Monday, December 5, 2011

ABC News 'Made in America' series

There are a lot of things you can call the feature news components on ABC World News Tonight with Diane Sawyer.

  • News you can use
  • Service journalism
  • Shooting fish in a barrel

The lede is not one of them. Though that does not stop the team at the network’s 2nd place evening newscast from positioning their manufactured news series as the top story of the evening, as they do from time to time with their segment, Made in America.

Starting with an obvious premise, that the American economy has evolved from a manufacturing economy, while failing to note where the American economy has moved to, this series scratches American’s nationalist itch. It finds college students with new dorm room stuff, none of which is made domestically. It notes families who own very little that’s made at home. It’s gotten people passing through New York’s Grand Central Station to strip down in order to find a US label on a pair of undies.

But it doesn’t take the time to do more for the audience at home than remind us of the changes to our economic structure, continues to cheapen what used to be a valuable amount of time in a newscast, and offers itself up for parody that could just about write itself for any of the late night cable comedy shows.

David Muir, now introduced as ‘anchor David Muir,’ smirks his way through these indulgent stories, repeating from piece to piece precisely what we’ve heard before. What’s new is that the bottom has gotten even lower in this charade.

Children have been pimped as stooges in this false drama. Just tonight, three pre-tweeners are found alongside a mother in a parking lot, asked whether they will find more American made products in the electronics store or the sporting goods store. "SPORTING GOOOOOODS" they shriek. But as the camera follows them inside, the reporting staying outside, and we again were left wondering. To paraphrase Clara Peller, 'Where's the news?'

A boss who has hired three people following a previous Made in America story is given time to laud his contribution to the economy. Three people? Who’s kidding who.

Most significantly, earlier in this exceedingly long piece, long by network standards, a brand new low was created by ABC. The network that learned over a generation ago that you do not fool mother nature with real news by recreating scenes, has managed to not let those same standards and rules apply in this era of digital cameras and i-reporters. Tonight, ABC added a graphic atop the screen at the beginning of their story, placing an image in a corner implying that the footage was created directly by an ‘MIA CAM.’ Hell, it even had the flashing red dot that we know tells us our personal camera is recording.

But this MIA or Made in America camera was nothing more than a false lens, a fictional appearance within a contrived story deep within what should be a more thoughtful newscast. It is the representation of what we’ve allowed news to be…..a device to hook and hold viewers, regardless of the methods, the manner, or the style.

Would it matter more if we knew if anchor David Muir’s suits were domestic or imported, or whether his shoes were Thom McCann’s? Would it help if we knew whether the glasses Diane Sawyer wears were made in America? How about the cars owned and driven by the senior production and editorial teams at ABC News? What about where they vacation, or what wines they drink, or food they consume? Domestic, or not made in America?

Reporting some time back provided journalists with a window onto what they were covering. But when you smash that window, and step over that space, the one that separated the reporting from the public, you do open yourself up to these questions.

And they need to continue to be asked, even if they’re coming one at a time.

Perhaps as valued and respected news watchers like Andrew Tyndall continue to document that these emperors really do have no clothes (domestic or imported), others who measure content and perform analysis will follow.

For now, we’ll try not to choke on Oscar Meyer or spit up our Coca Cola as we try to watch the evening news.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Hugo (a review)

What a charming, delightful film.

Martin Scorcese once again proves that he doesn’t need blood and guts to tell a story. Hugo is just plain theater, with a fantastic backstory, a strong arc, an impressive finish, and all the essential ingredients for an instant classic: tragedy, drama, adventure, intrigue, and passion.

For cinephiles, there’s history as well, plenty of it. Presented in a very creative, pleasing, and modern way. Hugo makes use of a myriad of storytelling devices, foreshadowing, previewing, voice-over, dramatic shots, revealing camera angles, all with just the right touch of character.

While this is a period piece, intended to be Paris in the 30’s, there’s more than just an apparent timelessness to this. There’s an ease to it. A reminder, even though none among us was around at that time, that hustle and bustle is not a modern phenomenon, even if social attitudes and mores may have changed over the ensuing decades. And the message of the film, that we each have a purpose, a role, a story to tell, something to share, is not just universal. It’s elemental, as the basic root of storytelling.

For younger viewers, the pacing might be a bit slow, though the action and intrigue may well compensate for the pace. For teens, who the hell knows. There’s no vampire action, at least none I could discern, and the closest thing to visible romance was some handholding and a polite peck. Not even dancing, at least not among the younger set in the film. For adults, this film is a feast. One does have to share an interest in films, in drama, in storytelling, and in the possibility of people opening their hearts, and thus minds, to allow for there to be change.

As for the particulars, Ben Kingsley is fantastic. What would you expect. Sacha Baron Cohen is convincing as the ogre dressed in a rail security uniform. Cameos by Johnny Depp and Jude Law give this some major star flavor. Emily Mortimer’s understated flower girl provides the right touch. And teens ChloĆ« Grace Moretz and Asa Butterfield make this film, with just the right level of innocence and curiosity to play out this thoughtful and very smart drama.

Finally, a 3D film that was truly worth it. Not over the top, not shot for effect, but simply something that just plain works. And delivers.