Tuesday, August 7, 2007
KEN BURNS ON AMERICA
I was reading through "Publisher's Weekly" magazine recently because they've listed all the books being published this Fall. In the political section, I was disappointed (but not surprised) to read that the American public would again be subjected to the usual slate of liberal/conservative diatribes - i.e. Why Godless Liberals Are Succubi From Hell or Sieg Heil! The Bush Administration's Real Post 9/11 Agenda (not actual titles). If all our pundits and leaders do is lob grenades at each other, we might as well vote Vince McMahon into the White House because that's the level of political theater for which we're settling. Come to think of it, I might spring for Pay-per-View if Dick Cheney and Al Gore fought a steel cage match!
Cheney: I guess me piledriving your head into the floor is an inconvenient truth, Mr. Vice President!
Gore: Hey Dick, is that an Iraqi Mobile Weapons Lab over there?...Made you look. SLAM!
But I digress.
In an interview on the television series "Christopher Closeup," award winning documentary filmmaker Ken Burns explained his approach to American history. In a world of sophomoric spin, I think this approach seems sane, rational and productive. Here's what Burns had to say:
"I think the things that we do well stand in much prouder and more distinct relief if we're also very honest and directly honest about the things we haven't done so well, the areas of improvement... So my films are all celebratory. They love the country. But they're not knee-jerk celebrations. They hold our feet to the fire. My biography of Thomas Jefferson was a laudatory portrait of him, but it did not hesitate to criticize him for this hypocrisy with regard to slavery and other things. And I think that's good, because we're all flawed. I've yet to meet a perfect person. And somehow, in our media culture today, where we reduce everything to good or bad, we forget that we're all sinners, that we all have work to do, and that as a country, we have work to do. And I've tried to say, "That's not a bad thing; that's a good thing, to have work to do." To be in pursuit of happiness means we're a country forever becoming. We have the possibility of getting better. Most other countries see themselves as an end in and of themselves: "That's it; we're done. We are who we are." We're not. We're always getting better. And I think that you can use history to safely discuss the ways in which we have flaws and we have strengths. And let's play to the strengths. Let's try to improve on the flaws and go forward together. And that's the final point I want to make, which is: We spend too (much time) in our country reminding (each other) how we're different. "You're not the same religion as me. You believe this. You're from a red state;you're from a blue state. You're black; you're white. You're male; you're female, young or old." And we forget to select the things that bring us together. Our motto, the Latin motto, is "E pluribus unum," "out of many, one." There's too many people out there in the job of pluribus. I'm in the job of unum. I want to remind us why we can agree to cohere, why we can all sit around a table and share an American conversation."