About Me

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Recent retiree--35 year's experience teaching reading, English, adult basic education and volunteer leadership skills. Started this blog to exchange ideas and commentary with friends and others having an interest in joining the discussions. Greatest life accomplishments include: 1.organized my 3rd grade class to check out library books for me to get around librarian's weekly limit--Amazon.com, the Mullins Elementary 3rd Grade Class of 1956 is still waiting for "thank you" notes; 2. volunteered in the Peace Corps, island of St. Kitts, West Indies; 3.taught adults to read, earn their GEDs., and speak English as a second language; 4. bought a border collie puppy for $6, got evicted rather than give him up, and began a life-long love affair with all things "Dog"; 5. joined a physical fitness boot camp in my mid-50s--don't mess with someone who's been doing regulation pushups in wet grass at 5:30 a.m.; 6. walked across Northern England with best friend Sally--over 80 miles from the Irish to North Seas; and 7. travelled to many foreign countries for pleasure and work.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Wednesday with Oprah, Understanding Columbine

Today my July issue of The Oprah Magazine came in the mail with Oprah peeping out from behind this bright yellow book cover. This is her annual summer reading issue that highlights a collection of good reads. See Summer Reading 25 Books You Can't Put Down for this year's recommendations for fiction, nonfiction and poetry. Perfect timing! This weekend I was planning to share my friend KittyHawk's story of attending an Oprah show taping in Chicago to promote one of the books that's featured at #7 on the summer reading list--Columbine by Dave Cullen.

Most of us think we understand what happened on April 20,1999, at Columbine High School near Littleton, Colorado. Around lunchtime, two teenage boys, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, entered the school where they were soon to graduate, intent on killing the maximum number of students, teachers, and school administrators and staff and destroying the school with bombs and guns. Their plan was to carry out an attack that would top any other event, even the Oklahoma City bombing. We remember the grainy videos of the two weirdly dressed killers moving through the school coldly and deliberately trying to maximize their body count. We listened to "experts" try to explain why two apparently normal teenagers would want to carry out such a diabolical attack against their schoolmates. They hated and felt wronged by other students, especially athletes, evangelicals, and adults in authority? They were a part of a goth-like group, The Trench Coat Mafia, who wanted to punish the mainstream?

Dave Cullen, who was on the scene as a journalist from day one of the attack, has spent the past ten years refuting the myths surrounding Columbine. On his Columbine webpage Cullen says that he wanted to answer two questions by writing this book: 1. what drove these killers? 2. what did they do to their town? By the time I finished reading Columbine, I thought that he had answered these questions. The answers will astound you, especially the motivations of the killers. His reporting should change the way school personnel, law enforcement, and even parents monitor teenage behavior, maintain vigilance and intervene before teens go into such a downward spiral that they can't see any way out. As to the second question, the effects on the people of Littleton, Cullen tells the story of the victims, the survivors, the students and teachers who had to return to the scene of horror, the parents who wanted justice and remembrance, the church leaders who chose either to heal or capitalize on the tragedy, and the investigative team that did its best when many were plainly out of their league, and the media which didn't always get its facts straight before reporting, especially when they were trying to meet the demands of 24 hour a day reporting.

A great strength of this book is that Cullen tells the story without inserting himself in it. This is a real talent. I had no idea until I read the chapter notes at the end of the book exactly how much access he had to the principals in the story. He did the interviews, read the reports, consulted the experts, attended the public meetings and church services. He truly understood what the Columbine massacre and its aftermath had done to the town. He reported the facts and left his own feelings out of the narrative. That demonstrated great respect for his readers. Columbine was published in April and debuted at #7 on the New York Times bestseller list for non-fiction (it rose to #3 and now, after nine weeks on the list, is at #21). The style of writing and compelling subject makes it a great read any time of the year.

Part 2 KittyHawk and Wednesday with Oprah

(Photo--Kate Battan, Dave Cullen, Oprah) I learned about Columbine from my longtime friend, KittyHawk. She has been friends with the author Dave Cullen for several years and collaborated with him on another book. That experience whetted her appetite for book writing and publishing, so over a year ago she started helping Dave with the myriad number of tasks that must be done to get a book to the publisher. Like me, KittyHawk is retired. Unlike me, her idea of a diversion is not watching several seasons of Robin Hood! She loves a project that challenges and teaches her something new. Helping with Columbine has fulfilled that need for her. Dave's appreciation of her assistance is pretty evident in the acknowledgements for Columbine. He writes:

"Lydia Wells Sledge stands alone. She devoted a year of her life to serve as
full-time unpaid reader, proofer, fact checker,researcher,organizer,assistant,
and tackler of every conceivable odd task. She claims to have
enjoyed it."

One great perk for all her help with the book was to be invited to a taping of an Oprah show observing the 10th anniversary of the Columbine massacre. Columbine had just been published in early April and was getting a lot of attention and favorable reviews. Dave asked her and several members of his family to fly to Chicago on April 15 for the show--with guarantees of good seats! Of course we were all excited for her, but, more importantly, we wanted the lowdown on the behind the scenes action at an Oprah show. Here's KittyHawk's (in fuschia sweater with Dave's family) first hand report so you'll know what to expect if you ever go:
  • Wednesday I had my alarm set for 4:45 am. At 4:30 the closet
    door fell out of the frame in the guest room. So I was up in plenty of
    time to drive to Louisville to catch my flight to Chicago.
  • I was worried about getting from O'Hare to Harpo Studio and back again. Peggy, one of Dave's six sisters, invited me to meet up with the family members in the American Airlines terminal and travel downtown with them. Problem solved!
  • Met up with Dave's mom and dad, five of his six sisters and two brothers at about 11:00 to stand in the line at Harpo while the audience for the first taping let out.
  • Once inside, the standing continued. There was a coat check and then we were all checked off as the "Cullen party". At the point we got a blue form on which to sign our life away! Then it's on to a purse check where I had to surrender my book (Run by Ann Patchett), cell phone. Other people had ball point pens and even eyebrow pencils confiscated. Who knew?
  • Next, we headed upstairs to sit with 322 other people who are attended the same taping.
  • As you might guess, in a room filled with mostly women and a handful of men there were only six restroom stalls for women. Not enough because you were told you wouldn't be excused once in the studio. What's with this, Oprah?
  • We had no idea what was going on with Dave and the other guests in the green room. He later said that it was pretty intense.
  • The head crowd control person finally ushered the Cullen party of 12 into the semi-circular studio and into some really good seats. Eyeball to eyeball view of the stage!
  • There was an extra seat next to me for the fellow who "does hair". I quizzed him on a lot of things. He doesn't do Oprah's hair. There's a full time Oprah hair dresser and make-up artist. We could all use a team like that. Those two guys came out several times during segment breaks to be sure Oprah was perfectly arranged.
  • From getting in line to seated in the studio it was probably close to two hours. Which would explain my slight impatience with the warm up and welcome. Who had traveled the furthest to attend the show (Northern Ireland, Australia for show and visit friends), birthday? warm climate? I was astonished at what people were willing to share. Guess they feel that close to Oprah.
  • Next came the commercial! Freddie, another Oprah person, came onstage. She told us about the Oprah store and how great it was. I was afraid we'd be lined up and made to go through the store and shop, but they missed that opportunity. They did go through the inventory and had models come out sporting Oprah stuff. People were going "Ohhhh! That's so Chanel!"I might have sprung for a key chain. Talk about commercial. Talk about merchandising. Talk about cash cow! I'm getting cynical by now. . .
  • After the shopping commercial, stage managers and prop handlers arranged the stage and set the cameras--nine in all. Amazing amount of attention paid to even the most minute detail--a water glass might be moved a centimeter. Cameras and lighting was carefully checked for each chair on the stage.
  • By now it was about 1:20pm. All of a sudden the energy level in the room changed. I figured O was coming out. Cameras moved and the lights went up. But no! Dave came bounding out on stage laughing like he was having the time of his life. Then the lights got brighter and the energy level really went higher, people stood and cheered and O came out. She shook hands with Dave and sat down in the other chair.
  • But first the shoes weren't right. They were much too glittery for her beige pantsuit (Wonder why she can wear beige and the audience can't? We were told no beige, wear bright solid colors.) So immediately out came another pair of shoes. Much better. Beige platforms with heels at least 4 inches tall.
  • So she started chatting informally with Dave. We heard him ask where he should look, into which camera, and she grabbed him and said "Look at me. You are having this conversation with me!"
  • The actual taping is done in segments and then edited into a continuous program. O first talked with Dave, then Kate Battan (lead investigator for Columbine) joined them. Then Dwayne Fuselier (FBI psychologist and hostage negotiator who provided the most revealing profiles of the killers) joined them. Between segments O talked to the audience, but because of the topic understandably there was not a lot of hooting and hollering "YOU get a car and YOU get a car!"
  • There were large monitors overhead, not to mention the giant one behind the stage where we could see the "b-roll", I think it's called--the photos and videos taped in Littleton, the memorials to the kids who died, and the Skyped-in version of Mr. D, the principal of Columbine High School.
  • I won't go into the program itself. You can see on TV (note about that later).
  • O got down from her chair, picked her shoes up, someone asked what size, she said 11, and poof she was gone.
  • We exited the studio "in an orderly fashion" and reclaimed our confiscated belongings. Everything about the "Oprah Experience" was very controlled. We got a copy of Columbine, but I found out that Oprah gives away NOTHING. Any giveaways come from the publisher, manufacturer or advertiser. I probably knew this, but it always seems like it's Oprah who's giving away the stuff.
  • We all walked to a nearby restaurant for drinks, photos, and book signings. Cary, the publicist for Twelve, Dave's publisher, announced that Columbine would be debuting at #7 on the New York Times bestseller list the following week!
  • My flight left about a minute early. I found my car, drove home, changed my shoes, took out the garbage, and went to bed. A memorable day for sure!

Well, now you know whether it's worth the effort to attend your favorite TV show taping. A downer was the decision to not show the program on Columbine. Cullen was contacted by the Harpo Studio producers soon after the taping and was told that, regretfully, they had made the decision to not air the show. It was feared that it might be perceived as recognition of the killers. And on the 10th anniversary, it was decided that any public commemorations should be for the victims and survivors.

I hope you will read Columbine. We all need to understand better why these tragedies occur and what we can do to prevent them in the future. Columbine may be that tool that we need.

(Photo Credits: Magazine cover--photographer Ruven Afanador; Oprah Show Stage--promotional video at Oprah.com)


Deborah Carr (Debs) said...

I remember that horrific event, well seeing it on the news, so well. It's terrifying to think that two youngsters could descend into a place in their minds where they would end up capable of such unimaginable actions.

I'm fascinated about the filming of Oprah. It does always seem as if she is the one giving everything away so generously.

Lane Mathias said...

That was a riveting account from Kittyhawk. So is Oprah the only one allowed to wear neutral colours? And I'm intrigued that the audience is asked to wear bright colours. And as Debs said, we are always given the impression that O is responsible for all the freebies.

But onto serious matters, I shall definitely be on the look out for a copy of the book. It sounds like an excellent piece of research. It's a shame they didn't air the show in the end.

Jan n Jer said...

We remember columbine very well. Jer N I lived just 4miles from there. We retired and left Colorado on april 1 of that year. When we heard the news, it left us with such a sick feeling that something so horrible could happen in a school where you think our kids would be safe. The teen years are ones that should be closely monitored by the parents. On to the Oprah show. That was a very interesting account of what goes on behind the scenes. I knew that O did not give all that stuff away, thats why she is so wealthy she knows where all her money goes. Great post Faye! :~)

m (the misanthrope) said...

Wow. Fascinating post, thank you my friend.

Sayre said...

Having spent half my life doing television production (but not for anyone as "important" as Oprah), I can tell you that taping a program takes a lot longer than you would think. The only time it doesn't is if it's live - but the run up can seem interminable.

I read both the Columbine posts - very interesting stuff! I'm going to read that book sometime this summer!

Gattina said...

Oprah is not known at all in Europe, except in the UK, where I saw her show for the first time. It's a language question, people watch TV in their mothertongue usually and where they live.
I remember this terrible tragedy.

I don't know "Amazing Race" probably it hasn't been translated yet.
You know all english spoken movies have first to be translated into French here, into German in Germany etc.!

m (the misanthrope) said...

Hello my friend! Are we reading each other's minds again?? Scary ;-) Now, sorry that your comment got hung up AGAIN. I had WP set so that it would only hold comments that contained 3 or more URLs (since multiple URLs can indicate spam). I have no idea how comments from you and others, that clearly contain 2 URLs at max, still get hung up. However - I have now upped it to 4. We'll see if that works :-) Anyway, thanks for participating, and I can't wait to see what delicacies you choose!