James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association, a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media, and a professor of communication studies at Whitworth University.

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Rocking the cradle for political change

Posted by James McPherson on October 12, 2008

Last night I had the honor of leading a post-play discussion after Whitworth University’s second night of “The Cradle Will Rock.” The pro-union musical satire, written in 1937 by Marc Blitzstein as part of the New Deal’s Federal Theatre Project, is set during the Great Depression and seems particularly timely considering events of the past couple of weeks.

As demonstrated in the 1999 film by the same title (partially fictionalized, which is unfortunate because the reality is compelling enough), the government tried to block the first performance of the play. But some creativity on the part of director Orson Welles (also one of the key figures in both radio and film history, of course) and others involved managed to circumvent the attempted ban–while demonstrating the power of both art and a unified commitment to action.

As I have noted previously, Christians adhere to a wide range of religious views, and carry out the perceived tenants of their faith in many ways. Nonetheless I was impressed by the fact that a Christian university theatre group would offer such a bold play, which happened to open while the university’s board of trustees was on campus.

Impressed, but not surprised–the Whitworth theatre program, under the guidance of Diana Trotter (who directed this play), Rick Hornor and Brooke Kiener, consistently takes on tough topics ranging from patriotism to religious hypocrisy to genocide–while also going beyond the Whitworth stage to actively engage local schools and the community as a whole. The cast (aided by the piano of music professor Ben Brody) did an excellent job with the suddenly all-too-real play, evoking laughter and tears, and reminding me yet again of why I’m so proud to be associated with the university.

In another coincidental and somewhat ironic note, the play openly criticizes the news media, and was performed in Cowles Auditorium–a campus building named after a member of the same family that owns the local newspaper, the Spokesman-Review. That’s the same newspaper that last week cut 60 more members of its staff (the fourth staff reduction in the eight years I’ve been here), which publisher Stacy Cowles justified as a “pre-emptive strike” against losses that have not yet occurred. The Spokesman-Review also continued its conservative pro-business streak of electoral endorsements last week, favoring John McCain four years after being among the minority of American newspapers that endorsed George W. Bush. The newspaper’s recent actions again provide support for my argument that, for a number of reasons, today’s mainstream media are more conservative than liberal.

To quote the movie’s tagline, “Art is never dangerous–unless it tells the truth.” The same might be said of journalism. If you happen to be close enough to Spokane to do so, you should catch the Whitworth production at 2 p.m. today, or next Friday or Saturday (Oct. 17 and 18) at 8 p.m.

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One Response to “Rocking the cradle for political change”

  1. [...] ever since. The fact that she was invited to speak here, and was so well received, made me proud yet again to be associated with such an enlightened Christian [...]

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