Class Blog Discussion #1

Hi all —

Please read: The Challenge of The American-Made Benny and weigh in with your thoughts/comments on the comments board of this blog entry.




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13 Responses to Class Blog Discussion #1

  1. After reading the article it seems to me that this overall story (although misguided and sub par factually) actually does tell a story. Instead of learning about “The American Dream”, we see an immigrant coming into America (with a possible undiagnosed medical condition), being drafted into war and then being forced to fend for himself with no care from his own government. Additionally we see and learn about how these underlying problems have warped his mind and have caused drifts from both his family and reality. Ultimately, although we didn’t learn much about how Benny is a “certified garbologist”, we did learn about the other side of Benny, the much darker and nastier Benny. Most importantly we learned about how Benny’s underlying mental conditions are not sustainable in America, and that is the biggest irony.

    • stevejfox says:

      Good points, Andrew. But, do you get a fuller story if you interview people that perhaps aren’t as supportive, or aren’t “friends” of Benny? This is why I always say “no” when students ask if they can interview friends for a story. Why? Because you only get one perspective.

  2. Joey Saade says:

    On this specific story, I tend to lean more on the ‘incomplete’ side, as in, we needed to hear more from a variety of different people (his family members) to ‘complete’ Benny’s story.
    I think the producer sums up the video pretty well in his final remarks, stating that “I maintain that Benny is a deeply flawed but endlessly fascinating piece of work.” In my opinion, many can agree on this statement. It’s flawed because it is incomplete. If it was intended to be a ‘news’ feature, it would have failed. The entertainment part is a different story, because it is fascinating. Of course, throughout the short video, as a viewer, we were hoping for the cut scene interview from either his daughter or wife. It would have added more depth to the man’s story, especially as the video went on and some may have began to doubt the thing’s Benny was saying. More interviews is a no-brainer, it was just a matter of not being allowed to interview those specific people, which happened in the making of this video. moving onto the entertainment point, I was engaged throughout its entirety. Sure, I was disappointed that we didn’t get to see the ‘full-circle’ view, but the content in the video itself were interesting. I laughed, I questioned, and I laughed again. It kept my attention, which is something stories should do. In the end, the producer knew what he was getting himself into. He acknowledged the fact that this story was no complete, and that flaws were present. He questioned, and still questions whether or not he should have published it. In the end, it’s his decision. If he wanted to tell a real-life story, he half-completed his mission. If he wanted to entertain viewers, he did so easily.

    • stevejfox says:

      Does publishing this essay let the producer off the hook for publishing the video in the first place? It’s fine to admit to “incompleteness,” but if you’re admitting that, why publish?

  3. kerry01801 says:

    This is a pretty solid follow up to The American-Made Benny because Eric Maierson addresses the blaring issues that come up throughout the course of his video. It was smart of him to publish this article pointing out the challenges that occurred while filming, it may have even answered a few questions we are left with after watching it.

    “Benny’s daughter told me how difficult it was having us there, how much they did not like attention paid to Benny. She said people did not see the real Benny.” With these details about Benny’s family, we are able to get a small glimpse into how they really feel about Benny and his behavior.

    Maierson also points out that they did in fact check Benny’s criminal record, an issue which also came up in our class discussion. “MediaStorm hired a private investigator, and just as Benny had assured us, there was no such record. Yet this fact is also inconclusive,” this fact was probably not included in the actual film because it may have seemed as though the journalists were on Benny’s side 100% (leaving out the family’s side even more).

    In Maierson’s defense, he does point out that a journalist doesn’t really has a definitive job description when he says, “we can never know just how far the ripples of our actions will reach nor can we sit in paralysis, always questioning the unanswerable implications of our work.” Also, although I completely agree with the producer when he concludes, “Benny is a deeply flawed but endlessly fascinating piece of work,” I still question whether or not it should have been published at all- despite the immense amount of time and effort put into creating the visual piece.

    • stevejfox says:

      Yes, journalists often feel that when they go to publish that there is stuff still out there they don’t know about — that their work is “incomplete.” But, this is different, right? I don’t understand the part about the private investigator. Are there incident reports of police coming to the house and arresting him? The charges may have been dropped, but it’s not clear that what he said about the domestic violence isn’t true.

  4. Chris Corso says:

    After reading this article I was very surprised to see some of the excuses that Eric Maierson is making in his teams’ coverage of American-made Benny. This story should not have been published and there are too many reasons why. First of all, he is clearly an unreliable source as he is under the influence of alcohol and marijuana the entire interview. In fact the camera even caught him lighting up a joint in the interview. He also clearly seems to be sick with PSD as he claims and could even have other mental problems. If there was no chance for the audience to hear from his wife or his family, how are we supposed to trust anything he says. My biggest complaint about this piece is how the producers build him up to be a forgotten war hero and you begin to feel bad for him at the beginning of the piece. This is contrary to the end of the piece when I felt that he was just a man who had gone mad and lost all of him family because of his illnesses. The author claims he was the toughest interview and he wouldn’t stop talking even when they asked him to. I wouldn’t even waste my time with someone like that even if he is entertaining. This news organization was giving him a platform to speak, a platform that he clearly didn’t deserve.

    -Chris Corso

    • stevejfox says:

      Chris hits the nail on the head here: Is it ethically responsible journalism to interview someone who is clearly inebriated and possibly mentally ill?

  5. antho22c says:

    I found this article to be an absolutely fascinating read and enjoyed it more than the short film, itself. Maierson successfully diagnoses his own work and offers several suggestions as to how the project could have been better. I believe that it was only right of him to write this piece, as the project left viewers with many unanswered questions, and this article attempts to respond to these questions. Maierson mentions that the project can be viewed as less of a commentary on the content, on more on the “ethics of storytelling itself.” I’m glad that Benny’s family was talked about in this article, as that was without doubt one of the most mysterious and questionable aspects of the project. It was definitely somewhat of a relief to find out that the family chose not to be interviewed, rather than having not even had the opportunity; in fact, they insisted upon not being interviewed. This fact makes me sympathize more with the family, and give more credit to Maierson and his team, as it’s clear that they attempted various times to include the family’s thoughts within the project. Finally, I was especially interested in the idea about why scrapping the story all together was decided against, as deciding to keep it was somewhat of a commentary about the expected audience of the project. By going forward with the project, the assumption was made that the audience would be smart and observant enough to properly analyze Benny’s actions, to recognize the lack of secondary sources, and to not necessarily believe everything that Benny claimed. Overall, though Maierson’s project was flawed, his article successfully responds to and recognizes these issues, while offering a more profound meaning to the flawed work at hand.

  6. I was incredibly relieved to see how unsettled Eric Maierson was with the ultimate decision to publish this piece…But I do think it constructs an important question within the ethics of journalism. As journalists, we naturally get excited by the idea of a subject/narrator who, like Maierson notes, is “charismatic, emotional and a bit over-the-top.” Those are the best interviews. However, we run into issues when the narrative is so single-sided like Benny’s. The problem with this is that no one can verify what is not only accurate (ie. the lack of arrest record) but also wholly truthful. Without Benny’s family being incorporated, the narrative is left incomplete — a one-man show. At one point, Maierson notes that there was more of a story to be told; that they had only had three days in the field and three days to attempt to get insight from Benny’s family on camera. There are other issues that could be brought to light with this narrative (addiction, abuse, cancer, PTSD, mental illness and yes, even “garbology”) if there had been more time allotted for this project. Now, I’m not sure if “American-Made Benny” is the riveting, hard-hitting profile that I would want to work on for a year but it’s an option. Ultimately, I don’t think this piece should have been published.

  7. jaso1216 says:

    When I finished reading this article, I found it to be more intriguing than the actual film of Benny. Reading about how uneasy Eric Maierson felt when he was interviewing Benny was very interesting, although I agree with Chris. How can an organization publish a piece like this when the main subject is not in the right state of mind? When Maierson was introduced to the “real” Benny, the one that offered the his crew drinks and marijuana, they should have packed up their gear and left his house. Another reason this shouldn’t have been created is how one-sided this story was. The only other person that was interviewed besides Benny was one of his friends, and not his family. Not hearing from his wife or daughter makes it unclear of who the “real” Benny is, especially since it is known that he has verbally and physically abused them.

  8. I really liked this short documentary told from the perspective of Benny Villanova. Benny is what we can considered an ‘unreliable narrator.’ Benny has a lot to say with almost no filter, so most of what he regurgitates on camera is extremely random (sometimes lacking factual evidence to support his claims). I don’t feel like this short film should be considered journalism by any means; however I do believe this is a great example of how someone can highlighting the personality of a subject. I can see the ethical debate on whether this story should or should not have been published; however I am glad it was published. To me, this story isn’t necessarily about what he has to say, it is more about who the “American-Made Benny” is. Benny’s personality is the center of this story, because there are so many different variables in his life that influence who he is. Even if he is lying about certain things, the purpose of this story is to harness the essence of who Benny is. Benny is a byproduct of the American society and culture that specifically surrounds him.

  9. ikeilty says:

    I’m glad this video, “American Made Benny” had a follow-up essay to admit its incompleteness. Although it doesn’t completely make up for the video being incomplete, and it doesn’t truly offer any new information about Benny, it is good to see that the publisher had a moral dilemma when it came time to actually publish the story.

    In terms of the video actually being published, I am glad that it was. This video was made during a three week workshop and Eric Maierson admits that many of the pieces done during this workshop consist of just one interview. For what it’s worth, I think the makers of the video did a pretty damn good job with the video. Obviously it would have been a better project had they gotten interviews with his wife and family, but those interviews simply weren’t available during that time.

    Given the title, “American-Made Benny,” I thought the Maierson and his team did a great job capturing the man that was a bi-product of America. He fought for our country, came back home to nothing, picked up America’s trash (working for the Sanitation department) and is now selling America’s trash just to get by. In terms of the title, I think Maierson and his team did an incredible job. The piece was entertaining, emotional, and made you think.

    I think the biggest problem with this project is the fact that Benny is an unreliable narrator. I realize additional interviews with family members truly would have completed the story, however like I’ve said already, I enjoyed the piece without them. I think the fact that Benny was drinking, smoking weed, and potentially has PTSD hurts the project the most. Many people won’t take this project seriously simply because they can’t trust/believe Benny and his stories. Had they looked up information about Benny’s time in the military and his time at the sanitation department, this piece would have been much more credible, even if they didn’t get interviews from people regarding these topics. They could have done something as simple as show paperwork that they looked up, during the film.

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