Tag Archives: PBS

Black History Month 2014: Alice Walker

9 Feb

Alice WalkerWhat better day to honor and pay tribute to Alice Walker than today, her 70th birthday?  Happy Birthday, Ms. Walker! She was born in 1944 in Putnam County, Georgia — between Atlanta and Augusta. Walker attended Spelman College in Atlanta, where she had the amazing Howard Zinn as one of her professors.  Walker reports that Zinn helped influence her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. Walker’s support and admiration of Zinn also meant she, like Zinn, would have to leave Spelman. She graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in 1965.

I fell in love with Alice Walker in 1983, when I read The Color Purple, a novel that has such amazing pain, grace, humility, and forgiveness.  The movie version was released in 1985 and — while different from the book — was also a wonderful experience that I love. On a side note, I have to say that I was crushed when Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey were robbed of an Academy Award for their respective performances. Then I read Meridian (a brilliant quasi-autobiographical book addressing her activism in Mississippi during the civil rights movement), and was equally captivated by Walker’s voice. In Possessing the Secret of Joy, Walker takes on the issue of female mutilation/circumcision.

Walker does an amazing job of addressing intersectionality, the multiple layers of identity people carry and the potential barriers people face because of those real or perceived identities. In her books, Walker manages to challenge racism, sexism, homophobia, and all of the other isms people face. I dare say, I feel more complete as a human being just for having read her work. Walker’s breadth of work demonstrates great compassion for gender, race, religion, and sexual orientation. It is difficult to read her novels and not end up at a better place than where you started. My dear friend, Debbie Mix, read one my favorite poems by Walker at my wedding. The poem is:

Beyond What

We reach for destinies beyond
what we have come to know
and in the romantic hush
of promises
perceive each
the other’s life
as known mystery.
Shared. But inviolate.
No melting. No squeezing
into One.
We swing our eyes around
as well as side to side
to see the world.

To choose, renounce,
this, or that –
call it a council between equals
call it love.

I also read this poem at Debbie’s wedding.  Keep the good energy rolling and read some Alice Walker. Gratefully, there is a lovely documentary on PBS (American Masters) celebrating the gift that is Alice Walker.

Wonder Women! Pop Culture and Feminist Role Models

24 Apr

Lynda-Carter-WWAsk someone to name a superhero, and the first answers you’ll get are almost always men. As with much of popular culture, the roles available for women in comics are often sadly subordinate. A wonderful new documentary explores this issue and the relationship between feminism and popular culture.

Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines was directed by Kristy Guevara-Flanagan and produced by Kelcey Edwards and is featured on the PBS series Independent Lens. The hour-long documentary poses an important central question

What are the consequences for women when they are strong and when they are the central actors of their own lives?

The film is centered on one of the oldest and most well-known comic heroines, Wonder Woman. Created by psychologist William Moulton Marston as an antidote to what he saw as the overly violent and masculine world of 1930s comics, the Amazon princess has been a figure of admiration and scorn alike since her introduction in 1941.

Princess Diana has been rebooted and rewritten dozens of times (unlike her male colleagues) but still maintains a loyal following. Her treatment over 70 years has clearly reflected the ups and downs of feminism in this country. As women were driven from the workplace after WWII, so was Wonder Woman reduced to guest star in her own books. The notorious Fredric Wertham, whose book Seduction of the Innocent shut down huge sections of the comic industry, made it clear that a strong woman must be a lesbian and was therefore not a fit model for children. As Second Wave Feminism got rolling, Wonder Woman lost her powers — it’s hard not to see a backlash correlation there. Despite everything the character has been through, however, she remains a strong symbol for millions of people, serving as a nice symbol of the undying spirit of feminism in the face of obstacles.

The documentary features insights from a wide variety of people. Gloria Steinem discusses the importance of strong women role models in all media, and other icons from the Bionic Woman to Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Xena are given their due. Riot Grrrl pioneer Kathleen Hanna takes a keen look at the backlash against feminism and the trivialization of strong women as merely sex symbols as the 20th Century came to a close. Comic historians and media analysts look at the roles of women over the decades, providing some sad and disturbing insights. With 97% of all decision-making positions in media held by men, it’s no surprise that women’s roles are narrow and hard to come by.

The film also remembers the groundbreaking 70s Wonder Woman series, featuring conversations with star Lynda Carter. She is outspoken about the power of the series for girls and women, however light the plots and dialogue may have been. We hear from Portlander Andy Mangels, the writer who created Wonder Woman Day, an annual comic store fundraiser for domestic violence shelters and programs. Given Diana’s mission to spread a message of peace and love in a violent world, that’s a perfect tribute.

Wonder Women! is a significant and fun look at 70 years of popular culture and how it succeeds — and fails — both to reflect our world and to inspire us. It serves as an excellent introduction to some important themes and provides a good jumping-off point for anyone interested in further study. The film is being rebroadcast on Independent Lens based on local PBS affiliate schedules; it can also be watched online at the series website.

Black History Month 2013: Loretta Long

27 Feb

LorettaLongToday we honor and celebrate a woman who has been a key part of the lives of millions of children, Dr. Loretta Long. As Susan, Long has been a member of the cast of Sesame Street longer than anyone but two colleagues: Bob McGrath and Caroll Spinney (the puppeteer who portrays Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch).

Born in Paw Paw, MI in 1940, Long pursued a degree in Education, determined to make a difference in young lives. She was also interested in entertainment, and began co-hosting the WNET show Soul! while substitute teaching. The show mixed musical variety (including performances by Stevie Wonder and Patti LaBelle) with frank political commentary, appealing to all Long’s interests. One day she saw the set decorator preparing scenes for a new program and asked for more information. The show was Sesame Street.

[It] wasn’t Dick and Jane’s old neighborhood with the picket fence. That intrigued me.

Impressed by the educational and multicultural goals of the program, Long went to audition. What she didn’t know was that the creators were looking for a “Joan Baez type” for the female lead. All the other performers were there with guitars; Long had expected a pianist. Improvising, she sang “I’m A Little Teapot” to the children in the test audience, engaging them to join in. Her infectious good humor and way with the kids won her the part.

So that–I have some 4-year-olds to thank for a career!

Long taped the show, substitute taught (much to the confusion of students who saw her in the classroom and on TV), and pursued her PhD in Education from the University of Massachusetts all at the same time. She wanted to be sure to have the tools to make education meaningful and fun both. Her dissertation was entitled “Sesame Street”: A Space Age Approach to Education for Space Age Kids.

While educating generations of children on fair play, diversity, and basic skills, Long has also been a strong voice for social justice. She is dedicated to creating true equity and challenges people to think outside their comfort zones.

In 1998, she wrote the children’s book Courtney’s Birthday Party, about two girls who are best friends, one white and one black. When Courtney, the white girl, has a birthday party coming, her mother doesn’t want to invite Dejana, her African-American friend. The girls work together to solve the situation, promoting diversity and cooperation. Long faced some criticism for the book because people felt it wasn’t realistic in 1998. She demanded otherwise (quite accurately) and provided kids, parents, and teachers with a marvelous tool.

We seldom know about the backgrounds of the entertainers who create educational programming. As Long observes,

TV is like fire. It’s good when it keeps you warm and bad if it burns your house down. TV is very popular and you need to be aware of what your children are watching.

The cast of Sesame Street were all dedicated to true educational and social justice principles (including the late Will Lee, better known as Mr. Hooper). Thank you Dr. Loretta “Susan” Long for providing your voice and passion for so many years.

(For a wonderful, lengthy interview with Dr. Long, visit the Archive of American Television.)

A Big Boy Night: Downton Abbey

7 Jan

DowntonAbbeyAs most TSM followers know, my husband and I are somewhat nerdy and don’t watch the television much, save for the Modern Family and Chopped.  Honestly, we are usually in bed by no later than 9:00 pm, but are up by 4:00 am.  I usually like to roll my hair in my tomato cans by 8:00 and be ready for bed by 9:00 after my dental hygiene routine, which is part of the Gay Agenda. With that being said, we have become addicted to the PBS soap opera that is Downton Abbey.  So you can imagine what a “Big Boy” night it was when we had to stay up past 9:00 to watch the premiere of Downton Abbey Season III.

We actually used the machine on the tv to tape Downton Abbey, but we already watched the special feature with our Angela Lansbury, who looks absolutely stunning at 87!  While it is our Dame Maggie Smith, the Dowager Countess, who is a primary reason we are avid fans of the show, albeit I actually know a real life Dowager Countess, we are addicted to the story line.

Our biggest disappointment in Downton Abbey is the unacceptable homophobia of writer Julian Fellowes!  In his screenplay for Gosford Park, Fellowes depicts the gay characters played by Bob Balaban and Ryan Phillippe as hedonistic self-serving loathsome people.  Sadly, he has now done his worst in portraying the only gay character in Downton Abbey, Thomas, as a sociopath.  What is that about?  Has our Fellowes not ever met any good gay folk?  Is our Fellowes struggling with some demons of his own?  I’m afraid at this point, there are no redeemable traits in our Thomas, so we are left to further vilify gay folk and bear witness to the inexcusable homophobia of Fellowes.

Both Fellowes and Rob James-Collier (who plays Thomas) have promised a more complex and sympathetic portrait of the valet in Season III. We shall see. In the meantime, the season began on a high note, with the welcome addition of Shirley MacLaine.  The multiple storylines and rich characters continue to weave a tapestry of intrigue that showcases class and privilege in rapidly changing times. It’s also — as good television ought to be — great fun wrapped in touching humanity. We can’t wait to see what the rest of the season has in store!

The Affordable Care Act: Being Sick

5 Apr

The Affordable Care Act was passed by Congress and signed by the President; Barack Obama didn’t just write it on a napkin. I grow ever weary of hearing so-called journalists referring to this landmark legislation as “Obamacare.”  I am hard-pressed to believe there is not a trace of racism there.  Even here in enlightened Portland, Channel 2 and Channel 8 have repeatedly referred to the Affordable Care Act as “Obamacare.”  Yes, how dare President Obama want all Americans to have health insurance?  Contrast this to the supporters of the GOP candidates during the debates: they cheered for death rather than caring for all Americans.

First, let us take a real look at what the Affordable Healthcare Act does.  This law aims to improve our current health care system by increasing access to health coverage for all Americans and introducing new protections for people who have health insurance. Furthermore, the Act is not linked to employment, thus some small businesses with fewer than 25 employees can get help paying for the cost of providing health insurance; insurance companies can’t deny health coverage to kids with pre-existing conditions; insurance companies can’t place dollar limits on the health care they cover in your lifetime. These are just a few of the benefits of the Affordable Care Act which is designed to help those who have barriers to accessing healthcare.  Obviously, I have a few choice words for the Supreme Court Justices who are part of the 1% and seem poised to abolish the Act under the guise of its constitutionality.  Let us not forget that their job is to interpret the constitution, not set an agenda for a white heterosexual Christian male discourse.

What happened to the social contract?  Is Elizabeth Warren the only politician who knows about the social contract? Remember that the Affordable Care Act that garnered support from the full congress is not dissimilar to the healthcare reform proposed by Mr. Millionaire Flip Flop, Mitt Romney.

Health insurance has really hit my family hard recently, as it has hit many people in the United States.  Out of the top six industrialized nations, the U.S. falls dead last in health coverage for its citizens as well as quality of healthcare.  However, we rank first in the cost of this worst healthcare.

Insurance became quite scary for my family when my husband lost his job and we are now without any source of income.  Unfortunately, I started to become ill back in November of 2011. I am stubborn and also worried about how to pay for doctor’s appointments and for any prescriptions.  Sadly, two weeks ago, I cracked a rib during a coughing spasm, so my husband forced me to see our primary care physician.  We have a wonderfully kind and caring doctor and he and my husband pressured me to have a CT-Scan immediately.

I was rushed to St. Vincent’s hospital here in Portland where the CT-Scan showed that I had several pulmonary embolisms on both my lungs.  They admitted me to the hospital immediately and started me on blood thinners. I was unaware how serious blood clots on your lungs can be, but it was impressed upon me by many people at the hospital how many people die from pulmonary embolisms.  Needless to say, both my husband and I were quite scared. What circled in the back of my mind was also how are we going to pay for all of this? Surely, I am not the only one in the United States who is terrified of being sick and how to afford treatment.

I am back home now and my poor husband has to give me injections in my stomach of Lovenox, a blood thinner…not a trip to chuckle town. What sticks in my craw is that the 1% of Americans, many of whom hold positions in our government, never have to think about retirement accounts or how to afford healthcare, but where does that leave the rest of us?  I strongly recommend the PBS special Sick Around the World just to see how horrible and unfair our health system is here in the United States. Fair care should be common sense. It shouldn’t take an experience like mine to demonstrate how badly our system needs to be fixed. The Affordable Care Act is just the reasonable first step on that path.

Women, War, and Peace

14 Oct

Yesterday, House Republicans continued their attack on women’s health and to further restrict access to reproductive health care, more evidence that we are devolving into Margaret Atwood’s horrifying and prophetic vision.  What an unfortunate backdrop set by the United States for a larger story about global misogyny.

PBS has produced a remarkable Five-Part Series examining the global affront on women’s rights and how we treat women around the world.  The series includes a look at rape camps and the institutionalized raping of women.  The testimony presented by many women is so powerful and disturbing and I hope it compels people to take action!  I would also point to the testimony of actor Matt Damon, who also narrates the PBS special; it is nice to see men standing up for the rights of women. Again, I point to Karl Marx:

Anyone who knows anything of history knows that great social changes are impossible without feminine upheaval. Social Progress can be measured by the social position of the female sex.

The US is not able to take the moral high ground here as a leader, but as you will see from the PBS special, the world as a whole has a long way to go to creating gender parity. Thank goodness for heroes who are working toward gender equality. Here is the link to PBS.  My friend Jennifer Lockett also took action and posted a great article about women during times of war and peace.

Defending NPR: Why We as a Nation Should be Outraged…

12 Mar

Save NPR

I’m sure most of you remember the attack on PBS/NPR during the George W. years, when W. planted partisan operatives at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) in an attempt to challenge journalists who didn’t hew to the party line–my that seems ethical (?).  I am sure that “the right-wing machine would thrill if our sole sources of information were Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and ads paid for by the Koch Brothers – it walks into a trap perpetrated by one of the sleaziest operatives ever to climb out of a sewer.”  There are so few reliable sources of news right now, although I am seeing a lot of good stuff coming from blogs (DailyKos), we have to do everything we can to save PBS/NPR.  Here is a great article from Truthout.  Please take the time to read it. Again, might I please ask the House of Representatives to stop wasting tax payer money and instead look to create jobs and decrease our homeless population.  Your jobs are to protect all citizens, not just the wealthy ones that stuff your greedy pockets with cash.

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