The war over Ken Burns' 'The War' |

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The war over Ken Burns' 'The War'


Ken_lBaseball nuts, jazz aficionados, Civil War connoisseurs — everyone loves Ken Burns and his magisterial PBS documentaries, right? Well, the Latino activists who are protesting Burns’ latest project might beg to differ. They say that The War, Burns’ upcoming 14-hour examination of World War II (due in September), lacks any representation of the Latino community’s contributions to the war effort. Burns has replied that he “did not set out to exclude Latinos, or any other group” — but his representatives are reluctant to make time-consuming additions to a film which already took six years to assemble. PBS plans to propose possible solutions to the impasse this week. What should they do?

In my mind, at least, there’s only one option: Burns has got to spend some more time researching the Latino WWII experience and add it to his film. This is really a win-win situation from his perspective. His reputation rests  on the (correct) public perception that his films are thorough, definitive takes on their subjects. They’re all sprawling and overstuffed with information — that’s the appeal. So what if this one ends up at 15 or 16 hours instead of 14? It’s not as if anyone watches Ken Burns films as quick, on-the-fly diversions anyway. They’re the anti-YouTube. No one is accusing Burns of being a racist, since he’s obviously not; this is a problem of honest oversight, human error, and more research will make the final product a richer viewing experience as well as a fairer historical document.

Not everyone agrees. The AP’s reporter, for instance, asserts withoutciting a source that “[PBS] executives are loath to impose uponsomeone’s creative vision, particularly the system’s biggest star,”asking, “If PBS changes a film because of one group’s complaint, whathappens the next time?” Well, next time Burns  can redouble his effortsto make sure he’s not missing any important aspects of his story in thefirst place. Since his creative vision is fundamentally based onshowing all sides of a historical event fairly, this won’t be much ofan imposition from an artistic standpoint. And if he does misssomething through no fault of his own, he can listen attentively to thepublic’s suggestions and make his work even fuller and better. Hasn’tPBS heard? Viewer engagement with the entertainment industry is thewave of the future! (Maybe PBS documentaries shouldn’t be theanti-YouTube after all.)

How about you, PopWatchers? Am I crazy to think it’s worth waiting afew more months for a more complete and well-rounded version of KenBurns’ latest project?