May is here, bringing with it bouts of summer weather that have us eager to shed the stress the spring semester. While the library often represents serious intellectual pursuits, at Hornbake Library we have plenty of materials documenting the lighter sides of history. May I present Crabs, an irreverent sketch comedy show produced by Maryland Public Television (MPT) in the 1980s. Crabs serves up clever commentary on culture and politics both local and national. The pilot episode, “Nature’s Way” premiered September 5, 1984 and invited the Mid-Atlantic to taste Baltimore comedy.
Each 30-minute episode was taped before a live studio audience and cast members served as both actors and crew. Our featured episode consists of nine hilarious skits, ranging from spoofs to musical numbers. While the entire show has plenty to discuss, today we’ll be focusing on three comedic gems that make light of the dynamic between Baltimore and Washington, DC.
The show opens with an exterior shot of Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium, the original home of the Orioles. Voice-over informs the audience about a concerted effort to encourage more D.C. baseball fans to come see the Baltimore Orioles. Wearing a “Where’s the beef?” t-shirt that is three sizes too small, the Baltimore fan in the stands is a ballpark classic: heckling the players, waving his arms and spilling his beer. Sliding in to take the seat beside Where’s the Beef (despite the fact that the section is otherwise totally empty), our man from D.C. comes complete with a picnic basket, a quiche, and a cravat to boot. The two new companions are both thrown off by the other, with Where’s the Beef asking Cravat “Are you from a foreign country?”, to which he disdainfully replies “I’m from Washington.” The juxtaposition and back-and-forth between the two pays irreverent homage to the dynamic between the two cities, a theme that runs throughout the episode.
Mary Ellen Agnes Kelly (1926-2005?) was an American television researcher, talent coordinator, and associate producer with the pioneering early morning television program Today on NBC. She was also a special assignments reporter, traveling far and wide to film feature segments. Kelly crisscrossed the United States many times and covered stories from Europe, Africa, Asia and South America. Newspaper articles from the period compared her to Nellie Bly, the intrepid 19th-century reporter known for her record-breaking trip around the world in 72 days. Kelly traveled around the world – on the first commercial flight over the North Pole in 1957 – in 71 hours and six minutes. Unfortunately, her remarkable career is little known today.
A remarkable collection of photographs and clippings from her career are now part of Special Collections in Mass Media and Culture. The journey of these materials to our collections is typical in how it was nearly discarded but later adopted by an appreciative collector. In the 1960s, Kelly sublet her New York City apartment to a man who subsequently discovered several boxes she left behind. He contacted her to offer to return the boxes, but she declined. However, he thought that the contents were fascinating and kept the boxes for over 50 years. When he passed away, his widow – realizing that Kelly must have been important as one of the few women working in early television – donated the material to the UMD libraries.
On February 26 and 27, the Library of Congress’s Radio Preservation Task Force will host its first conference on the subjects of historical media archives, and the organization of educational and preservation initiatives on a national scale . Friday’s activities will take place downtown at the Library of Congress, and Saturday’s will be held at Hornbake Library North.
Speakers will include numerous UMD librarians, faculty from various campus divisions, and several iSchool alum, as well as prominent archivists and scholars from throughout the United States. Highlights include panels and workshops on how archives can deal with audio materials, discussions about using digital tools to save our radio heritage, panels on how radio materials document race and gender throughout American history, and a workshop featuring three NEH representatives on how to find funding for archival projects.
Registration is free and open to the public, and can be completed by sending an e-mail to Kevin Palermo at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are pleased to announce the Spring Media Studies Talks, hosted by UMD Libraries, Special Collections in Mass Media and Culture, in Partnership with Media Studies at Catholic University of America.
Join us on March 26 at 4:30pm for a talk by Ethan Plaut of Stanford University.
Ethan R. Plaut received his Ph.D. in Communication in 2014 from Stanford University, where he continues his research as a postdoctoral fellow in the Program in Writing and Rhetoric. His dissertation addressed communication “avoidance”—the ways we limit our own communication—and other research interests include silence, propaganda, digital media, transparency, journalism, remix culture, media ethics, and humor. Recently published and upcoming work appears in both popular media and academic journals including Quartz, Public Opinion Quarterly, and Communication, Culture & Critique. Before coming to Stanford, Ethan spent three years working as a journalist in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Each month, the Special Collections displays rare, unique items from our collection that resonate with present-day events. On March 1st through March 31, 2013, visit the Maryland Room on the 1st floor of Hornbake Library and delve deeper into women’s history.
I think how wonderful it would be if some writer could find a formula for giving women the substance and not the shadow of life.
– Mona Kent, in an interview with Time Magazine. September 12, 1949.
Mona Kent (1909-1990) was a radio and TV script writer. She wrote every episode of radio soap opera “Portia Faces Life.” Kent defines the problem driving the emotion in this soap opera as “a conflict between her wish to be a wife and mother, to keep a neat and cheerful home for her husband, Walter, and raise his children properly–and the ever-recurring necessity of being a lawyer and career woman in order to keep groceries in the kitchen.” Clearly, Kent had identified a relevant, divisive problem: an article in “Radio and Television Mirror” in 1950 asks readers, “Does a working wife cheat her family?” and encouraged women to write in with their opinions.
In an interview with Time Magazine, Kent criticizes the soap opera women for the success and power that derives from a set of self-sacrificing virtues. The writer speculated that “possibly, the American woman feels actually so dependent, economically and emotionally, that she has to appease her insecurity by identifying herself with one or more soap opera heroines.” In her novel, Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Kent writes, “how much should a woman sacrifice for the man she loves?” To Kent, a virtuous and self-sacrificing woman like Portia, defined only by her love for her husband and children, lives only as a formula for soap-opera heroines.