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Not Prince Hamlet

"Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse."

Ira Glass The Preacher

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Nancy Franklin of The New Yorker has a piece about This American Life's morphing into television. It's a favorable piece, by and large, except for her critique of Glass's voice, which she artfully dubs a "rushing staccato mumble."

Well said.

What NPH finds compelling about the piece is Franklin's candid admission of her annoyance with the sacrosanct radio show. It has to do, this annoyance, with TAL's sermonic character, a character best illustrated in Glass's own words: “It’s the structure, essentially, of a sermon; you hear a little story from the Bible, then the clergyperson tells you what it means.”

To which Franklin replies, "Well, no wonder my head is exploding—meaning is being forced into it. When it comes to meaning, I prefer to grow my own."

NPH thinks Glass has a bad understanding of preaching and that Franklin has a bad understanding of This American Life. No good sermon simply tells you what a "little story" from the Bible means; it brings you into the story, explicates it and unfolds the character of God within it. Further, only some of the Bible is story. A sermon's also got to deal with poetry and argument.

And This American Life hardly forces meaning into your head. It tells stories and suggests a common theme or topic. Oftentimes NPH listens to a piece and things, "Wait: that doesn't really fit the theme they say it does." And that's okay. It's a listener's prerogative to take or leave the meaning suggested by the narrator. I mean, can a radio show really "force" any kind of meaning into your head?
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:13 PM

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