Thursday, February 18, 2010

History repeats the old conceits: the glib replies, the same defeats.

I am a historian.
In the same way that a dedicated spectator of any professional sport might be considered a "sportsman."
Although I do not share the manic preoccupation that some scholars exhibit, I appreciate an exchange of inquiries, anecdotes, and germane particulars vis à vis the past. I enjoy studying history. I savor reading biographies and viewing documentary films. My high school had me read Tacitus in the original Latin, and Herodotus in the original Herodotus.
Unusually, I had little interest in the early The History Channel, mostly because I was at sea nowhere near a cable-ready television during the Nineties. When I was on land, I avoided the "Hitler Channel" because of its obsessive Second World War and infomercial emphasis.
I do appear in a number of glossy, fortuitously fast-paced entertainments about old boats that were financed by A&E, the parent company of History. Essentially whored out to film crews by incompetent boobs, the crew weren't compensated for their art, my mates were not credited for those appearances, and I didn't even know that my image appeared at the top of every hour on The History Channel until a friend took a picture of his teevee:Because history will show that those helmsmen were always so clean-shaven. I cannot blame the network for not offering me consideration (or at least an opportunity to pitch my own sexy TallShip™ show set on a barque stolen by diverse offbeat prisoners who venture through uncharted waters hunted by an obsessed half-breed commander... um, no, that's Farscape. Sorry, Rockne. I thought it was a great idea).
Of course, while no one is paying me for public appearances or contacting me for advice on matters Cliophilos, I get e-mails like this:

Dear PJ,
The right wing has set its sights on the reputation of one of our nation's greatest political families: The Kennedys. And The History Channel is providing them a soapbox from which to spew their bile. Joel Surnow, a hard-right activist and former Fox News producer who supported Rick Santorum and is close friends with Rush Limbaugh, is the executive producer of an upcoming mini-series on the Kennedys that is political character assassination of the most disgusting kind. I've read the script. It's ridiculous, sexually exploitative, revolting stuff - everything you'd expect from a conservative re-writing of history. In my previous life, I produced and directed over 55 movies, mini-series and feature films. I thought I had pretty much seen anything and everything. But this garbage, coming so soon after Senator Ted Kennedy's death, makes the worst commercial schlock look Oscar-worthy. Honor the legacy of the Kennedy family by
telling the History Channel that right-wing lies are not "history" and by refusing to watch their programming. Then send our petition on to your friends and family.
Robert Greenwald
and the Brave New Films team
That was a tad hysterical, but at least it was more direct than the accompanying video, which includes perplexed actors performing some of the spec script's awful dialogue.
I live in southeastern Massachusetts. Don't misunderstand: the stories of household domestic shrines featuring JFK and the Pope are not apocryphal. Yes, we've elected Kennedies for more than half a century, and grown complacent in the knowledge that Washington would always have a Democrat from Massachusetts, likely with a name that starts with a K.
I have friends who spent their youths within shouting distance of the Kennedy compound. But you would think that "shooting distance" would have been more appropriate. For a few hibernophobic swampers, the Kennedy Dynasty only provides justification for amending each "Help Wanted" sign with "No Irish Need Apply."
The rest of the world heard about "JFK the warhero who stood up to Kruschev and saved the world" but we got "philandering Jack with Marilyn"; when they were reading Robert Kennedy's Profiles in Courage, we were told about smartypants Bobby mouthing off at everybody; and, we all know that Teddy cannot be invoked without some wag chuckling about Chappaquiddick. It's only worse after deaths and around anniversaries, when there's more bellyaching about media coverage than actual observance.
So, a teevee show that exhibits an anti-Kennedy bias in fictionalized chunks of improbable scenarios doesn't disconcert me, even if it is from the same network that offers "Pawn Stars."
But remember that The History Channel broadcasts programs -- meticulously-researched documentaries about social issues -- produced and directed by Rory Kennedy, RFK's daughter. And if you're complaining that the home of "MonsterQuest" has a rabid right-wing demeanor, don't forget that they broadcast Howard Zinn's The People Speak, which is as "Left" as teevee gets without the usual self-parody.
Ironically, they have DVDs of same for sale on their website. Which should only remind you that -- objectionable product or not -- they're in a business. Show business. And in case you've forgotten what a "business" does, Bob: it makes money.

1 comment:

karie said...

They also sell "Nostradamus" and "The Armageddon DVD Collection." Oh, and "Jeeves & Wooster," "Mr. Bean" and "Benny Hill." Now THAT'S History!