I listen to NPR (National Public Radio) quite a lot when I drive. I disagree almost entirely with their editorial slant, but one must admit that what they do, they do very well. If I could start my own Catholic radio empire, I would pattern it after NPR's Morning Edition, rather than after any talk-radio format.
The other morning I was delighted to hear a story by Jerome Socolovsky called In Spain, It Takes A Village To Babysit. It's only a couple of minutes long, and worth a listen. The story paints a verbal picture of a typical Spanish village after sundown... once the heat of the summer day begins to dissipate, people emerge from their houses and shops and make their way to the village square, which is blocked to traffic. They greet their neighbors, eat, talk and laugh over wine or beer. Children are everywhere, shouting, running and playing hide and seek under tables. Everyone watches out for everyone else's children, and even strangers treat them as if they were their own. This goes on until late into the night.
The scene reminded me very much of this post I put together on my recollections of last year's Chesterton Conference. We seem to have lost the knack for this kind of thing here in the modern West. One commenter on the NPR story described the silence of American suburbs as "sepulchral", and I think that is pretty much correct. The people of the villages of Spain are closer to the Chestertonian ideal of a civilized and contented peasantry... not especially impressed with the technological or cultural marvels of the age, and consequently still in possession of nine-tenths of their common sense. Who would not want to live as they do... and why don't we?
I was also gratified to hear NPR movie critic John Horn announce that the stupidly cruel (and already stale) ambush "humor" of the movie Bruno had flopped like an undercooked omelet. An unmitigated box-office disaster. I found it fascinating that the movie's demise was partly due to modern communication technologies like Facebook and Twitter;
"Even if they had a turkey, [studios] would know that they could maybe get two weeks of business before the stink really caught up to the film," he says. "Now they have 12 hours."
Sacha Baron Cohen's newest film Bruno is one such example. The film was marketed well, and audiences who were familiar with Cohen's previous film, Borat, gave Bruno big opening-night ticket sales. By Saturday, however, Bruno's box office numbers had fallen by 40 percent — an unheard of number, according to Horn.
"So what that says is that people came out of that movie and told their friends not to go see it," says Horn. "When movies are not recommended by their friends, they fall faster then they've ever fallen."
Horn says this phenomenon puts pressure on studios to make better movies, especially when ticket sales can go south within a matter of hours:
"People will come out of the theater so quickly, and share their opinion so fast, and that word will spread so virally, that if a movie is bad, the audience will know it by Friday night and the movie will be dead by Saturday."
Now, see? This internet thing has its redeeming qualities.