There was a time when the History Channel covered actual, you know, history. That day is long passed, sadly, and most of the station’s programming is now given over to ice road trucking, pawn shop reality shows, Bigfoot, and the nonsensical “prophecies” of Nostrodamus. And when it does ostensibly cover the substantive past, the channel does so with an agenda, as with its upcoming documentary based on Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States.
Zinn has spent a lifetime teaching college students about the evils of capitalism, the promise of Marxism, and his version of American history — a history that has, in his view, been kept from students. His controversial 1980-book A People’s History of the United States paints traditional American history as a façade — one that has grotesquely immortalized flawed leaders and is based on principles that victimize the common man. In 2004, Zinn wrote a companion book entitled Voices Of A People’s History Of The United States, which includes speeches and writings from many of the people featured in A People’s History.
These two books have now become the basis for a new documentary, entitled The People Speak, to be aired December 13th at 8pm on the History Channel. The trailer portrays the documentary as a collage of compelling one-person readings, told through the words of “ordinary” people who have struggled throughout American history against oppression. Produced by Zinn, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, and Chris Moore, the documentary appears to be cloaked, ironically (given Zinn’s admitted socialist agenda), in many of the traditional ideas that were behind our founding. The verdict is still out on the doc, but it is not for the books that inspired the film as well as the educational initiative associated with it.
I read A People’s History some years ago, and found it a helpful corrective to some longrunning national myths. That said, the book is so relentlessly one-sided that it’s absolutely useless as anything but supplemental reading. As Michael Moynihan at Reason points out, even the socialist flagship Dissent trashed it:
A People’s History is bad history, albeit gilded with virtuous intentions. Zinn reduces the past to a Manichean fable and makes no serious attempt to address the biggest question a leftist can ask about U.S. history: why have most Americans accepted the legitimacy of the capitalist republic in which they live?
I can only imagine the kind of documentary this will produce. I may hold my nose and watch it Sunday to find out.
[Hat tip: Mark]