber, production intern
Over the past week, I have been collecting songs about revenge and forgiveness that were suggested by our listeners. Spending hours in the MPR (Minnesota Public Radio) music library, I thought not only about the artists and songs that I was looking for, but also about times in my own life were I have felt the sentiment of one of these songs or another. The most meaningful part of going through this music has been the reminder that I am far from alone in fierce rages that I have felt or gentle unclamping as I have let go of past wrongs. I’ve listened to scores of songs and looked across thousands of CDs, all the while thinking about the many ways that we think and talk about revenge or forgiveness. It has been startling to see how these complex sentiments apply themselves to my interactions with friends, family, and, of course, politics.
At the tail end of this project, I can honestly say that my thoughts about both revenge and forgiveness have changed greatly from the time when I set out. Several nights ago, as I received calls and texts from friends and family around the country and the world watching the election results come in and both candidates speak, I thought again about revenge and forgiveness. I cannot describe the spectrum of emotion that I have felt over the course of the past few weeks, and last night it came to a head when a Ghanaian friend called from Abuja, Nigeria where he is training with the BBC. He was weeping. We talked for some time about politics, but also hope and forgiveness, tolerance and revenge. We questioned the fine line separating our emotional responses from events that swirl around us, and the ways in which our gut reaction is often so far from the words that we use or the actions that we make.
As I spoke with my friend, I was glad to have these songs to draw upon as we discussed the many reasons why and how politics become emotional. By the end of the conversation we had agreed that forgiveness was not so different from tolerance, and revenge often like poison ivy — so satisfying to itch, but with each scratch spreading the rash. And politics, like religion, like love, family and so much else, is just a lens through which we see the others, ourselves, the past, our future.
Revenge and forgiveness are words of motion, although the songs that they inspire are emotional snapshots that do not move or change. Like the images in these songs, speaking with someone half way around the world about events that were unfolding in real time was something that I will not easily forget. This political season is not something that I cannot forget. This time in my life, when I am a newcomer in the city of my childhood is something that I do not want to forget. And the ties that we all have to people and events far, far away from ourselves is something that I must not forget ever.
I know that politics can be bitter, and that many people are elated and many disappointed. I also know that my emotional reaction is neither revenge nor forgiveness. It is not tolerance or hope or bitterness. It is still too raw for any of these polished words. It is something that will take time to shape. And eventually it will become polished. And then it will be tarnished. And I will move forward. And everyone will have moved forward. Emotion, events, persons, places, politics do not stand still, and although we may record songs that capture moments, and those songs remind us of this or that time, it is important to remember that everything is now different.
The Movie Montage That Didn’t Make the Cut
by Rob McGinley Myers, associate producer
In the original interview for this week’s program "Getting Revenge and Forgiveness," our guest Michael McCullough mentioned the fact that human beings have been telling revenge stories for millennia. In a Greek tragedy like Medea, the main character kills her own children in revenge for her husband’s unfaithfulness. In Shakespeare, the ghost of Hamlet's father tells him, “If thou didst ever thy dear father love— / Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.” In Death Wish, Charles Bronson goes on an anti-crime rampage after his wife and daughter are attacked by muggers. Why are we so attracted to this plot line?
Michael McCullough argues that, as humans, we are hardwired to want revenge when we are wronged. Brain scans of people contemplating revenge resemble brain scans of people thirsty for a sweet drink. So perhaps there are few better ways to keep people listening to a story, reading a book, or watching a movie than to draw on their biological desire for retribution.
In working on this program, we put together a montage of movie clips to evoke both the appeal of revenge and its consequences. The montage got cut in the editing process — it just didn’t fit the tone of the show — but we thought you might enjoy it on its own. Let us know what movie clips would you have used, and what are your own stories about revenge and forgiveness.
The Final Cut: Omitting the Samaritan Woman’s Story
Shiraz Janjua, Associate Producer
Some interesting reactions to the Vashti McKenzie program this past weekend, both positive and negative. This interesting e-mail in particular was mentioned during our Monday morning staff meeting, coming from Kathryn in Davis, California. She mentions a segment around 01:12:00 in the full interview that we cut out of the final production. The segment is about 6 minutes long, and survived through a couple of rounds of edits before it was ultimately cut out.
I am a big fan of this show and admire your talent, Krista. The editing on this particular show disturbed me, however. By her own account, and yours, the essence of Vashti McKenzie is discovered in the the story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. It’s an incredibly profound teaching in the same way that Native American stories are so deeply wise and transformational. (One can understand how Christianity of the mainstream stumbled so badly by failing to understand the meaning of this core teaching. Rev. McKenzie finally gets it right.) And yet, it didn’t make the final cut.
When I look at what did make the cut — the emphasis on the Jeremiah Wright exegesis — and the timing of this interview, it tells me that you used Speaking of Faith and Vashti McKenzie to make an appeal to nervous undecided and conservative voters to support Barack Obama, much like the just released movie about George “W” Bush did.
This is your show, you can do that, and I hope it works. That said, the story of the Samaritan woman holds so much more meaning and value for viewers here and around the world than whether or not undecided voters now might feel a little better about Barack Obama’s Christianity. Rev. McKenzie’s teaching goes both to her core and the central mission of your show. Your rough cut managed to miss the mark on both counts.
There are a couple of things there. The first thing is the apparent support for a candidate. Depending on what we’re covering on a particular week, we often hear from listeners who think we’re supporting this or that political ideology. Just as an example with this program, some listeners suggested that even mentioning Jeremiah Wright at this stage meant we were trying to derail Sen. Obama’s bid. It seems to go with the territory no matter how much editorial rigor we subject a program to, and that’s fine, we’re happy to talk about our process.
But as with most Speaking of Faith programs, we try to contribute something to the conversation in the larger American community. Talking about race in the context of this presidential election might seem cynical, but I don’t know if there’s ever a wrong time to talk about racism.
Maybe the story of the Samaritan woman contributes to that larger conversation in a more enduring way than anything that can be said about the Wright controversy. Rather than reflecting an ulterior motive, this is where the desire to be newsworthy comes in. Krista is talking to someone who is a prominent leader in the African-American community, and who had close ties to Jeremiah Wright. There is a journalistic responsibility to address it openly. To be honest, in the full interview, I detected some reluctance in Bishop McKenzie’s voice as far as talking about the Wright controversy. There is more discussion of the controversy throughout the interview, but we edited a lot of that out because the segment we had in the final program addressed the issue without belaboring it. And there was some thematic redundancy between the story of the Samaritan woman and other parts of the interview. With our eyes on the clock, we make room for some things at the expense of others.
The show itself was meant to act as part of a reflection on how race and gender have been used in this campaign. And when we decide to re-broadcast this show at some future point, it’s highly possible that we swap out the Wright discussion — which will no longer be timely — with the story of the Samaritan woman.
For now, we’re still trying to draw something positive out of the uglier aspects of the campaigns. Bishop McKenzie talks about defining moments. In our public life, we often hear about missed opportunities to turn crises into teachable moments — “transformational” is a word Kathryn uses above. I don’t know, what do you think? Samaritan woman, or Jeremiah Wright reaction? Timely or timeless?
Hitchcock’s Rope, Music for Our Autism Program
by Mitch Hanley, senior producer
When we first produced our autism program a little over a year ago, I had just watched Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope, a fascinating movie that was shot more like a play than a movie. All of the scenes take place across two adjacent rooms and were shot with one camera, meaning all of the edits were just end-to-end, joining edits, without any cutaways to other angles, etc. So, it is as if you are watching a play without any set changes.
There is a scene in the film where Philip Morgan (Farley Granger) is playing Poulenc’s “Perpetual Motion” at the piano and Rupert Cadell (Jimmy Stewart) is asking him sensitive questions, with metronome in hand, intermittently dialing up the tempo with Morgan in lock step, playing this same piece faster and faster, the tension building.
That setting of the tune is rather anxiety-inducing, but I found the piece to be light and jaunty, with a tinge of melancholy, which reminds me of this time of year. I found James Campbell’s recording of that piece for piano and clarinet and set it into the autism program and it took on a whole other mood than was presented so cleverly by Hitchcock. You can hear the piece on the Being Playlist.
I tried to find the scene at the piano on YouTube, but I could only find the trailer in which you can faintly pick out an arrangement of the Poulenc piece for orchestra, in the background.
Hitchcock’s Rope — great movie, even if it is a bit grim. Check it out! Incidentally, if you rent the DVD, make sure you watch the additional “behind the scenes” segments; they explain the challenging shooting process (during one of the shoots, a member of the crew had his foot broken by a camera dollying across the floor!)
I Am Not As Devout
Mitch Hanley, Senior Producer
I am not as devout a yoga practitioner as my colleagues, Kate and Krista, but I usually do about 20 minutes of yoga after a half hour on the elliptical — don’t ask me how often THAT happens. Actually, it is exactly 20:27, during which I go through a series of poses that I learned from a few yoga classes as well as a some instructional DVDs. I have an iTunes playlist on my computer called “Mitch-Yoga” that I put on and I know that I will start when the music starts and stop when it is done, measuring the time spent on each pose to where I am on the playlist. It is interesting to see if I am rushing through it or if I am necessarily taking my time.
Well here are the rest. The first track is Bebel Gilberto’s “All Around,” have a listen:
2. “Madman’s Honey” performed by Wire
3. “Ceu Distante” performed by Bebel Gilberto
4. “The Boy with the Gun” performed by David Sylvian
5. “Maria” performed by David Sylvian
I don’t think this is for everyone, but it does put me in a place that helps me relax and get into my body. What do you like to listen to while you do yoga? Silence?
SoundSeen: Titling a Show on Seane Corn’s Yoga
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
In between the interviewing and scripting, the SOF staff congregates for two editorial sessions where we hash out the details of each week’s program. The first — which we call cuts and copy — can be really rough around the edges; the second — which we call the final listen — is more of a fine tweaking of script changes, music selections, Web language, and, at times, we’re still coming up with a title for the episode.
This happens to be the case for our upcoming show on yoga as conveyed through the experience of instructor Seane Corn (I dig her Jersey accent!). We regularly struggle at naming each program, especially because there are various approaches to it: an apt description of the content, a clever literary device, a poetic encapsulation, a highlight of an outstanding idea, keywords that trigger curiosity, etc.
But, the title has multiple purposes. It’s spoken by Krista in the radio and podcast; it populates the subject line of our e-mail newsletter and browser title; it complements the feature image for the program Web site and all sorts of data in third-party vendors like iTunes, Google, Facebook, last.fm, Yahoo, and so on. Can one title serve all masters? Probably not. But, in the end, we just want people to listen to the show so we’re trying to take a more direct approach in front-loading the words or ideas that will appeal to you and others. See what we came up with.
I’d love to hear where you stand on our titles, or if you have thoughts of your own. I’m open to advice. Cheers.
Michael McCullough on Revenge and Forgiveness
Shiraz Janjua, Associate Producer
A show we’re working on features psychologist Michael McCullough. He wrote a book about the evolutionary psychology behind the behaviors of forgiveness and revenge, and how that affects everyone from primates to politicians (huge gap, I know). He says we need to understand those origins in order to better serve our moral institutions today. Above is a clip from the rough cut of the show that makes the animal kingdom sound like The Godfather.
McCullough is a Ph.D. at the University of Miami in the departments of Psychology and Religious Studies. His many scientific papers focus on forgiveness and revenge, gratitude, and religious development in people’s lives. Some introductory ones:
- Forgiveness: Who Does It and How Do They Do It? — overview of his definition;
- An Adaptation For Altruism? — a similar primer about gratitude;
- Spirituality and Health — exploring the effects of spirituality on health, aging, substance abuse, and more.
He recently wrote something for The Huffington Post on the virtue of forgiveness — timely wisdom for the future president of the U.S., whoever that may end up being. “The ability to control revenge and broker forgiveness among groups in conflict is a crucial, though underappreciated, element of statecraft.”
The show should be online and on the air in two weeks.
The Eight Is Magical
Shiraz Janjua, Associate Producer
Here’s a little 55-second taste of next week’s show. Krista interviewed anthropologist and filmmaker Mayfair Yang about religion in China. This came toward the end of the interview after the “serious” questions.
Ancestors at Meal Time
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
Yesterday, Krista had an early evening interview with the chair of the Asian Studies department at the University of Sydney, Mayfair Yang. Thankfully, within the first five minutes (before I had to leave and perform my parental duties), I was able to capture this endearing story.
Her tale about cuisine was a perfect continuation of Krista’s interview with Nicole Mones a few days earlier. I’m trying to find expedient, thoughtful ways of including our readers and listeners in the production process. The product is a bit rawer, but, from what I’ve gleaned from the response to our unedited interviews, people appreciate hearing the savory elements that might not be as polished.
Right now I’m able to film, edit, and upload this video using my Nokia N95 mobile phone. In the coming weeks though, I hope to stream our cuts-and-copy sessions live using this same phone and a great third-party service. I’m testing it now and am astounded at how well it works. In the meantime, please let me know what you think of our endeavors. Post a comment here.
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
Sitting behind the glass during one of Krista’s ISDN interviews remains a thrilling experience for me. So, I have no problem convincing myself that others may find pleasure in gaining access to material before it makes its way — hopefully — into a radio broadcast. (By the way, I’m struggling to find a better way to say that since a growing number of our listeners are podcasters and streamers. Audio program sounds pretty droll. Got any ideas?)
And, as journalists in public broadcasting, we have the onus of disclosing more and sharing more with our audiences. So I’m doing just that. Armed with a Nokia N95 — the Swiss army knife of mobile phones for collecting, producing, and distributing content — I shot and edited this clip of Krista interviewing novelist Nicole Mones for a potential program about contemporary Chinese society and their reverence for cuisine as a necessary means of relationship and connectedness, guanxi.
Oh, and the tapping your hear in the background is Colleen transcribing a rough copy of the interview for us to reference when we start editing and producing the program.