Like countless other Americans, I watched the so-called “epic” History Channel docudrama, “America, The Story of Us.” I suspect that, like me, other viewers of this propaganda were troubled by what they saw: not the story of us lower- or middle- or even upper-class Americans but the story of them — self-deluded upper-upper-upper-class Hollywood celebs and politically connected, bailed-out bankers.
That’s right: actors and actresses and other professional pretenders, with no historical expertise to speak of, repeatedly interrupted the grand narrative of our nation to give us their take on past figures and events. P-Diddy celebrated the ingenuity of American workers; Michael Douglas muttered something about “land of opportunity” and “those type of people who want to take that risk” and “take that gamble” and “believe in a better life”; Sheryl Crow explained the price paid by pioneers (hunger, disease) during westward expansion. And so on. You get the point, right? This was not the most intelligent telling of times gone by.
To make matters worse, a dozen two-minute commercials — or spin spots — featured Bank of America, a company that, according to The Economist, is viewed unfavorably by 53% of Americans, but which was represented here as a patriotic institution and part of our national heritage. These commercials were like documentaries within documentaries: short pieces that told the story of this, our national bank, at once mighty and benevolent, omnipotent and kind.
Okay, so the commercials were more mythological than documentary. In all fairness, though, Bank of America has made efforts, aside from these commercials, to appease American taxpayers and consumers. It paid back the $45 billion it received from the Troubled Asset Relief Program. The company and the individuals who work for it are not evil. But a system that privileges government favoritism at the expense of the average hardworking taxpayer — ah, that’s another issue altogether.
Perhaps Meg James, in her review of the series, put it best when she said, “United States history is filled with such heroes as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Rosa Parks and Bank of America. Well, maybe not, but the colossal bank is doing its best to join the pantheon.” Yes, Bank of America is trying to save face. Can you blame it? If I were managing the company, I would do the same thing — which just goes to show that even well-meaning people can get caught up in the system of state corporatism.
The fact that (surprise, surprise!) King Obama opened the series adds another layer of irony not only to the series’ message (America is great because of its ability to pull itself up from its bootstraps) but also to Obama’s recent sanctimonious, antibusiness platitudes. For here was the architect of the bailouts appearing side by side with his partners in collusion, the bankers. Add to these images the blabbering, bobble-headed celebrities, and you get the blessed trinity of this age of secularism: government power, corporate cronies, and simpleminded sycophants.
CGI effects and kinetic camerawork provide eye-candy but little intellectual substance for viewers of this unfortunate, overambitious, overhyped flop. Anyone hoping for more than clip and cliché should avoid this series at all costs. Those who like oversimplification (dare I say dumbing down?) should skim the Wikipedia entry for “United States.” That’s much faster. And without commercials.