". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Television & History -- TNT's *Falling Skies*

When speaking of the 1939 film, Jesse James, Richard Slotkin stated that movies, particularly genre films like westerns, are always commenting on two eras of history: the era in which the film set, and the era in which the film is made.

The sf series Falling Skies debutes this month on TNT, with much Steven Spielberg guidance, and, boding badly, Mark Verheiden who is the fellow muchly  responsible for the mess that was the neo-Battlestar Galactica.

Why 'boding badly?'  Because this concept of Space Aliens Want Earth's High School Kids! is supposed to be inspired by the US War of Independence. 
"He said he suddenly saw the show “as an allegory for the American Revolution: noncombatants against a vastly overwhelming military force,” he said. Originally the series was called “Concord,” after the 1775 battle. (The title changed when the references became less overt in later drafts.)
Mr. Wyle plays Tom Mason, a history professor in Boston whose wife dies during the invasion. (Mr. Rodat said his own wife was a touch annoyed to have been killed off so early in their family’s parallel existence.) Because of his knowledge of military history Mason is appointed second in command of the 2nd Massachusetts, a resistance regiment protecting a group of civilians that includes two of his sons. The third boy has been abducted, and aliens have seared his spine to a “harness,” a many-tentacled metallic slug that appears to lull kids into a supplicant army. ....
Does anyone consider that perhaps a military historian has a different kind of tool belt than an experienced military strategist and leader of men? women? teenagers? in real battles?  And even then, regarding our War for Independence and General George Washington.  He had military experience.  He lost almost all of the battles that he commanded, before fighting the British and after he began fighting the British.  General Grant, on the other hand, got his military experience in the Mexican War, and he not only won his battles for the Union in the Civil War, but devised strategy and tactics.  Later in his life he wrote the most specific and useful history of those battles in his personal Memoirs.  So, it is possible.

Returning to Prof. Slotkin's statement that what we see on screen in genres, particularly if they are supposedly invoking an historical past -- we know by their own words that the historical past the producers of Falling Skies are invoking is that of the Independence era.  But what about the historical moment in which the program is being made?
"But the show’s central relationship is between the professor and Mr. Patton’s gruff, commanding Captain Weaver. “I’m the humanist, and he’s the warlord,” Mr. Wyle said. “I was interested in this idea of hitting the reset button on society, having to start from Square 1. The first season is about negotiating that line between a military dictatorship or a democracy, which is relevant today.”
Why is our only choice a warlord or democracy?  It wasn't in the Independence era -- it could have gone  lot of different directions, and, in fact, we didn't have democracy with a small d until the first Jacksonian election, and even then women and Indians and the enslaved had not place in the democratic process.

Is this true, that this is our only choice, and if we make the wrong choice the invaders of the U.S. will win?  But haven't the invaders already won, since they wiped out all but 20% of the population?  What is the tipping point for loss when an army can not longer fight? Isn't it when something like 15% of their fellows are hors de combat that soldiers lose confidence and the battle's lost?  Who are the alien invaders standing in for? This is sooooooooooooo sf -- why do the aliens only want Our Children? Evidently, by the trailers I've seen, the only surviving children in the surviving 20%  are Our White Children.

The embedded approval of fascism / warlordism in television invasion series like Red Dawn and V has always been there.  This sounds kind of the same, though I do admit I've seen nothing but trailers, so that has to be factored in.

Then, there is this:
“On another level,” he added, “it’s pure escapist entertainment. It’s just fun to watch guys shooting machine guns at aliens."

This series was hot at last summer's Comic Con, so it's been muchly looked forward to by many.

But on another level, some of us are gloomy gusses who persist on raining on Other People's parades and harshing their squee because in this climate "it's just fun to watch guys shooting machine guns at aliens" while providing an either / or binary of dictatorship or democracy doesn't seem like a productive idea, 'entertainment' or not. We're the sort who believe that words and images blasted into our brains matter, otherwise there wouldn't be ad agencies, and elections wouldn't generate so much revenue for them and the media.

We still don't know who the aliens are standing in for. Judging by the rhetoric that's violent, threatening and relentlessly pointed at people like us since the Nixonian era we know it is very likely you and me.

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