Wednesday, August 12, 2009

"Fixing" History...

The publicity machine is now gearing up for documentarian Ken Burns’s twelve-hour extravaganza, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, which will run for six straight nights on PBS starting September 27.

This being a Ken Burns series, the predominant theme of The National Parks will be “diversity.”

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As more Burns documentaries piled up, it became clear that what he cares most about is telling stories about African Americans. This was acidly pointed out in the famous parody, The Old Negro Space Program:

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Hence, Burns typically makes bloated documentaries about some subject expansive enough to give him an excuse to slip in the black stories that interests him. If the topic is right, such as Jazz, it works.

But … National Parks?

I’m sorry, but black people don’t like national parks. Less than one percent of visitors to Yosemite, for example, are black.

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Thus, the online 25-minute preview video of Burns’ series gives off a whiff of self-parody, as if Burns is trying to top The Old Negro Space Program. His teaser is dominated by a black park ranger named Shelton Johnson. Mr. Johnson seems like a fine fellow, with a worthy cause of getting African Americans more interested in nature; but only in Ken Burns’s mind would he be a prime figure in the story of the national parks.

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If the National Parks really are “America’s best idea,” the problem for Burns and his financial backers is that this best idea was invented by the worst sort of people. The founders of the conservation movement in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries were, overwhelmingly, white Protestant males. Moreover, many of the heroes of the preservation of the American landscape were active in the immigration restriction movement that triumphed in 1924. And, they often had other, even less respectable, enthusiasms, such as social Darwinism and eugenics.

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the Sierra Club stood for immigration control until David Gelbaum donated $100 million in the mid-1990s on the condition of Club leaders not opposing immigration.

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A major monetary supporter of Burns’ documentary is the Evelyn & Walter Haas Jr. Fund. (Haas was the great-grandnephew of Levi Strauss, who founded the San Francisco jeans company during the Gold Rush):

Under the leadership of Ira S. Hirschfeld, diversity is a very big deal to the Haas Jr. Fund. For example, the other frontpage story on the Fund’s website complains:

While many things have changed dramatically in the 40 years since Stonewall, one thing has not: the leadership of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) organizations has remained overwhelmingly white.

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Dayton and Burns, however, intend to fix all that by fixing history...

-source


You know what all those names (magnified in large and red) above have in common?

See here and here for more information.


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