TV Series: Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States

The title to this 10-part Showtime documentary series by the oft-controversial film director is not exactly accurate. There are hardly any surprises here to a well-informed progressive with a knowledge of American history, culture and society since the start of World War II. One might better call this (based on the initial episodes I’ve seen) an alternative history of the US or even more accurately American history as it might have been and most anyone on the Left wishes it had been. What Stone explores are the choices made and roads not taken by our leaders and government as well as leaders who might have been. Even if he did make the films JFK and Wall Street, Stone doesn’t traffic in conspiracies or the notion that power and money cabals have been controlling our destiny. Rather, he looks at how America might have better lived up to its ideals and how by the paths taken we didn’t do so: from if we hadn’t dropped atomic bombs on Japan to what may have transpired if John F. Kennedy hadn’t been assassinated. Such speculation can be a slippery slope, but to Stone’s credit he moderates his viewpoint to simply offer a fuller view of the options behind how our national history. And I would say rather compellingly, as he says he hopes to do at the outset, makes the case that young Americans studying our past today would be better served by greater nuance and depth of knowledge about the contextual elements surrounding the critical junctures. And as such offers a valuable and needed ameliorative to right wing efforts to teach inaccurate and biased national history.

Documentary Film: Chely Wright: Wish Me Away

This film follows the first country music star to come out as gay over three years leading up to and immediately after that moment, and what a profoundly moving and sometimes uncomfortable but ultimately touching and triumphant story it is. Wright is a superb singer who forged a significant star career in country music, yet lived a double life, knowing she was gay while portraying herself in public as heterosexual. Her fears and struggles are understandable beyond just whether family and friends would accept her sexuality and fitting in to society: Even in a day when gays can now serve openly in the military and nine states allow same-sex marriage, gayness remains taboo in the country music scene. So after Wright finally comes out on the Today show, she was all but erased from the genre in which she works. This blot on what is obviously a moment of liberation and joy for Wright brings a sad and shameful tinge to her story. Yet it makes her courage even more admirable in this emotive tale of personal growth and discovery.

Book: Babylon’s Burning by Clinton Heylin

This book that traces the punk rock movement that emerged in the mid-to-late 1970s to the next great grassroots musical shift that followed in its wake, the grunge sound of the early 1990s, is largely for devotees at its 623-page length. But there’s something to be said for a tome that takes the style so seriously as to all but exhaustively detail how it came about — and clarify the dispute over whether it first emerged in London or New York City — and then follow it through in such detail. The musical milieu that birthed and nurtured punk is explored through extensive historical detail (albeit with the occasional mistaken fact), but what one wishes for is more of the political and social context to flesh out the story.

From The Progressive Populist, December 15, 2012



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