Thanks very much to Professor Michael Ebner and Ageless North Shore for inviting me to answer four very intriguing questions for its website.
Why is this profile different from all other profiles? Because today’s guest blogger is Professor Michael Ebner.
#1: Readers of your recent profile in The New Yorker learned much about the role of the Corporate Library and not nearly as much about your role as the Moviemom. Ageless North Shore would like to learn about the impulse that prompted you to assume the guise of Moviemom.
NM: I have always been interested in thinking about why things don’t work. And that is what links both of my jobs. Corporations and movies are both large, complex endeavors involving a lot of people and in general everyone inside and outside wants them to work. When they don’t, I like to try to figure out why not. It’s all just systems analysis.
And I have always, as long as I can remember, loved movies and remembered them easily. Everyone’s brain is Teflon for some things and Velcro for others. The things you can’t forget – that’s you speaking to yourself about what you should be doing. I always wanted a job where I could get paid for going to the movies. And I got my start as movie critic for the New Trier News.
2: It isn’t difficult to detect that your double identity — Corporate Library and Moviemom — play to the realities of the twenty-first century revolution in communication technologies. Ageless North Shore would like to inquire about the balance in your personal reading activities between print and online sources of news and information. More and more on-line? Still reading lots of hard copy? Struggling to achieve a balance?
NM: I love to read online and in print, books, magazines, newspapers. And I love audiobooks and podcasts as well. The most difficult challenge in reading books is the way that all of our other technologies bombard us, making it hard for me to read many chapters in one sitting as I used to. But I do it as often as I can. It’s one of the best things about plane and train rides!
#3 : Your father, the much-esteemed Newton N. Minow, during his term as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, excoriated commercial television programming. He famously invoked the term “the vast wasteland.” Ageless North Shore seeks your own take on contemporary American television from the vantage point of 2009. Better? Worse? Still a “vast wasteland?”
NM: I have a Dickensian “best of times, worst of times” sense about it. I both love and regret the fragmentation. I love the specialization, so that no matter what your interest you can find it on television. But we don’t come to school or work in the morning with the same shared experience any more. The best of television is better than it has ever been before. But the worst is horrifying and I believe destructive. And the mediocre is almost as bad.
Of all the changes since my childhood, I am most upset about the way television has invaded children’s lives. I wish I could eliminate television from all children’s bedrooms, from all meals, and from all but the longest car trips. Parents relinquish so many precious connections by permitting that kind of immersion in media.
#4: You spent your own formative years residing with your family in Glencoe and graduated from New Trier High School. Ageless North Shore seeks your reflections on the experience growing up in the northern suburbs? Was it a shaping influence? Alienating experience?
At New Trier, I had a radio program, I reviewed movies, and I dated David Apatoff. Forty years later, I review movies on the radio and am living happily ever after with David Apatoff. So, I’d call that a shaping influence!
Michael Ebner is the James D. Vail III Professor of History Emeritus at Lake Forest College, where he taught from 1974 to 2007. He is the author of the prizewinning Creating Chicago’s North Shore: A Suburban History (1988).