Monday, August 20, 2007

talking heads

I was interviewed by a news producer the other day (ahem, I. Want. To. Share. But. Can't.) and during the course of her interview she wanted to know why I thought homelessness was a problem in our communities. The camera was on and I was of course simultaneously worrying about looking stupid and of course, whether my hair looked okay so I started to lose my train of thought. I started talking, babbling really, and replied with some sort of wingnut response about freedom. About how I can't be free if other people aren't. And she stopped taping and looked quizzically at me and asked what freedom had to do with homelessness.

And for some reason her question made me aware of this anger I carry. Anger that there aren't easier solutions. Anger that homelessness exists. Anger that we still keep asking silly questions. Angry that I feel angry. I meant what I said, but the more elaborate answer is something along the lines of homelessness is a problem because we are choosing to allow others to suffer in exhange for consumerism and capitalism. That we have purposefully set up a system where we need weak people to boost a few strong people. That we care more about our living room furniture than we do our neighbors. So I told her all of this with the camera off and she smiled and nodded and I asked her if she wanted me to repeat it on camera and she gently told me it wouldn't work but that she appreciated my position.

She turned the camera back on and we finished the piece with different questions and after it was done I asked her why people were so afraid of hearing what people really think and she looked at me and smiled and didn't have much of an answer. I figured it was either because a) she thought I was insane or b) didn't really care and was just doing her job. And either way I left a bit frustrated because I still don't know how to get my point across in a way that isn't so critical of everything else.

51 comments:

Hetha said...

So apparently they wanted an interview that would put people at ease about homelessness? Your words would have made it an informative and memorable interview, she really missed the boat. I just don't get it, what is the point of talking about it at all if we aren't going to be real? I wonder if the interview were destined for print rather than tv...would they have been open to a real discussion then?

Lawyer Mama said...

That's unfortunate. I would rather watch a segment about the real problem of homelessness and poverty rather than a producer's manufactured sound bite. I'm sure they fear sounding preachy or making people uncomfortable, but if people aren't uncomfortable nothing will ever change. Sigh.

Her Grace said...

The media don't want their viewers to feel uncomfortable when they watch their shows. But truly facing issues like homelessness should make us uncomfortable, and not in a "Oh, I better send a $10 check" sort of way. I'm glad you spoke your mind, and I wish she had let it be on camera.

Blog Antagonist said...

What a shame that all they wanted was a sound byte instead of a real opinion.

I think it was brave of you to even do the interview. I'm not sure anybody that wasn't a professional journalist could do stuff off the cuff like that. I know that I couldn't.

You're still my hero.

nomotherearth said...

I'm with the others - I think that TV people assume that their audience wants everything neatly wrapped up. Nothing too uncomfortable. If they really looked at things, I think they would see that what we, the audience, really wants is the truth. Then, if there are people who are uncomfortable, they can choose to watch or not.

Susanne said...

I'm not that sure people want the truth, nomo. I'd say we are, most of us, quite comfortable looking away and worrying about living room furniture.

But it's very sad that Jen didn't get to say what she really wanted to.

Kelly said...

Sometimes my feeling is that the American audience in mass doesn't want anything to make them too uncomfortable, lest their dinner become suddenly inedible. I suppose this is the glass-half-empty position, but I see it in my family, in friends, in other people who are either too self-consumed or too incurious to care. We want scandal, we eat up gory stories, but anything with a message, we turn away from.

It's why I appreciated, desperately, (despite how awful it was to take in), seeing the faces of the burnt, limbless soldiers, back from Iraq, hearing their stories, hearing that they were alive but would never the same, on the evening news. And I hoped that people who supported the war saw it, and digested their massive sin.

(Sorry for tangent about the war...)

painted maypole said...

it's sad, but at least she was truthful with you. "it won't work" We just don't want to hear it. We want to have our world view confirmed. we don't want to have to take a hard look at ourselves and how we contribute to the problem, we want to be given a way to EASILY "help" solve the problem

Momish said...

But Jen, perhaps there is no way to get THE point across without critisizing everything else. Isn't that why so many people ignore the homeless? The mirror that is held up is too scary!

We want to call ourselves human, as in humane, then walk right by people suffering.

We want to consider ourselves generous, but then go out and buy our new comfy couches to sit on, rather than help someone put a roof over their heads.

We want to consider ourselves as valuable members of the community without accepting the full responsibility of all it's members.

Unfortunately, the message you need to get across isn't "feel good" enough for the news. Now how fucking pathetic is that?

liv said...

The truth interferes with ratings and the quest to make programming jive with the image of the network that sponsors have paid for. Here it is on TV, capitalism and hegemonic encoding for your viewing pleasure.

slouching mom said...

I can just see it now.

The perky blonde announcer, chirping away, chirp chirp chirp CHIRP!

"And our next segment," (grin, excitement), "is on HOMELESSNESS!" (great excitement, uplift on the HOME -- perhaps people might hear "homefulness" instead).

Sigh.

Tabba said...

truth.

unwavering, in-your-face truth.

no one wants to hear it, do they?

Cecilieaux said...

This is why we print (pixel?) journalists call broadcast folks "twinkies" (blonde on the outside, fluffy on the inside).

TV and radio are much more about form than substance. The tone, the look, the action is everything. Words almost don't matter.

I have had fun on radio; I hate doing TV. But there's very little thinking in either.

Deezee said...

I understand your frustration, but I'm guessing that these kind of programs want concise, concrete assessments/solutions rather than a broader discussion of the issue. And when an issue isn't easily framed that way, it gets cut.

I think the best way to get your thoughts/observations on the issue out is to find a medium that devotes more space/time to the discussion. TV rarely offers that.

I know the harsh confines I have encountered in documentary film making where I want to go off on an interesting point and I am reined in due to time constraints. It's very limiting and frustrating. Glad you gave it a shot.

Kyla said...

How sad. Damn media.

crazymumma said...

Of course it has everything to do with freedom.

and of course it wouldn't work for the audience.
it's too truthful.

anger is good. it can burn new paths.

Frustrating just to hear about it Jen.

kristen said...

that's disheartening to hear, that she asked a question that 'wouldn't work' and then switched back on.

i'm hoping she had no answer because she felt insane for knowing she was talking out of both sides of her mouth and doing nothing about it.

now for the girly lame comment...don't worry about your hair. ever. you have the best hair i've seen in a long, long time. seriously. xo

Jennifer said...

People don't want to be uncomfortable and don't want to feel they might not be seeing the world as it really is. People don't want to know that, just maybe, we need some drastic change in our society. *sigh*.

It's not only okay to be critical -- it's necessary, sometimes. Good for you for trying. I wish more people would be willing to go out on that limb.

thailandchani said...

I completely understand what you are talking about. Some time back, I was also doing the TV interview thing... and they're looking for you to say what will support their fundamental position. And they don't want you saying things that might upset others during their dinner hour.

The connections you make are obvious to most thinking people.. but don't expect it to end up on TV. It never will.


Peace,

~Chani
http://thailandgal.blogspot.com

Mrs. Chicken said...

There is an art to it, this ability to speak the truth without anger.

But I love the fact that you are artless in that way. I mean, christ. We should all be angry that this system is set up to always create someone who is disenfranchised.

And I'm dying to know what you're doing this for. I want to see your face. I saw you in some BlogHer pics with your face hidden.

And thank you for your virtual hug this morning.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

What is missing is a genuine sense of community, of loving thy neighbor as thyself.

A couple of dollars in the collection plate is regarded as the price of a ticket to heaven. For most people, the mentality is "how little can I harm myself in helping others?" And those are the ones who actually care.

As long as our society retains its fascination and lust for expensive, shiny stuff, the price will continue to be paid by those with the least buying power.

Social work is like saving starfish from low tide. You can't save them all, but what you do makes a huge difference to the ones you can.

mamatulip said...

So they wanted a nicely packaged, somewhat fluff piece about homelessness that would tell people what they wanted to hear, instead of the raw, exposed truth?

That's unfortunate.

Oh, The Joys said...

We keep rolling that rock up that hill. It just goes on and on, friend.

Thinking of you...

jen said...

you guys are terrific. And it's sort of how I think too - it IS bad, why aren't we saying it's bad? why do i need to have a softer landing?

kaliroz said...

Now, Jen, had I been that reporter, I would've had you say all of that on tape.

But, I've worked in public radio. We're a little nutty.

deb said...

God forbid the news should enlighten people, educate people, upset people.

carrie said...

Lawyer mama said ". . . but if people aren't uncomfortable, nothing will ever change." And this sooooo speaks to me. Not that it's all about me, but I posted about my feelings of homelessness and how they've changed (thanks to you, friend) today.

It shouldn't be this way.

Thank you for trying so hard to make it different.

flutter said...

You know what, Jen? Collectively, we are lucky as hell to have someone like you feeling angry and fighting the fight.

Even if the answers aren't easy.

Magpie said...

I'm sorry they wouldn't let you say your piece. But TV news never seems to let the hard stuff in...it's such drivel.

On a tangential note - I just finished reading a book by Anna Quindlen, fiction called Rise And Shine, about two sisters - one a social worker in the Bronx, one a Katie Couric type. It was actually pretty engaging, and strangely apropos of your post here. If you'd like it, I'll send it to you.

NotSoSage said...

How could she even ask that question? It seems she knows very little about the issue. How much she could learn from you...

With two parents trained as journalists I always feel like I need to defend the press in some way - the stories my dad tells about columns being cut down to nothing are appalling - but I think they were even more free to write/say what they wanted to years ago than they are now.

amusing said...

We live in the age of the soundbite -- and, despite what was said above, I'd argue that print media is just as guilty as electronic. Easy to digest. Not too challenging to understand. They figure we can read, but not understand anything too complicated.

The media is too often reactive instead of proactive. Instead of changing the world by making us aware [fully] of issues [both sides is fine], they are ambulance chasers -- miners in a hole, bosomy blonde gives birth and dies mysteriously, bridge gives way. Where are the stories in advance of the disasters? The finger pointing, the warnings, the guilt that we aren't doing things that should be done.

bgirl said...

it baffles me, the way people are so afraid to be uncomfortable, when often that is exactly what it takes to facilitate change, growth, enlightenment.

keep on keeping on jen.

Mrs. Chicky said...

I'm willing to bet the farm on the fact that it was B, unfortunately. The ones reporting our biggest news don't really care unless it wins them an award.

Christine said...

you know what? as soon as you said the line about freedom i completely and totally knew what you meant. it really hit home. it is so sad that she or her tv show couldn't see that, too. or that they didn't have the guts to air it.

Amanda said...

I think you might just be the person who gets us to the world where people hear, really hear, the truth.

Good job, I bet you looked ravishing.

QT said...

Unfortunately, the press is in the position these days of really NEEDING the advertisers. And what ads are going to run after a piece where you condemn consumerism and capitalism??

That, and consumerism is not something that can be packaged up and explained and a solution offered in 2 minutes.

Sorry jen - how totally disappointing for you. And I am with kiki on the hair issue as well.

meno said...

It's not about the news, it's about entertainment. So the truth is not valued. But you got to tell at least one person, and us.

Ruth Dynamite said...

The truth hurts.

Some day I soon, I hope, a TV person with brains and balls (figuratively, of course) will hang on your every word.

Bon said...

i know that anger. it makes a mess of me, because i don't direct mine nearly so well as you do into working with others to help them make more of their lives, and i know it...but systemically i still rage, at me, at the "system", at all of it, this aquarium in which we're all swimming...or maybe sinking. we deny ourselves the capacity to see outside the damn glass walls.

and i think that's tragic, because i really don't believe we're happier for the not knowing, for the "chirp chirp happy stories about homelessness to make you feel better".

the problem with being critical, of course, is that it denies a viewer the chance to see you as neutral...like anyone's neutral. but we're awfully attached to the idea that we ought to pretend to be.

Janet said...

Most suburban dwelling folk are isolated from homelessness. I am among them, for the homeless tend to stay around the downtown core and I almost never have a need to go there. If I don't see the homeless, I don't have to think about them. Then I can go about my daily life without feeling uncomfortable or ashamed.

So, you see, if the nice reporter ran a story that was raw and real, then people might feel squirmy and ill-at-ease and nobody likes to feel that way, do they?

I'm glad that I found your blog and that you write these words because it makes me pause and consider that, sometimes, I am just behaving like a damn princess and I need to get over myself.

jen said...

you all amaze me. your support. your kindness. your understanding. you exactly understood me about this and i thank you so much.

PunditMom said...

Having been a TV reporter many moons ago, I am sure the answer is "b." There are so few opportunities for people to be truly interviewed by reporters in a setting where there isn't a pre-destined outcome. I hate that.

KC said...

Yes, I say "b".

Disheartening, yes. I thought reporting meant capturing the truth but more and more I see it's PR.

Maybe the internet, the blogging community is better adapte to capture the truth.

Your truth is freeing.

Laurie said...

You are an amazing woman, Jen. You are more to help others than most people ever dream of. Thank you for your effort to bring the truth to light.

mitzh said...

It is so sad that people often choose to turn their heads the other way, rather than see the truth.

You are one of the few to face it head on.

Hel said...

I think it was the perfect answer. I see it here all the time. People are without education, food and hope and others drive around in huge cars, make even huger salaries and bitch about how the poor are just too lazy to change and how we have given them so many opportunities and they are still in the slums.

How do you not criticize that?

thordora said...

The truth hurts sometimes because it's bigger than us, or scarier than is. Sometimes we are helpless before it, and are unwilling to speak up, or listen, because we feel bound and unable to fix the problem.

People want things they can fix. Not always the easiest answer-but something they can do. I can't change the system and more than I can rebuild my house by myself without a LOT of help. Sometimes we need an answer as a starting point, a place to jump off from.

Sometimes I feel so helpless in the face of all that's wrong that I don't know how to help even a little bit. That's when soundbites DO work-when they help me become part of a solution. Perhaps that's all she was looking for.

blooming desertpea said...

Urghhhh, that is soooo frustrating! Why is it that we are expect to say things we don't mean? And if we say what we want it will distorted to fit whatever it is that should come across! That sucks - big time!

Jenn said...

Our soundbite news system is pretty much why the only news that I really watch is The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.

Yes, it is news.

I understand the anger, too.
How suddenly one small comment or even thought can spark something within you that you didn't know was there.

ewe are here said...

I sense that a lot of 'news' programs have become 'let us entertain you and make you comfortable with who your are' programs.... Sad. Sad sad sad.

Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

Homelessness is a problem in our communities because it ain't right. Any degree of homelessness is wrong; the degree of homelessness today is just plain sick.