The King of All Media

My wife is deeply suspicious of my claims that I “work” in the summer. While the lengthening and warming of Minnesota’s days has no effect on her schedule, I suddenly enter a three-month period when my usual routine evaporates, to be replaced by an ever-shifting mix of quasi-academic activities: blogging on topics far afield from whatever it is that I’m supposedly an expert on, teaching students whom I never meet, and filming material for TV shows that only a few dozen people will ever watch.

Yes, TV shows.

Screenshot from the opening titles to our "Past & Presence" webisode series
I’ll explain this screenshot at the end of the post…

Well, webisodes — these won’t be carried on any waves that your antenna or dish can pick up. But I’ve been collaborating yet again with my friend Sam Mulberry on two television-like projects that involve one or both of us being filmed on a kind of set, or on locations around the Twin Cities.

First, Sam and I — with our colleague Amy Poppinga — are producing weekly webisodes as part of teaching Bethel’s Christianity and Western Culture (CWC) course online this summer. Modeled on ESPN’s long-running series Pardon the Interruption, the CWC webisodes feature us reviewing readings and concepts for students, responding to online discussions from the course, riffing on pop culture (lots of World Cup analysis the first few weeks), and playing silly games in which we do things like rank the most important ancient Greeks and Romans and make up “viewer mail” from church fathers and mothers like Perpetua and Augustine.

If you want a taste of what I, uncreatively, call “CWC: The TV Show,” Sam has made all seven episodes from last summer’s attempt at the online course available on YouTube. I’m particularly proud of/horrified by my attempt to play the roles of Barack Obama (start at 13:32) and Taylor Swift (17:06) in the premiere episode:

(Then stick around for Sam’s impression of me ca. 18:40.)

More seriously, I like our interview later in the course with one-time CWC instructor and now Bethel dean Barrett Fisher, about what Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness says about modernity (19:25):

Then the other webisode series from the “GehrBerr” collective won’t actually debut, even for students, until next February. A kind of departmental newsmagazine for our new Introduction to History coursePast & Presence will primarily consist of faculty/alumni interviews and conversations that preview the topics for our Monday evening seminars. And, in keeping with our desire to treat the Twin Cities as a classroom, I’ll be “hosting” each episode from a particular location: starting with places at Bethel and then gradually moving farther and farther from campus, closing with a road trip to Duluth, Minnesota.

Trying to work ahead as much as possible, Sam and I have already filmed some of that interstitial material. I can’t share it here quite yet (though Sam has already posted his Mad Men-inspired opening title sequence, above), but last week you would have found us on the mall of the Minnesota State Capitol, outside the former St. Paul residences of F. Scott Fitzgerald, and on the streets of Stillwater (my hometown and one of the state’s oldest cities). Before the summer is done, we’ll have stopped by the Minnesota History Center, a living history farm, and some historic churches in northeast Minneapolis.

Frankly, we’re hard to miss. Even in an era when everyone produces media, it’s a distinctive sight when someone as dorky and tall as me speaks into an old-fashioned microphone while someone as slightly less dorky and tall as Sam hunches over a digital camera on a tripod. Thanks to the security guards at the Hubert H. Humphrey Job Corps Center for being so understanding of two hapless Bethel professors who neglected to seek advance permission to film material at their school’s former campus!

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