michael j. morris


In Regards to “Fresh Air”: A Public Letter to MPB

I recently read on Jackson free Press online that Mississippi Public Broadcasting had canceled “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross from it’s regular programming. You can read that article by Ward Schaefer here. Needless to say, I was incensed, and when a videography gig got cut short this afternoon, I decided to take the time to write a brief letter to MPB expressing my extreme disappointment. Because I feel like it is an issue that relates to other issues of cultural production and presentation discussed here on my blog, I decided to post it publicly as well. It does not articulate everything I am thinking, nor everything I would wish to say, but it the time that I had to give to it, it offered a significant catharsis and will hopefully engage responsive thinking people at “MPB: Think Radio”:

To Whom It May Concern:

I recently read about MPB’s decision to discontinue the inclusion of “Fresh Air” in its weekly programming. Besides the personal disappointment in this–“Fresh Air” has long been a favorite program of mine, and I view Terry Gross as an epitome of intelligence and class–my greater disappointment is in respect to the rationale offered in a statement issued by Dr. Judith Lewis regarding this decision. Taken from the Jackson Free Press online, the statement reads:

Mississippi Public Broadcasting strives to deliver educational, informative, and meaningful content to its listeners. After careful consideration and review we have determined that Fresh Air does not meet this goal over time. Too often Fresh Air’s interviews include gratuitous discussions on issues of an explicit sexual nature. We believe that most of these discussions do not contribute to or meaningfully enhance serious-minded public discourse on sexual issues. Our listeners who wish to hear Fresh Air may find it online.

I did my undergraduate education at Belhaven University (formerly Belhaven College) in Jackson. I recently relocated to Ohio to pursue my PhD. It is with considerable frequency that I find myself engaged in the defense of the educational and cultural standards of Mississippi within conversations of a national scope. When colleagues hear that I did my education in Mississippi, I am often met with surprise. The general assumption is that Mississippi is not only predominantly uneducated (a tragic misperception) but regressive both culturally and socially. When I offer my defense of cultural institutions that make for a better version of Mississippi, the list is not long: Jackson Free Press, the Mississippi Museum of Art, the Jackson Arts Collective, and Mississippi Public Broadcasting constitute my set of examples of relevant and progressive public institutions within Mississippi culture. It is not simply that the cancellation of “Fresh Air” compromises MPB’s situation in this list; as Dr. Lewis has stated, the program can easily be found online. Instead, what I find so deeply disappointing (and thus compromising) is that MPB has so publicly demonstrated the narrowness of its conception of education, information, and meaning. Perhaps most offensive is the recourse to explicit sexuality as the damning content–as if any content on an NPR broadcast could be considered explicit–and worse yet, that explicit sexuality is in itself contradictory to education, information, or meaningfulness. While it would please me to offer a account of the relevant discourses surrounding sexuality as a site of knowledge, oppression, and liberation within our post-modern culture, drawing from post-structuralist theory, the feminist “sex wars” of the 1980s, and the emergence of queer theory as a transformative cultural discourse, I can’t help but feel that it would be wasted. Suffice to say, in my perspective, the citation of the sexual content of “Fresh Air” as cause for its removal from the public media discourses in Mississippi is not only disappointing but leaves for me very little hope for a Mississippi that might eventually engage with what is already a seasoned discourse on the diverse nature of human sexuality, its inescapable presence within our cultural fabric, and its potential as a site for social and personal liberation. I am not espousing a perspective that all sex is good sex and that any sexual content is beneficial to society and culture; I am, however, expressing my extreme disappointment that MPB’s perspective seems to be that any sex is bad sex and any sexual content, however benign its formulation, is somehow destructive to the goals of education, information, and meaning. Dr. Lewis suggests that MPB is somehow engaged in other more “serious-minded discourses on sexual issues.” I find this to not only be patently inaccurate; I have found MPB to in fact offer only select programming that even addresses sexuality, and when it does so, from perspectives of significant and singular bias, which would be, in fact the opposite of how discourse functions. Discourse is fundamentally produced through engagement with multiple perspectives and sites of knowledge in order for new perspectives to be produced synthetically between and from them. This does not seem to be a goal for MPB, especially concerning this issue of sexual content and sexuality. Worse yet, when I search “MPBonline” for the search term “sex,” the only search results that come up are in regards to sex education, legislation concerning sex education, legislation in regards to same-sex couples, and sexual crimes. It appears, in fact, that MPB doesn’t want to get anywhere near sex. It talks about talking about sex, or talks about talking about talking about sex, but actual direct discourses of sexual issues are no where to be found.

In addition to my disappointment in MPB’s apparent opposition to discussing sexuality at all, let alone sexuality’s constructive potential within culture (a position I might reiterate is neither new nor radical, but in fact seasoned, developed and respected throughout the nation, let alone institutions of higher education), my larger grievance is that this decision includes the omission of a wide range of cultural contributions made by “Fresh Air.” Until MPB can offer similar coverage, discussion, and exposure to the range of cultural productions (including music, film, television, literature, art, technology, etc.) represented on “Fresh Air” and discussed by Terry Gross through some other programming, then those are contributions that have been potentially removed from Mississippi culture, education, information, and meaning. Dr. Lewis’ statements make tidy work of relegating “Fresh Air” to the realm of the unnecessarily sexually explicit, but this decision has effectively canceled MPB’s support of the real work that “Fresh Air” accomplishes by bringing insider access to cultural products that are not explored anywhere else. Until MPB can firmly take the stand that none of the cultural materials discussed on “Fresh Air” (again: music, film, television, literature, art, technology and more) are not necessary in the support of education, information, and meaning in Mississippi culture, it is my suggestion that it rethink its decision.

I no longer live in Mississippi, but it is a place that I called home for many years. It is home to many people that I love. I will always have a passionate support for a stronger, more comprehensive, more educated, more engaged, more inspired, and more stimulated culture in Mississippi. I would like to think of MPB as a strong proponent of a similar passion. Right now that does not seem to be the case.

Thank you for your time, and my sincere best wishes on discovering a more effective pursuit of education, information, and meaning.
Sincerely disappointed,
Michael J. Morris

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