Simon Schama, CBE, started out as an art historian. You can see him, much younger and bearded, as a contributor to the Michael Wood series "Art of the Western World" made in the mid-eighties. "The Power of Art" which he produced and hosted some twenty years later, also is brilliant, looking at renaissance and modern artists in strikingly novel ways and fully exploiting high definition technology.
Schama branched out into general history, the history of England in particular. Also, he is a professor or art history at the very prestigious Columbia University in New York City, residing in suburban Westchester County, just north of the city as he states in passing in the first of this four-part series.
Unfortunately, Prof. Schama is also a communist as this misnamed series illustrates. It is not about the future of America at all but about its sinful past. American history is presented in classic, Marxist style as class conflict. Racial and ethnic minorities, new immigrants, manual workers, all have experienced, if one would believe this series. little but oppression of the most brutal sort in this country, It is an unbroken litany of economic exploitation, racial prejudice and plain buffoonery on the part of the evil white American.
An example would be his portrayal of a group of elderly Chicano men in south Texas who get together to roast chickens and sing **corridos**, melancholy songs lamenting their separation from their home culture. Although resident for decades in the United States, none of them speak more than a few words of English, Schama notes with apparent approval. One must ask oneself how Prof. Schama would feel about a substantial group of British citizens (subjects?) who did not speak the national language and showed no interest in learning it.
Hostility in the American west toward the Chinese in the mid and late 1800's is described at length, including a little-known episode in Truckee, California in which the publisher of the local newspaper led the effort (successful) to drive all Chinese from the town, though non-violently in this instance. Absent from the story is the fact that anti-Chinese legislation was repealed in the State of California by popular referendum in the 1890's.
Perhaps some mention of resentment of the Overseas Chinese across the border in Mexico and in many countries in Asia--also violently expressed, and much more recent--would have added some needed balance to this narrative.
As might be expected of one well versed in the arts, this series is technically and artistically a triumph. There are striking images of the vast American hinterland and vignettes of the cities that seem never to have been shown before. There are interviews with ordinary Americans, some illustrating their prejudices but many of them showing a friendliness to white people belied by the overall themes of the series.
5 of 17 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?