Category Archives: Television

Viking Pranksters

One series I binged watched in December was Secrets of the Viking Stone, a documentary created by actor Peter Stormare (better known as the wood chipper guy in the movie Fargo) to explore the origins of the Kensington Runestone. The stone, covered with runic etchings, was discovered in the late 1800s by Olof Öhman, a Swedish farmer, as he cleared some poplar trees in his field. Eventually, the stone was deemed a hoax, and the farmer himself ridiculed and ostracized for his claims.

Stormare learned about the stone when he was filming Fargo in Minnesota and found a connection to the disgraced farmer as they came from the same county in Sweden. He hoped, with his investigations, to clear Olaf’s name by proving the stone is a real artifact and that Vikings had made it far inland long before Christopher Columbus. He and his sidekick, Elroy Balgaard, a historian, practice wide-ranging research from hosting a happy hour with locals to buying metal detectors to road tripping to the east coast. The second season ends without a definitive conclusion, and we aren’t sure about a season three. While some of their experts and historians seem legitimate, I almost gave it up when their main supporter suggested it wasn’t Vikings that made and buried the stone but…wait for it…the Knights Templars.

While it would be nice to think the stone is real, North American runestone hoaxes is a category unto itself in Wikipedia. In addition to carving and hiding fake stones, pranksters have buried real artifacts in false locations. Turns out those Vikings have a sense of humor. Of course, Stormare and Balgaard never mention this proliferation of hoaxes during the show. But, it’s all good: it was a fun romp through history and archaeology and a reminder that, despite our hyper-connected world, there is much we don’t know about the past. Who knows? Maybe it was the Templars: as much as there is no evidence in favor of the theory, there also isn’t any evidence disproving it.

Boys Can Be Ballerinas

As a woman of a certain age, it can be easy to think about all the things I was told I could and couldn’t do. I could be a nurse but not a doctor. I could be a teacher but not a principal. I could serve coffee and cookies after church but not serve as an usher during the service.

But, I could be a ballerina and, probably like many little girls, dreamed of floating around the stage in my toe shoes, silky costume flowing around me.

Mired in my own limitation, I am sorry to admit that I didn’t think that much about the messages that boys were getting about what they could and could not do. The American Masters documentary Ballerina Boys reminded me that we all have stories of being told what we could and could not do with our lives. Some, like these dancers, said forget  (or perhaps f***) that, and made their own way. It is a wonderful story and I can highly recommend watching it. You can check out the preview but need a PBS passport account to view the full episode.*


*If you do not donate to PBS/NPR already, please consider doing so. A monthly donation of $5 grants you access to an amazing archive!

Television Worth Watching

I don’t watch a lot of television whether live or through a streaming service. Much of my news and entertainment comes via PBS.

But, I discovered I had a Hulu account as I was poking around, I found the first few episodes of NBC’s nod to Makerspaces called Making It. Executive producer Amy Poehler and sidekick Nick Offerman host professional makers for weekly challenges.  Two judges–Etsy’s Dayna Isom Johnson and Barney’s Simon Doonan–make decisions about winners and losers.

Some of the projects are more crafting than making but there is lots of critical and creative thinking going on. The judges look for the unusual and innovative and are quick to point out when something has been done before.

I recommended the show to my students and managed to catch it “live” at its regularly scheduled broadcast time on Tuesday night. It was a great way to wind down from my exhuberant class.

My Digital Blindspot

I have never been a fan of the digital immigrant/digital native comparison. I’m reasonably old in technology years, having grown up with cabinet televisions, rotary telephones and “hi fi” systems to play records and later cassette tapes. We continue to store lots of music in those so-archaic-they-are-coming-back-again formats. We’re ready for the 21st century vinyl revolution!

But I am finding my place in the world of media proliferation and overlap. I understand that content has become disconnected from its traditional hardware and timelines. Listening to the radio now probably means listening to radio content rather than tuning in on a traditional receiver. The one radio I still use is in my car, and I listen to my local public broadcasting station.  At home, my live listening shifts to Alexa who is able to provide access to multiple radio stations with the content I want so I may be listening live but to a station on the West coast. I also time shift the content, using the NPR One app to access recordings of both “real” radio programs and separately produced podcasts that have never been broadcast over the radio airwaves. I listened to the BBC News story about Norway switching off FM over an FM radio station being streamed through my Alexa.

So, I’m no stranger to the digital content revolution. But, late last year, I discovered my digital blindspot. I am a Gilmore Girls fan and was excited when Netflix announced the new series. I marked its debut on my calendar.  In my mind, they would debut like a broadcast television series or movie, probably around 9 PM or so. At some point during the debut day, I logged into social media to see reviews appearing from people who had obviously already watched all four episodes. How, I wondered, did they get early access? It took a minute or two before I realized they weren’t special: just smarter. Netflix isn’t a television station; it offers simultaneous access to television shows and movies. So, it wouldn’t be broadcasting the Gilmore Girls’ episode at any special time but simply making them live. And clearly, they had already done that. I fired up the tablet and sure enough, there they were.

I suppose now is when I say I chuckled ruefully at my digital native folly but mostly I just was glad I could watch earlier rather than later as 9 PM is starting to be my bed time.

It’s anytime, anywhere, (almost) any content,and I think I’m getting the hang of it.




A Plea for Big Bird

I live in a television desert. We use an antennae to get what, until the advent of cable, everyone got: free TV. We rely on the networks and public broadcasting for our television connection to the world.  It’s mostly where we get local and national news.  Public broadcasting is the oasis in that desert of black and white Gidget reruns and prime time pop: we regularly consume the News Hour and other public affairs programming including Need to Know, which did a powerful segment on the diversity of what is known as “the Hispanic vote.” It featured an intelligent and lengthy interview with a Republican Latina about how Romney and Hispanic voters share conservative values when it comes to family and marriage. (Hmmm..I thought PBS was liberally biased.) It is also a connection to alternative music and arts media including Austin City Limits, which is on right now featuring Bon Iver*, and documentaries like Precious Knowledge, the documentary about the Arizona ethnic studies controversy that I wrote about in an earlier post.

My radio station of choice is NPR for similar reasons.  WHRO is my local station for both television and radio.   And, I support them with a contribution each year, only wishing I could give them more as funding in the state was cut by 25% under Governor McDonnell.  Eleven employees of the Richmond, Virginia, affiliate lost their jobs.  They were mostly part of the educational services department, which means that local schools were also affected:

Monk said six of the 11 positions are from the educational services department; the stations will stop technology training for teachers, engineering support for schools and the statewide EdTech Conference, a seminar for educators on using technology in teaching.

I realize that government has to get serious about spending and sometimes that means things we think are important cannot be funded, but it seems like such a small amount of money for something that, if you can’t afford or don’t want to pay for television, makes a huge difference in your quality of life with the kind of programming that just won’t be developed commercially.  I mean, just look at what passes for “history” on cable: the History Channel features shows like Pawn Stars and Swamp People.  At least in the former show, people bring in historical artifacts.  The latter is about a family that lives in the swamps of Louisiana.  Here’s the history piece: “Through the Swamp People, we learn the stories of Cajun style survival rich with language, food, music, and generations of shared family experiences.” Try typing “cajun” into the search box at PBS and you get a long list of intelligent, in depth programs.

I encourage you to support your local stations. It’s easier for legislators to get away with cuts when they can point out that many of the viewers won’t pay to support it.  How important can it be?  If it’s important to you, I encourage you to make some kind of contribution.  You’ll be supporting much more than just the next season of Downton Abbey.  PBS does work in schools and the community, work that, like their programming, will not be replaced by the private sector.

*Justin Vernon, lead singer, just said that Austin City Limits was the only real music show he knew about in the United States.