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Four Years at the Mount

For Further Reflection

Kyle Ott
MSM Class of 2015

(8/2015) Hello everyone. Before we begin with the scintillating commentary I would like to take a moment to briefly introduce myself. My name is Kyle Ott. Some of you may remember me from my time as a "Four Years at the Mount" columnist with the Emmitsburg News Journal. For the unfamiliar and uninitiated, I will be splitting the duties of Graduate Columnist with my friend, Alex Tyminski. So every other month, I will be providing a little bit of perspective on what life as a graduate student is like.

This month, however, I have the distinction of talking about a phenomenal movie, and an even more compelling point. I am speaking of the film Goodnight and Good Luck, a dramatic biopic about media legend Edward R. Murrow. The film, directed by none other than George Clooney, focuses on Murrow’s battle against Senator Joseph McCarthy during one of the most tumultuous parts of the Cold War. The point that I would like to address is the same point that Murrow emphasizes: that television and radio can still be a place for educational thought and informed citizenship.

Last year, I wrote at some length about the impact of the film and the implications that it has on the way we think and operate. However, this time around, it is my task to link the film’s message to some other works of film, literature, and history.

Anchorman 2

It seems ironic to begin my list of works related to Murrow’s message with a slapstick comedy starring Will Ferrell; especially when the subject of the film is an overproduced, self-centered, and under-educated group of reporters. However, one particular part of the film puts it on my list for further consideration, and if buffoonish comedies and slapstick humor are not your favorite ways to spend an evening, this one small moment is enough to justify a cursory google search. Halfway through film, the characters turn a nightly broadcast into something resembling a combination of prime time news and MTV. Their circus of facts focuses on car chases, sports highlights, and entertainment, giving the people what they "want."

When a man watching the broadcast remarks that "this is the future of journalism," his friend remarks that in the future, reporters will keep covering important stories, and place the bulk of their focus on educating the public. Spoiler alert: the rest of the movie chronicles journalism’s descent into lampooned, spattered buffoonery, as everyone else tries to keep up with Will Ferrell and company. It is a parody made particularly scathing because of how ridiculous the characters, events, and setting of the film can be. By the time the audience realizes that the same caricatures who have been raising sharks, fighting in central park, and running from psychics are the ones that recognize there is a problem, it is too late, and the message has already hit home.

Man Eaters of Kumaon

Of all of Murrow’s points, one of the most poignant of his is that muckraking in journalism caters to those who do not examine their life, which is where this adventure novel and autobiography from big game hunter, Jim Corbett truly excels. While it may not seem like the hunting of tigers and other predators has anything to do with self-reflection and education, this story is less a chronicle of Corbett’s physical journeys, and more of a road map of his own personal odyssey.

Throughout his travels, the hunter is faced with cruelty, violence, and fear, but also unfathomable beauty, peace, and calm. In the end, it is a book that draws you in with its promise of action, and keeps you with its compelling journey through one man’s mind. It leans on the side of introspection, which is what makes it so interesting. With its constant action, endless danger, and brisk pacing, the text could have easily devolved into a mere adventure novel. Instead, it became a kind of book that encourages its readers to delve into the jungles of their own minds, and flush out whatever beasts are there. It is a lesson I believe Murrow would have been happy to see.

Aesop’s Fables

Out of all the old tales, this is perhaps one of the gentlest and firmest calls to excellence that exists. It is easy to dismiss the Fables as simply that: stories to be told to children at bedtime, or fun ways to while away a few hours around the campfire. In the midst of charming characters, and simple writing, it is all too simple a thing to forget the complexity of these tales. To all those looking to expand their horizons, and learn a little more about how to treat others, ourselves, and our world, the Fables are perhaps the ideal place to start.

Mr. Roger’s speech to congress in 1969

Murrow was in a unique position in the 50’s, as the medium of television was brand new at the time. He and his contemporaries had no idea what impact the technology would have on news, entertainment, and life in America, in general. Fast forward to the late sixties, and people were still struggling with the new technology and how best to employ it, or whether to even employ it at all. It should come as no surprise that when the idea of a government funded Public Broadcast System was brought to national attention, it raised a great deal of controversy. Into this void stepped a man who would one day become legend: Fred Rogers.

At a time when television could have been completely shut down, when funding for educational programming seemed like a questionable investment, Mr. Rogers had the audacity to march to congress and inform them about what was possible with this strange and new medium. It is a completely surreal feeling to watch the recording (which is currently available on youtube at the time of this article’s creation) and see a young Rogers gently explaining to the members of congress what his program does.

What the recording does not show you is the wonderful part of the story. Rogers’ ploy worked, and worked better than anyone could have ever anticipated. Not only did Congress approve the funds for a national broadcast system, they more than doubled the amount allocated from nine to twenty million dollars. In many ways, Rogers was the opposite of everything that Murrow feared: he was a man who genuinely cared for his audience, a savant who used his celebrity to foster kindness and learning, and a visionary with the desire for genuine change. And so with one meeting, an assortment of sweaters, and hundreds of hours of educational programming later, Fred Rogers made the neighborhood a much better place.

I hope that you have enjoyed this little foray into other forms. Be sure to come back next month to see what the talented Alex Tyminski has to say. May your day be filled with excitement and learning, may you work to inform your friends and family, and of course, in the spirit of Mr. Murrow, may you seek to be educated, concerned, and courageous. Until next time, I am Kyle Ott, won’t you sit and read for a while?

Read other articles by Kyle Ott