S U C K

"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 8 February 1999. Updated every WEEKDAY.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Fantastic Voyage

 

[]

"We talk about everything from

McCarthyism to civil rights,"

says Jordana Brewster, playing a

lovely proto-Lori Berenson

activist in NBC's The '60s.

The same could be said of the

show. True to its generic title,

The '60s offers a Cliffs Notes

history of the Decade That Never

Ends, putting its characters

through a Gumpian regime of '60s

scenes or, more accurately,

scenes from other movies about

the '60s. Great Events roll by

after every commercial break,

with stock-footage power and

subtitles ("Malcolm X:

assassinated February 21, 1965"

or "In 1963 there were 3,000 US

advisers in Vietnam. By the end

of the year that number had

grown to 11,000.") that play

less like a movie than a

complementary teacher's guide.

Tonight, the Troubled Vietnam

Veteran will eat the brown acid

at Woodstock and meet Wavy Gravy

at the bummer tent while his

buttoned-down Gene McCarthyish

brother will emerge as that

groovy boy in the cable-knit

sweater who sticks a flower in a

guardsman's gunbarrel. The

Budding Black Panther whose

Nonviolent Minister father was

killed at Watts will witness The

Man's offing of Fred Hampton.

The Fanatical Weatherman will

blow himself up. The pigs will

bust longhairs in Lincoln Park.

Man, you should have seen them

kicking Edgar Allan Poe.

 

[]

But while none dare call it

entertainment, The '60s

certainly serves executive

producer Lynda Obst's aim of

enlightening the "Nintendo

generation (post-Gen X,

pre-Spice Girls)." And who would

bother to argue with her

motives? Aren't we hearing every

day about the need for

"historical perspective" or

"historical context" (usually

with X accusing Y of having no

historical context, and extra

credit going to culture proctors

who can work the phrase "MTV

Generation is unable to place Z

in historical context" into

every paragraph)? A few recent

specimens:

 

"[Bill Russell] is slightly

bothered by the lack of

historical perspective around

today's game." - Fort Lauderdale

Sun Sentinal

 

" ... the book deprives Western

readers, particularly young and

ahistorical ones, of essential

background." - Boston Globe

(review of Christopher Patten's

Hong Kong: East and West)

 

"Those people seem to thrive on

instant gratification, but their

shallow appreciation of reality

tells me that they lack

historical perspective."

- Ethnic News Watch

 

"It is sad when the president of

a major university chooses to

write an ahistorical,

incoherent, hysterical screed

rather than a reasoned analysis

of the moral crisis in America

- if indeed, there is one." - John

E. Murray Jr. in "The Soul of

America" forum

 

"The lack of historical

perspective is kind of alarming

at the moment. And the lack of

historical knowledge, too." -

American Century author and Tina

Brown-trophy husband Harry Evans

 

Reasonable people can be

forgiven for thinking that

historical context is an

altogether good thing. But as

former blind man Val Kilmer can

attest, a little perspective is

a dangerous thing. Especially

when it's based on irrelevant

information (Descartes'

mind/body split preceded the

Industrial Revolution!), false

information (Arabs and Jews have

been fighting for centuries!),

or invented information

(Angelenos are being wiped out

by mountain lion attacks!).

 

[]

Even more senseless, perhaps, is

the common contention that

television is to blame for our

historical disconnect. Just

within the past few months, TV

has been offering an accelerated

schedule of maxiseries and

network events dedicated

entirely to the mostly forgotten

past. CNN has offered a pompous

but generally well-considered

review of the Cold War. PBS'

The 50 Years' War served up more

fresh information and interviews

with major players than the

greater number of books written

on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

And what would any of us know of

black history and the true

meaning of Christmas without

Roots: The Gift? Strangely, the

need for a comprehensive

historical context seems to grow

as the authoritative voice of TV

fragments into 500 channels.

 

But all the tomb robberies of

cable news and the Discovery

Channel pale in comparison with

The History Channel's American

Illiad. Since its 1995 launch -

designed mainly as a way for A&E

to give free rein to its Hitler

archives - THC has grown into a

middlebrow snob object that most

cable providers say they want to

offer and most viewers say they

want to watch. To be fair, The

History Channel has discovered a

past beyond Hitler. There are,

for example, Mussolini, Franco,

and Tojo. And if it's historical

context we're looking for, we

can learn much from THC's

untiring screen. "By knowing

about the Roman Empire, we can

better understand ourselves,"

promises a promo for Great

Empires. THC now provides more

than 55 million subscribers with

some of the most stirring Red

Letter Dates since Thomas

Carlyle called Napolean "Thou

remarkable artillery major!" or

Francis Parkman wrote about that

war starring Madeleine Stowe and

Daniel Day-Lewis.

 

[]

In fact, it's in the treatment

of history-as-movie that THC

really earns its stripes. This

can be strictly figurative: A

docudrama about Vietnam features

firsthand accounts of

coordinating gunship fire and

avoiding pungee sticks while

walking point on a

search-and-destroy mission

against Charlie, all of which

could be recited by anybody

who's had a television within

the last 35 years. But real

movies are even better than

metaphorical ones. THC's Movies

in Time series showcases B

movies, from Raid on Rommel to

an Exxon Valdez event pic to the

Apartheid government-funded (and

wildly popular) titsploitation

classic Shaka Zulu, all hosted

by the phlegmatic Sander Vanocur

and a panel of experts who pick

out the films' grosser

inventions and fit them into a

Broader Historical Context.

 

Of course, that broad context is

really a government by

consensus, in which The History

Channel has near-total faith. On

its Web site, THC offers

question-of-the-day discussion

boards that require fans to

answer questions like "Does the

United States need a missile

defense?" or "Did James Earl Ray

shoot Martin Luther King? If not,

who did?" The boards are

surprisingly active. "Fenwicke"

is convinced by Ray's death-bed

statements, while Scud-

attack survivor "JS" urges a

serious ABM capability. The fact

that nobody who actually knows

anything about the topics would

be bothering to respond to a

message board should not concern

us. The fans know that history,

from Herodotus to Meet George

Washington, is the proverbial

tale we tell ourselves, a matter

of creation myth, of inventing

the culture by inventing its

past.

 

Right now, A&E is busily ramping

up History Channel

International, with titles like

World Conflict, Crime International, and

History Traveler, offering

people in other lands the chance

to put history into contexts all

their own. Of course, in keeping

with the times, these will be

US-friendly contexts, in which

Modern Marvels lift all peoples

out of the muck, every era

offers its own Tales of the Gun,

and the Americans almost always

win. And it has the added

advantage of being true. That is

all ye know on earth, and all ye

need to know.




courtesy of Bartel D'Arcy

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 





[Purchase the Suck Book here]