Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Posts Tagged ‘Star Trek

“There are four lights!”

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four-lights

Decidedly uncomfortable looking Presidential spokesperson Sean Spicer tried to make the American public not notice the paltry number of attendees at the inauguration of President Donald Trump.  Why the numbers were so small is anybody’s guess and debatable.  What is not debatable, except only to the most strident supporters of Newspeak, is that even a significant fraction of voters for Mr. Trump seemed absent from the National Mall.

But this isn’t so much about those there or not there on Friday.  Those voters may feel they’ve already spoken and other demonstrations aren’t necessary.  It’s more about how easily can people be turned from the obvious to the shiny nothing.  It’s about how quickly can we all come to love the new President with the speed of the Stockholm syndrome. It’s about with how much enthusiasm can a redirect of “alternative facts” send us careening off in an insignificant direction or observing the joy with which will we finally surrender the “hard work of liberty.”  In the remaining time we have freedom of speech, they’re questions worthy of pursuit.

In college, we read a book called “Njal’s saga.”  It was about a Viking family around the year 1000.  The professor wanted us to take away from the story the fact that in ten centuries, people haven’t changed and continue to be swept up by their fears, angers, jealousies, desires for vengence, lust, prejudices, plots, quests for power and pitieous efforts to matter.  And how, there have been, are and will always be those who are constantly trying to bend others to their will.  But, as a trekkie and an ardent student of politics, Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean Luc-Picard got the last word.

As should we all – http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2009/05/there_are_four_lights.html

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Iconography

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Spock 3

“The traditional or conventional symbols associated with a subject and especially a religious or legendary subject”.

Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary

Sometimes, reporters and hosts get iconography wrong, which, when you hear it isn’t something you expect since we expect them to be on the cutting edge of culture.  They are who we go to to learn about culture.  They are, arguably, the most well informed about it and most equipped to interpret it.

So imagine my surprise when me, a trekkie, heard a host of a popular radio newsmagazine begin a discussion about the late Leonary Nimoy by referring to him as “Dr. Spock.”  And, then ending that discussion by misquoting his culturally embedded catchphrase as “Be Well and Prosper” rather than “Live Long and Prosper”.  I mean, he ended his Twitter tweets with as “LLAP”. C’mon.

I recently watched the movie “The Devil Wears Prada”.  Anne Hathaway is an assistant to Meryl Streep, who plays the boss at the fictitious magazine “Runway”.  It was rumoured, when the movie came out, that it was actually a movie about Anna Wintour, the equally notorious Editor-in-Chief at Vogue magazine.

Anyway, Hathaway starts the job as a frump, not knowing or caring about fashion.  But in a :30 scene, Streep deconstructs a bargain basement sweater Hathaway is wearing by giving a history of its creation, including its color, weave, style, design and distribution which originated on a runway years before.  In that moment, Hathaway realizes she really needs to care about the role she’s in by accepting the responsibility of being in it.

People who are spokespeople for society need to know the society they are speaking for.  Otherwise, amongst some of corners of that society, they lose credibility, even if in teeny tiny ways.  When a reporter is reporting on a story, facts need to be correct.  I’ve talked about that before.  Because culture moves fast, cultural references may not always be timely but they should be accurate.

And they certainly shouldn’t be flat out wrong.

Greek Chorus

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Greek Chorus

I need me a Greek Chorus. Everybody great has had a Greek Chorus. I’m not saying I seek greatness, but I am saying I need three smart heads around me to keep me out of the ditch where I occasionally end up sometimes. There are lots of examples, especially in contemporary TV, where the power of three heads was better than two and a lot better than solo. To wit …

Dr. Gregory House: Chase, Cameron and Foreman. Are they his foils or his slaves or his torturers? Whatever they are, when he lost them, he went downhill. You can’t replace passion, reason and, uh … whatever, with an entire classroom.

Captain James T. Kirk: Bones, Spock and Scotty. Again, passion, reason and something in-between. You need that something in between that is part, “Jim, don’t do it” and “Captain, we don’t have the power!” Again, you’re not necessarily going to argue with three brains that know your one brain all too well.

Marshall Matt Dillon: Doc, Kitty and Festus (or Chester). A gritty brain trust from the mid 19th century that never steered James Arness wrong. Doc was old but feisty as hell. Kitty was a gravelly voiced barroom beauty with a mean sucker punch.  Dennis Weaver as Chester was eager and loyal and was replaced by Festus who I just loved. Festus was a man for the ages. If you had a Festus, you had nothing to worry about. Newly never seemed to fit in the clique. Never.

Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs: For our more modern times, Ziva, McGee and DeNozo. Are you seeing a pattern here? The person with the Greek Chorus is usually someone with great responsibility. They’re almost a tragic figure in how the Gods have positioned them to do their duty in the world.  Mark Harmon’s character drives his charges as hard as he deeply loves them and savagely protects them.

Colonel Robert E. Hogan: Kinch, LeBeau and Newkirk. A passionate Frenchman, a methodical Irish con man, and an African American geek genius. Together, they advised, protected and beat up on Bob Crane’s cool concentration camp colonel. Although Hogan’s Heroes was comedy, Crane probably could’ve used a Greek Chorus off set.

Detective Adrian Monk: Randy, Sharona (or Natalie) and Leland.  Tony Shalhoub’s brilliantly played OCD suffering character was best served by his chorus by their compassion for him.  The totally understood this heroic figure that they saw shot down by the murder of his wife, and they did everything they could to clear the path for him so he could at least function.  Eventually, their love for him led him to redemption and recovery.

Oh, and let’s not leave out many of the reality talent shows; The Voice, So You Think You Can Dance and of course, American Idol.  Although most choruses are represented in threes, (American Idol had Randy, Paula and Simon for eight seasons, until the ninth, when they added a fourth judge), many other reality shows have four or more.

In many cases, the Greek Chorus foretold of impending disasters that would befall the hapless person they were singing about by pointing out weaknesses that would bring them down if they didn’t change course.  Or, it represented the fears or hopes or rage of the main character that he or she could not openly express because to do so would jeopardize their position of authority. While I ain’t the boss of nobody, I wouldn’t discount the advice of three people who knew me as well as I knew myself. Think of the places we could go? Maybe I’ll put something on Craig’s List.

Words: Use versus Meaning

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George Carlin

This isn’t about interviewing, but it is about language.

I love George Carlin, and I speak of him in the present tense because what he contributed to our culture is timeless.  What he did was get people thinking about the use of language and the meanings behind the words, the syntax, the grammar, the intonations, the pacing, the inflection.  In the taxonomy of human and interaction, he was a jester.  And on my list of societal influencers, he was the celebrity.  A celebrity jester.  In fact, he was a jester’s jester.

For those of you that don’t know, I love the concept of the jester, because the jester is the only one with the stones to speak truth to power.  The revolutionary wears the opposite mask; the dramatic/tragic one.  And most often, the revolutionary gets killed or crushed.  But the jester, (perfect set up for American Pie, but I’ll let it go …), the jester speaks truth to power through humor, and he/she manages to be so funny, like pee your pants funny, while so piercing, like uranium artillery shell piercing, that power can’t decide whether to send them to the gallows or buy them a drink.

I was reading an article where someone used the word “neutralized” to describe how the police would deal with shooters in public shootings and I started thinking about it.  Such a sanitary word for blowing somebody’s brains out.  Reminds me of that Star Trek episode where these two societies have been fighting a war w/computers for centuries.  Instead of a messy battlefield, random people are selected to report to death chambers like people would go to a subway platform and wait for a train.  This way, the war stays neat and clean and sanitized and so, there isn’t much motivation to end it.  But Kirk destroys the computers and now, both sides are terrified that the other side might launch real missiles and bring real Armageddon.  Now, they have an excuse to end the fake war to avoid starting a real one.

Neutralized.  I can imagine George Carlin asking, “How come the police have never ‘positivized’ anyone?  We might all agree that at one point or another, we’ve felt ‘negativized’ by them, but you never hear that either.  But neutralized made the phrase book.  Are we talking about psychological affects, or charges of subatomic particles, or what?”  I mean, as long as our society keeps using neat and clean words to describe horrible, sloppy, murderous acts of savagery and disembowelment against our principles and our humanity and each other, we’ll continue to putter along thinking everything is fine.

The jester knew different.

Written by Interviewer

April 9, 2013 at 00:05