Friday, September 19, 2014

"The Roosevelts..." sort of

Watching segments of documentarian Ken Burns' 14-hour "The Roosevelts: An Intimate History," I am drawn in inconsequential ways into the past ... imagining things about other times and I might be right or I might be another inattentive fool.

Am I wrong, or did Burns forget to footnote the fact that the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918-1919 killed 50-100 million people worldwide. News outlets in Germany, France and the United States were kept on a short leash when reporting a disease that affected one-fifth  of the world's 1.8 billion. World War I killed 16 million. Spain was allowed to report on the epidemic, which meant there was a sense that Spain was disproportionately affected and hence the name "Spanish flu" got traction.

It's not that the illness occurred on Teddy Roosevelt's watch and he might have done something, but as an historical fact that must have been affecting, I wonder why no notice (unless I missed it) was made of it. But as I say, my reactions were more associative and thin than focused and fair.

More inconsequential still was the effect the still photos of a time span from the late 1800's to the middle of the 1900's seemed to have:

Was I wrong or were those photographed in an earlier time skinnier on average than today's well-flabbed population? I really don't know, but they seemed to be leaner and tougher even in moments of great incapacity. No breasty, botoxed, chatter-box 'housewives.' Fat people were "fat" instead of somehow "challenged."

Perhaps people were skinnier because Sigmund Freud had yet to gain ascendancy. Dissimulation was as popular as ever, no doubt, but its popularity and the wealth required to display it were not so prevalent ... or am I making that up? Does a hungry man have time or energy for pretense? His hungry eyes are hungry, aren't they?

People wrote to the president (FDR) in the reasonable expectation that he might write back or lend a hand where he could.

But columnist George Will, one of the narrators, gets off a good one in Burns' documentary:
"Building on the work of the first Roosevelt, the second Roosevelt gave us the idea, the shimmering, glittering idea of the heroic presidency. And with it the hope that complex problems would yield to charisma. This," Will declares during one episode, "sets the country up for perpetual disappointment."
I can feel the liberals squirming under that lash, but I can also feel the appropriate aspects of the remark: The appropriateness touches the latter-day conservative as well ... no shits and giggles and wool pulled over the eyes, perhaps, but a grand and wafting display of pusillanimous that is stunning in its selfishness.


  1. George Will also likes to talk about the heroic presidency of Ronald Reagan. But the point is taken if not consistently applied.

  2. The press, along with truth/facts, has always been on a short leash, no matter who was in charge. Somehow ideologue's from the left and right keep electing champions of power. Ignore that man behind the curtain, and we'll prance out the dogs and ponies.

    However earnest Mr. Burns may be, he's really more about providing you with a sense of the times than an explanation of them.