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574 Topics: Classic TV & Movies – Mission: Impossible; Famous Americans – Alfred Stieglitz; satisfactory versus satisfying; damaged goods and majorly unfair

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 574.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 574. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Go to ESLPod.com and become a member of this podcast. When you do, you can download the eight- to ten-page Learning Guides we provide for all of our recent episodes.

On this Café, we’re going to talk about a classic television show that was later made into a series of movies, Mission: Impossible. We’ll also talk about a famous photographer from the twentieth century, Alfred Stieglitz. And as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

In 1966, the television show Mission: Impossible introduced audiences, people watching television, to a group of trained agents – people working for a government – who did things that seemed impossible. The group of agents worked in an organization that was considered very secret. Nobody knew about it. The word “mission” (mission) is used in a couple of different ways. In the title of the TV series Mission: Impossible it meant an important assignment, an important job that you had to do.

In the army, in the military, the word “mission” is used to describe a certain set of actions, usually limited in time, that a group of soldiers carry out or execute – do. The word “mission” is also used sometimes in a religious context to refer to a group of people who go out and try to either convert or to give religious instruction to other people. The word “mission” is used in business to talk about the larger purposes of the business – what the business is trying to accomplish, what they’re trying to do.

I mentioned that in the TV series Mission: Impossible there were a set or group of trained agents. “Trained” (trained) means you have been given or taught a certain set of skills or given a certain amount of knowledge that will allow you to do something. An “agent” is a person who in this case works for a government, often in a capacity, or doing the job, of law enforcement or something related to the military.

We have agents who work for the Central Intelligence Agency. We have agents who work for the FBI, the Federal Bureau of Investigation. We have Secret Service agents who work for the Homeland Security Department that help protect the president of the United States. All of these people are called “agents.”

In the TV show Mission: Impossible, just as in the later movies (some of which you may have seen), the show always began with the agents getting a set of instructions, a list of things that they had to do. The instructions usually were on a recording. Back in the television show, it was a tape recording.

And the instructions always began with the words “Your mission, should you choose to accept it.” “To accept” means to agree to do something, to say yes. The instructions were, of course, secret messages to the leader of this team of highly trained agents. I don’t think anyone ever said no. I don’t think any of the agents ever said, “Meh, I don’t really want to do that.” They always say yes.

The agents belonged to the secret organization called the “Impossible Missions Force,” or IMF. A “force” (force) is an organization with some sort of military purpose or something that is part of the police. We sometimes in fact refer to the police as the “police force” – the group of police officers in a certain area. The leader of the IMF – not to be confused with the “International Monetary Fund,” which is also known by the initials IMF – was a man by the name of Jim Phelps. On the show, he was played by a wonderful actor named Peter Graves.

The other members of the team included Barney Collier, played by another good actor, Greg Morris. The character Bernie Collier was very good at using high-tech devices and machines that would help the mission. The term “high-tech” (tech) refers to machines that use very advanced technology. This was a theme of the show, that they would use this new advanced technology, sort of similar to what the James Bond series was doing in England, and of course later in the movies that were made. Technology was an important part of carrying out the mission.

Of course, there was a good-looking woman who was part of the IMF. The character in the original series was called Cinnamon Carter. I love that name. “Cinnamon” is a kind of spice that is used in flavoring food. I guess we could call her one of the first “Spice Girls.” She was good looking and smart, and she used both of those things to help her help the mission be successful. Finally, there was also Rollin Hand, played by Martin Landau, who was a master of disguise. “Disguise” (disguise) refers to something you use to change the way you look so no one knows who you are.

In the later movies that starred Tom Cruise, some of these characters were combined into one so that Tom Cruise plays a character who does all sorts of things that the individual characters did in the original series. In the TV show, the roles or characters each had an important part of the mission. It wasn’t so much about one star as it became when the movies were made later on.

In each mission of Mission: Impossible, the entire team, the entire group, would travel somewhere in the world in order to carry out or to execute their mission. Sometimes they would fight the bad guys. Sometimes they would get people who were hostages released. A “hostage” (hostage) is a person who was taken by another person or group of people and held basically as a prisoner against his wishes.

Remember that the IMF was a secret organization, and so the government could never say that it was in fact behind the missions that were carried out by this group. So, the instructions for the mission that you heard at the beginning of the show would end in the same way. The instructions would say, “As always, should you, or any of your IM Force be caught or killed, the secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions. Good luck, Jim.” Jim was, of course, the character Jim Phelps, the leader of the team.

The recording would end, “This tape” – the recording tape – “will self-destruct in five seconds.” So, the last part of the instructions always told the leader, Jim, that if something bad happens to his team, the government – the secretary, the leader of the secret organization – would “disavow any knowledge” of their actions. “To disavow” (disavow) means that you deny that you know anything about a certain person, or that you say, “I’m not going to support this person.”

Sometimes in politics people will disavow another person who is unpopular or who says something they don’t want to be connected to. They don’t want anyone to think that they agree with this person, so they disavow the person. Well, the secretary, the leader of the secret organization, says he will disavow any knowledge of the actions of the team because of course the government doesn’t want to admit that it is giving money and supporting this secret organization.

The tape always “self-destructs” after the instructions are heard. “To self-destruct” means that it destroys itself. So, what you would see on the original TV show is that the tape would start to burn. Now, we don’t know exactly how that happened, but we all believe that there was some sort of secret technology that would allow the tape to self-destruct.

That verb “to self-destruct” is sometimes used also to describe someone who does something that hurts himself, who takes actions that are harmful to the person himself. If someone says he is “self-destructive” or his behavior, his actions, are “self-destructive,” the person means that what he is doing is going to be harmful to himself, not to anyone else.

Mission: Impossible was on television for many years, from 1966 until 1973, and was very popular with audiences. I used to watch the show growing up. My older brothers and sisters liked watching the show. I was a little young to understand it, but the show was shown even after 1973 in what we call “reruns” (reruns). A “rerun” is when a television show is no longer being produced. There are no new shows but the television channels, nowadays the cable channels, continue to show the program.

One of the things that made people want to watch the show was the special effects. “Special effects” refers to things in a TV show or movie that use technology to make you think something amazing is happening, often by using special computers nowadays. As often happens in Los Angeles, here in Hollywood the movie studios get interested in something that has already been proven successful, and since everyone liked the Mission: Impossible television shows, several years later they decided to start making Mission: Impossible movies, which I referred to earlier, starring Tom Cruise.

You’ve probably seen some of the movies, but you may not have been aware that there were also these TV shows. I’m not sure if you can find these on the internet nowadays, but if you can, you might enjoy them. Of course, the technology will be very different – will not be as sophisticated or as advanced as what you see in the movies – but the plots, the stories of the shows, were usually pretty good, were usually entertaining.

Now let’s turn to our second topic – an American photographer. Alfred Stieglitz was born on the first of January in 1864 in Hoboken, New Jersey. Hoboken is a small town that is across the Hudson River from New York City. New Jersey, of course, is next to the state of New York, on the east coast of the United States. Hoboken later became famous for being the town where one of the great American singers of the twentieth century was born, Frank Sinatra.

Alfred Stieglitz’s family had a lot of money. His father had emigrated from Germany and ran a very successful clothing business. In 1871, the family moved across the river to New York City, and that’s where Stieglitz spent most of his life. Stieglitz later went back to his father’s native Germany, to Berlin, to study at the university. He went to the school in Berlin that specialized in engineering, which is basically the branch of science that deals with designing and building things.

Stieglitz soon realized that he wasn’t really very interested in engineering. I also went to the university thinking I was going to study engineering. Well actually, my father wanted me to study engineering at the University of Minnesota, but I didn’t really want to. It didn’t interest me very much and so I never did. So Stieglitz and I have something in common, you see. However, Stieglitz did not become a podcaster. He instead got interested in photography.

In 1887, he won first and second prize at a photography competition that was held by an English magazine called Amateur Photographer. An “amateur” is someone who doesn’t get paid to do something. Stieglitz returned to the United States in 1890 and began trying to get people in the art world to think of photography – which was of course relatively new in the nineteenth century, in the late nineteenth century – to think of photography as an art, as a serious form of artistic expression like painting or sculpture.

He became editor of a small photography magazine by the name of Camera Notes. An “editor” (editor) of a magazine or a newspaper is the person in charge of that publication, the person who is responsible for being the director or manager of the organization. Stieglitz became known, however, as a very difficult person to work with. He didn’t get along with other people very well. He was a difficult person to have to work with or work under – that is, have as your boss. So eventually he had to resign, or leave his position, as editor.

In 1902, he formed or created his own photography group or club called “Photo Secession.” “Secession” (secession) is not related as a term to photography at all. We usually use this term in politics or in talking about governments. “Secession” is when you formally leave an organization, or more commonly, a country. In the U.S., the states in the South tried to “secede” from the union of states. They tried to separate themselves. They were not, however, successful because they lost the war that began because they tried to separate themselves.

Stieglitz’s club Photo Secession, however, referred more to the fact that he was separating himself from the other photographers and trying to do something completely new. There was a similar movement that was taking place among artists in Germany and Austria during this same period in the late nineteenth, early twentieth centuries. Many of the photographers in Stieglitz’s club used a certain style of photography called “pictorialism” (pictorialism).

Pictorialism is related to the word “picture,” and as you might guess, members of this movement tried to make their photographs look more like paintings, look more like pictures that were made in a more traditional way. Sometimes they did this by making the photograph less clear than it would otherwise be, sort of like some of the paintings during this same period, if you think about the “impressionists” and the “post-impressionists” – how these are not perfect representations of reality, but rather interpretations of reality.

The Photo Secession club published a magazine every three months called Camera Work. The magazine was published between 1903 and 1917 and became very influential – people were influenced by the ideas in the photographs that appeared in the magazine. Stieglitz also opened his own art gallery, or photograph gallery, in 1905, and that gave him space, that gave him room to show photographs and paintings and sculptures. The gallery came to be called “291” because it was located at 291 5th Avenue in New York City.

Over the years, Stieglitz showed more than just photographs in his art gallery. He showed famous pieces of art from artists such as Toulouse-Lautrec, Matisse, Cezanne, and Picasso. He didn’t just show other people’s work, however; he continued taking photographs himself. These photographs were also shown in his art gallery. Strangely, Stieglitz changed his mind later in his career. He decided to go back to showing reality, representing reality as it really was in his photographs – that is to say, he basically abandoned or left pictorialism and the whole Photo Secessionist movement.

Eventually his magazine stopped publishing and his gallery was closed. Before that happened, however, he met a young painter. In fact, even before he met the young painter, he saw her works and decided that he would exhibit or show her paintings in his gallery, even without asking her permission. When the young painter found out about it, she went to his gallery and was not very happy with him.

As soon as Stieglitz met this young painter, however, he fell in love with her. She did not fall in love with him, at least right away. He was 23 years older than she was. She was in, that is to say, her mid-twenties, and he was in his forties. But eventually the two of them did fall in love, and in 1924 they got married. That young painter’s name was Georgia O’Keeffe. If you know something about twentieth-century American art, you will probably have heard of Georgia O’Keefe. She became one of the best-known painters of the twentieth century in the U.S.

Stieglitz continued photographing – not just his new beautiful young wife, Georgia O’Keeffe, but also the city where he lived in, New York. He’s remembered today for photographs of both of those subjects. He died in 1946 in New York at the age of 82. O’Keefe herself remained in New York for a few more years, but by this time she had fallen in love with the state of New Mexico and returned there to live permanently until her death forty years later in 1986.

Now let’s answer some of the questions you have sent to us.

Our first question comes from Haruna (Haruna) in Japan. The question has to do with the difference between “satisfactory” and “satisfying.” Both of these words come from the word “satisfy” (satisfy). “To satisfy” means to make someone happy or to please someone.

“To satisfy” can also mean to do what is required of you. To “satisfy” the requirements for going to college, you may need to study math, science, and languages. In order to meet or “satisfy” the requirements, you have to do certain things. That’s the verb “to satisfy.” “Satisfactory” is an adjective that means it’s good enough for a certain purpose. It “satisfies,” that is, a certain requirement. Often “satisfactory” is used, however, to mean that it’s good enough. It’s okay, but perhaps it isn’t great.

If someone says your work is “satisfactory,” he’s saying, “Well, it’s good. What you do is good. It’s good enough. You’re not going to get fired. You’re not going to lose your job, but perhaps it could be better.” That is sometimes the implication when someone says something is “satisfactory.” We sometimes use the expression “satisfactory progress” to talk about a student in school who’s getting good grades – who’s getting good enough grades, I should say – but perhaps isn’t the best student in the world.

“Satisfying” (satisfying) is another adjective that means that something gives you all that you want or need. This adjective is typically used to describe some sort of pleasure that you get from either eating or participating in some activity. If you say, for example, that “the movie I saw last night was very satisfying in an emotional way” – that is, it gave me what I wanted to get from the movie. You could describe a meal – a dinner, say, at a restaurant – as being very “satisfying.” It was good. It gave me the taste that I wanted to get, perhaps.

Aleksek (Aleksek) in Russia wants to know the difference between two expressions: “damaged goods” and “majorly unfair.” Let’s start with “damaged (damaged) goods (goods).” Something that has been “damaged” has been either broken or harmed in some way so that it is no longer as good as it was or no longer functioning the way it should. “Goods” refers in general to things that you buy. We might also use the term “products.” “Goods” are typically physical objects that are bought.

The opposite of “goods” are “services.” “Services” are what people do. So if, for example, you go and buy some shoes, you are buying some “goods.” If you go and pay money to a lawyer to help you with a certain legal problem, you are buying “services,” or paying for services. The lawyer does something for you – usually not as useful as a pair of boots which you could buy at the store.

“Damaged goods” refers either to an object that is broken, but more commonly in conversational English it has a different meaning. It refers to a man or a woman who has perhaps been emotionally harmed in a previous relationship and therefore not a good potential romantic partner. That’s a more informal meaning, but perhaps more common than the literal meaning of “damaged goods.”

It is, in a way, sort of a cruel expression – to say that a woman or a man is “damaged goods” because he or she has gone through a difficult, say, separation or divorce or break up from a relationship – but it is a term that people use.

The second expression is “majorly (majorly) unfair (unfair).” Something that is “fair” is something that is just, something that is right. Something that is “unfair” is something that is unjust – something that seems wrong or seems as though it is discriminatory perhaps against one person, or harms a person or group of people in a way that doesn’t seem right, that isn’t justified by his or her actions or their actions.

“Majorly” is an informal way of saying “very” or “very much so.” “Majorly” is a word that would probably be used more by a teenager, let’s say, than an adult in a normal conversation. “Majorly unfair,” then, would be something that would be very unfair or something that would be very unjust. Your teenage daughter might say that it’s “majorly unfair” that she has to come back home by ten o’clock in the evening every night.

Finally, Amir (Amir) in Iran wants to know the meaning of the expression “to kill someone with kindness” (kindness). “To be kind” is to be nice, is to be good to another person. “Kindness,” then, is a noun that expresses the state of or the situation in which someone is kind.

“To kill someone with kindness” means to be nice to someone in such a way that you are in fact damaging or hurting them, especially when someone has not been kind to you. You are going to be nice to them almost as a way of punishing them or almost as a way of showing them that you’re a better person because you’re going to be very kind to them.

Now, it can also just mean being very kind to someone because perhaps you want something from that person. So you’re going to be extra kind to them. You’re going to be kind in every possible way, perhaps to get some sort of advantage from that relationship. You might also “kill someone with kindness” just to change the person, to get the person to like you more. All of those are possibilities.

If you have a question or comment, there’s a possibility we’ll answer it here on the English Café. Just email us at eslpod@eslpod.com.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thanks for listening. Come back and listen to us again right here on the English Café.

ESL Podcast’s English Café is written and produced by Dr. Jeff McQuillan and Dr. Lucy Tse. This podcast is copyright 2016 by the Center for Educational Development.

mission – an important assignment carried out for political, religious, or business purposes, typically involving travel

* Part of the training to be a leader in some churches involves going on a mission to another country and trying to teach people in that country about their church.

trained – having a set of knowledge, skills, or abilities through study and practice

* Olympic athletes must train for years before they are good enough to compete against top athletes from around the world.

agent – a person who collects information for a government or other organization, typically in secret

* The agent was sent to Peru to find out that country’s plan for military action.

force – an organization of military personnel or police

* When the riots began, nearly the entire police force was sent to the streets in protective gear to try to keep people safe.

high-tech – machines that use advanced technology or science

* Sometimes using pen and paper are more effective for communicating than using high-tech methods that involve computers and smartphones.

disguise – something one uses to change the way one looks in order to hide one’s true identity

* The famous actress tried to disguise herself by wearing a hat and a pair of sunglasses, but people on the street recognized her anyway.

to disavow – to deny or refuse to admit responsibility or support for someone or something

* When the plan failed, our boss disavowed our actions and said that that he never give us his permission.

to self-destruct – for something to destroy itself, usually by exploding or disintegrating (breaking into very small parts) automatically

* The device self-destructs after it’s been used.

special effects – tricks or illusions created for movies or television using cameras or computers

* The special effects in the new movie were incredible and really made audiences believe that the events were occuring on another planet.

editor – a person who is in charge of and determines the final content of a text, especially in a magazine or newspaper

* The editor read through the article, made a couple changes, and then gave permission for it to be publish on the newspaper’s website.

secession – the act of formally leaving a group or organization

* When some members of the political party didn’t agree, they decided on secession and started their own new political party.

pictorialism – a style of photography that involves making the photography less clear and sharp so that it looks more like a painting

* In pictorialism, a portrait may have blurry or unclear lines, blending the edges of a person’s face into the background of the photograph.

satisfactory – good enough for a particular purpose; acceptable

* The items made at this factory are of poor quality and not satisfactory for our purposes.

satisfying – making one feel satisfied; giving one what one wants or needs

* The movie had a satisfying ending, with the bad guys going to jail and the good guys being rewarded.

damaged goods – products that are broken, cracked, scratched, or otherwise imperfect; a person who is considered to be no longer desirable or valuable because of something that has happened

* This store sells damaged goods from major department stores at reduced prices.

majorly unfair – extremely unjust or dishonest; a situation in which the advantage is given to one person or one side, rather than both equally

* It’s majorly unfair that some students have to take a test today and other students get the day off.

to kill (someone) with kindness – to treat someone in a way that is too kind or helpful even to the point of causing problems or harm

* None of us like serving bad-tempered customers, but the best strategy is to kill them with kindness.

What Insiders Know

MacGyver is an “action-adventure” (with exciting storylines with a lot of movement and events) television series that was produced for seven “seasons” (a television show’s episodes produced together, once per year) between 1985 and 1992. The show is about a “secret agent” (someone who works for the government to gather “intelligence” (secrets) under a hidden identity) named Angus MacGyver. He has a “solid” (very strong) “background” (experience and education) in the sciences and can think of impressive solutions out of ordinary objects and his “pocket knife” (a small metal object that knives and other tools can be folded into so that they can be carried easily).

The title of the show has become a “household word” (a word known and commonly spoken by many people) and “MacGyver” has become an informal verb meaning to rapidly create a solution by building something from common items. For example, one might say: “This window keeps sliding closed. Let’s MacGyver it so that it stays open.” The word “MacGyverism” can be used to refer to “jury-rig” (temporary fixes or repairs that are created from whatever is available) solutions: “Our car broke down, but fortunately our MacGyverism lasted long enough to drive it to the mechanic.”

MacGyver was fairly popular in the United States and was shown in more than 50 other countries. Some people say it was one of the most popular American TV series in countries where English is spoken. The show has resulted in two “made-for-television” (produced only for TV, not shown in movie theaters) movies. And when a 2007 “poll” (questionnaire; questions posed to many people for their opinion) asked people which “fictional” (imaginary; not real) character they would want to be with in an emergency, MacGyver was the most common response.