America Not Working

Innovative OR Books has something here: an upcoming multimedia book called America Not Working, sort of an update to the classic Working by Studs Terkel (which is still not available in e).

They have an entire website set up for it.

I can’t help but to point out a danger in this project.

When Terkel did his book, it was himself with a tape recorder. And Terkel was an ordinary guy who could put others at ease. He’d relax them, get them to the point where they’d forget all about the machine, and they would open their hearts and talk.

What these people looked like, what their voices were like on the tape, those things didn’t matter. What they experienced and what they felt and what it meant to them, only that mattered.

OR Books’ use of video here brings up the danger of interviewing people the camera likes. And unlike a tape recorder, no one is ever going to be able to ignore that goddammed machine, that camera, pointed straight at their faces. I was going to embed a video promo OR Books has up, but I’m suspicious of it. Those people are just too damn slick to convince me they’re not out-of-work actors. I’m not saying OR Books is pulling a fraud here, I’m just pointing out they don’t seem genuine to me. And there’s the prime danger: believability.

Update, July 5, 2011: The author contacted me. See what he said after the break.

Your post on the NOT WORKING project was brought to my attention. I thank you for your interest in the project.

Four factual errors to point out:

1. The project is called NOT WORKING. (You stated as AMERICA NOT WORKING.)

2. OR Books is not producing the videos. I am.

3. I’ve interviewed over 50 individuals so far. The vast majority have been only audio recordings. I’ve interviewed only a select few on camera – those who were comfortable with talking in front of the camera.

4. None of the individuals interviewed are out of work actors. In my opinion, it’s an affront to their story and trauma to state that their stories aren’t genuine. If you would like to be in contact with any of these individuals to confirm their stories and identities I’d be happy to arrange that–if they are agreeable to speaking with you. I think it might be very hurtful to them to see that you have questioned the authenticity of their experiences.

See website URL for why I thought it was titled thus.

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