Tuesday night, CNN landed a rare thing indeed: A full-length interview with presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
The reviews were mixed: Baltimore Sun TV critic David Zurawik praised journalist Brianna Keilar for “asking hard questions,” while conservatives lambasted it as “softball.”
I saw it as suffering from a different problem. Within the span of 19 minutes, Keilar asked about Clinton’s e-mail scandal, the Clinton Foundation, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, corporate taxes, her trustworthiness, her Republican rivals, sanctuary cities, her treatment of the media, which woman should be on the $10 bill, and who did the better Hillary on Saturday Night Live, Kate or Amy?
It was, in other words, the “wide-ranging” interview of a politician. The problem is that there are too many wide-ranging interviews of politicians, and not enough deep-digging ones.
This gets to conservative critiques that Keilar didn’t ask the right follow-up questions. It could be because Keilar was ill-prepared. Or it could be because Keiler had a list of topics she had to cover and needed to get to the next one.
That’s the issue with wide-ranging interviews: Politicians that like to dodge or filibuster can more easily duck, weave or stall on topics to get out of putting forth substance on topics they don’t want to talk about. Clinton, of course, is known for being reluctant to take a detailed stand even on subjects as trivial as which woman she’d like to see on U.S. currency or her favorite ice cream flavor.
Keilar could have taken one topic: (Hint: Not Donald Trump) and lasered in on that instead. It doesn’t have to be e-mails. It could be transparency in general. Or her views on Iran. Or Syria. Or the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Or immigration. Or legislation pertaining to Wall Street. Or tax reform. And spend the next 20 minutes talking about that.
Look at how great this interview with Jeffrey Goldberg and President Obama is. Goldberg had an hour with the president, not an easy thing to get. But instead of skipping along the surface of numerous issues, Goldberg homed in on one: The Middle East.
Sadness quickly turns to madness when the loss of one of our sons and brothers is minimized and coded away in polite legal terms with no intention of returning what was taken, no attempt at apologizing for the damage done. Life meets death in the streets, where walking, shopping, driving, talking, playing on the playground or listening to music can be deadly these days… just being black in America.
The flames erupting in Ferguson are the fires burning in the hearts of mothers of black sons in this nation. We cry for the life nurtured inside us those nine months, for the years of tending and mending our child, for the brief pride we felt in his manhood before the light left his eyes. We tell our sons to walk with both eyes open, hands visible and quick feet ready to run. We advise them to keep receipts for everything they purchase, speak politely and dress sensibly. We hoped that the toil of our ancestors would have freed them from the curse of these limitations and the threat of harm, and we dreamed that we would never awake to feel this pain.
Yesterday I went to the Spokane Transit Authority board meeting where the “task force” of concerned business owners — led by Greater Spokane Incorporated, Visit Spokane and Downtown Spokane Partnership — gave their opinion on how STA should use its Plaza.
The task force’s recommendations were mostly in line with STA’s existing plans, but they diverged in one hugely significant way. Rather than expanding the Plaza to bring in the community and create greater connectivity for non-transit users, they advocated the opposite.
The task force’s plans will never achieve their desired effect because you can never restrict use in public spaces enough to get rid of the parking lot pee-er.
Let me paint a picture of the space in which he was peeing: It’s a surface lot on a stretch of Howard that has almost no street-level retail. It’s also near the train tracks. No one purposefully walks around there unless they have very specific business in one of the handful of buildings on the block. And even then, people drive up, park as close to their destination as possible and shuffle quickly indoors.
I’ve seen people get in their cars and drive from one side of the tracks to the other.
I’ve never felt unsafe in this lot or on the street itself. It’s just ill-suited for pedestrians and starved for destinations. As a result, I have only ever had neutral, negative or just weird experiences on that stretch of road. No one besides our parking lot pee-er hang out there because, besides the beautiful new SUMAC mural under the trestle, no one has given those blocks a second thought for maybe a decade.
Conversely, all the traits that make it a bad place to hang out and have positive experiences is exactly what makes it such a prime place to drive up and find some random dude peeing. It’s secluded and empty of people.
We all recognize the STA Plaza currently suffers from usage woes. It’s a big space without much going on, and big spaces that are empty of people are hard to secure. Both the STA’s plan and the task force’s plan seek to solve this problem, but in opposing ways.
The STA wants to increase amenities to open usage to the entire community, offer more opportunities for engagement and make the Plaza a gathering place. The task force is asking STA to narrow the Plaza’s feature set to only the sorts of things bus riders absolutely need.
The problem with that plan, of course, is that the Plaza is still a public space. Even if you reduce the use to basically nothing, people are still free to hang out.
We know what public spaces with low use look like. They look like the parking lot near Fellow. They look like the stretch of Wall between Riverfront Park and Riverside. They look like the slope of hillside below the Post Street substation.
We also know how to make those places safer: make them more engaging. We turn an unused hillside into Huntington Park. We plan events to offset the lack of retail on Wall.
The crazy thing here is that DSP, GSI and Visit Spokane have all recognized this. DSP was absolutely instrumental in helping Terrain put on Bazaar, the art market we launched this June on a disused stretch of Wall St. I’ve had conversations with folks at Visit Spokane about their desire to drive tourism by activating public squares all around the city. All three entities were enthusiastic supporters of our recently passed park bond.
They totally understand the vision!
I worry though, that because of the fraught, 20-year political history of the project, and the pressure being exerted by certain downtown businesses, no one is recognizing that the Plaza has the exact same potential for activation as Huntington Park or Wall Street. Honestly, I think it has an even greater potential, because it’s indoors and is already the nexus of our transit system.
Let me be the person who says this: Good as it is, I don’t think STA’s plan goes far enough.
One of the greatest revitalizations of a public space I know of is the transformation of Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square from a squat parking garage in the middle of the city into a thriving meeting place.
They did it with smart planning aimed at attracting the greatest diversity of people possible — just like STA has done — but then they went further: creating a separate entity to program the space, filling it with cool stuff a couple hundred times a year. Now it’s the home of concerts, festivals and events, a hub of downtown Portland, and a big tourist attraction.
Now imagine how it would feel if a tourist or business traveler coming to Spokane for the first time grabbed the shuttle from the airport, rode downtown and found themselves disembarking onto an art market, or a free concert, or just a bustling place with a diversity of people and a diversity of shops.
Isn’t that the sort of town you’d want to explore? Like, “Wow, if their bus Plaza is crackling like this, what must their clubs be like? Their restaurants? Their neighborhoods?”
Then who better to ferry that person around to those destinations than, you know, STA itself. The word “synergy” gets thrown around, but come on now.
Now imagine that same tourist getting off the shuttle to a Plaza renovated according to the task force’s specifications: a smaller, more utilitarian space for the workmanlike ferrying of people from place to place, with maybe an employment office in one corner.
At any other time than peak hours, the space would feel empty and maybe a little alienating. If that tourist had to spend any time waiting for a transfer in the task force’s version of the Plaza, I honestly ask myself who he or she would run into.
It’s still a public space, even if no one’s using it, so the only person I’d put money on is that smiley guy from the parking lot, making the most of the solitude to take a quiet pee in the corner.
Luke Baumgarten is the interim co-executive director of Spokane Arts, a cofounder of Terrain, the founder of Fellow Coworking and former culture editor of the Inlander. He tweets @lukebaumgarten.
How To Get Away With Murder, despite nearly every character acting the sneering villains the college comedy slackers would humble with a crazy prank, is shaping up to be one of the most enjoyable new shows. It’s got that shamelessly dramatic dialogue, monologues and plot-twists of the best guilty pleasures.
But almost immediately, it has a big flaw stuck into the very structure of the show: It gives us brief “flash-forwards” into a scene where the characters appear to be hurriedly covering up a murder.
The flash-forward gimmick is hardly a new one.
How To Get Away With Murder’s device is an almost exact ripoff of one of the worst parts of another legal thriller, Damages. That show parceled out the narrative in the present with brief glimpses of the future — horrible things happening to an ambitious legal mind due to her involvement with a take-no-prisoners female mentor. (How To Get Away With Murder distinguishes itself by giving us glimpses of horrible things happening to multiple ambitious legal minds due to their involvement with a take-no-prisoners female mentor.)
It’s a device that’s been used in shows like Lost, Breaking Bad, and How I Met Your Mother. And it hurt every one of them.
Heck, there was even a television show called FlashForward that made this the entire premise – that everyone on earth sees a vision of themselves from the future — and it buckled and collapsed under the strain almost instantly.
The temptation for a writer to put a flash-forward in a pilot is understandable. It’s a promise: This is how crazy things will get. It’s supposed to be like your friend saying, "Hey, stick with it, the show gets really good around episode 22."
But flash-forwards ultimately are more like skeevy payday loan operations: They borrow interesting narrative from the future to spend in the present. And the interest rates are downright predatory.
To expand on that: One of the most enjoyable parts of watching TV is asking two fundamental questions: 1) What is happening now? 2) What will happen next? Yet a flashforward spoils the answer to #2 and makes the answer to #1 feel irrelevant. Both questions are replaced with “How does the story get from A to B?” (Or A to Z.) That’s not a mystery or an adventure. That’s a MapQuest printout.
A flashback is problematic because it kills narrative momentum by taking us out of the present. Why would I care about what happened six months ago? I want to know what’s happening now. But flash-forwards turn almost the entire show into one giant flashback. It cheapens what’s happening in the present by showing us the consequences.
Sometimes those flash-forwards are lies: They use unreliable narration, deceptive editing or trick camera angles to pretend something will happen when it won’t. But that breaks the trust between viewer and show, which greatly harms future seasons.
How I Met Your Mother had to bend over backwards to try to fulfill the many promises the show had made about the future and still surprise the audience. The result had the fans angry and revolting.
Other times, the flash-forwards are the exact truth, creating expectations difficult to fulfill: The reveal of Lost’s flash-forwards made for an iconic moment, for example, but the story struggled to fill in the gaps in a logical, satisfying way.
Mind you: A flash-forward can work brilliantly in long-form non-fiction journalism. Even novels, to a certain extent, can benefit from this sort of structure.
But a serialized TV drama is not a novel or long-form non-fiction. It is a serialized TV drama – and one of its biggest strengths should be its agility. The story is a living, breathing thing that can veer off in wonderfully surprising directions. A plotline that’s not working can be excised, a character can be killed off, a more interesting thread can be pulled. Most of the time, it’s not the vision of one mind, it’s a room of writers. Epiphany can strike and transform a show at any time.
Actors quit. Actors die. Ratings fall. Writers change their minds.
In some cases, a flash-forward can work within a single episode. A Breaking Bad episode opens with the serial image of bullet shells on the hood of a car, bouncing as hydraulics send the car up-and-down. It’s a tease more than a spoiler. It’s a poetic image that hooks and intrigues.
But Breaking Bad stumbled when it tried to create season-long flash-forwards. It famously began its 5th season with a bearded Walter White opening up his trunk to reveal a massive machine gun. At the time the writers had no idea what it would be used for.
The result was the worst of both worlds: The constraints of a perfectly planned show and the lack of foresight of an improvised one. Partly as a consequence, the finale to one of TV’s best shows of all time was, ultimately, disappointing.
How To Get Away With Murder doesn’t aspire to Breaking Bad’s greatness. But it wants to be surprising, fun and fast-paced – and flash-forwards make every one of those goals more difficult.
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