Oklahoma Blogs Change Media Landscape

Local writer Deborah Benjamin has an interesting article this week in The Oklahoma Gazette (October 6, 2004) about the growing influence of blogs. This blog, Okie Funk, was one of eleven state blogs listed in a sidebar accompanying the article.

Benjamin's story essentially shows how bloggers have become an important factor in covering politics these days. She points out how bloggers were responsible for the Trent Lott story that brought about his demise after he made racist comments at a Strom Thurmond birthday party and also for the recent CBS debacle over the disputed National Guard documents.

The story also points out the tension between mainstream, corporate media apologists who caution readers to watch out for those bad, bad, misinformed blogs and those who see blogging as a much-needed revolution in how American culture will now report the news and tell its story.

I am with the second group. I believe blogs are changing the media landscape in powerful ways, and this is a healthy, significant trend that may ultimately ensure our democracy. (That's not hyperbole, people. That's the cold and bitter truth about the current condition of our federal government and its corporate media toadies.)

For example, I wonder how quasi-fascist and theocratical our one-party federal government would be right now without populist blogs and without the influence of current net-centered grassroots political movements, such as Moveon.org?

Look at the corporate media in Oklahoma right now. The Daily Oklahoman, The Tulsa World, and all the mediocre news programs on our television stations in Oklahoma City and Tulsa are out-of-touch, boring, most often repulsively and divisively right-wing, and indifferent to their audience. Their only motive is to make as much money as possible.

For example, where has the mainstream, corporate media in Oklahoma been the last few months as voter registration has risen in our state and as students on our college campuses have become more political active?

I do not pretend to have broken this story, but Okie Funk reported on this issue in June.

Also, I was completely astounded at all the Kerry/Edwards signs I saw in a couple of affluent suburban Edmond neighborhoods last week. Edmond is, perhaps, the most conservative city in the most conservative state in the country. What's going on?

Where is the reporting on this phenomenon?

The so-called mainstream media in Oklahoma and throughout this country is old, broken, and becoming increasingly useless for those of us wanting to stay truly informed. Everything it presents is filtered through an outdated frame of conservative and backward-looking ideology, and that includes newspapers such as The New York Times and The Washington Post. (I wonder if even these powerful newspapers would have the guts to stand up to sedition laws like editors and publishers did in 1798?)

In addition, the Internet is changing the rules about how the most intelligent and informed people in our culture get their news. Anyone with Internet access and the desire to stay current can read an almost infinite number of publications and political sites from throughout the country and world each day.

Unless there are fundamental changes by corporate interests and the government to the diversity and freedom of the Internet, you can expect blogs to continue their growing contribution to American news and culture. That is our future.


Okies and The Tin Drum

After writing about Fahrenheit 911, it dawned on me that I had seen another important film recently. The film, Banned in Oklahoma, covers the Oklahoma censorship debacle beginning in 1997 over the Academy Award winning movie The Tin Drum (Die Blechtrommel), which was based on Gunter Grass's 1959 novel. Grass won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1999.

Here's an abbreviated version of the censorship case:

In 1997, Bob Anderson, the head of a local right-wing extremist organization, Oklahoma For Children and Families (OCAF), was able to manipulate Oklahoma County District Judge Richard Freeman to rule the movie contained child pornography. Anderson took the film to police, complaining it was obscene. The police then took it to Freeman. (Remember, this is an Academy Award-winning film. It was produced in 1979, and no reasoning person would consider it obscene, especially nearly twenty years after the movie's release! Boring, yes; obscene, absolutely not.)

Consequently, then Oklahoma City District Attorney Bob Macy ordered the film confiscated, and police took the film from local libraries, six local video stores, and three individuals, one of whom happened to be a staff member of the local American Civil Liberties Union.

Later the film was ruled not obscene, but not before Oklahoma City had been depicted nationally, once again, as a backwards, ignorant city without culture and without any respect for art.

The Tin Drum, directed by Volker Schlondorff, depicts the life of the child Oskar, who refuses to grow up beyond the age of three or give up the tin drum he plays relentlessly throughout his life until he wills himself to grow. In the film, which is an anti-Nazi polemic, the stunted Oskar has sex with a young woman. The sex scene is a typical, simulated under-the-covers encounter, extremely tame by contemporary standards. The brief sex scene is secondary to the film's political and aesthetic messages.

The film won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, and the prized Cannes Film Festival Palm d'Or award.

But the fact the film had won these prestigious awards didn't make our city's right-wing extremists hesitate for even a second.

I remember going to a screening of The Tin Drum during this time at a Norman coffeehouse because it was still legal in Cleveland County and every other county in the state (how absurd!), buying my t-shirt to help the cause, and listening to the ACLU staff member, Michael Camfield, play his guitar and sing a song criticizing the judge's ludicrous decision.

It was the second time I had seen the film. I had watched the film and read the novel in the early 1980s because it was a class requirement in an English course I was taking at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. I love the novel, but the film to me is overly symbolic, pretentiously artistic, and boring. The second viewing of the film did not change my mind.

But the film Banned in Oklahoma, which I saw recently with a lively audience at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, is anything but boring. It shows Camfield and Anderson pitted against one another in a type of illogical, absurd culture war only our state (and maybe states such as, say, Mississippi and Alabama) could produce. The film's director and producer, University of Oklahoma Professor Gary D. Rhodes, is careful to give Anderson his viewpoint in the film, and thus the close-minded, moralistic curmudgeon Anderson indicts himself.

Our country would simply cease to exist as a democracy if people such as Anderson were allowed to dictate our cultural realities.

Camfield, meanwhile, comes off as somewhat loony at points in the film, but he is full of life, energy and humor unlike the sanctimonious, sour Anderson. Given a choice between Anderson's bleak, ugly, moralistic world and Camfield's off-the-wall improvisation, there is really no choice. The film shows Camfield having fun with his ensuing lawsuit, one he unfortunately does not win in the end. The film is eventually ruled not obscene, of course, and the libraries and video stores win, but Camfield's suit was based not on the obscenity issue but on wrongful search and seizure.

Rhodes intersperses the film with a subtle regional wit and irony, and that ultimately is what makes the film compelling and interesting. The photography is pure Okie funk (yes, I know it's the name of my blog) and/or American Gothic, which means the irony folds back unto itself by turning what might be considered ugly into retrospective art. At the same time, the film never bashes Oklahoma. This is a real achievement. Rhodes has to be lauded for the film's controlled tone and voice, which resonates without reverting to condescending sarcasm.

Ultimately, though, the film depicts something dark and foreboding. It shows the Oklahoma City power structure capable of supreme ignorance and borderline fascist behavior. To ban an Academy Award winning film in the city twenty years after its release and then to seize copies of the film is simply without parallel in the annals of idiotic decisions. Or, perhaps more worrisome, it is a preview of our future in this country if we remain under the control of right-wing extremists. This, of course, is a far more horrific conclusion.

Banned in Oklahoma is a tremendous contribution to Oklahoma art and culture, and I encourage everyone to attend a local screening or order the film from its excellent director and writer.


Texas Tea Guzzlers

Want a real eye-opener to what is really the problem with the Middle East? Want to know the real reason young American soldiers are dying in Iraq? Want to really understand the anger and mistrust many Arabs feel towards our country?

Then take a drive through Dallas down I-35 in a high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane. The Dallas HOV lanes, for those who do not know, allow vehicles with two or more occupants to use a special left lane to pass all those one-person occupied vehicles in the other five lanes.

I did just that a couple of weeks ago, and it was an almost surreal experience.

This is what I saw: truck after SUV after minivan after truck after SUV after car, with air conditioners at full blast, stuck in snail-paced traffic with one lonely driver at the wheel. Their zombie-like eyes stared vacantly at the bumpers before them.

Mile after mile, five lanes stuffed with vehicles, as I cruised passed in a tiny compact. Zombies staring into ugly highway space, stuck, idling, using gasoline but going nowheresville real slow. Meanwhile, I felt like a cheat and a fool, especially since I displayed Okie plates and a John Kerry for President bumper sticker.

(It was probably so much of a contradiction no refined Texas lady could believe her eyes.)

How dare I actually have someone in the car with me so I could pass all these good, warm-hearted Texans who love our troops the most of everyone in the country? Was this right? Was I going to get myself . . . kilt?

I saw not one bus much less a commuter train or any other form of mass transit.

I did see big, big, big vehicles.

Now before you truck and SUV owners label me a pinko, communist Mazda-driving, unpatriotic, peace-loving latte drinker, let me admit I have an older Chevrolet Suburban gathering dust in my garage. I actually once drove it when I coached a little league baseball team, and it was not uncommon for me to "haul" (and that is the appropriate word)twelve kids, give or take a couple, to games and practices. I don't drive it now because I have no need for that much room, and I don't sell it because, well, because gasoline prices are so high right now I don't think it's even worth the hassle.

There's nothing intrinsically wrong with big cars, just like there's nothing intrinsically right about an American who is not paying attention to what is going on in the Middle East today.

Our country supports Middle East dictators with our military strength so we are guaranteed access to oil.

Saudi Arabia, the world's largest producer of oil, is the perfect example. The Saudi dictators oppress their people so much that Islamic fundamentalism actually seems attractive to many of their citizens. (Remember, folks, virtually all the September 11 terrorists were from Saudi Arabia.)

Our country encourages this dynamic, and then we invade a country without one iota of a connection to the terrorist attacks but with plenty of oil for all those lonely Texans in their Texas tea guzzlers. Folks, stay tuned to Channel Bush. Undoubtedly, the puppeteer Dick Cheney will soon install and support yet another oppressive regime in Iraq because we simply have no sensible policy to wean ourselves from Middle East oil.

What would happen if there were actually two people in each vehicle going down I-35 through Dallas? How many American lives would have been saved? What if our country didn't need a drop of Middle East oil, yet we still had our trucks and minivans? Those Middle East dictatorships would crumble, and then, only then, would democracy and freedom have a chance in that region of the world.

John Kerry has a plan to get us off the Middle East oil teat in ten years. Dubbya, I suspect, has golf plans with members of the Saudi royal family.