Wednesday, November 28, 2012

What's bothered me about Oliver Stone's Untold History of the United States

Forgive me for just slipping this in, but other than just posting it I don't know where to put it or when it would actually show up. It's also not a full post on it's own so I'm just going to throw this out there.

As Much as I really like the Untold History of the United States, at least whats run so far an what I've read in the book, something has bothered me. To the best of these historians eyes and ears I'm happy to say that Stone hasn't gotten anything wrong. Nothing is made up, all he's done is framed stuff that's out there slightly differently. There are no grand revelations.

That said there has been one thing that has bothered me about the series. Something has niggled at me since I saw the premiere at the New York Film Festival, but I could never put my finger on it. And finally after reading and pondering the article from the Sunday New York Times Magazine I realized whats wrong - The series is set up not only as a history lesson, but as a giant what if machine: What would have happened if the bomb wasn't dropped? What if the Allies had waded into the war with full force instead of dancing around the edges? And the biggest bugaboo What if Henry Wallace had become Vice President a second time instead of Truman? (Wallace is a god of this land of what might have been)

There is nothing wrong with the history it's just that a great deal of how he tells it infers if only certain things had been done differently the world would be a better place. There isn't anything wrong with that but if wishes were fishes we'd never go hungry and if Woody had gone to the police none of this would have happened, but it's not history. To run a second course through the series (or at least the three hours I've seen) of coulda woulda shoulda is waste. Its not history and endless supposition ultimately goes nowhere. Is this a history of what happened or what could have happened? I suspect it might have worked in a two hour film, but over ten hours?

I think what irks the historian in me is not that he supposes that if things had gone differently we'd be in a better place, it's that he's implying an long chain of if this had happened...and this... and this...we'd be okay but it's simply way too much, Stone is throwing out too many links in too long a chain. Tell me the damn history, don't give me what might have happened, because your idea of what might have happened may not have been true and and after a while it doesn't help me in the here and now unconnected to the might have been.

Its a great series, I will buy it on DVD, but I really wish Stone hadn't best guessed so damn much.

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