Ph.D. Octopus

Politics, media, music, capitalism, scholarship, and ephemera since 2010

Ken Burns: Love Him or Hate Him?

with one comment

by Weiner

ABC_KEN_BURNS_TS_070921_ms.jpg

Ken Burns, every amateur history buff’s favourite film-maker, and every historian’s least favourite film-maker, is at it again, this time with a “Tenth Inning” to Baseball. I have to admit I’m excited. As a young boy, I watched Baseball not once, not twice, but four times. That’s four times eighteen and a half hours. That’s a lot of PBS documentary. We even pledged and I got myself a Ken Burns’ Baseball t-shirt. In college, I saw Burns speak about history and film-making, and they played an incredibly moving clip from Baseball, when Hank Aaron hit homerun number 715 to break Babe Ruth’s record, and I cried.

Of course, I had also really liked The Civil War. I thought the movie was absolutely beautiful, the incredible panning over those superb images, with amazing songs like “Ashokan Farewell.” The whole thing seemed so grand, so epic.

Now that I’m in grad school though, studying American history, I’ve learned that I’m supposed to hate Ken Burns. He didn’t pay enough attention to slavery, or African Americans, or women. Made the Union and the Confederacy seem like moral equals. And lots of other stuff that made historians like Eric Foner angry. There’s a whole book about this.

I know some critics didn’t like Unforgivable Blackness, Burns’ film about boxer Jack Johnson, arguing that it downplayed Johnson’s criminal domestic abuse. I recognize the criticism, but still found the film compelling.

Which is why I was surprised–pleasantly surprised–in reading history and Civil War buff Ta-Nehisi Coates’ post about “The Tenth Inning,” to learn that he admits to having “long loved” The Civil War, even if Burns’ “iteration of history is too pretty.” And Coates is watching it again, for the “seven-hundredth time,” and he still loves it.

What do you all think? I know I really want to see “The Tenth Inning.”

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Written by David Weinfeld

September 27, 2010 at 21:29

One Response

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  1. Ken Burns gives historians an opportunity to engage with pop culture, and pop culture an opportunity to engage with history. I like the forced confrontation.

    God forbid if being a scholar meant having to always be critical of every cultural pleasure… I won’t go into how sunk my feminist credentials would be were that the case.

    luce

    September 28, 2010 at 18:41


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