Mike Kueber's Blog

August 4, 2017

A response to Jane Elliott’s “brilliant question.”

Filed under: Culture,Facebook,Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 12:19 am
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White audience left speechless by brilliant question about race.”  That is the title of a You Tube video by Jane Elliott that is shared ad nauseum on Facebook. The other ubiquitous, nausea-inducing video on Facebook has Jeff Daniels explaining in “Newsroom” why American is not the greatest country in the world.

In her short video, anti-racism activist Jane Elliott says, “I want every white person in this room who would be happy to be treated as this society in general treats our black citizens. If you as a white person would be happy to receive the same treatment that our black citizens do in this society, please stand.”

When no one in the audience stands, Elliott asserts that fact as proof that the audience knows how badly society treats blacks, and then she asks why the audience is so willing to accept the mistreatment of blacks.

Yesterday on Facebook, the Elliott video was thrown in my face while I was discussing one of the issues of the day. No, it wasn’t the Trump initiatives on reduced legal immigration or “intentional race-based discrimination” in college admissions. Rather, it concerned a police dust-up with an entitled white kid who refused the officer’s instruction to get out of his Ford Mustang.

My Facebook friend Patricia Spencer Potyka posted a lengthy video of the encounter, and George Thompson, Sr. made the first comment:

  • Thompson – If this driver had not been Caucasian there would have been no discourse: he would have been shot to death. Period.
  • Potyka – Not condoning the driver’s non-compliance initially, but he’s just a kid –scared kid.

At that point, I entered the fray:

  • Kueber – “not condoning noncompliance, but….” “If the driver had not been caucasian… would have been shot to death.” Remember Sandra Flake, the African-American who thought she had a right to stay in her car? She didn’t get shot, but did get arrested. The moral of this story is that when a police officer instructs you to get out of the car, the stupidest thing is to tell the officer that you have the right to stay in your car. Noncompliance is not an option. Yes, this guy is a scared kid, but not too scared to defy a cop while demanding to call his dad. An obvious case of affluenza.
  • Thompson – Ms. Flake, the African-featured woman you alluded to, was arrested, taken to the police station and murdered. Those who are afflicted by President Twitterdumb are not recipients of anodyne jollity. Please reconsider the video, (supra: “A WHITE AUDIENCE IS LEFT SPEECHLESS”) Evil is not funny.
  • Kueber – Mr. Thompson, everyone on Facebook is familiar with Jane Elliot’s silly video. The audience is speechless because the question is ridiculous on multiple levels. Perhaps you could summarize what you gleaned from viewing it.
  • Thompson – And yet you, Mr. Kueber , are apparently at a loss to enunciate even one basis to substantiate the “levels” corroborating your postulate of Ms. Elliot’s question as fatuous? Without such rejoinder, why should anyone entertain your apparent delusions?
  • Kueber – George — #1 – it would be presumptuous for a white person to think he knows how it feels to be treated as a black person in American society. Unless that person is author John Griffin (Black Like Me) or NAACP’s Rachel Dolezal, who is white, but identifies as a black. #2 – American society profiles everybody based on their life experiences with individuals of that type – age, sex, job, home, appearance, manners, accent, religion, politics, etc. That does not make them bigots.  In the abstract you may want to treat everybody as an individual, but it is impossible to ignore your life experiences. #3 – what sort of person would admit to preferring the life of someone else? Certainly not someone listening to Ms. Elliott speak. If Ms. Elliott were to ask a roomful of female feminists to stand if they would be happy to be treated as society treats men, I think the vast majority of them would remain seated.

George Thompson, Sr. appears to have tricked me. He responded to my question with another question, and I fell for his challenge with a lengthy, detailed response while he faded away like the drive-by media. With my response drafted, however, I will have a ready answer the next time someone asks me if I would be happy to be treated as a black person is treated.

Just as I am ready when someone asks if America is the greatest country in the world, in which case I play the Thompson trick and ask them to identify one that is greater 😉

March 2, 2014

Saturday Night at the Movies #103 – The Newsroom (season one)

Filed under: Media,Movie reviews — Mike Kueber @ 5:53 pm
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The Newsroom is an HBO series created by West Wing’s Aaron Sorkin.  It debuted with ten episodes in 2012, followed by nine episodes in 2013, and will conclude with Season Three later this year.  Only Season One is available on Netflix DVDs and I binged through the ten episodes this past week.  (I actually saw and blogged about the first episode when it first came out because it was widely released, but subsequent episodes were limited to HBO subscribers.)

Although Wikipedia describes the series as a political drama, it is more accurate to call it journalism drama.  Sorkin continues his West Wing tradition of high-minded, liberal speechifying.  As critic Tim Goodman noted:

  • Sorkin is always true to himself and doesn’t try to cover his tendencies or be embarrassed by them.”

Sorkin accurately described the series as follows:

  • “[The Newsroom] is meant to be an idealistic, romantic, swashbuckling, sometimes comedic but very optimistic, upward-looking look at a group of people who are often looked at cynically. The same as with The West Wing, where ordinarily in popular culture our leaders are portrayed either as Machiavellian or dumb; I wanted to do something different and show a highly competent group of people.”

The series stars Jeff Daniels as a network anchor who is an idealistic Republican – i.e., a full-throated RINO.  Most of the first season has him bashing the TEA Party and anyone associated with it.  The show is less balanced than Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, so if you can’t bear to listen to liberal partisans make their case, then you will hate this show.

Personally, I am a solid conservative, but I can watch The Daily Show without raising my blood pressure.  And ever since college, I have felt that journalism is a noble pursuit.  So watching Sorkin show journalists trying to do a good job is enjoyable and thought-provoking (even if The TEA Party is the foil).

Even better, according to the critics Season Two is supposed to be even better and more balanced in its treatment of conservatives.  I can’t wait for Netflix to get it.

June 25, 2012

Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom vs. James Poniewozik

Filed under: Media — Mike Kueber @ 4:31 am
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Time magazine this week included a review by television critic James Poniewozik of HBO’s newest series, The Newsroom.    The writer/creator of The Newsroom is Aaron Sorkin, whose previous work includes A Few Good Men, The American President, The West Wing, The Social Network, and Moneyball.  In my mind, that puts him in a category with Shakespeare, Falkner, and Dickens.

Poniewozik’s review of The Newsroom was mostly negative, but it reminded me of how much I enjoyed Sorkin’s writing and prompted me to arrange my Sunday night around the Sunday premiere at 9 pm.  I was not disappointed.  Sorkin writes for people like me who love articulate, idealistic characters.  But Poniewozik has warned that, of the four episodes that he has watched, the first was the most serviceable and the others get progressively worse.  We’ll see.

As good as Sorkin writes, I was almost as impressed by Poniewozik’s insights in his review:

  • Sorkin’s dialogue, at least, is as nimble as ever. If you want to watch The Aaron Sorkin Eloquently Expresses Things You Already Believe Hour, this is your show
  • [Sorkin’s hero/anchorman] jousts with a string of Tea Party politicians, tabloid journalists, and wicked corporate suits who may as well be allegorical figures named Ignorance, Vanity and Avarice.
  • [The hero/anchorman’s] producer/ex-girlfriend MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer) explains: “Reclaiming the fourth estate. Reclaiming journalism as an honorable profession. A nightly newscast that informs a debate worthy of a great nation. Civility, respect and a return to what’s important. The death of bitchiness, the death of gossip and voyeurism. Speaking truth to stupid–” She’s not nearly done, but I have only a page here. Yes, articulate characters are Sorkin’s gig.

While searching the Time magazine archives for the on-line edition of the Poniewozik review, I discovered that he had blogged much more extensively about the show a couple of weeks earlier.  In the blog, he provided even more insights:

  • Sunday night, HBO premieres The Newsroom, Aaron Sorkin’s attempt to do for cable news what The West Wing did for politics: present a romanticized version of a beleaguered institution, with a cast of hard-working idealists, long impassioned speeches and lots of walking-and-talking. I was not a fan.
  • You may argue that you could make many of the same arguments—about the sanctimony, the deck-stacking, the too-perfect stylized dialogue, &c.—against The West Wing. I agree, and I made them when The West Wing was on. But I also included The West Wing in my list of the 100 All-TIME TV Shows, because it also gave us rich characters, a sense of proportionality and an infectious feeling of romance with the country and the people who want to make it better. The Newsroom, after four exhausting, smug episodes, gives us none of that: just Aaron Sorkin writing one argument after another for himself to win.

Poniewozik completed his blog entry on The Newsroom by listing his most serious reservations about Sorkin’s writing:

The Women Problem. Either Sorkin is no longer able to write credible women characters, or he no longer wants to.

It’s Intellectually Self-Serving. One of the principles that Mac sets for Will’s new newscast is that it will always try to present the best version of a party’s argument, not the most provocative or caricatured one for ratings. The Newsroom does not follow its own advice.

A Résumé Is Not Character Development. Mac, we are told, is a tough, smart journalist who made her bones covering wars, but in practice she’s an emotional ditz. We are told Will is a Republican but he spends much more time making Democrat’s arguments. We are told that Will was a wishy-washy anchor concerned only with ratings, but his conversion to truth-telling crusader is near-instant and almost without conflict. Sorkin behaves as if simply telling us that someone is something is a substitute for actually having them behave as that thing.

Bias Is a Qualification? I’ve spent a lot of time arguing that journalists can admit they have opinions and still be fair, so in a way I’m with Sorkin when he argues for impassioned journalism. But two exchanges in the second episode really bothered me.


“That’s the right answer.” I think there’s a very good argument that journalists can and should have strong opinions about the things they spend all their working time covering—it shows they’re intelligent, engaged and applying analysis. But that’s not the point these scenes are making. They’re saying that a good journalist is one who has the right opinion, and that having the correct opinion—Sorkin’s—is proof they’re ready to do the job.

Zingers Are Not Drama. I’ve written it before about The West Wing, but Sorkin’s TV drama is all about esprits d’escalier: the snappy comeback you wish you had given somebody in a political argument, the debate performance Democrats wished Al Gore had had against George W. Bush. In The Newsroom, it feels like Sorkin spent two years watching cable news and jotting down comebacks, then handed us the notebook. It’s empty-calorie drama, replacing real debate and character work with the quick thrill of canned superiority. (The Newsroom is the kind of hectoring drama that fans say “People need to see,” meaning, of course, other, less enlightened people than themselves.)

Call me mealy-mouthed, but I like both these guys.  Although I accept Poniewozik’s criticisms as valid, I will continue watching Sorkin and reading Poniewozik.