Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Not the Point

The following thoughts have a point.

That point is not that ABC’s decision to include former White House press secretary Sean Spicer in the cast of the upcoming season of “Dancing With the Stars” has rubbed a great many people the wrong way.

I have my own feelings about Mr. Spicer’s time as press secretary, but they’re not the point either.

I have my own feelings about the suits in the ivory-tower offices that thought it would be a great idea to reward Mr. Spicer with pop culture celebrity status, when his single claim to fame was accepting a White House paycheck to defend the indefensible … but those feelings aren’t the point either.

The point has to do with Spicer’s own assessment of his likely success, or lack thereof, on the dancing competition show.

Spicer admitted Wednesday [August 21, the day his gig was announced on ABC’s “Good Morning America” program] that he’s not much of a dancer. He revealed that he was kicked out of the school band in sixth grade for having ‘the sense of beat of a steamroller.’”

I don’t know Spicer’s sixth-grade band director. I’ve never seen that teacher teach. I have no idea whether this quote is even accurate, although during this attempt at self-deprecation, Spicer insisted that the steamroller metaphor was indeed a direct quote from his teacher.

(The point of this blog post isn’t even to raise an eyebrow at the steamroller metaphor, since I’ve heard steamrollers that chug along quite steadily; maybe this band director said or meant some other piece of construction equipment, or some other noun entirely. I guess I get the gist, nonetheless; but man, the English language has taken a beating lately.)

But over the course of my time as a public-school music teacher and church choir director, I’ve heard more stories about music teachers of a bygone era dissuading students from continuing their musical interests on account of their alleged musical liabilities than I care to.

Just move your mouth along with the words,” said the elementary school chorus teacher in stories told by church choir members or (worse) wistful grown adults who subsequently never participated in any musical activities again because a music teacher told them they couldn’t sing.

As a high school band director, I encountered students at lots of different levels of musical ability. Some were truly spectacular natural talents; and some worked really hard just to keep pace with “average”. I can think of one or two whose contribution to our high school music program was one part musical skill to about seven eight parts hard work and (occasionally reckless-abandon-level) enthusiasm. They probably know who they are; they might be surprised to know how important they were to my experience as a teacher. I learned more from them than they might have learned from me.

For a truly inspiring concert experience, I will revel in the relatively humble achievements of a pack of music students who are not all Wynton Marsalis or Kathleen Battle and never will be … but who find some success and decide they want to experience it again and so they keep after it.

For all I know, Sean Spicer might not have been a troublemaker, a misbehaver, a disrupter, a hindrance. For all we know, he might have been an earnest “good kid” who tried his hardest and wanted to be a band musician so badly it hurt.

Who knows where Sean Spicer could have ended up, how different his life might have been, had his band director understood that “band is a place for everyone”, and figured out how to keep him around and get him a taste of success … rather than just badmouthing him and then “firing” him at the first sign of weakness.

Hmm. Ain’t that a familiar tale … I can think of another guy who treated Spicer that same way …

but again, that’s not the point.

August 26, 2019 Posted by | band, celebrity, current events, education, entertainment, Famous Persons, music, news, Starred Thoughts, teachers, television | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Strange New World

I wonder … what would Gene Roddenberry think?

A little context here:

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the first airing of “Star Trek”, the television series that went where no man — where no one — had gone before.

Meaning out into the stars, yes … but in the context of the mid-1960s and what was considered okay to put on television, this series went to a few places and did a few things that were just about unheard of, at the time – beyond doing what science fiction does best, namely under-the-radar commentary on current events.

On the bridge of our fair starship Enterprise: well, yes, a white fellow in the commander’s seat, and a white fellow in charge of keeping everybody well and healthy … but look at the folks who are helping them out:

An African-American woman in charge of keeping the Enterprise in touch with the outside world.

A Russian fellow — at the time, you’ll recall, Soviet Russia wasn’t exactly considered your warmest fuzziest neighbor — in charge of figuring out how to navigate the ship from place to place.

An Asian man in charge of steering the darn truck! (And firing the phasers, when sadly necessary.)

Yes, a white fellow in charge of keeping the ship propelled properly, but sporting an accent that was darn near impenetrable.

And a green — green! — alien. Not an illegal alien. And not an alien that is here to menace our heroes. And not a “little green man”, as early science-fiction writers imagined. A tall, dark (greenish) and handsome native of another planet entirely. And, um, friendly. If a bit bemused by the humans surrounding him.

As opposed to hell-bent on conquering our world. Or taking our jobs.

The crew of the starship Enterprise was meant (overtly or not) to be a microcosm of the sort of world that Gene Roddenberry believed was possible, some day in the future. His vision has been derided by some as full of Pollyanna BS in its utopian glee; but honestly, who wouldn’t want to live in a world where everyone was judged by their character and not by what they looked like?

Who, indeed.

Fast-forward fifty years from the first appearance of Captain Kirk and his merry band of genuine friends, and … well, politically, we’re not exactly in a happy-clappy utopian mist of bliss, out here.

This morning, I was listening to a segment of National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, an interview with a Florida resident who is likely to vote for Republican Party candidate Donald Trump. He didn’t see himself as a hardcore, rally-attending, rally-protester-punching, campaign-press-corps-threatening Trump supporter. No indeed. Rather, he saw himself as a person who, after much consideration, really did think that voting for Trump was his best option “in a weak [election] field.”

And to wrap up his self-assessment, he said a most curious thing.

This is not one [vote] that I’m gonna be bragging about in the future. This is the first presidential election cycle in my lifetime [in which] I have not had a yard sign, a bumper sticker, a pin, a shirt, a hat … there is nothing on my property that would tell you who I’m going to vote for. I told somebody, you know, I like ‘Star Trek’, but I am not dressing up like a Klingon and going to the convention, okay? I’m going to vote for Donald Trump, but his yard sign is not going in my front yard.”

Setting aside the fact that, well, in this case, as in many others throughout history, at least one voter is glad that American elections are done by secret ballot, so no one has to know that you actually voted for Candidate X … and also setting aside the inescapable impression that he held beliefs for which he really didn’t want to have to stand up and be counted …

Here we have a self-professed fan of “Star Trek”, a program whose underlying point was that the wonderful thing about the people that is going out and exploring the wonders of outer space is that they represent race full of human beings who have figured out how to live peaceably and productively with themselves, and have matured to the point that they have begun to appreciate and value people and things and aliens that are different, rather than continuing to be spooked and scared by “strange new worlds”, and probably to be violent toward “new life and new civilizations”.

And this Florida man is supporting a candidate who has managed to awaken many Americans’ latent hatreds, by way of behavior and policies that espouse exactly the opposite philosophy from that “Star Trek” show.

I wonder what Gene Roddenberry would think.

I can’t speak for him … but as for me, at the very least I think that Florida man fundamentally misunderstands “Star Trek”.

Either that or he just likes it for the phaser guns, and spaceships, and fistfights wherein William Shatner rips his own shirt, again.

What really makes me nervous is that, according to the original Star Trek canon, Earth and its humans had to endure a Third World War before they could come out the other side and start to rebuild their civilization into something that would one day become the Roddenberry vision.

Here’s hoping Mr. Roddenberry was wrong, at least in this one detail.

Twenty days.

October 19, 2016 Posted by | current events, Famous Persons, news, npr, politics, radio, science fiction, television | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beat the Press

Normally I’m reticent to point to an event as A Turning Point. It’s rare that you can look at an occurrence as it’s happening and know that, well, this could be the moment. We might well remember this moment a long time from now.

I thought I did, this week. I hope I did. My Future Self will read this post, several weeks or months from now, and either shake his Future Head sadly or jump up and down and wave his Future Arms and cry out, “Told you so!!”

But I think this could be The Moment.


One of my relatively few moments of Appointment TV is the half hour of media critique that Boston’s public television station, WGBH, puts up every Friday night. “Beat the Press” consists of the least compelling visual picture on television: five people ranged around a table, not moving much, and conversing.

While it’s not “great TV” in the same way that your average reality show is … thankfully! … it’s good and often great programming. Civil conversation and really smart analysis and commentary about current issues related directly to mass media and the press. On an episode a few weeks ago, there occurred about thirty seconds of crosstalk, and it was stunning for two reasons: first, the panelists are almost always courtly in their “oh, no, after you!” polite-chipmunk style of conversation … and second, the crosstalk was only because everybody was so excited to contribute to the discussion and everybody had a constructive point to contribute. I still wept for whoever was tasked with preparing the transcript of the episode … but there’s so much crosstalk on cable news television that is strictly people yelling at each other that this was refreshing, and worth a grin.

Anyway, last night was a rare moment: during one “Beat the Press” segment, I thought that all five panelists missed the point entirely. And I still like them anyway; but here’s the setup:

They were talking about the Short-Fingered Vulgarian [forevermore to be referred to here as SFV] who is now the presumptive Republican Party nominee (so the press is now obligated to cover him as a legitimate current event) – particularly his mid-week press conference, at which he went after the press in a way that got lots of attention.

The presser had been set up as a way for SFV to answer questions about his financial contributions to military veterans’ organizations. It became a rather stark preview of what life in an SFV presidential administration could be like for reporters: SFV rather freely insulted, belittled, and leveled veiled threats at, the assembled press – and a couple of reporters in particular.

Nearly in unison, last night, the “Beat the Press” panelists took their own shots at the media outlets which had covered the press conference. Their basic point was: shame on news operations for spending so much panicky air time on the mistreatment of their colleagues, when they should have been focusing on the issue that was the point of the press conference – whether SFV was telling the truth about when, how much, and in how timely a fashion he had contributed money to veterans’ organizations, as he had promised several months ago.


I love them dearly; but again, I think the “Beat the Press” folks – in their understandable zeal to applaud the actual investigative reporting, and in their reticence to endorse mass-media navel-gazing (“oh, how horribly the media is being treated!” the media themselves often say, accurately or not) – missed the point.

They were right to applaud the investigative journalism. But they were short-sighted when they consigned news outlets’ hand-wringing about the SFV’s calling one ABC reporter “a sleaze” and telling the political press to their faces that he considered them the “among the most dishonest people [he’d] ever met.”

If you take into account the tone of that press conference – surely the shape of things to come if reporters dare to do their jobs, during a dystopian SFV presidency, by investigating SFV and asking him anything other than softball questions about how great he is …

And if you take into account the marked increase in SFV’s testiness and willingness to almost gleefully mistreat the press, when they failed to roll over at his initial blasts, but instead kept after him and poked and prodded and actually, finally, FINALLY stood up to the guy …

And taking into account the openly hostile reactions that SFV has consistently elicits from his campaign-rally supporters, when he returns to his “look at the press over there, aren’t they awful?” refrain – as well as reporters’ wondering aloud if they’re placing themselves in harm’s way just by covering SFV’s rallies …

Well, it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine a world in which “Beat the Press” was not a clever TV program title but instead a directive from the Oval Office.

The Washington Post reported that during Tuesday’s press conference,

A reporter asked if Mr. Trump’s demeanor was an indication of what White House news conferences would be like if he were elected.

‘Yes, it is,’ he said. ‘It is going to be like this.’

This week, the New York Times wrote,

With five months to go before Election Day, Mr. Trump has already said he would ‘loosen’ libel laws to make it easier to sue news organizations. He has threatened to sic federal regulators on his critics. …

‘I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money,’ Mr. Trump said in February. …

‘We’re going to open up those libel laws. So when The New York Times writes a hit piece which is a total disgrace or when The Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.’”

One article by a columnist in the aforementioned Washington Post this week, which would fall under SFV’s description “purposely negative and horrible and false” in that it did not praise him to the high heavens, said:

…I suspect that many journalists are deciding that the way to cover Trump is just to do it as honestly and assiduously as possible, which would itself be something almost revolutionary. If the tone of his coverage up until now has been ‘Wow, is this election crazy or what!’ it could become much more serious — as it completely appropriate given that we’re choosing someone to hold the most powerful position on earth. …

[W]e’re beginning to see those corrections appear right in the body of stories: the reporter relays what Trump said, and notes immediately that it’s false.

Trump himself probably finds such treatment grossly unfair, since to him ‘unfair’ coverage is anything that doesn’t portray him in the most glowing terms. But it is perhaps ironic that after all this time of wondering how to cover this most unusual candidate, Trump has shown the press that the best way to do it is to cover him like every candidate should be covered.

That means not just planting a camera at his rallies and marveling at how nuts it all is, but doing to work to fully vet his background, correcting his lies as swiftly and surely as they can, exploring what a Trump presidency would actually mean, and generally doing their jobs without letting him intimidate them.”


May it be so.

For the sake of a free press … for the sake of a free Republic … dear Lord, may it be so.

June 4, 2016 Posted by | celebrity, current events, Famous Persons, government, journalism, media, news, politics, television | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment