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A (partial) defense of History Channel

 

The announcement that History Channel will air a 10-hour scripted series based on the Bible, just a few months after very publicly rejecting a miniseries about the Kennedy family on the grounds of historically inaccuracy, is raising some eyebrows. James Poniewozik of Time.com, astute as ever, sums up the case well.

 

As a committed agnostic, I’m sympathetic to the argument that the Bible shouldn’t be regarded as a work of history in the sense that it accurately relates real world events which occurred in the past. Few but the most devout fundamentalists would argue otherwise.

But it’s absolutely a work of history in another sense. It’s a cultural artifact of rare significance spanning continents and millennia, on par with the Odyssey or Arthurian legend. It’s an ineffable, protean amalgam of historical truths, parables, cultural prisms, and good old-fashioned storytelling flair.

 

This makes it an altogether different case than that of The Kennedys, which sought to dramatize factual events – recorded, verified, remembered by plenty of people who lived through them first hand. Taking creative liberties with that sort of dictionary-definition history clearly runs afoul of History Channel’s nominal brand identity. I don’t think dramatizing the Bible falls under the same standard, and I similarly don’t think anyone would bat an eye if History announced it was producing a scripted tale of, for instance, Arthur’s exploits in Camelot.

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Categories: Commentary, History, Pop Culture, TV

Buffett vs. Scott – The Tale of the Tape

The season finale of The Office, already stuffed to the gills with prayers for view-errr, I mean, guest stars, recently added investment mogul Warren Buffett to the roster of famous people who will jockey for the resume jewel of managing northeastern Pennsylvania’s most famous branch office. The Sage of Omaha is as hallowed a name as there is in American business, but he’s known primarily as a savvy investor rather than a leader of men and women. So how would he stack up against the man he’d be replacing, veteran manager Michael Scott? Let’s go to the tale of the tape:

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Categories: Business, History, TV

Half-baked thoughts: Are we repeating the mistakes of the Jazz Age?

Because people (and especially journalists) innately seek points of reference from the past in order to understand the present, the administration of Barack Obama has naturally drawn plenty of comparisons to former presidents and eras. Are we living through a revival of FDR’s New Deal, or the pessimism of the Carter years? Is the president an heir to Bill Clinton’s frequently base-infuriating triangulation, or Ronald Reagan’s knack for using an ideological facade to govern from a position of compromise? Or is he, y’know, Mecha-StalinHitler?

One comparison I haven’t heard often is with the era of Woodrow Wilson and his Republican successors (Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover). I’ve been reading William E. Leuchtenburg’s “The Perils of Prosperity, 1914-32” recently, and keep finding myself startled at how relevant the descriptions of the 1910s and ’20s feel to today. The parallels I’m seeing are not so much between Wilson and Obama (though a few of those, some more superficial than others, certainly exist) as they are between the political and social climates of the respective eras.

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Belated reflection on a scene from Cairo

February 17, 2011 Leave a comment

 

I’ve always been a sucker for a good team-up. I have this innate aversion to the human tendency to divide and categorize ourselves, like among like; the flip side of that is a soft spot for seeing those divisions transcended. Whether in real life (e.g., the “Christmas Truce” in the early months of World War I) or in fiction (like the countless iterations of the X-Men joining forces with Magneto’s brotherhood), a story of rivals making common cause, however fleetingly, always strikes a chord with me. The power of these moments lies the paradox: noble unity made possible because ignoble divisions exist in the first place.

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Categories: Commentary, History