Thank You, Norman Lear


It’s just about perfect that the week that ” target=”_hplink”>Norman Lear Center

At $65 a head, ” target=”_hplink”>Ghettotainment, as this kind of ” target=”_hplink”>conquering ” target=”_hplink”>politics, ” target=”_hplink”>commerce, ” target=”_hplink”>religion and pretty much the rest of reality.

But the point isn’t to lament that we’re ” target=”_hplink”>definition of entertainment – can be harnessed to do good.

Consider Alfred Lomas, the guy behind LA Gang Tours.  He isn’t Arthur Frommer’s evil twin; he’s an ex-member of the Florencia13 gang who’ll be putting ticket revenues into “saving lives, creating jobs, rebuilding communities” in some of the worst parts of the city.  His bus, he says, has been given safe passage through a gunfire-free safety zone that he negotiated among three gangs, and he intends to build on that ceasefire.  He is leveraging our voyeurism and our appetite for thrill rides in order to rescue some broken souls.

Entertainment matters.  When Edith Bunker, on Norman Lear’s All in the Family, was nearly raped, and when Bea Arthur’s character, on Norman’s show Maude, had an abortion, Americans across the country felt enabled by fictional characters to grapple with taboo topics, in their own ways, at their own kitchen tables.  In the weeks after cool bad boy Fonzie, on Garry Marshall’s series Happy Days, got a library card, the number of Americans getting library cards ” target=”_hplink”>Hollywood, Health & Society – to learn what’s accurate from some of the country’s top medical experts, and they’ve been using that knowledge to make their stories realistic without compromising entertainment value. 

Plenty of local television station managers insist that substantive coverage of local issues is ratings poison.  Since most Americans say they depend on local TV for news about their communities, the dogma of ” target=”_hplink”> Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Television Political Reporting that the Lear Center gives them can make a difference in their struggle for resources and airtime.

Some teachers despair that their students are addicted to entertainment, that lesson plans can’t compete with stars and iPods.  But when Norman Lear bought what he calls “America’s birth certificate,” a copy of the Declaration of Independence that was printed on July 4, 1776, a Lear Center idea led to a reading of the Declaration in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall by Morgan Freeman, Kathy Bates, Mel Gibson, Michael Douglas, Whoopi Goldberg, Kevin Spacey and other boldfaced names that was ” target=”_hplink”>Declare Yourself, a multimedia campaign through which 2.2 million young Americans registered to vote. 

The Lear Center, which I’ve had the privilege to found and direct, hasn’t only been scouting the counterintuitive upside of entertainment.  We do a fair amount of mythbusting, too.  One project, ” target=”_hplink”> Ready-to-Share, contrasted the entertainment industry’s Doomsday scenarios about “fair use” of intellectual property with the fashion industry, to which the law gives trademark protection, but not copyright; which treats most of its creative output as a commons; which lives on appropriation, derivation, recombination, sampling and reuse; and which nevertheless manages to flourish as a global business.

In the wake of 9/11, Karl Rove came to Los Angeles to ask the studios to enlist in the war on terror.  It made a good photo op, but behind the scenes there was anxiety about artistic freedom, and about Hollywood being annexed by a Washington propaganda effort.  The Lear Center – going a bit against the grain – produced a ” target=”_hplink”>“We Hate You (But Please Give Us More Baywatch),” whose transcript became part of the public diplomacy curriculum for training U.S. foreign service officers.

All these examples are only a sampling; you can find a lot more – like our account of social media like ” target=”_hplink”>the future of television and advertising in the digital age – at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

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