Tom RostonIndependent journalist Tom Roston checks in and writes about the world of documentaries in his column, Doc Soup.

You can follow Tom on Twitter @DocSoupMan.

Doc Soup: What’s Your Take on ‘How’s Your News?’

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Is it OK to laugh at people with disabilities? A new documentary series, How’s Your News?, that premiered this Sunday on MTV asks that uncomfortable question. It features a bus of people with disabilities who roam the country as reporters, asking folks confounding questions and eliciting laughter in many, and perhaps, horror in some.

How's Your News?When I say that the show is “new,” that’s kind of a misnomer. I saw this in doc feature form — with the same title on the same subject — the night before September 11 (yeah, that 9/11) at the Toronto Film Festival. I was drawn to it because I went to grade school with Arthur Bradford, who is the man behind the film’s genesis. Arthur had been working at a summer camp for people with disabilities when he introduced a video camera to them. And then things took off.

But I guess it’s taken almost 10 years to get to MTV. I wonder why now is the time. Are we in an age when people with disabilities can be shown on TV, celebrating their differences without exploiting them? This show could be revolutionary in how it creates greater familiarity with people usually kept outside of the frame. But when MTV sells it as “From The Creators of South Park,” and I consider the comedy of Johnny Knoxville and co., I have to wonder if the wider audience will get it. The South Park guys have been behind the show for awhile, so I assume their hearts are in the right place. But when you look at the show in the context in which it’s being marketed, will the audience be laughing with people with disabilities rather than at them? Or maybe it doesn’t matter. I am not sure.

I wanted to post this because I just noticed that the show was starting this week. I’ll try to catch up with Arthur to see if he can answer some of my questions and shed some light on how the film turned into a series after close to a decade. But, for now, check out the show on MTV or at and let me know what you think.

Tom Roston
Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He comes to us as a ten-year veteran of Premiere magazine, where he was a Senior Editor, and where he wrote the column, Notes from the Dream Factory. Tom was born and raised in New York City. He graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom has also written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, GQ, New York, Elle and other publications. Tom's favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi - Godfrey Reggio 2. Hoop Dreams - Steve James 3. The Up series - Michael Apted 4. Crumb - Terry Zwigoff 5. Capturing the Friedmans - Andrew Jarecki
  • Andrew Lih

    FOREIGNID: 18201
    You raise very good points, and we’ve had this discussion at my blog where both Arthur Bradford and Ken Vest, father of How’s Your News correspondent Jeremy, have chimed in with substantive responses. I think you will find some intriguing food for thought at the blog post and comments.
    I also have problems with the “from the creators of South Park” tagline, which is usually code for: “Get ready for some real outlandish and offensive stuff!” That said, I’m willing to keep an open mind but the show already starts with a disadvantage given the company it keeps on the MTV Network.

  • jesse

    FOREIGNID: 18202
    I am so unclear on what you or Andrew Lih expect everyone to get? Are peoples’ expectations immutable because it says from the creators of South Park. It seems to take but a few seconds to see how genuine the show is and with such a long track record under Bradford’s helm what exactly are you people worried about? TV being a imprecise mirror on reality?

  • Doc Soup Man

    FOREIGNID: 18203
    Context is everything. That’s true in the editing of a film as well as in its marketing. If Grey Gardens debuted on the Carol Burnett show, it would have impacted the way people viewed the film. Same goes with How’s Your News. I am not saying it’s necessarily bad to be sold along with the South Park jokers, but it’s certainly worth noting.

  • Simone Bosco

    I was very touched by Monika and found Helen to be rather narcissistic with a complete lack of empathy for Monika. Monika has had it worse than Helen. Helen at least had good parents. Monika didn’t. She had a mother who killed herself, and a mean mother, and a bad father whom she idolized when she was little and loved. Who doesn’t want to love their parents. I know Helen’s parents were killed, but Monika never even had good parents. Monika had a lot of empathy for Helen, but I didn’t see it from Helen nor her daughter towards Monika-they could have had more empathy. I love Monika and I hope she finds the closure that she so deserves. What a lovely woman! Helen I found incredibly self-centered. All about her. Monika has pain too lady-get some empathy for others!!!! Me, me ,me. I couldn’t stand listening to Helen, and I actually had to mute to movie where she was going on and on about herself with no regard for Monika and her incredible pain.I pray that Monika finds some peach and closure. She is the one who needs it way more than Helen. Helen has a big mouth and finds plenty of support gabbing away.I did not like Helen. Not only did I find Helen narcissistic, I found her to be mean. She was mean to Monika when Monika was in so much pain. Really! Monika, you are not your father, nor are you your mother. And they are not monstors. They were people too. Really the annoying Helen was way out of line. I wish Monika’s husband had been there to support her. She needed support from Helen and her mute daughter. Monika’s own daugher has drug problems and Monika has to raise her grandchild as a grandparent. That is incredibly hard. My heart goes out to you Monika!