Believe it. As Macbeth's witches might have put it, something radical this way comes. And it's way beyond anything you imagined you'd see, even on premium cable TV.
It's a 10-part documentary series called “The Untold History of the United States” and it begins Nov. 12 – the week after elections.
In the map of America, Showtime is part of the same corporate continent that houses CBS and Simon and Schuster, two media giants as venerable and establishmentarian as they come.
The reason so much leftist thought is going to be carried raw and bleeding into your living room is that I've only given you most of the title, not all of it. Strictly speaking, the title should be “Oliver Stone's Untold History of the United States.” This tale of “the rise and decline of the American empire” is meant to “challenge the basic narrative of U.S. history that most Americans have been taught.”
“That poplar and somewhat mythic view, carefully filtered through the prism of American altruism, benevolence, magnanimity, exceptionalism and devotion to liberty and justice, is introduced in early childhood, reinforced throughout primary and secondary education, and retold so often it becomes part of the air Americans breathe. It is consoling. It is comforting. But it only tells a small part of the story. It may convince those who don't probe too deeply, but like the real air Americans breathe, it is ultimately harmful, noxious and polluted.”
That's from the companion book of Stone's series, written by Stone in consort with Peter Kuznick, who is a history professor at American University and director of its Nuclear Studies Institute.
In other words, this is definitely the product of another wing of the American establishment, not something from the basement computer of a would-be cyber-terrorist with loathsome fantasies. On the other hand, one look at the companion book (published by Gallery Books, 750 pages, $30), and it makes the bunch at MSNBC look and sound like folks who occasionally show up late to choir practice.
For those who know their “People's Histories,” Stone and Kuznick are in the same business as the late and much-venerated Howard Zinn, which is a business Bill Maher might enjoy chatting about but not one whose notions routinely show up in presidential debates.
We have long been used to published “companions” to TV series of notably intellectual content. Some – Kenneth Clark's “Civilization” and Carl Sagan's “Cosmos” – have even been best-sellers of a sort. Others – Jacob Bronowski's “Ascent of Man” and Ken Burns and Geoffrey Ward's “Jazz” and “Baseball” – they've most often been hugely popular. They usually have been luxurious print celebrations of those TV series for affluent patrons.
No slick paper product for consumers of luxe is this thing. The paper is pulpy and the hardcover virtually cries out to be replaced by a soft one.
The “mistakes” of the American empire enumerated within are many and of wildly varying gravity. Prolonging the “Cold War,” supporting America-leaning dictatorships, remaining limber enough to trample on the Bill of Rights whenever the spirit moves our owners and leaders – those are among the more basic, garden variety charges leveled by Stone and Kuznick.
To take just one event that has always captured Stone's fancies – the Nov. 22, 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy – one discovers in the “companion” book that “we may never know who was responsible or what the motive was.” But “we do know that Kennedy had many enemies who deplored progressive change just as fervently as did those who blocked Henry Wallace in 1944 when he was trying to lead the world down a similar path of peace and prosperity.
“Kennedy bravely defied the powerful forces who would have pushed the United States into a war with the Soviet Union. His courage was more than matched by Khruschev's.” (The Russian premier, in Stoneworld, breaks down when he hears of Kennedy's murder and takes days to recover.)
Domestic matters don't concern Stone and Kuznick unduly. You don't even find the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. in the book, and the assassination of Bobby Kennedy is mentioned only in disinterested passing.
Nor are Stone and Kuznick all that cheery about President Obama, despite “a chance that he might be undergoing a Kennedyesque road-to-Damascus conversion and realizing how poorly American militarism and imperialism had served America and the world.”
What's fascinating about the whole project is that media corporations who fully expect to make a profit from it are letting vigorous and virulent leftist thought occupy major real estate in the American Agenda because the big name associated with it – Oliver Stone – has become a major brand name for all heresies and misadventures familiar to Dorm Room America.
It's hard not to believe – at least a little – in the exceptionalism of a country that has always found such unruly and fractious revisionism to be, in its own way, good for business.
Stone and Kuznick are certainly not the first to come at us as fearless whistleblowers in the “Everything You Know is Wrong” business.
Maybe it's an “untold” part of the history of the United States that America itself was Western Civilization's most dramatic entry into the “Everything You Know is Wrong” business.
I understand there were European countries that didn't like the message. We'll see how Stone does in America on Showtime.