Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Morning Thanks--Ken Burns
Ken Burns claims these three--T.R., Franklin, and Eleanor--were extraordinary individuals. He says that they were children of immense privilege who somehow took it upon themselves to care immensely for those who weren't. He says they came from different political parties, but each of them believed in the promise of the American spirit and tried to nurture justice in their judgments and ideology. He says they walked across life's stage as leading men and women, made so not only by their unique individual characters, but also by the push and pull of the times in which they were tried.
And he says none of them were perfect. All of them had outrageous faults and stumbled horrendously through their own finest years. They were as human as any of us; yet found something within themselves that made them towers in their own time.
I'm not sure what it is about Ken Burns, but he has the ability and obviously feels it a calling to tell our most important national stories--Baseball, Jazz, The Corps of Discovery, The National Parks, the list goes on--even The Civil War. Some pooh-pooh his technique--I'm no expert. There is, after all, what tons of people call "the Ken Burns effect," a slow pan over some sepia tone photograph.
I'm sure he has his spins--we all do. Some must wonder why these three Roosevelts are today's heroes and not, say, Ronald Reagan.
Once upon a time a new cable channel promised to tell the great human stories--the History Channel. Today, a couple of decades later, its schedule of feature programming includes such epic tales as Ice Men, Swamp People, and Pawnography. It became clear to network execs, in a good old American way, that good money couldn't be made on actual history. People didn't watch. People didn't care. Hence, how about we throw up some reality like Ice Road Truckers.
Somehow Ken Burns, despite his Ringo hair-cut, succeeds. Maybe it's because his films come out on PBS or because he was, for a good deal of his career, largely penniless. Today, he takes a salary of $125,000, a chunk he makes, mainly from speaking gigs, while he largely invests whatever his documentaries make into the next production. Maybe his success is built on his own personal economy.
Whatever the reason, this is a better world for what he does, and we're a better nation. I've not seen either segment of The Roosevelts: An Intimate History so far; I've been busy both nights. But I'll see them eventually, I'm sure.
What he's learned and what he's telling us is that some of the finest stories in life itself are those that are true and lie somewhere in the mist behind us, stories sometimes in danger of being lost. Those stories not important because they're history, but because they are our stories.
President Harry Truman once said, "The only thing new in the world is the history you do not know."
Even though I haven't seen five minutes of the show, this morning I'm thankful for Ken Burns and what he does in our nation and culture. He has become himself an American institution, a good one.