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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Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

Why I tweet

Posted by James McPherson on February 25, 2015

Drawing by Stuart McMillen

Drawing by Stuart McMillen

The title above is of course a variation on the title of one of my favorite essays, George Orwell‘s “Why I Write.” Joan Didion liked the title, too, borrowing it for one of her works.

“There’s no getting around the fact that setting words on paper is the tactic of a secret bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writer’s sensibility on the reader’s most private space,” Didion wrote in a sentence that might have characterized social media at least as well as anything Orwell came up with. That is, assuming there’s any longer such a thing as “private space” — which brings us back to Orwell all over again.

Orwell’s best-known work is 1984, a book that may have killed him. Like many other great (and countless not-so-great) writers, Orwell “had always thrived on self-inflicted adversity,” and his death at age 46 came not via evil government agents, but via illness aggravated by trying to beat deadlines.

Orwell might also have argued that he was far from alone in his appreciation of adversity; as pointed out today in a Washington Post piece about an Orwell review of Mein Kampf, Hitler knew “that human beings don’t only want comfort, safety, short working-hours, hygiene… they also, at least intermittently, want struggle and self-sacrifice, not to mention drums, flags and loyalty-parades.” Considering the number of mindless Americans and ignorant politicians who now apparently favor getting involved in another ground war, Orwell obviously had a keen understanding of people.

At least since the 1985 arrival of Neil Postman‘s Amusing Ourselves to Death, one cannot meaningfully discuss 1984 without considering another dystopian view, that of Aldous Huxley‘s Brave New World. Postman, in the forward to his book (a forward so brilliant that it has been illustrated via a Stuart McMillen comic and a YouTube video), compares the two worlds.

He notes that in Brave New World “people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think,” and that the sheer amount of information would become so great that “we would be reduced to passivity and egoism” while “the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.” It may seem incredible that Huxley was writing before the arrival of television. At least as impressive is the fact that Postman wrote his book warning about “a trivial culture” before the arrival of the Internet or smart phones.

Few things exemplify this trivial culture better than the social media with which many of us spend much of our time. After I finish this blog post, I’ll post links to it on both Facebook and Twitter, where it will compete for attention with information about lying “news” anchors, war in the Middle East, Congressional inaction, vaccines, various health scares, funny cat videos and countless other messages.

I’ll post links on those social media sites despite the fact that I have regularly denigrated “anti-social media,” especially Twitter (also here, here, here, here and here). I have proclaimed that I would avoid Twitter, and for five years or so I did. But this past weekend — in what may prove to be the dumbest Sunday decision since the Seahawks failed to give Marshawn Lynch the ball at the end of the Super Bowl — I began tweeting at @JimBMcPherson.

“Why?” Three reasons: First, much of the news is being reported (and sometimes misreported) via various media organizations first via Twitter, so it relates to my job to my job as a journalism professor. Second, I found when I was making contacts for a recent off-campus study program that some media professionals probably would have been easier to reach via Twitter than they were through other means.

And finally; as I’ve managed to demonstrate here on my blog and on Facebook, I’m an egocentric fool who often thinks his thoughts about media and politics worth sharing. In that, I am like Orwell, who offered as his first reason for writing:

Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc. It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one. Writers share this characteristic with scientists, artists, politicians, lawyers, soldiers, successful businessmen — in short, with the whole top crust of humanity. The great mass of human beings are not acutely selfish. After the age of about thirty they almost abandon the sense of being individuals at all — and live chiefly for others, or are simply smothered under drudgery. But there is also the minority of gifted, willful people who are determined to live their own lives to the end, and writers belong in this class. Serious writers, I should say, are on the whole more vain and self-centered than journalists, though less interested in money.

Orwell offered three other reasons; I also agree with those (and will let you read them for yourself) before noting in his final paragraph, “All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy.” Perhaps so, though he adds, in conclusion:

One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one’s own personality. Good prose is like a windowpane. I cannot say with certainty which of my motives are the strongest, but I know which of them deserve to be followed. And looking back through my work, I see that it is invariably where I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifeless books and was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally.

My own writing may be driven primarily by ego. But for better or worse, what I write — even in 140 characters — rarely lacks a political purpose.

Posted in History, Media literacy, Personal, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

The VaGUYna Monologues

Posted by James McPherson on February 20, 2015

angry man sad womanMy Facebook feed this morning provided a link to a Washington Post opinion piece by Michelle Goldberg that laments the fact that “while digital media has amplified feminist voices, it has also extracted a steep psychic price. Women, urged to tell their stories, are being ferociously punished when they do.”

That punishment, for feminist women writers, regularly includes threats of rape and/or murder. Not surprisingly, much of the criticism they get is for how they look, rather than for their ideas. “Some,” Goldberg notes, “particularly women who have the audacity to criticize sexism in the video-game world — have been driven from their homes or forced to cancel public appearances. Fake ads soliciting rough sex have been placed in their names. And, of course, the Twitter harassment never stops.”

Many people seemingly can’t resist proving the very point they oppose, so about half of the first several Facebook comments simply reinforced — often with sexist, obnoxious language — the idea that many men can’t deal with feminism. (Many of those same guys seem incapable of coherent thoughts, let alone coherent sentences).

I then commented, “And… the comment parade of sexist male idiots has begun. Guys, you’re not helping.” The negative responses to my comment (tempered by many positive comments and more than 120 “likes,” thus far), were as predictable as they were pitiful. I’ve copied and pasted some if them below (as written, to avoid have to use “sic” repeatedly to signify that the error was in the original).

James, have a vaGUYna much?” [Thanks for the title, Eric, though I’ll twist the meaning a bit below.]

Who want’s to help anyway? Sexist feminists?

Go sit on the toilet when you pee, okay?

A tamed white knight appears.”

I’m for women’s rights I just don’t like women whining about how tough it is. Really?! I thought you could roar? I guess not.

Most men do not spend a lot of time worrying about feminism, but when they do they realize that feminist extremists have taken feminism beyond reasonable expectations.

feminism makes women look like mentally unstable lesbians and you even have feminist leaders talking about a male holocaust… and these people who talked about the male holocaust teach their literature in gender studies classes…

“‘Feminism’ is sponsored by the ones oppressing women. Boom” [Whatever the hell that means.]

Go wear a burka, get a forced marriage and get some real problems.

These idiots over here that pass for strong women couldn’t handle a days hardship that most third world women have to face on a daily basis. These feminists first world problems pale in comparison to the real problems of women the world over.” Because apparently death threats aren’t “real problems” for

Feminist be like ‘I got PTSD from someone disagreeing with me!!'”

You assume all anti feminists are male. James, YOUR not helping you sexist male idiot.

feminist concept of a man helping women achieving social justice = ‘whatever you say is right my feminist goddess. I am ashamed of being a man and display natural manly behaviours.  I’ll be your personal dog and attack every primitive barbaric male who dares doing or saying something that bothers your highness, meanwhile losing touch with manly friendships, my masculinity and those women out there who are actually looking for a man, and not a castrated politically brainwashed creature.’ NO THANKS”

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t support equality, but I do know many people tired of benevolent (what these ‘guys who speak in support of equality’ are) sexism, as well as the malevolent sexism that is waning towards woman and increasing towards men.

Male feminists may actually be the worse, because in their benevolent sexism, they start threatening men and women who disagree with the constant demonization of men.”

how can you say that being sexist makes you an idiot? are you the ideological fountain of the universe you male betrayer” For that one, I responded simply, “I said nothing about causation, Jimmy — simply pointing out what is in this case correlation.

The comments directed at me, of course, are very mild compared to some of those aimed at women on both the Facebook page and on the article:

If a threat has no bearing on reality then it doesnt matter what the threat is. Sorry, but you feminists are just so fragile. Words can’t hurt you.”[For the record, that comment did not come from Anthony Elonis.]

Feminist writers only care about themselves and making money off of womens issues but don’t help women at all! Feminist have done more damage than good!  Look at the U.S. military they have allowed sexual assaults to go on for decades and have ignored it!” [And no, I can’t figure out what the last sentence had to do with either the first two sentences in the comment or the article.]

If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” [But of course many of these folks think women should stay in the kitchen, except when they’re in the bedroom, shopping for groceries, or cleaning other rooms in the house.]

They sound like quitters that can’t handle criticism. I have also noticed that a lot of what falls under feminism isn’t really feminism at all, but comes off more as a defensive, man-hating agenda.”

Well, some feminist deserve it. The elitist ones, but the ones who genuinely want equality, dont deserve it” [Remember, this is about threats of rape and murder.]

Here i thought the message of feminism was ‘look at how awesome and powerful i am sans men….’ but a few internet comments are giving them emotional distress?? Sounds like gas. Take some Maalox and deal with your actions, sweetheart.

….and they have only themselves to blame.” [Again, this is about threats of rape and murder.]

For me, one of the most noteworthy aspects of the attacks is that almost all of them come from men engaging in “mansplaining” — or what might justifiably be termed “VaGUYna monologues.” Speaking of women’s bodies, of course, most of those who make laws regarding abortion also are men.

Naturally some folks pointed out that many women also oppose what they understand to be feminism (and many oppose abortion, as well), while also arguing that men are also threatened. (Hey, I get that.)

But even if the abuse were anywhere close to equal, I fail to see how abuse of one group justifies abuse of another. And as for the argument about how “some women” feel, so what? Just as no feminist I know would argue that every man is evil, none would argue that women can’t also be ignorant. For example, here’s how “Jeanne” responded to my Facebook comment:

Sad that I stood picket with my Mom at age 11, I am now 58, for equal pay at a factory where she worked. I wouldn’t wipe my butt on so-called feminists of today. Make me sick. Equal rights does not mean more rights. Grow up. Not all men are predators. Funny how loudly many of these women protest, however, I’ll wager most of them have read those abusive books, ’50 Shades of Gray,’ and are now either breathlessly watching the stupid movie or planning a ’50 Shades of Gray,’ party, or planning a ‘Girl’s’ night out to go see the crap. Shut up.”

First, while the abominable 50 Shades of Grey was weirdly popular, I suspect Jeanne would lose her bet about how many feminists chose to read/watch it. Second, there was nothing in the Post article or my comment asking for “more rights” vs. “equal rights.” Third, no one claimed that “all men are predators.” And finally, though “Mom” may have picketed for equal pay almost 50 years ago, she probably didn’t get it — despite the best efforts of feminists whom her daughter now denigrates.

 

Posted in Education, History, Personal, Politics, Women, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Stupor Bowl — enjoy it while you can

Posted by James McPherson on January 28, 2015

seahawk bandaide logo

On Sunday I hope to see my favorite professional football team win a second consecutive Super Bowl. So it feels odd that a column on the front page of my local newspaper this week would have me considering when professional football will end up like boxing, another American sport that glamorizes brutality.

Say what? Pro football is the most popular sport in America, with both viewers and gamblers, while professional boxing now barely hangs on. The National Football League’s championship game typically is the most-watched television program of the year, which is why companies this year paid an average of $4.5 million for 30 seconds of advertising. (Though GoDaddy has made more money from ads it supposedly couldn’t run than from ads it could.) We take football far more seriously than we do a lot of other far more important topics.

In short, if football is dying, some might say, give me the disease.

And maybe I’m nuts. After all, I have suffered multiple concussions and take a bit of weird pride in the fact that I was once knocked unconscious in a college football practice (yes, practice) by a guy who is (at least for now) the head coach for the Cincinnati Bengals. But if I were a gambler, I’d bet that next year’s Super Bowl — the 50th — will be the high point for pro football before an inevitable downward slide.

Unless some prominent Republican politician’s kid gets killed on the gridiron, I don’t expect football’s decline to be sudden. There’s too much money involved — perhaps most importantly at the college level. As long as doddering alums will pay big bucks to relive their college days by cheering for nonstudent athletes clad (if only for a year or two before they go pro, get hurt or flunk out) in the alma mater’s colors, major universities will continue to pay football coaches far more than their presidents. And even if colleges start paying their players, the reason many of them play in college is for the chance to turn pro.

Still, the column by Los Angeles Times writer Bill Plaschke helps demonstrates why I believe pro football may be peaking in popularity. At some point we will have to come to terms with the fact that our favorite sport kills and maims too many people, most of them kids. There’s a reason that, as Plaschke points out, even “Iron Mike” Ditka wouldn’t let his own son play football today.

Like football today, boxing was once one of the top three sports in America for viewers and gamblers,  Aside from the corruption that came to characterize the sport, those of us old enough to remember Muhammad Ali battling Joe Frazier could no longer in good conscience watch the bloodshed — especially after seeing what the sport did to the wit and vocabulary of a man who could have been the rhetorical model for Richard Sherman. (Even as young sportscasters now emulate others who copied Howard Cosell, perhaps without knowing who Cosell was.)

We’ve now seen the corruption that football madness can engender, even at the high school level. It’s much worse in college, and of course this year has been a bad one for the NFL. People still have a somewhat favorable view of the league, but disgust or disinterest has set in for many. As scandals and awareness of the bloodshed both increase, people will find other entertainment options.

I don’t know what might replace football in popularity. I’d hope for baseball, but basketball is more likely. Mixed martial arts, soccer, golf and auto racing all have rabid fans, but not enough to convince the rest of us to buy expensive apparel and plan our weekends around events.

Maybe we’ll give politics or community affairs or education more attention. Perhaps we’ll read more. Maybe we’ll go back to actually engaging in activities ourselves, rather than simply watching others do so. But probably not, unless those activities involve some form of video gaming that we can do while drinking beer, eating pizza and burgers, betting big money, and yelling at the screen.

In the meantime, of course, most of us will keep watching football, rooting for laundry, hoping “our guys” crush the competition without anyone getting killed in the process. Go Hawks!

Posted in History, Journalism, Personal | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Eggs. Or Samuel, Utah and James.

Posted by James McPherson on September 12, 2014

I sat on a metal chair in a small room, chatting with James Garner. I remember thinking that the last time we’d met the chair was made of wood, and in a different corner of the room.

Garner was surprised when I mentioned the death of Utah Phillips, saying that they were friends and had eaten eggs together but that he hadn’t known about the other man’s passing. He asked about the cause of death, seemingly concerned about his own mortality, and I filled him in on the details.

Then my alarm went off, and I awoke, realizing instantly that I’d conflated details about Phillips with the life and death of Sam Day, Jr. And since Garner was also dead, I’d never be able to correct my error. Maybe they’re all friends now.

I got up and went to play basketball, forsaking sleep for exercise in hopes of outliving three men whose work I admired: one I knew, one I met only once, and one I never met but managed to mislead in a dream. And because I feel guilty about that, I promise that every word above is true.

Except the part about the eggs. Though I’ve tried, I can’t remember what James Garner said he ate with Utah Phillips. Still, eggs feels right.

Posted in History, Personal | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

What’s more American than stupid, dishonest Super Bowl advertising?

Posted by James McPherson on February 4, 2014

“What’s more American than America?” Bob Dylan asks in an ad for the Chrysler 200 that appeared during the Super Bowl (the ad is posted above).

The question is stupid — and in this case, largely irrelevant since in most years you can come closer to an “American car” with a Toyota than with a Chrysler. Last year’s Chrysler 200 was less than three-quarters “American.” The company itself is a wholly owned subsidiary of an Italian company, Fiat.

The Chrysler ad was also misleading in another way. You may have heard the line, “What Detroit created was a first, and became an inspiration to the rest of the world.” If the line refers to some specific type of car, such as Henry Ford’s revolutionary assembly line version, that line may be accurate — but the first two real automobiles were made in France and Germany (and the first American ones weren’t made in Detroit). The ad also shows a picture of an American freeway, followed by a sign for the German autobahn — which, in fact, inspired the American interstate highway system.

The Super Bowl must be a great place to sell cars: Besides the Chrysler ad, viewers saw commercials vehicles from Chevrolet, Ford, HondaHyundai, SuburuVolkswagen, Maserati and Jaguar.

Of course, the entire Chrysler ad fell short of what many of us would have expected of Dylan (though he had previously “sold out” to Cadillac and Victoria’s Secret). Designed to pull at the heartstrings like a campaign ad for Ronald Reagan, it was very similar to a Chrysler ad done by Clint Eastwood two years earlier. But it made me wonder how soon Dylan will stand alone on a stage, talking to a chair.

Coke did patriotism much better than Chrysler with its “America the Beautiful” ad. (Though the best Super Bowl ad of all was one apparently seen originally only in Georgia, for a personal injury lawyer.)

The Coke commercial also drew some criticism because of its use of multiple languages — which predictably offended Glenn Beck, some at Fox News, and other nitwits — and its portrayal of a gay family. The latter point is especially interesting, considering the fact that the words for the featured song were written by Katharine Lee Bates, a feminist who probably was a lesbian. Perhaps more surprising in regard to the Coke commercial is the reasoned liberal objection to the ad.

Incidentally, this was perhaps only the second time in decades that I’ve been more interested in the outcome of the game than in the advertising. As a longtime Seattle Seahawks fan, I was much happier with the result this year than when the Seahawks were robbed in 2006.

Next-day follow-up: Below is a video of Atlanta anchor Brenda Wood talking about the Coke ad.

Posted in History, Media literacy, Personal, Politics, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Conservative quackery and Santa Claus

Posted by James McPherson on December 20, 2013

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, everyone. I hope your appreciation of the season hasn’t been dampened by recent controversy involving those wildly popular but oft-misunderstood bearded guys.

No, I’m not talking about “Daddy Duck” Phil Robertson and the other guys of “reality” television’s “Duck Dynastyclan, as I see no need to join the discussion over whether clan leader Phil Robertson is a homophobic racist or just a committed Christian (other than to point out that those who claim that Robertson’s free speech rights are being violated are clueless about the First Amendment).

I’m more interested in the controversy involving those other bearded guys — Santa Claus and Jesus — whom a defensive and “very, very blonde” professional spokesmodel Megyn Kelly brought into Fox News’ annual weird, wacky, hypocritical and ultimately pointless (except to fire up viewers and drive up ratings) “war on the war on Christmas” by insisting that both were white guys.

Not surprisingly, Kelly was wrong about both Jesus and the inspiration for Santa. (Incidentally, Bill O’Reilly has now declared the war over, making himself the commanding general in a Christian victory, and the “war on Christmas” is just a subset of the equally ludicrous (at least in this country) “Christians are persecuted” meme, anyway.)

The “white Santa/white Jesus” discussion continued over several days (not much real news before the holidays, apparently), and I actually heard someone on television question whether we even know Santa’s gender. I’m not making that up, though I wasn’t in front of the TV and so don’t know who said it.

Thinking more about it though, it occurred to me that since I am all for gender equality, I should examine the evidence. I then posted my findings on Facebook, but thought I’d share them here, too:

  1. Santa is beloved, despite his obvious weight problem — in fact, people leave Claus milk and cookies, rather than leaving an obnoxious note saying, “Lose some weight, fatso!”
  2. Santa spends a lot of time in a “workshop,” and apparently has a thing for toys.
  3. Santa needs a Rudolph Guidance System to make it through the fog and finds every house — despite no record of having ever asked anyone for directions.
  4. Mommy was spotted kissing Santa Claus.
  5. Santa stays out all night on the night before a holiday.
  6. Claus apparently hasn’t had a wardrobe update for decades.
  7. Santa has been accused of being a “peeping Tom,” spying on people while they’re sleeping.
  8. Santa prefers to do things the hard way — i.e., going down the chimney rather than simply using the spare key hidden near the door.
  9. Santa postpones delivery of gifts until the last possible moment — and then frequently gives you something that someone who really knew you would never give.
  10. Many people write to Santa, but he never writes back.

I report; you decide.

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Personal, Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments »

Riding, writing and resting

Posted by James McPherson on November 25, 2013

For the past six months, politics has been relatively low on my list of concerns. Call it burnout, or simple disgust with almost everyone in politics (including those in the media who cover it), but after my sabbatical began at the end of May I probably watched and read less about contemporary politics (especially from cable news) for the next several months than during any similar period in perhaps a decade. I have to admit that I didn’t miss it.

Nor have I missed most things about my “real job” as a professor. Someone asked me a while back the most important thing I’d learned during my sabbatical. My answer: “That I probably won’t have any trouble adjusting to retirement in 12 to 15 years.” I love being in the classroom and interacting with students, but certainly haven’t missed grading, course prep or meetings.

During my sabbatical I added a regular Wednesday “guys’ breakfast” and a regular Thursday golf game to my Tuesday and Friday morning basketball games. I’ve read more — and more for fun — than usual. I worked in the yard and garden. I spent time with parents, siblings, kids and a grandchild.

Most importantly, I’ve been able to spend a lot of time with my wife of almost 33 years, especially during a 25-day 5,700-mile drive that included visits to various family members and the cities of Boise, Tucson, Santa Fe, New Orleans and Natchez — the lovely Mississippi city (with the troubling history) in which my wife was born. The cities of Las Vegas, San Antonio, Houston, Dallas and Salt Lake City we passed through quickly, but not too quickly to be reminded of the sprawling corporate sameness that scars the Great American Landscape (though perhaps not for much longer, if my brother and other “doomers” are correct about the fate of the world).

More directly related to my profession, while in New Orleans I attended the annual convention of the American Journalism Historians Association. The convention was held in the beautiful historic Hotel Monteleone, where, despite a steep discount, the nightly rate was more than I paid for my first car, and where it cost more to park my pickup each night than I’ve paid for a room in some motels.

Back home, I attended a breakfast at which I chatted with historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and then (at her request) sent her a copy a book I wrote. (Unlike a similar event with George Will a year earlier, I didn’t notice any errors worthy of correction here.) Later that month I helped out with a high school journalism workshop.

In terms of writing, I have revised a book chapter, chipped away at a novel, compiled notes and done research for a new academic book, and written more than 90 posts for an ongoing blog project. Today I even started our annual Christmas letter, having put up and decorated the tree a couple of days ago. And naturally I’ve been writing on the most pervasive medium in America today: Facebook.

Yes, I’ve devoted too much time to one form of anti-social media, though I’ve managed to forego Twitter, Instagram, Tumbler, Pinterest and Alltherest. I don’t tweet, or even text, and I definitely don’t twerk, Thanks to modern media, sometimes I twitch.

What I’ve written on Facebook  was typically far less important than what I “shared” from elsewhere (the same sorts of things that have no doubt prompted some “friends” to hide me from their feeds). And in retrospect, at least some of what I took the time to share via Facebook also seems worth sharing here. Some examples follow, though for space reasons I obviously can’t include oh-s0-witty-and/or-insightful comments I offered with each post.

The eclectic mix includes: an 1812 test for eighth-graders that few of us today could pass; a professional football coach (who knocked me out in practice when we were on the same college team);  the discovery of a new dinosaur; police brutality in New Mexico; empathetic high school football players; a revised “U.S. map” based on watersheds; Boeing’s anti-union efforts; Richard Cohen’s racism and sexism; how some of Apple’s overseas employees end up as virtual slaves; “15 Ways The United States Is The Best (At Being The Worst)”; the highest-paid employees in each state; a lesson on being quick to judge; some bragging about my workplace; and “the incredible story of Marion Stokes,” an obsessive librarian who taped — on VHS videocassettes — 35 years of television news.

Related to media, I posted items about the dangers of texting while driving and  sexist cyber-bullying by football fans. I explained why my local newspaper screwed up, placing a beautiful photo of a Native American mother and child next to an unrelated headline stating, “Child porn cases result in prison.” I pointed out that a widely quoted ESPN piece about NFL hazing used faulty math and therefore probably drew erroneous conclusions. I made fun of a local television station for misusing a word during a hostage crisis. And I shared a funny piece about a newspaper that retracted its criticism of the Gettysburg Address as “silly remarks” worthy of “a veil of oblivion.”

As a feminist who sometimes teaches a class on women and media (while serving on the board for a local nonprofit devoted to media literacy), I shared various items related to women’s issues: a story about “how we teach our kids that women are liars“;  a piece about sexist treatment of Janet Yellen; how women like working for women; and one about the Bechtel test for movies. I also addressed males, sharing “Five Things Every Self-Respecting Man Over 30 Needs.”

I shared some items about religion, including mega-churches and the fact that the region of the country most opposed to government health care is the Bible Belt. Naturally I couldn’t avoid mention of the Affordable Care Act. Posts compared: Al Jazeera America’s coverage of Typhoon Haiyan and Obamacare with the coverage by CNN, Fox News and MSNBC; how journalists were fact-checking other journalists; Sean Hannity’s lies;

I didn’t managed to ignore other politics entirely, either, discussing such issues as Barack Obama’s judicial nominations; Senate filibusters and the “nuclear option”; nutjobs who advocate killing Obama; National Security Agency wiretapping; Texas textbooks and evolution (a subject of this blog in 2009 and 2010); George W. Bush addressing the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute; some loony Sarah Palin fiscal hypocrisy; Chris Christie’s flip-flop on immigration; and Rand Paul’s plagiarism. What, you expected me to go six months without criticizing a few conservatives?

Most of those Facebook comments came during the past month and a half, suggesting that I’m being sucked back into caring more about politics than may be healthy. Too bad; I’ll have to keep working on that for the couple of months that remain on my sabbatical. Perhaps I’ll report back after that.

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Legal issues, Media literacy, Personal, Politics, Religion, Women, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , | 14 Comments »

On sabbatical

Posted by James McPherson on June 18, 2013

I’m on sabbatical from my “regular job” until the spring semester. Among other things, I’ll revise my small chapter of the the most popular media history text in the U.S., work on a new academic book, and perhaps finish writing a novel that I began some time back. That means I won’t be doing much, if any, writing here.

And however much as I may need a sabbatical break from teaching, I need one even more from the nonsense that now passes for political discourse in this country. I will be doing a bit of fun and easy blogging with a new project (which for the next few months will also become my primary WordPress blog).

And perhaps I’ll write something here once in a while. I can’t seem to help myself, despite my best intentions.

Posted in Education, History, Personal, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | 42 Comments »

Inane confessions of the anonymous kind

Posted by James McPherson on February 23, 2013

When I was a kid, a friend’s mother always seemed to have copies of “confessional” magazines such as True Confessions or True Romance lying around. They seemed pretty silly and I didn’t understand their appeal, though of course I wasn’t among the target audience.

Such publications do have a long history (the issue pictured here is as old as I am). As a media scholar, I now have a better understanding of why those magazines became popular — why people choose the media they do — though at a personal level I still have trouble understanding the attraction of those particular publications.

And like some other forms of other print media, those magazines have largely disappeared. But of course the inane “true confession” style of media has only spread, from Oprah and Jerry Springer to reality television to the “anonymous” Facebook sites that have now become popular with the college crowd — including, sadly, among the generally more sensible students where I teach. Though I guess I shouldn’t be surprised or too disappointed by that; such sites can also be found for the likes of Harvard, Yale, Stanford and Princeton.

In fact, if you want to depress yourself, the next time you’re on Facebook do a search for “university confessions.” Or put in the name of your own university — there’s probably at least one “confessions” page there (some have two or more), with dozens or hundreds of undergrads sharing their supposed insecurities, misdeeds, fantasies, sexual escapades, etc., so that other students can then provide a running commentary.

I wonder: Does the “confessor” who gets the mosts comments feel as if s/he has “won” something?

The Facebook confessions craze is relatively new, but seemingly nearly as ubiquitous as renditions of the “Harlem Shake.” “Confessions” pages have caused problems at a few schools, including the National University of Singapore, the University of Wisconsin-Lacrosse and Sam Houston State University. Mostly they just reflect poorly on the students involved and their universities.[Update: At the high school level, perhaps cause more problems have come from both confessions pages and the “Harlem Shake.”]

As a writer and former college student who now spends most of his time around students, I suspect that many of the supposed “confessions” are fiction. Most seem to be trivial. A fair number are simply stupid. A few of the most troubling, whether true or not, seem to reflect a need for their writers to take advantage of the counseling services available (probably for free) at their institutions.

In part because media around the world have chosen to treat them as news, I decided to contribute my small bit here. Still, as far as making a meaningful contribution to the media world at large, the “confessions” might as well have been scribbled in crayon on notebook paper, folded into paper airplanes, and then launched into the wind.

I also suspect that the trend and the sites themselves will be fleeting, disappearing even before their student moderators graduate and go on to other things. In the meantime, the sites will worry some university administrators, titillate some juvenile readers, offend some people, and be ignored by most — pretty much like every other form of student media throughout history.

One thing I do somewhat appreciate about these Facebook sites, particulary compared to blogs: While the original posts may be anonymous, the commenters are not. That undoubtedly reduces some of the vitriol so often found among bloggers and among those who can comment anonymously on blogs — people who obviously should have no more credibility or popularity than the anonymous “true confessions” on Facebook and in once-popular magazines.

Oh, and if you’ve somehow managed to miss the whole “Harlem Shake” phenomenon (which may have absolutely nothing to do with the original “Harlem Shake”), here is a compilation of examples:

Posted in Education, History, Media literacy, Personal, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Lost in America–or at least in two cities

Posted by James McPherson on January 30, 2013

Though at least one major political party seem to be wandering aimlessly, I wasn’t ever actually completely “lost” during a just-completed 18-day trip to New York and Washington, D.C., with a dozen students (see the class blog here). But do I lack a great sense of direction and don’t use a smart phone, and so rely heavily (if not always well) on maps–as some of my students humorously chronicled in the video below.

I will note that we visited approximately 20 media-related sites in the two cities, and found our way to each meeting with time to spare. On the other  hand, I guess the video may provide some support for the common but nutty claim that liberal professors are leading students astray.

I’m fortunate to work in a university that values off-campus study, and have been lucky enough to coordinate two of my last three every-other-year study programs with presidential inaugurations. To be sure, there were a lot fewer people in Washington this year than four years ago–but it was interesting to see the shift in crowds from the Obama supporters there for the Inauguration at the beginning of the week to the people who came for the annual “March for Life” at the end of the week.

Demonstrating that political views are not black and white in America, at least one of my students attended both the inauguration and the march. I avoided both, and though I may disagree with the student’s politics, as a fan of peaceful political activism I commend her decision. Though students sometimes disappoint me, they far more often make me proud to be associated with them.

This year’s group had the added benefit of sharing a hostel with Wiley Drake, a somewhat pitiful “pastor” who earned some degree of notoriety a few years ago by praying for President Obama’s death. A birther who claims Osama bin Laden died in 2007 and who ran for president himself last year, Wiley has an Internet radio/TV show that he broadcasts (poorly) from wherever he happens to be–including from the hostel dining room.

Frankly, my students would do a better job of broadcasting than Drake does, and would generally make more sense. Even if they keep making the mistake of thinking I know where we are going.

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Personal, Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »

 
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