Mandan News

Brian L. Gray: Where do we fit in popular culture?

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I have no shame in admitting my addiction to television. I have this sort of phobia where, when I get home at the end of the day, I need to have some kind of noise happening. If I don’t have music playing in my apartment, I turn on the TV.

I could delve further into why I need constant noise, but I’ll go in a different direction – most the time I turn on the TV, I can’t actually watch what’s on. I don’t find many shows on TV that I honestly enjoy. There are shows I record on my DVR each week, but I often go a long time before actually watching them, because I never feel the urge to.

There are a few shows I watch that scratch my itch for entertainment, but overall the state of shows for me is upsetting, leaving me with nothing more than a bad rash.

So I pay my cable bill each month just to basically supply my need for noise. But sometimes even the nature of the TV noise itself causes my rash to act up.

In trying to figure out why, I realized it’s easy to blame the long running reality TV craze, but that’s only partly the fault. Television these days seems to cater to our culture’s perpetuation of ADD. Fast cuts, dramatic music, flashes between shots, packing in more and more visual images into a smaller amount of time, I don’t think has helped boost the reputation of television.

Maybe my taste has become more refined over the years, more specific. But I don’t think the hectic pace and relentless barrage of images we receive from TV these days is suited for everyone. I think of people like me, who like things to slow down every so often. Television doesn’t provide that.

Taking that another step deeper, I don’t think TV shows capture the spirit of Midwestern people. Hollywood, in trying to capture life and humanity in its many forms, fails to properly reflect what it means to live in this part of the country. But that shouldn’t be too surprising, I guess, coming from the state that granted Stevie Wonder a driver’s license. And you also can’t blame them for not being able to see how we live, when the smog in Los Angeles doesn’t even allow them to see ten feet in front of them.

Whatever is to blame, ignorance or pollution, Midwestern sensibilities are not something you see reflected on TV. And when they are, they’re skewered. Television producers ignore people of our ilk. What do they know about North Dakotans?

What I’ve gathered over the years, through the eyes of entertainment, is that we’re remote, desolate and always covered in snow, we talk funny, we’re outdated and anachronistic, but most of all far removed from modern popular culture. And this, we all know, is only somewhat true.

So I did something. I took a little time and did some brainstorming. I came up with three show ideas I think could hopefully boost our state’s reputation in entertainment.


Idea one:

This is a story about a family who lives in a major American city, whose parents both lost their jobs due to the economy. Desperate for work, the family moves to a place where jobs are still in abundance – North Dakota.

Watch as the family slowly learns about life in a small town. See them confront the quirks of rural life, and get involved in the conflicts of small town living. The family will learn how to deal with dodging tractors driving on the highways. And enjoy the revealing scene where the family goes out to eat and finds out what chicken fried steak is, and learns how to properly pronounce the words “knoephla” or “fleischkeichla.”

I have two possible titles for this show: “Culture Shock” or “Recession Proof.”


Idea two:

We follow the long journey of a young child with obsessive dreams of becoming a huge movie star. The opening shot could be the Hollywood sign, which would dissolve into the Mandan sign. We track the child’s growth as his or her skills continue to build, while we learn more and more about why this child is so driven to land it big.

The story could also revolve around people in the town that help the child, including choreographers and acting coaches, who help him or her on their way and have stories of their own and dramas in their personal lives. They are invested in the child, but have their own reservations as to how much they should share. Truth, they believe, must be found out on your own.

But when the child, now an adult, eventually finds out after getting his or her first touch of stardom, that home was where the person really felt comfortable.

We’ll call this either “The Crying Hills” or “L.A. / N.D.”


Idea three:

This is a comedy, called “The Pieces.” It stars four generations of one family, The Pieces, who all live under one roof. Here we’ll get to see a taste of old Midwestern customs intertwine and collide with today’s mindsets.

It’s partly a coming-of-age tale about a self-proclaimed know-it-all teen, Warren, who learns about the ins and outs of life. He’s not popular, especially having the name Warren Piece, but every show needs a curmudgeon, and we can enjoy watching him get into trouble and eventually find his way out.

The other side of the spectrum could reflect the finer days, with the great-grandma. She’d even have her own tagline, where she’d yell out “Oh, that’s hogwash!” which would be greeted with thunderous laughter and applause.


One important key to any story, I’ve learned over the years, is to find something personal in it that is capable of being transformed into something universally appealing, something people of all walks of life can relate to, and focus on that. And I’m certain that if you put anything under a microscope, you can find an element within it that contains universal appeal.

So I, for one, think it’s time. North Dakota needs a microscope.