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A lot can happen in a conversation

Posts Tagged ‘Kerri Miller

A Confederacy of Onces

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What could a national conversation look like?

Once upon a time mom and dad and kids gathered in the evening in front of the television to be entertained. This family, sitting patiently and expectantly, had three channels to choose from. Plus the boring public broadcast channel. Back when everyone watched the same variety show or mini-series or disruptive news special, national conversations occurred. Broadcasts that enraged or engaged would spur citizens to remark to each other. And since everyone watched the same channels, national conversations were born. So we talked about Selma or Vietnam or the moon landing or the most recent episode of “Roots.” Sometimes, not often, we talked about what was happening in Washington.

Before TV, radio did the same. Before that newspapers. Media has a way of spurring national conversations, though the attention lasts only so long, because the job of media is to immediately bring the next new thing. Day after day. That’s their revenue stream and business model.


When consolidated media ran the news business, it seemed to have more of a black and white/good or bad characteristic. With good guys and bad guys, a much better story emerged. And better stories sell more newspapers or generate better Nielsen ratings.

Social media removes some power from the established media. By hearing from different voices, context can be provided. Or not: Sometimes flame-throwing trolls dominate our inbox, just like on Fox News. The smart ones among us find ways to hear different voices, so we can see different ways to connect the dots. The rest of us relish getting riled with righteous rage by the people in our tribe who serve that function.

Lately for me and others, social media has connected dots and has turned a series of media one-offs into a bona-fide “thing.” Many find themselves paying attention and then cannot help but remark. Topics like the statistics around black deaths with police. It was blogs and tweets that explored nuance and connected the series of “onces” to show there is more—much more—than just a few one-offs. It was social media that kept the topic on the radar, not the established media.

Kerry Miller, on a recent The Daily Circuit, said she doesn’t like to use “national conversation” because it never happens. That is (I think she meant), national conversations never materialize. But I would argue that more and more often people are adding up the “one-offs” and putting them together in ways journalists and authorities had not predicted. It blindsided me that the Confederate flag flying over the South Carolina capital would prove a lightning rod. Gay marriage has taken the nation by storm right up to the point where it became the law of the land. And it was the call for statistics to be reported about deaths occurring in police custody. All of these have been explored by social media in detail.

All of this has proven fodder for national conversations. That is, new topics that we may never have dreamed we’d find ourselves talking about are now falling from our lips at the coffee bar or on the drive to work. And here is perhaps where today’s national conversation differs from those conversations mediated only by established media. Social media allows for nuance. It need not be black and white because we’re not selling newspapers here (some are, of course). But the nuanced voices are helping us talk without forcing one way or the other.

I see these conversations developing every day. And they move from online to offline to online again. I also see smart journalists from established media finding ways to bring in nuance at just the right time.


Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Lady Gaga: Onstage Vomit Sells Doritos? Of Course.

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“Selling In” Not Quite Opposite “Selling Out”

One adorned in a plastic tarp need not "sell out."

One adorned in a plastic tarp need not “sell out.”

Lady Gaga made a plea for “selling in” at SXSW last week. Doritos sponsored her onstage vomit-art, which attests (she said) to her artistic success. But read the Rolling Stone article and you’ll find a more complex, nuanced notion that falls short of completely bowing to the demands of the sponsor.

When Kerry Miller (@DailyCircuit @KerriMPR) wondered aloud what people thought about “selling out,” she echoed a sentiment borne decades before when the big rock and rollers first roamed the earth and bowed to the demands of advertisers to create art to propel commerce. Ms. Miller’s comment generated responses from scholar Patrick Cox (@patrickcoxMN) and others on just what corporate sponsorship was beginning to look like.

Ms. Miller’s generation (also my generation) labeled such people “sell-outs” and tried to work up disdain for them even as we bought the cans of soda or beer or whatever they shilled. Even as we ourselves sold out to the company we worked for. And never mind that the notion of patronage has been around for as long as artists have starved.

Watch the recent Frontline “Generation Like” and you’ll get a sense of how Millenials approach the art vs. commerce question. Gen Y seems largely happy with getting free swag and brandishing logos on their social spaces/shirts/tattoos/hair cuts.

“What’s the big deal?” [They might ask.]

Ms. Kerry’s generation (my generation) is quick to point out that “You, sir, have sold out.” The Millenials I teach might return: “You, sir, have also sold out.” Which would be entirely accurate.

Maybe Gen Y has done us a favor by repackaging the connection between art and commerce: That repackaging looks more like an articulation of authenticity. It is a voice we need to hear today. I’ve been arguing that craft and service (and art and faith) do better together than separated into holy, inviolable silos.

Gen Y is articulating some of this. Not perfectly, but they are closing some gaps and opening others. The “selling out” conversation has changed.


Image credit: Michael Buckner/Getty Images for SXSW via Rolling Stone

Written by kirkistan

March 17, 2014 at 9:36 am

Talk to Me (Life of Privilege, Part II)

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Be a Tool Today

It’s what we each crave: the incisive conversation that changes everything. Some of our most thrilling moments are verbal, from “I love you” to a simple “Thank you,” thoughts and affections formed into words can warm us like nothing else on a cold day. Words are arrows snapped directly into the deep-inside-brain-heart.


We privilege words spoken—and rightly so. When Kerri Miller hosts Talking Volumes, we listen in because we want to hear some fresh take on the author’s art. We hope the author will reveal some secret to the writing process that fleshes out what we know of her work. We listen intently for some meta-comment that shows how he organized the story. We want more and spoken words are our most believable medium.

Freshly-thought words spoken with spontaneous candor often achieve that end. Fresh words are a response to relationship and a response to the present moment. Which also explains why the CEO’s vetted and scripted remarks at the press conference reek of plywood and formaldehyde. We’re more likely to hear the real story from an employee down in the ranks.

Writing is a technology. Computers, smartphones, pen, ink: all technologies.

Words spoken are not a technology. They are made of breath. They are kind of alive, if only for a moment. But they can also live on in memory (for better or worse).

Which is not to say words are not tools. Words are possibly our closest tools. We use words to accomplish all sorts of things. Words may be our most important tool.

What relationships will you encounter today that will conjure conversations using words you never dreamed you’d say?

See also: Lorde & The Life of Privilege (Part I)


Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Two New Conversations with Not-So-Ancient Texts

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Not long ago a few of us talked our way through the ancient text of Amos, a minor prophet in the Old Testament. We had a rich conversation as we tried to enter the text and the ancient culture.

I’m in two more of these conversations: in one group we’re working through a fragment from the Apostle John: His account of Jesus’ words just after the last supper but before He was led away to His death. We’re curious why John had all this extra material the other writers telling the same story did not include. But even more, we’re eager to know the ins and outs of talking with God. John’s Jesus had a lot to say about such conversations in that fragment—some of it almost (but not quite) unbelievable.

The other conversation is a manuscript study of Mark’s gospel. We’re committed to turning and prodding and poking and hashing through the text per Professor Agassiz’ recommendation. It could get heated.


The Beauty and Horror of a Text

In the conversation about the fragment from John’s Gospel, one woman said, “It would be so great to actually hear the tone of voice and see the body language behind what He said.” She was right. The problematic phrase: “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know me…?” (John 14.9) Did Jesus use a joking tone, like mock exasperation? Or did he shout it or was there some heat applied in the utterance? It’s hard to tell just from the text. It depends on how you read the story. Another conversation around Mark’s story had us wishing the author was around so we could ask a few questions—like how he knew what he knew.

In both cases, the author was not there. The only thing we have from the author was the text before us, and even that has been put through a translation process long before reaching our eyes and ears. What to do? Maybe if we had Kerri Miller interview the author (Hey, I’d attend that), we’d finally get our questions answered.

Or would we? Possibly the (long-dead) author would have forgotten just what body language or tone was used to make the point. Even if he remembered, would we have more information and would that information supersede the text itself?

Both stories (John and Mark) hold clues in the text that lead me away from wishing Ms. Miller could interview the authors. Interesting question because it points to something Jesus said to his followers in John. There were all twitchy with nerves because Jesus kept talking about leaving. He finally said, Look, You can’t handle the truth right now. I’m doing you a favor by going because God’ll send His Spirit. His Spirit will never leave you, He’ll always be with you, and He’ll actually direct you into the truth.

There’s truth in the text and I’m eager to ferret it out. But there certainly is something special that happens in the conversation around the text. Maybe I’ll invite Ms. Miller back for that.



Written by kirkistan

October 12, 2010 at 11:51 am

Posted in Ancient Text

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