Blog: Surprise!

Bump+ is getting more intense with each passing week. Katie and Denise, at least, are facing appalling situations now. I suppose they were always facing these situations, but the last two episodes really brought it all home to me.

Poor Katie. Her husband, John, will be home in less than two weeks. Understandably, she wants to take care of it—now. “I just want it to go away,” she says. I was touched by Dr. Patterson’s genuine concern for Katie. I love that he was willing to defy the producer for her sake. That is exactly what a doctor should do.

Denise—with each new episode, my heart breaks a little more for her. I admit I was surprised when we met Buzz. With a name like that, I was expecting a fat, ugly, little man. He is certainly much more appealing than I anticipated, but only on the outside. Buzz scares me. His behavior toward Denise—I suppose it’s called manipulation. It’s terrifyingly effective; Denise seems completely under his spell. She’s trapped. And so are her kids.

I’m also becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the producer. Insisting that Katie have the ultrasound, despite her obvious distress, seems so heartless. And then the home visits! To show up unannounced like that is a horrible invasion of privacy—especially for Denise. The producer says it’s to give us more insight into the women. Really? It feels more like pure entertainment to me, if you can call it that…

The big news in the wide world of the Internet is the article Mary Elizabeth Williams wrote about Bump+ on Salon.com. Ms. Williams is wondering how much Yellow Line Studio is committed to true dialog. It’s a fair question – but her article skipped a few important facts. It is true that the Bump+ script was acquired from a former student at John Paul the Great Catholic University; but Yellow Line Studio is completely separate from the university. The company is privately funded by investors, not donors. Two of our three bosses here at Yellow Line are not even Catholic, and neither are many of the Bump+ cast and crew.

Because I work here, I know that Yellow Line Studio is a group of artists from many different backgrounds who want to have a positive influence on society through entertainment. But this article makes me think. Should artists be required to label their art with their religious and political affiliations? (I noticed Ms. Williams does not begin any of the articles she writes by disclosing that information about herself.) Does a writer, director, or producer (or even a doctor, pilot, or journalist) have a responsibility to explain exactly what they believe to everyone? Or should we simply judge their work on its own merits?

I have to say again that I’m touched and humbled by the comments—by the discussions—that we’re getting here at Bump+. It’s true, some of the comments have been edited and a few have been deleted. We do that only in order to keep things civil. I must say, however, that I have been very impressed by the love and understanding I’ve seen here—on both sides of the issue.

Next week, the producer pays a visit to Hailey and Jason, and follows Katie to Dr. Patterson’s house. What is Katie doing there? And how will Dr. Patterson feel about the camera crew invading his personal life?

17 Responses to “Blog: Surprise!”

  1. admin says:

    To Our Audience -

    Bump+ The Show has come to an end – but the conversation it has sparked is just beginning.

    As word about Bump+ spread to 64 countries across the globe, controversy and criticism from people on both sides of the debate followed; but instead of listening to them, you found the courage to listen to each other. Six weeks and more than 125,000 site visits later, your responses not only to our characters, but also to each other has proved to the world what we suspected all along – we were right to trust in the goodness and intelligence of our audience. We are intensely humbled by the stories you’ve shared and the respect you have shown to each other. Your partnership has challenged us to see this debate in new ways, and reminded the world that we don’t have to agree to listen and respond with compassion. Thank you for that gift.

    Comments on individual episodes have now been closed in order to preserve what was The Bump Experience as it unfolded. A new comment thread has been opened here to keep the conversation going. Please visit this link to share your story and join the conversation.

  2. Florentius says:

    Great post. Thank you so much for starting this conversation.

    You wrote: “Should artists be required to label their art with their religious and political affiliations?”

    The short answer to this question is “no”, of course. However, that is only true when one’s religious and political affiliations have no bearing on the subject of the art. For example, if the producers had done a webseries on football or dog-sledding or making a cheesecake, I would argue that their political and religious affiliations are completely irrelevant.

    However, abortion is *the* polarizing religious, moral, and political issue of our age. When considering a webseries dealing with abortion, knowledge of the point-of-view of the producers is not only of interest to the viewer, I would argue that it is *critical*, particularly if you hope to engage your viewer in honest dialogue.

    You also wrote: “Or should we simply judge their work on its own merits?”

    Now that is a different question all together. Bump+’s artistic merit isn’t really what’s at issue here. It is possible for a work to be artistically brilliant and still be fundamentally dishonest in how it approaches its audience. A good example of this is “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” by Mark Twain. The book is widely praised as a classic of American humor. However, for all its merits as a work of literature, the book is at heart a slanderous polemic against the Catholic Church. Twain wrote it for just such a purpose and specifically targeted Catholics as a key audience, hoping to turn them against the Church by stealth. “Please don’t let on that there are any slurs at the Church,” Twain told a sympathetic reviewer in the Boston Herald. “I want to catch the reader unawares, and modify his views if I can.”

    Is this what Bump+ is trying to do? Catch the viewer unawares to modify her views? I haven’t seen the whole series yet, so I am unable to judge.

    The problem with stealth polemics is that even if they are done for the best of reasons and with the greatest artistic flair, the means they use to get the audience’s attention is disingenuous. As a result, stealth polemics are ultimately ineffective and can even be damaging. They often end up alienating those already on your side of the argument and confirming the prejudices of those whom you hope to convert once they figure out that your objectivity is all pretense.

    My opinion is this: If you stand for the Truth, don’t hide it or attempt to cloak it with a pretense of neutrality. Christ’s Truth is a thing of tremendous beauty that calls to the souls of all men and women. Proclaim it boldly, using your God-given talents, and let the chips fall where they may.

    • I believe the Bump producers when they say they are serious about remaining neutral. The purpose of that neutrality is to have a safe forum for people on both sides of the issue to participate in. Pro choice people should be just as comfortable here as pro life people. I just do not see the neutrality of Bump as pretense. Bump is merely a platform. For this platform to work, it has to be safe. There is no way to have a safe platform that includes participants from both sides without being neutral.

      There are plenty of other places where people can join with those they agree with and be safe. Bump is not trying to replicate or replace the good those other organizations are doing on either side. Bump is unique.

      I have thought and prayed a lot about it and have been following this whole thing very closely. My first reaction was pretty skeptical, believe me! (I was relieved when I learned the characters are fictional.) I see a lot of value here. But not the same kind of value that either pro life or pro choice groups usually think of as “valuable.”

      • Florentius says:

        Dear Sister,

        Your words are much appreciated. I follow your posts on the site with great interest. Honestly, it is your testimony that gives me the most hope that the producers are not following a false path here.

        You say: “The purpose of that neutrality is to have a safe forum for people on both sides of the issue to participate in.”

        I fully understand that. However, the question recurs in my mind: To what end? What is the point of creating a platform where people can give their personal testimonies about their abortions? My worry is that by setting up such a platform, the producers will end up creating a monument to situational ethics which I don’t suspect is their aim.

        In my opinion, any end other than changing hearts and saving babies from abortion is a waste of time, money, and energy.

        Will Bump+ end up changing any hearts? Will it save any babies? I guess time will tell.

        • Dear Florentius,

          I don’t know if Bump will save babies in the long run. I do know from my work in healing that, for the many women who are sharing their stories for the first time, this is an incredibly important moment in their journey of healing. That gives me hope that good will come out of this. Bringing healing to the life of the mother is a step in the right direction.

          You made such a beautiful statement, “Christ’s Truth is a thing of tremendous beauty that calls to the souls of all men and women.” My hope is that Bump will somehow help some people out there to hear that call.

        • Carpe Diem says:

          Florentius,

          I know that your sentiments as stated so succinctly above are shared by, not only my husband but, I’m sure, many others who choose not to participate in this experiment. In fact, just last night, while sharing some of the comments with him, he expressed his belief that the time that I spend reading (and often re-reading) these comments is just an exercise in futility. He feels that when someone believes what they think is right, especially when it comes to something as important as abortion, there is no changing their mind, short of divine intervention, even through story-telling.

          I, however, am thrilled with the opportunity to discuss something more important than the weather or what’s for dinner for a change. I believe that Political Correctness has been the single most effective catalyst to cease real, meaningful conversation. We are all walking around on eggshells with one another. We have almost ceased, completely, to reason together. I prefer to find alternate points of view in order to TEST what I believe, rather than find like-minded individuals to PROOVE it.
          But I do understand that many can’t or won’t do the same.

          Sister Mary Agnes makes a good point as well, when she says that if but one woman is helped along her path to healing, than it has been worthwhile. Still I, too, am aware of the possibility that any discussion in situational ethics can be a real problem in our post-modern, relativistic society. I remain hopeful, however, that what has begun here will introduce people to the value of listening to learn and speaking to communicate. It’s high time we stop shouting at one another and begin to truly appreciate the God given gifts and ultimate human potential in EVERY living human being.

    • CCG says:

      I think it is often more powerful and effective to show people with differing values or beliefs that you value them more than your differences. By remaining neutral, Bump allows people from both sides of the issue to show that they are more concerned with understanding and opening up to whole, multi dimensional people than with one dimension of a single issue and with being right. As a Christian, I think there should be no issue more important than people; nothing that should get in the way coming along side someone and living with them, getting to really know them as a whole person and building a real relationship rather than getting to know where they stand on one issue and instantly jumping into an adversarial relationship. I hope that made sense.

      I do think it is unlikely that Bump would result in any lasting relationships, but it certainly can give us all practice at opening ourselves up to those with different views and meeting people where they are and trying to understand them and the things that make them who they are. It’s more of a “lifestyle evangelism” than “fire and brimstone sermons”. It’s being a caring person before being just a pro-life warrior or a pro-choice crusader.

      • Emily VonSydow says:

        Thank you, CCG, for sharing some of your thoughts with me. I love what you have to say about relationships. Although I struggle with this myself, I agree with you completely. It’s impossible to truly help someone if you haven’t taken the time to look at the world through their eyes.

    • lauri says:

      Dear Florentius,

      You raise some excellent points. As an artist and former journalist myself, I agree that the artist’s or reporter’s point of view on a subject is critical – so critical, in my opinion, that it’s impossible to hide. Even unintended or subconscious bias usually creeps in and announces itself in some way to the audience, and deliberate attempts to conceal it typically make it more obvious. (Without putting words in your mouth, I think that’s the point you’re making about why stealth polemics don’t work.) That’s why I believe a disclaimer announcing point of view is irrelevant. In fact, such disclaimers typically only serve the function of dumbing down the culture. They assure one segment of the potential audience they don’t need to think critically because they will certainly agree with the “message”, and they warn others away from content that might cause them to wrestle with truth – which, in my experience, is always capable of standing for itself.

      The biggest practical problem with such a disclaimer for a film or TV project (including a web series like Bump+) is that this art form is collaborative. Mark Twain wrote a book; dozens of people make a film, and several of them have power to make creative decisions that directly inform point of view. Adding to that complication, each audience member sees the finished product through a unique lens. That’s obvious on Bump+, because we consistently get comments on the same episodes, and even on the same scenes, that accuse us of being both “too pro-life” and “too pro-choice”.

      If the objective of the show was to present one point of view about abortion, and everyone involved in the making of it was united in that view, I suppose a disclaimer could be accurate – although I still would maintain it’s not a good idea, thanks to the dubious legacy of Senator McCarthy. But Bump+ was not produced or financed by the university. Many people with different faith traditions and viewpoints on this subject have contributed creatively. Whose viewpoint should we use as the “official” one? In our case, wouldn’t such a disclaimer be deceitful to the audience, and disrespectful to others on the team (like myself, since I’m not Catholic)?

      I agree 100% with what your comments about stealth polemics. They are dangerous, disingenuous, and cowardly. (Given Twain’s track record, I actually think he was being facetious in his exchange with that reporter in order to further underline his point. His agendas were seldom, if ever, secret because he was so fond of revealing them.) That’s why we have disclosed our purpose so fully on the Bump+ website and restated it so many times for the record. We want to start a meaningful, respectful conversation between people on both sides of the debate. Period. The absolute and direct answer to your question is, no – we are not trying to catch the viewer unawares to modify their views about abortion. We would be pleased and proud if we were able to modify views on both sides about the nature of the debate itself. To us, Bump+ is about how we communicate more than what we say.

      People from both sides of the debate have been clamoring for us to, essentially, “pick a side”. Many have speculated that we are going to do so in the end. Some have decided exactly what that it will be, and that they are “for us” or “against us” without ever watching a single episode. For the record, episodes 8 and 9 – which air next week – were re-edited again last night. The footage for the final episodes features five possible different endings, and additional footage is scheduled to shoot into March based on audience feedback. We really, REALLY don’t know how this will end yet. I cannot fully express how much respect I have for your statement that you are going to reserve judgment until seeing the entire series. Artists of all disciplines need more friends like you.

      What I can tell you is that there is no pretense of neutrality At Yellow Line. We are as neutral as it gets – not because we don’t have deeply held beliefs on the subject, but because our different beliefs span the spectrum. If we were tackling the abortion debate itself, I doubt we could be effectively neutral because all art has to have some cohesive point of view. For us, that one, shared point of view is this –

      The lives and decisions of the women who find themselves in this situation are not as simple as some people on both sides of the debate would prefer to believe. Those who are truly serious about helping them must find new ways to communicate about the issue that include listening and responding with compassion to each other.

      Of course, viewers and media outlets from both perspectives are and will continue to be skeptical about that. I’m comfortable with that skepticism (although I do have a problem with misinformation and deliberate exclusion of helpful context, especially as it applies to the allegedly “Catholic” nature of Bump+). In the end, our work will speak for itself.

      Having read every comment, I can guarantee that some people will be disappointed by the lack of easy, “correct” answers provided at the end of this series. There will be decisions – but no simple solutions. We hope to raise more questions than we answer and leave our viewers thinking about the reality of these fictional situations for a long time to come. And we sincerely hope our core audience – especially those who have been brave enough to share their stories – will feel respected by that creative choice.

      I have appreciated your continued thoughtful posts throughout the discussion. Your views are absolutely clear, and I don’t think you would mind me characterizing you as “strongly pro-life” – and yet, you have expressed yourself in a respectful way. I hope you will continue this journey with us.

      Sincerely,

      Lauri Evans Deason
      (Just one) Bump+ Producer

      • Florentius says:

        Dear Lauri,

        Thank you kindly for the response. You are correct. I am unabashedly pro-life.

        You should know that if I am critical of the series here on the website, it is mainly because I have found myself defending it on several occasions in other places. I am trying to assure myself that what I am defending is actually worth defending.

        You wrote: “The biggest practical problem with such a disclaimer for a film or TV project (including a web series like Bump+) is that this art form is collaborative.”

        I never said I thought the series should have a disclaimer. I do think, however, that when the producers are asked by the media if they are personally pro-life, or affiliated with a pro-life Catholic institution, they should give unambiguous answers.

        You wrote: “The absolute and direct answer to your question is, no – we are not trying to catch the viewer unawares to modify their views about abortion.”

        I must say, that gives me pause. In retrospect, I don’t know which answer, yes or no, I would find more saddening. As I said above, if you’re not actually trying to change hearts and save babies, then why use up the time and resources to produce a series like this? As Carpe Diem wrote above with reference to her husband, it sounds like an exercise in futility.

        You wrote: “Those who are truly serious about helping them must find new ways to communicate about the issue that include listening and responding with compassion to each other.”

        Again, I ask–what is the ultimate goal of that listening and responding with compassion? If the answer isn’t, “to save babies”, then what’s the point?

        It seems to me there is very little real compassion in saying: “That really is a tough situation. I now understand why you have decided to have an abortion. Go do what you think is right.”

        Conversely, I believe that the most compassionate thing anyone can do in situations like what the characters in Bump+ are facing is to tell them the unvarnished truth: “The child inside you is a helpless human being with a God-given right to life. I beg you not to do what you are contemplating. Abortion can do you great spiritual and emotional harm that can linger for many years to come. And it is a terrible sin in the eyes of God. There are other solutions. None of them are easy, but if you let me, I will help you.”

        I will continue to watch the series despite my continuing doubts as to its aims and ultimate effects on the debate.

        Please know that you are all in my prayers.

        • Dear Florentius,

          Your comment here provides a lot of food for thought. I have 2 thoughts: First, my hope is that showing compassion to a person who has had an abortion does not imply agreement with the abortion. I wrestle with that when I am trying to write many of my comments. The challenge is to affirm the person and value them for who they are, and successfully plant a seed that will some day help them come to a new understanding. Many of these women can’t hear the unvarnished truth. I have encountered this “inability to hear” often in my work with abused kids. I think Jesus encountered that “inability to hear” as well, and that is why He used parables.

          Second thought: I am not sure how I feel about Bump’s claim not to be trying to change hearts either. I am guessing that what they are trying to do by that claim is let the stories and interactions on the message boards speak for themselves. I know I keep coming back because I cherish the hope that something I write may touch someone’s heart…I guess that’s my hope in coming back and not necessarily Bump’s hope. Ultimately though, I do not think it matters too much. Only God can change a heart. He uses different things we might not expect. When I was a teenager He used the Rock Band “REO Speedwagon” (I am dating myself!) to change my heart and draw me closer to Him. I am sure that was NOT REO Speedwagon’s goal!

          Your doubts resonate with me, but I have found the best solution for me has been to leave it in God’s hands. Thanks so much staying on these boards.

        • Florentius says:

          (This is in response to Sister Mary Agnes’s post below.)

          Sister, you are right and I accept your advice. After all is said and done, it’s in God’s hands. I do think that God works more readily to change hearts through art that is beautiful and unambiguously in tune with His will, though. For example, I’m betting that God has changed more hearts through Schubert’s Ave Maria than via REO Speedwagon. :-)

          It’s funny that you mention REO Speedwagon. I’m a child of the 1980s myself and the music of the time had a major impact on me as well–admittedly mostly negative.

    • Emily VonSydow says:

      Thank you for the comment, Florentius! I’m always touched and impressed by the comments I receive. I’m glad you enjoyed this post.

      Sister Mary Agnes responded well to your questions. (It often surprises me just how well she understands our goals with Bump+. Her charity and wisdom show me that she must be a wonderful woman.) I do, however, want to add a couple of points of my own.

      I can’t say that I agree with you on the importance of artists stating their beliefs, regardless of the type of stories they’re telling. Do you expect directors and screenwriters to post a disclaimer about their affiliations before you watch a film they created? I don’t deny that, in general, our personal beliefs do color the art we produce. However, the team behind Bump+ is dedicated to fairness. We believe in story, and we try to tell the truth, regardless of our beliefs.

      While I understand why you compared Bump+ to A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, there is a key difference I would like to highlight. The producers of Bump+ are remaining neutral. Our goal is to facilitate conversation and dialog. Mark Twain, on the other hand, wanted to deceive people into agreeing with him. We do not want to deceive anyone. We want to tell stories and listen to them.

  3. I’m glad to see you’re addressing the issues of disclosure. But your comment leaves out that many of the Bump+ team are still in the employ of the Catholic University, a university that features the quote “Bump is a great service to the pro-life movement” on its own main page.

    Do artists have “to explain exactly what they believe to everyone?”

    Of course not. But viewers have certainly have a right to question the intent.

    I hope you’ll continue to strive for open discussion and transparency as the conversation continues.

    • Actually, viewers have been questioning the intent since the series started, and the producers have been answering. They want people to feel free and welcome to share their stories. They want to promote a conversation that is not merely civil, but compassionate. They want to challenge people who comment on these threads to really listen to the other side, and find ways to respond that will promote dialogue. I’ve been trying to keep up with reading the message boards, and it seems to be working.

      The fact that many of the Bump team members are part of John Paul the Great Catholic University does not bother me. The Catholic Church has been promoting dialogue for centuries. I think it’s great that some young Catholic students are learning the art of listening to others with respect and love.

    • Brad S says:

      Mary Elizabeth,

      While it’s obviously true that the viewers have a right to question intent, I have found that debate gets cut off when earnest Public Relations-generated responses are given to those who question intent. Speculating about motive GENERATES debate, and is generally healthy. And frankly, there’s no reason to directly respond to those who think that Bump+ can be dismissed merely on the basis of where the production team draws SOME of his/her pay.

      The important thing is: Discussion of Bump+ is STILL being generated. Those who wish to find some way to disregard or dismissed will continue to find it difficult not to be drawn in to the discussion.

    • Emily VonSydow says:

      Thank you for taking the time to read my post, Mary Elizabeth. For a young Associate Producer like me, it’s exciting to have a recognized personality commenting on my blog.

      As always, Sister Mary Agnes said it well: our desire is to promote dialog. We’re committed to listening to the stories being told here and then reflecting those stories in ours. We have done our best to facilitate open discussion since the beginning. I’ve been very impressed with the wonderful comments we’ve received from both sides of the issue.