Tuesday, March 29, 2011

This I Believe ... Part 1

Back in the dark ages of misremembered time, I taught about movies and television and radio, before climbing down Rapunzel's hair and escaping the ivory tower for the cold cruel world. What followed was years of toiling in feature film production, then interactive gaming, then commercial production, then management, with side trips involving marketing and social media. Recently, while strolling through the dark and lonely woods, I stumbled once again upon the ivory tower, and scampered inside for a respite from the trials and tribulations of great recession. And, as a man of the 21st century, I therefore begin this blog, to share my thoughts and experiences, no matter how trivial or insignificant, while waiting for new dragons to slay.

Edward R. Murrow once said, in addressing the impossibility of absolute objectivity, "We are all the prisoners of our own experience, of our reading, or our indoctrination, and our travels." This is just as true of teachers as it is reporters. When I first introduce myself to my students, I feel it is important that they know something about my background and beliefs. So, here are a few things I know to be true.


1. Flying, winged humans and bi-pedal beavers live in harmony in the lush forests and by the vast seas of the moon.

How do I know this to be true? I read it in the newspaper.

Sir John Herschel was one of the most prominent and influential scientists and astronomers of his day. He is credited with discovering the many moons of Saturn, and he helped invent the photographic process.  In 1833, he moved to South Africa to continue his astronomical studies.

In August of 1835, "The Sun," a popular newspaper in New York City, reported that, “by means of a telescope of vast dimensions and an entirely new principal,” Sir John had discovered planets in other solar systems.  

The story continued to relate that Sir John had then trained his impressive telescope on the moon. ‪There he found vast green forests; inland seas; lilac hued quartz pyramids; herds of bison; blue unicorns; spherical, rolling amphibious creatures; fire wielding and hut building biped beavers; and most astonishingly ...

... Vespertilio-Homo, the man-bat, flying humans living in harmony and peace.

Not surprisingly, "The Sun" managed to sell thousands of copies based upon the public interest in this astonishing, groundbreaking reportage.

2. Martians invaded earth in 1938 and destroyed New York City.

How do I know this to be true? I heard it on the radio.

In 1938, radio listeners were horrified as they listened to news broadcasts detailing strange explosions on the surface of Mars, followed by numerous and unnaturally smooth meteors crashing to Earth.

From one such meteor that landed in Grover’s Mill, New Jersey, emerged a tri-pedal war machine that marched on and decimated New York City.

In reality, it was the weekly CBS broadcast of “The Mercury Theater on the Air,” a program directed by the Broadway legend Orson Welles, for which he adapted classics of literature. On Halloween Eve in 1938, he presented an adaptation of H.G. Wells’ perennial classic, “The War of the Worlds.” He told the familiar story of earth invaded by Martians as a series of fake news broadcasts, periodically interrupting short programs of music.

Even through the hour-long program was introduced as fiction and described as fiction during the half-hour break, even though the events, from the supposed launch of space craft from Mars to the destruction of NYC all occurred in less than 30 minutes, and even though the last half hour was a traditional narrative acted out for the microphone, enough listeners were convinced to create the legend of a panic. This might partially be explained by the still common practice of flipping channels, with listeners picking up the show mid-stream and missing any disclaimers. Or by listeners, inundated by new reports from war-torn Europe, confusing the reports for an invasion of the U.S. by Hitler’s Germany.

3.  Spaghetti grows on trees.

The spaghetti harvest in Switzerland in 1957 was particularly impressive.

How do I know this to be true? I saw it on television.

“Panorama” was Britain’s flagship news program, with a viewership of over 10 million.  Richard Dimbleby was the show's highly respected and trusted anchor, the Walter Cronkite of Britain.

Dimbleby's presentation of Southern Switzerland’s bumper spaghetti crop on April 1, 1957 is thought to be the first April Fool gag on broadcast television.  Enough listeners wrote in to ask how to grow their own spaghetti that the BBC prepared a standard response: “Place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.”

Jack Paar later re-broadcast the segment to the United States during his stint as host on "The Tonight Show."

It's an enduring bit.  With the increasing world-wide demand for pasta, we even grow the crop here in Tennessee.

More to come ...