Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Newsweek, YouTube and An Abortion Mini-Doc

Anna Quindlen’s column for Newsweek, How Much Jail Time?, spotlights a pretty cool little mini-documentary about abortion protestors in Libertyville, Illinois.
Buried among prairie dogs and amateur animation shorts on YouTube is a curious little mini-documentary shot in front of an abortion clinic in Libertyville, Ill. The man behind the camera is asking demonstrators who want abortion criminalized what the penalty should be for a woman who has one nonetheless. You have rarely seen people look more gobsmacked. It's as though the guy has asked them to solve quadratic equations. Here are a range of responses: "I've never really thought about it." "I don't have an answer for that." "I don't know." "Just pray for them."

You have to hand it to the questioner; he struggles manfully. "Usually when things are illegal there's a penalty attached," he explains patiently. But he can't get a single person to be decisive about the crux of a matter they have been approaching with absolute certainty.

Now Quindlen’s column is focused on abortion (and I urge people to read it), but I found it baffling that the online version of her column didn’t even include a link to the featured clip! In this day and age there’s no excuse for that bit of oversight. (Update: They have added the link).

Fortunately Real Women, Real Voices has tracked down the clip. I agree with Quindlen, it’s a pretty fascinating mini-documentary running six and half minutes.

You can find the clip on YouTube here.

But I wanted to know more about who made and it and why, so I e-mailed the creator, Lee Goodman. It turns out the clip has a pretty long history, it was posted online on July 11, 2005, and is part of a pre-YouTube group that provides videoblogging and commentary. Lee says his website has been in operation since 2005 and he’s now posting his videos on YouTube as well as his website. A nice feature of his At Center Network website is that he offers low-bandwidth downloads.

As I discussed earlier in regardless to the digital divide, people who only have access to dial-up and low-bandwidth—and there are plenty—are essentially locked out of the YouTube revolution.

Lee said the original clip, as featured on his website, had been discussed by blogs before. But, without his permission and without him knowing, someone posted it to YouTube, where Quindlen found it. He said on Sunday a friend of his recognized from Quindlen’s column the description of his clip, which alerted him to the fact it even was on YouTube! After that, Lee said he did get in touch with Quindlen who related that they didn’t link to the video because they couldn’t verify the author. (However Lee has now put up the video on YouTube yesterday under his own name and asked the other poster to take down theirs.)

The clip itself depicts abortion protestors in Libertyville, Illinois on July 9, 2005. Lee said he wanted to clear up one misconception, the group was not actually protesting an abortion clinic—they were just demonstrating on the side of a road, but not by a clinic.

I asked him how he came film the protestors and how he got the idea of asking them what they thought should happen to a woman if she had an illegal abortion? Lee said he lives in nearby Northbrook and has been recording many different types of events, which includes interviewing participants. He said he stumbled upon the question because it was the only one that seem to provoke real thought from his participants.

“I didn’t set out to ask that question,” he said. “I set out to see what was going on. But I found that that was one question I wasn’t getting back pat answers…it was the one people were struggling to answer.”

He said most of the other questions he posed to the protestors tended to get the same kind of flat rhetoric. This question, he said, “engendered on all sides a soulful, deep and thoughtful discussion.”

“Whenever I cover an event I always ask ‘why are you here and what are you hoping to accomplish?’ My practice in interviewing people is to draw answers out of them and not only hear what they think I want to hear about.”

The other nugget I found from talking to Lee is that from the original posting some of the protesters responded in the comments including the protest organizer Joe Scheidler, whom the final woman featured suggest Lee talk to. (In fact Lee said he’d already talked to Scheidler by that point, but didn’t ask him that particular question because, at that time, he hadn’t realized it was the question that got the most interesting response.)

The clip is an excellent example of either citizen-inspired activism or journalism; however one chooses to look at the product.

---Rachel Joy Larris

1 comment:

KerryJ said...

Excellent post, excellent site! I'd found the Lee Goodman video through one of those funny, forking paths on the internet and made my way to your site. I've bookmarked you -- but where's the link to your feed? Please make it more prominent so I can stay up to date via RSS. :^ )