Page 20


But surely hatching of the NBC peacock enriched our sense of race. Black-andwhite transmission, like black-and-white thinking, polarizes, whereas expansion of the chromatic range of the TV picture reminded audiences that human skins are not exactly black or white or brown or yellow. Riggs’ focus on prime time ignores the role of other program slots that have also shaped race relations in the United States. When cameras recorded the weekend achievements of Jackie Robinson, Jim Brown, Bill Russell, and Muhammad Ali, they arguably did more to affect perceptions of black men than anything done at prime time. If children are most vulnerable and malleable to media manipulation, then a similar study should be done of images of blacks on Sesame Street and Saturday cartoons. Is black washed out of soaps? Not only does Color Adjustment neglect daytime melodramas and game shows, but it offers nary a nod at talk shows neither an enumeration of African Americans who sat on Johnny Carson’s couch nor an analysis of the advent of Oprah Winfrey and Arsenio Hall. Riggs is right to note that 1960s prime time must be understood within the context of images broadcast earlier, on the news, but its complete meaning derives from a larger system of signification that operates 24 hours a day. The proliferation of cable channels and the substitution of narrowcasting for broadcasting have transformed the nature of television and the way it responds to race. Traditional network TV imagined, and created, a national consensus. Its implied audience even, or especially, when gazing at the huggable Huxtables was a generic American family. Now that the signal is dispersed in many more directions, we can probably expect to see not only more but also more contentious images. Nevertheless, because TV signals come into the home, through a box that is often situated in either the living room or the bedroom, the medium is inherently conservative in a way that movies, to which we go out for a brief encounter in a foreign space, are not. TV, note several of Riggs’ commentators, has the exasperating capacity to absorb and exploit any challenge to its materialist, middle-class values. If so, we might have to look to the big screen for any radical revision of racial attitudes. Meanwhile, look to the small one for spacious thoughts from Marlon Riggs. His latest work is funded, in part, by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the NEA. Pigs, Poultry and a Presidential Candidate BY ALLISON CLARK A SPECTRUM READER. Edited by Bill Jones, Philip Martin and Stephen Buel. 170 pages. Little Rock: August House. $9.95 NOT MUCH COMES OUT of Arkansas beyond pigs, poultry, and this year a presidential candidate. Little Rock, the state’s only city if you can call one skyscraper and one nightclub a city never had much of a reputation as a cultural beacon. A serious gubernatorial candidate offers to control crime by hiding in the back of a 7-Eleven with a double-barrelled shotgun, or the Secretary of State dons black leather and rides his Harley to motorcycle conventions with two young lovelies in tow, and nobody blinks. Arkansas, business as usual. Arkansas is easy to insult. Its wounds gape invitingly. Its poverty of mind, soul and checking account cry out to the world. Its more ambitious children tend to leave, even if they have to run for President to do it. But all is not darkness. Little Rock’s cultural and political rebels have for seven years now nurtured a defiant little editorial voice crying out once a week in the wilderness: an alternative newspaper called Spectrum Weekly. If you’d bet your personal computer that a liberal, often emdite alternative rag couldn’t thrive in Arkansas’ Allison Clark, a former copy editor at the Arkansas Democrat and free-lance contributor to Spectrum Weekly, is sports editor of the Round Rock Leader and lives in Austin. conservative, unlettered soil, your databank is safe, but Spectrum has survived, albeit as a tax deduction for its well-heeled owner, Karen Hutcheson. Moreover, it’s provided some of the finestwoments of some of Arkansas’ most talenta writers, because the only mandate the freewheeling publication gave them was to unfetter themselves, and make it damn good. Last year, editor and publisher Stephen Buel, associate editor Bill Jones and executive editor Philip Martin culled the best of the first five years of that work for republication in book form. The result, A Spectrum Reader, is a fractured jewel. Parts are dull, but what is good is very good, funny and starkly brilliant. At its finest, it cuts at you hard and leaves you begging for more. Buel, a former daily newspaper reporter who forsook the Arkansas Democrat in 1985 to start Spectrum with Hutcheson and fellow Democrat reporter Cindy Fribourgh, explored in the book’s preface the alternative’s philosophy that freed its most gifted writers to chase their creative and political muses. “Reporting as I’d been practicing it is useful only to the handful of people who possess a job-related need to know about the subject in question,” he observed. “Without taking the time and room necessary to explain the context behind the day’s news, daily newspapers do little to make most news seem relevant to their readers. Perhaps this explains why daily newspaper readership is steadily dropping.” Among the journalistic tenets that characterize Spectrum is a lack of faith in the modern concept of “objectivity” in news reporting. “Smart Americans know the myth of objectiv ity is a lie … Yet most news outlets persist in the comfortable myth that they are objective purveyors of truths.” Spectrum, Buel wrote, is proud of its opinionated reporting. “There is no lack of hunger among the reading public for stimulating and provocative news and opinions,” he noted, “and that’s where we hope A Spectrum Reader fits in.” Gracing page after page of the Reader is the work of Tony Moser, an avowed Arkansas good old boy with a good mind and a gift for the telling detail, and probably the state’s finest living writer. His delicately barbed and sometimes poignant essays challenge readers to think while yanking them from sorrow to outrage to delighted laughter. A Spectrum Reader is a collection of articles, divided into five main categories that reflect the normal content of the weekly publication: reporting, editorials, columns, culture and reviews. The works of local pen-and-ink artists illustrate throughout, and margin notes color the body material with background and backlash. For example, they tell how Spectrum’s very first issue in 1985 promptly incurred a lawsuit, later found to be frivolous. With an eye to a national market, in campus bookstores perhaps, the editorial troika tried to select stories that would play outside Arkansas. Success in that regard is mixed, but with this combination of authors and subjects, every section has its stellar beauties. Examples follow: *** A reportorial award-winner is Ramsay Ball’s whimsical behind-the-scenes account of the 1988 Democratic National Convention in Atlanta. With the Dukakis nomination already THE TEXAS OBSERVER 21