‘Nation to Nation,’ at Museum of the American Indian – NYTimes.com

An important review of an even more important exhibition at the National Museum of the American Indian.


Edward Rothstein has been highly critical of history museums in general and this one in specific– he even links to his own review from 10 years ago of the opening of the museum, referring to the first exhibitions there as an “intellectual catastrophe.”  He has calmed down a bit for this review, but still has some critical things to say.

“In many respects, the exhibition, like the museum itself, is so focused on a broad account of injustice that it slights nuance, detail and qualification. But it also leaves hope that in time, the museum will make peace with the past so that past can be more fully explored.”



‘Nation to Nation,’ at Museum of the American Indian – NYTimes.com.




“Bonnie and Clyde” and History merchandising


Here’s the latest page from the “History” (i.e., History Channel) website:  an online marketplace for their programs.  All about the channel’s latest made-for-TV movie, a remake of the great 1967 movie Bonnie and Clyde.  There are thus several “filters” or contexts here:  “history” as memorabilia and souvenirs (clothing, coffee mugs, fake cash in a bank bag); “history” that’s not really history at all, but rather popular mythology; history as memory, but not the “real” memory of real characters, but rather the memory of a legendary Hollywood production; history focused on sex and violence and the glorification of criminals (as in the Prohibition exhibit);  and on and on.  The layers here are amazingly rich– all in this one web page.

‘All the Way’ Stars Bryan Cranston as Lyndon B. Johnson – NYTimes.com

‘All the Way’ Stars Bryan Cranston as Lyndon B. Johnson – NYTimes.com.

A new play about Lyndon Johnson– and a star vehicle for “Breaking Bad”‘s Bryan Cranston– opened last month in Cambridge MA.  From the review in the Times:


Concentrating on two parallel story lines — Johnson’s fight to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and his maneuvering to secure a full term as president — the play dangles more subplots than a Congressional bill has earmarks: the sordid attempts by J. Edgar Hoover (Michael McKean) to discredit the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (Brandon J. Dirden); the infamous killing of three young men seeking to register black voters in Mississippi; the battle to seat black delegates from Mississippi at the 1964 Democratic National Convention that followed; and even comparatively minor incidents like the arrest of Johnson’s longtime aide-de-camp, Walter Jenkins (Christopher Liam Moore), for having sex in a men’s room.

“All the Way” works just fine as a PowerPoint lesson in political history, but it ultimately accrues minimal dramatic momentum. (The polished wooden set by Christopher Acebo is designed to suggest a Congressional chamber.) For policy wonks with an avid interest in the backroom deal making that doesn’t turn up on C-Span, the play will offer plenty to chew on. And yet for all its admirable attention to the complex currents of the period it covers, the wide focus drains the play of the narrative drive that makes for engrossing theater. (A countdown clock, noting the number of days to the presidential election, cannot really engender much suspense, since most in the audience will know how that contest ended.)


Theater rooted in history always faces a fundamental problem. Hew too closely to the complicated crosscurrents of the story and you risk shapelessness; take too many liberties in streamlining the drama and you’re no longer in the realm of fact. With the exception of his comparatively unshaded portrait of Johnson, Mr. Schenkkan comes down firmly on the side of complexity, which may be the honorable path, but not necessarily the more rewarding one for the audience.

‘Conversation About Race’ in American movies

A sweeping, thoughtful article on race and racism as reflected in American movies from Birth of a Nation to Django Unchained and the new 12 Years a Slave:

Such stories, of course, do not stay told. The moral, economic and human realities of slavery — to keep the narrative there for a moment — have a way of getting buried and swept aside. For a long time this was because, at the movies as in the political and scholarly mainstream, slavery was something of a dead letter, an inconvenient detail in a narrative of national triumph, a sin that had been expiated in the blood of Northern and Southern whites.

D. W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” filmed in 1914.D. W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” may look now like a work of reactionary racism, but it is very much an artifact of the Progressive Era, embraced by President Woodrow Wilson and consistent with what were then understood to be liberal ideas about destiny and character of the American republic. In Griffith’s film (adapted from “The Clansman,” a best-selling novel by Thomas Dixon), the great crime of slavery had been its divisive and corrupting effect on whites. After Reconstruction, the nation was re-founded on the twin pillars of abolition and white supremacy.



A historic TV moment: the “That’s My Boy!” episode from the Dick Van Dyke Show

This is not really a story about history ON television, but it does highlight a historic moment on American television from 1963– the year of the March on Washington, a year in which many white Americans were finally waking up to the existence of racial issues and racial discrimination in their communities.  And it comes in a most unlikely place:  an episode of the popular “Dick Van Dyke Show,” set in the white suburban town of New Rochelle, New York.


It’s worth noting how radical this must have felt 50 years ago:  As the article says:

It’s worth revisiting as a then-and-now study in how television effects transformation.

Today TV seems to push various envelopes with a vengeance, often clumsily so, trying for shock value in a world that is increasingly hard to shock. You have to admire the bravery and the unwillingness to tolerate any barrier, whether it be the one against gay characters or characters with disabilities or unsettling subjects like rape and child abuse. But you also sometimes are left mourning the lack of subtlety and art.

Music Meant to Torture Included Julio Iglesias

Music Meant to Torture Included Julio Iglesias

As most of us know, music (including Megadeth among other heavy metal bands) have been used in Iraq and Afghanistan to torture enemy combatants for over 10 years by our country’s military. A recently revealed article details new torture techniques by Chilean Army general Augusto Pinochet in the 1970’s including Cat Stevens and Julio Iglesias.

Vikings on History Season 2

I know some of you might laugh at this, but I’ve recently become a HUGE fan of this show. It’s one of the highest rated shows on the channel and although the new episodes of Season 2 don’t arrive until next year, there are some pretty intense characterizations and historical accuracies that are worth following. Below is the link to the Season 2 trailer….