Thursday, May 23, 2013
More and more, we live in two Americas.
One America perceives itself as Christian, traditionalist, patriotic. Once upon a time, we called that America “conservative”.
The other America sees itself as rational, flexible, international. We have called that America “liberal”.
Each of these two Americas views the other as extreme to the point of being dangerous. Each understands itself as morally right, the other as fundamentally wrong.
As a result, slowly but surely, year after year, election after election, we citizens of the two Americas are losing the ability to get past our divisions. We decline the opportunity to be civil. We refuse to listen.
On cable television and radio, highly paid entertainers on both sides prefer bombast and insult to reasoned argument and tempered commentary. Bloggers promote rage and rumor over factual reporting and dialogue. Citizens shout down their elected officials at town hall meetings.
This isn’t just a function of bad manners.
In his indispensable book of politics and demographics The Big Sort: How The Clustering Of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart, journalist Bill Bishop makes the case that in the last three decades tens of millions of us have moved out of neighborhoods, towns and cities where people think differently than we do and moved into places where people are more like us—where they look, talk and vote for more like us, to be exact.
As a result, our communities are turning into echo chambers, where everyone preaches to the choir, and more and more Americans increasingly think of their fellow citizens and taxpayers on the opposite side as the Enemy.
At Purple State, we agree with Bishop. We have observed this division firsthand in our families and communities, and we believe it is pointless and self-destructive. We believe it is getting out of hand.
Out of anxiety for the future, in a fragile spirit of hope, the Purple State of Mind project was born.
Is it still possible to find common ground? We think so, and we believe millions of Americans do as well.
In Tallahassee, Florida, for instance, an organization called The Village Square brings together Democrats and Republicans in one of the most fractious states in the Union to discuss the big issues of the day. It’s about more than dialogue. It’s about finding ways to work together.
Purple State is about finding ways to talk to one another.
The effort began as a single conversation about God between two old friends: Craig Detweiler, a Christian theologian and filmmaker, and John Marks, a skeptical former 60 Minutes producer and novelist. The result was the award-winning documentary Purple State Of Mind, which was just named one of the top ten films on religion in the November issue of Booklist, the official publication of the American Library Association.
The documentary gave birth to the website. Thanks to tens of thousands of weekly visitors to this website, an encounter between old friends has turned into a collective discussion among strangers, an adventure in diplomacy across the boundary lines that increasingly divide us: political, cultural, sexual, and religious.
Like many of you, we feel the growing sense of hostility between left and right, liberal and conservative, secular and religious sensibilities.
Like many of you, we see the line of division running through our families and friendships.
This isn’t about silencing argument. We are not asking, with Rodney King, “Can’t we all just get along?” On the contrary, we consider argument to be the heart of democracy.
In the documentary, we frequently disagree---about the existence of god, the meaning of life, the nature of happiness, the source of morality---but we never walk away from the conversation. We get angry, but we listen. We make fun, but we also show respect. We ask tough questions. We demand and get real answers.
Nothing is scripted. Nothing is sacred. Nothing is easy. Connection is everything.
That’s the mission. Our aim is nothing less than to reform the way Americans communicate across the great divide, one conversation at a time.
is a filmmaker, author, and cultural commentator who's been featured in The New York Times, CNN, and NPR. Films he has written include The Duke (1999) for Disney's Buena Vista and the comedic road trip, ExtremeDays (2001). His one-hour documentary, Williams Syndrome: A Highly Musical Species (1996), premiered at the Boston Film Festival, won a Cine Golden Eagle, the Silver Award at WorldFest Charleston, Best Documentary at the Carolina Film and Video Fest, and the Crystal Heart Award at the Heartland Film Festival.
Craig co-directs the Reel Spirituality Institute at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. His first book, A Matrix of Meanings: Finding God in Pop Culture, connects the dots between movies, music, TV and the divine. It has been adopted as the standard text in the field of theology and pop culture on college campuses around the world.
Craig grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina. He's a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Davidson College and earned an M.F.A. from the University of Southern California's School of Cinema/TV. Craig just completed his Ph.D. in Theology and Culture from Fuller Seminary. His dissertation, Soul Meets Body: Faith in the Internet Movie Database, will be published in 2008.
Craig and his wife, Caroline, live in Los Angeles, with their children, Zoe and Theo.
is a novelist, journalist and a former 60 Minutes producer. His first novel, The Wall, was named a New York Times Notable Book in 1998. His second, War Torn, made Publishers Weekly's Best of 2003. His third novel, Fangland, appeared in January 2007 and has been optioned for a feature film by Hilary Swank. His 60 Minutes segment 'Submission', about the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, received a 2006 Gracie Allen award from the Foundation of American Women in Radio and Television for Best Hard News Feature.
John's first work of non-fiction, Reasons to Believe, a portrait of American Christianity, will be published by the Ecco Press, an imprint of Harper Collins, in February 2008.
John, 44, grew up in Dallas, Texas. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in German from Davidson College and a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Iowa's Iowa Writers Workshop.
He currently lives in Northampton, Massachusetts with his wife, Debra, and his son, Joe.
Purple State of Mind is both Craig and John's feature documentary directing debut.
Priddy Brothers -- John and Ed Priddy, co-founders of Priddy Brothers develop, produce and distribute independent films that explore with respect, grace and artistry the depth and breadth of the human experience. The company champions high-quality film projects created by self-energized, entrepreneurial filmmakers passionate about their art and its message.
The Priddys are executive producers of award-winning documentaries including Hilla Medalia's After the Storm, Medailia's Peabody Award-Winning To Die in Jerusalem, Laura Waters-Hinson's Academy Award-Winning, As We Forgive, Doug Block's critically acclaimed 51 Birch Street and Dani Menkin's Academy short listed 39 Pounds of Love.
Other films include Craig Detweiler's and John Marks' cult hit, Purple State of Mind and Michael Hoffman's Out of the Blue.
Staunch supporters of young filmmakers, the Priddys were instrumental in launching the Windrider Forum, which takes place each year during the Sundance Film Festival. The Forum includes lively, creative workshops and discussions, which allow both cutting-edge graduate and undergraduate film students to interact with the year's top film projects. John and Ed are long-time sponsors of the Angelus Student Film Awards and creators of the Triumph Award.
Mark Priddy, Executive Producer
All talk begins with language, and our national language has become loaded and lazy to the point of absurdity.
Here are a few commonly used terms that need to be examined more closely: Nazi, Socialist, Fascist, traitor, Hitler.
Here are a few more: racist, sexist, homophobe, conservative, liberal, evangelical, fundamentalist.
And here are some more: offended, outraged, shocked, damned, and all wars on or wars against anything, as in the war against Christmas or the war on women.
In the two Americas, words have become weapons. Too often, we use them to bludgeon, incite and enrage. Whenever possible, we reach for the extreme.
When we’re mad or miffed or annoyed, we say that we’re offended, outraged or shocked. But if everyone in America is offended, outraged and shocked all the time, as seems to be the case, do the words mean anything? If everyone calls everyone else a racist, and everyone sees themselves as victims of racism, does that term help or hurt our attempts to talk about race?
Do people who call their enemies Nazis understand what Hitler and the National Socialists actually did?
For the record: Hitler started a war of extermination that killed 50 million people, systematically imprisoned, tortured and murdered men, women and children just because of their ethnicity, bombed cities to the ground, invaded a dozen sovereign countries and plundered all of them. Does anyone really believe that either George W. Bush or Barack Obama should be compared to Hitler?
Yet we do it all the time, and it’s not a game. That kind of language can easily become an incitement to violence against politicians and each other.
Information is power, we believe, but it’s more than power. Information is water. If you drink bad water, you get sick. Make sure that your news is potable.
Is Glenn Beck on Fox News potable? How about Keith Olbermann over at MSNBC?
Bias in the news has become acceptable, and that’s a potential disaster for everyone.
It may be inevitable, but it should never be acceptable. The public should be aware of bias. The reporting professional must be on guard against his or her own bias. But at Purple State, we believe that bias in the news is a hazard and to be minimized if and when possible. When abused, it leads to ignorance and inevitably violence.
Information is not the same as entertainment. Only a small bit of news every day really matters to your health and welfare. The rest is potato chips and beer.
Do you think it’s wise or healthy to eat potato chips and drink beer all day? The same holds true for 24-hour cable news. One hour a day should do the trick.
Finally, beware of news on the Internet. It is a trackless swamp with a few well-tended islands. Find the islands and stay there. Anything else is a morass, and you have only yourself to blame if you sink into it.
We don’t believe we have all of the answers. Many of our national and personal differences are real, grounded in real convictions, interests and allegiances. They won’t be solved by mere civility.
Still, we feel the need to ask. As we sort ourselves out into large, mutually hostile political and social groups, do we understand the consequences? If so, are we prepared to bear them?
Doesn’t it make more sense to operate under the assumption that our political, religious and cultural opponents go home at the end of the day to families that are not so different from ours? Doesn’t it seem wise to extend a measure of dignity, humanity and even grace to those who see the world differently? Doesn’t it make sense, for the sake of all of our children, to acknowledge the bond embodied in the notion of citizenship?
Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan fight under one and the same flag, whether they believe in god or not, whether they are gay or straight, black or white. When they die, they die as one of us.
We pay our taxes, and the money flows into the same coffer. Theoretically, we are all subject to and beneficiaries of the laws in the U.S. Constitution. To be American is to have the common right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Purple State of Mind is not a fixed point. It is a frame of mind and a way of life that we are discovering as we go.
Craig and I have addressed secular and religious audiences across the country: in liberal bastions like New York, Philadelphia and Los Angeles; in conservative strongholds like Waco, Texas, and Wheaton, Illinois. We’ve shown the movie to audiences in Washington DC, Charlotte, Winston-Salem, Atlanta, Tallahassee, Orlando, Austin, Houston, Abilene, Iowa City, Ojai, San Francisco, Sonoma and Sacramento, and points in between.
After every event, the conversation on the stage becomes the conversation in the audience. Encouraged by our example to speak up, people start to talk about their deepest beliefs in front of complete strangers who think very differently and yet who listen, complete strangers who in another context might attack them.
Are we a divided nation? Or are we just pretending?
Now is the time to find out. If we are divided, in fact, it’s time to start building bridges. If we are pretending, for the sake of profit or political gain or both, it’s time to stop.
That is the goal, the hope, the point of Purple State of Mind.
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