October 11 is National Coming Out Day, and YouTube social awareness channel TakePart TV is kicking off the day with author and TV personality Dan Savage’s first original web series “American Savage.” Premiering exclusively on TakePart TV’s YouTube channel, “American Savage” follows Dan around the country as he explores issues of sexuality through candid and unsolicited conversations.
As part of the launch of “American Savage,” Dand and rugby player Ben Cohen will be hosting a “National Coming Out Day Hangout” on Google+ at 5:00pm ET. During the Hangout, people will share their own personal stories of “Coming Out” in addition to submitting questions to Ben and Dan.
“American Savage” is just one of the original shows hosted on the Participant Media-created YouTube channel TakePart TV. The original channel puts a socially aware focus on the issues and discussions that impact the planet. TakePart TV currently supports shows like “Capitalism,” in which Black Flag frontman Henry Rollins travels to every state’s capital to tackle serious political issues from a focused perspective. “Brain Food Daily” is a short-form web roundup that covers a pressing social, political or economic subject in less than 10 minutes.
I caught up with Participant Media President Evan Shapiro earlier this week to talk about the pitfalls of viral video, Kobe Bryant, and raising awareness with TakePart TV.
With the controversy surrounding Invisible Children after “Kony 2012,” do you worry that the issues covered on TakePart TV may fall under the same level of scrutiny if they go as viral as “Kony 2012?”
Evan Shaprio: The “Kony 2012” video was spectacular in its take-up. It’s also really well produced, but the underlying issue with that was you had an organization whose entire operational budget came from the creation of their own material, where, in this case, we are definitely not pursuing that model; we’re working with artists. As a film studio, Participant Media has always brought in outside artists who have a keen understanding of a certain issue. So in the case of an “Inconvenient Truth,” you have Al Gore and Davis Guggenheim. In the case of “Waiting for Superman,” you have Davis Guggenheim; and in the case of “Goodnight and Good Luck,” you have George Clooney; so you work with artists, and you allow them to kind of dictate where the issues are headed. In the case of TakePart TV, what we’ve done is we are working with incredibly talented and in some causes well known performers or artists and allowing them to kind of lead us towards an issue. What we’ve done is, we’ve really identified issues that are larger issues, but we’re not necessarily the single champions for them either. Today’s episode of “Brain Food Daily” was the drought. I’d really like to see someone who thinks of drought as a good idea, but what we are doing is bringing light to it. We’re not necessarily taking a position on one side or another; these are just issues that we feel are important to bring to light and then starting the conversation around them.
How do you separate presenting serious issues in an entertaining way versus presenting serious issues for entertainment?
In the case of “Brain Food Daily,” the concept there is to find some very good pieces of talent, build a construct that we thought was entertaining and then address issues as opposed to let’s make fun of the drought or let’s make fun of — you know, we’re doing an episode on women’s rights, and the episode is called “Why Does America Hate Vaginas?” There is an eye-catching headline, but the issue will be dealt with in a serious manner, but in a manner that’s befitting to the format. This is YouTube; this isn’t a 90-minute documentary. In the case of Dan Savage, where Dan and Henry (Rollins) do what they do, we don’t really infiltrate their creative process at all. We’re letting Dan be Dan, we’re letting Henry be Henry.
Do you think making important social issues go viral will actually do something? With Kobe Bryant’s series about the homeless in L.A., everyone knows that homelessness is an epidemic, but it still persists.
I don’t think we do. I think we thought about it a long time ago, and I think it’s really slipped off the radar. You know, I remember thinking about the homeless problem a great deal when I was a young man, because it was an issue a lot of people talked about. But I don’t remember the last time homelessness was really dealt with on a national scale. I don’t remember the last time that the drought was talked about on a nationwide platform. I don’t remember the last time that there was a serious conversation about what was going on in Pierre or in Helena or in a lot of these cities that Henry is visiting, so I think awareness is a big part of helping an issue become important. If it wasn’t for “Will and Grace” and “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” I don’t think the president would have endorsed gay marriage in the 2012 election, so I think awareness and the transparency of the issue is paramount.
Are there any specific issues that you want TakePart TV to really uncover and expose?
We have a keen interest in, and I think this will be a recurring theme that you see through everything that we do, whether it’s Kobe’s show or “Compton Cricket Club,” which is a documentary series that we are doing on a bunch of gang members that joined a Cricket Club in Los Angeles, or what Dan does or what Henry does, and a lot of what is discovered on “Brain Food Daily.” Social justice is a theme that is going to run through that — fairness, justice and equality. I think we are at a critical point in American history where it is not enough to believe in what you believe in, but you have to shit all over the beliefs of someone else in order to make a point, and we don’t like that. We think that is a bad course for the country to take. You’re allowed to have your opinion, and I’m allowed to have my opinion, but I’m not going to shit all over yours to make my point. And we think that kind of equality and social justice, fairness, is incredibly important. Whether it’s race issues or gender issues or sexual identity issues or class equality issues, that’s going to become a reoccurring thing for TakePart TV, and we are going to try and do it in a way that entertains both sides.