Quakers in the media

I’ve been wanting to post about this for a very long time. It’s a topic that seems to come up again and again, and one that is faced by modern Quakers who don’t often see themselves in the media. As media is both reflector and reflection of what is reality, without imagery depicting modern Quakerism, the general public (who doesn’t blog) still thinks of us as the Quaker Oats man or Shakers.

I’ve been searching for up-to-date portrayals of Quakers in the entertainment world, specifically movies and tv shows, using IMDB, and other basic avenues. What I’ve discovered is that there aren’t many. Of course, the basics are:

  • High Noon (movie, 1952)
  • The Friendly Persuasion (movie, 1956)
  • Six Feet Under (tv, 2005)
  • Angel and the Badman (movie, 1947)
  • A Quaker Mother (movie, 1911)
  • Down to the Sea in Ships (movie, 1922)

There are various Quaker characters that appear in many films but these are hardly worth mentioning, as they just added “spice” to the storyline but no substance or contribution to the plot.

Some articles on this topic have complained about entertainment as competition to religion. Some notable Quakers in entertainment (ahem, NPR) include Scott Simon who is unafraid to acknowledge his Quaker background, at least among Quakers. Another comment has been posted by a Quaker TV critic about the lack of TV being an asset, but what about Quakers being included in programming? Can you name any I’ve missed out on?

10 thoughts on “Quakers in the media

  1. Considering our numbers are so small as to make us little more than a rounding-off error in religious America it’s amazing we get depicted at all. I think we’re doing pretty well with niche media. I’m amazed at how many Friends I’m meeting who first learned about us (or learned we didn’t look like the Quaker Oats man) after taking the Beliefnet “What Religion Are You” Quiz. There seem to be a lot of Quaker-curious seekers out there.

    The general American public might not blog but a Pew Internet study two years ago found that 64% of Americans have used the internet for “spiritual or religious purposes.” The meager studies of American Friends have suggested that most meeting newcomers are twenty- and thirty-somethings and surely most of them will hit Google or Wikipedia looking for more information. They’ll find the blogs, meeting websites and directories.

    But your point is about movies, TV shows and mass media. I wonder if interests perks up when Friends do make an appearance as a “spicy” character or sub-plot? I’ve stumbled across interesting discussions on boards devoted to Six Feet Under, Joan of Arcadia and Law & Order when we’ve been shown there, though I haven’t met anyone who said they came to us after watching any of these shows!

    Martin @ Quaker Ranter

  2. Also check out these TV movies/series from the 1990’s:

    Lynda Carter played a Quaker matriarch in the thriller “A Prayer in the Dark” (1997). Guess what it’s about? (Quaker confronted with gun slinging madmen!)

    Tyne Daley had a re-occurring role as a traveling Quaker minister in the TV series “Christy” (1994), (more information on the series via Wikipedia here) although if I remember correctly, her being a Quaker was not highlighted all that much (and yes, I did watch it for both Daly & the Quaker angle at the time).

  3. I saw a Law and Order episode involving a fictional Quaker Meeting in Manhattan. As I recall it, the principal Quaker involved was a rape victim or attempted rape victim who refused to name her attacker. The Meeting (which looked like a failry realistic liberal Meeting) was depicted as passively resisting when the cops tried to search their records to find the attacker.
    This program was pretty upsetting to some Friends here in NY who don’t think that portecting rapists is part of our testimony. To be fair, the moral dilemma (if one considers it a dilemma) was resolved somewhat at the end of the show when it was revealed that the rapist was not only reformed but, because of an injury, incapable of repeating his crime.

  4. You left out one of my favorites, the recurring character of Quaker Joey Lucas on West Wing. Her character is particulary in the spotlight in the episode where Jed Bartlett is trying to decide whether or not to commute a death sentence. (Guess what Joey’s position is?)

    I think that this example is pretty typical of what I’ve seen of portrayals of Quakers in the media–the characters usually behave in ways that are pretty consistent with Quaker testimonies, and the depictions are usually quite positive. Unfortunately, I think that, to some degree, that probably contributes to the tendency to treat Quakers as symbols…

    I remember recently mentioning in passing, quite casually to a coworker, something I was going to do with my meeting over the weekend, and how it elicited a really fervent exclamation:”Quakers! I admire Quakers so much!” That threw me for a bit–it felt so odd.

    Obviously it’s good to have our values perceived beyond our doors… but I’m not sure “admiration” is such a good thing, implying, as I think it does, that the admirer is safely outside the boundary of the thing being admired, and is not necessarily likely to try to embody those values himself.

  5. …and now I notice that Nixon (movie, 1995) includes his past being raised as a Quaker affecting his future. I haven’t fully watched the film yet, but it’s noted on the sleeve of the DVD that directory Oliver Stone makes this connection. I’m curious.

  6. It’s not in the media, but this morning, when I told the guy setting up his blanket next to mine that we were going to have a Quaker meeting for worship in a little bit, he blinked and said, “My mother was a Quaker.” Later he elaborated and said she was an Iowa farmgirl, and that she was raised as a Quaker but he wasn’t. Just a funny story I wanted to share.

  7. Pingback: Angel and the Badman (and other Quaker movies) « 27 Wishes

  8. i FINALLY saw the quaker episodes of “six feet under” (or 2 of them, if more are coming). it’s funny because i’ve been watching since the beginning on library dvds, and really really loved season 3 and 4 especially. but the season finale of 4 felt like the “jumping the shark” moment for me with that show, and it still hasn’t quite redeemed itself. but the quaker stuff is pretty right on in a lot of ways. and the singing got me choked up. but it’s funny that it’s happening right now because my frustration with the show is that in those 2 seasons, i felt like it was somewhat about redemption and healing and possibility and growing, and then it’s lost hope again in a lot of ways… and then the quakers are in with that.

  9. Pingback: Beyond print: Quakers and the media (revisited) « 27 Wishes

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