In the late 1980s, five black and Latino teenagers were wrongly convicted of raping a woman jogging in Central Park. The Central Park Five is a documentary film directed by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon which tells the story from the perspective of the those five teens. I’ve seen the film, it’s excellent, and it’s currently available to watch for free on the PBS website.
The five men and this terrific miscarriage of justice are back in the news because of Donald Trump. In 1989, just a few weeks after the attack in Central Park, Trump took out a full-page ad in the Daily News denouncing the crime and the teens in which he calls for bringing back the death penalty.
Perhaps he thought it gave him gravitas, that spring, to weigh in on the character of the teen-agers in the park: “How can our great society tolerate the continued brutalization of its citizens by crazed misfits? Criminals must be told that their CIVIL LIBERTIES END WHEN AN ATTACK ON OUR SAFETY BEGINS!”
When NYC finally settled with the wrongly convicted men in 2014, Trump denounced the settlement, joining a police detective in calling it “the heist of the century.” And just before Trump’s crowing about sexual assault of women broke over the weekend, Trump reaffirmed that despite all evidence to the contrary, he believes that the five men are still guilty.
At Wait But Why, Tim Urban turns history on its side by thinking about time-synchronized events around the world, as opposed to events through the progression of time in each part of the world.
Likewise, I might know that Copernicus began writing his seminal work On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres in Poland in the early 1510s, but by learning that right around that same time in Italy, Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, I get a better picture of the times. By learning that it was right while both of these things were happening that Henry VIII married Catherine of Aragon in England, the 1510s suddenly begins to take on a distinct personality. These three facts, when put together, allow me to see a more three-dimensional picture of the 1510s — it allows me to see the 1510s horizontally, like cutting out a complete segment of the vine tangle and examining it all together.
He does this mainly by charting and graphing the lifetimes of famous people, revealing hidden contemporaries.
I’ve been slowly making my way through Ken Burns’ remastered The Civil War.1 At a few points in the program, narrator David McCullough reminds the viewer of what was going on around the world at the same time as the war. In the US, 1863 brought the Battle of Gettysburg and The Emancipation Proclamation. But also:
In Paris that year, new paintings by Cezanne, Whistler, and Manet were shown at a special exhibit for outcasts. In Russia, Dostoevsky finished Notes from the Underground. And in London, Karl Marx labored to complete his masterpiece, Das Kapital.
And a year later, while the advantage in the war was turning towards the US:1
In 1864, a rebellion in China that cost 20 million lives finally came to an end. In 1864, the Tsar’s armies conquered Turkistan and Tolstoy finished War and Peace. In 1864, Louis Pasteur pasteurized wine, the Geneva Convention established the neutrality of battlefield hospitals, and Karl Marx founded the International Workingmen’s Association in London and in New York.
Urban explicitly references the war in his post:
People in the US associate the 1860s with Lincoln and the Civil War. But what we overlook is that the 1860s was one of history’s greatest literary decades. In the ten years between 1859 and 1869, Darwin published his world-changing On the Origin of Species (1859), Dickens published A Tale of Two Cities (1859) and Great Expectations (1861), Lewis Carroll published Alice in Wonderland (1865), Dostoyevsky published Crime and Punishment (1866), and Tolstoy capped things off with War and Peace (1869).
The Civil War. The Origin of Species. Alice in Wonderland. The infancy of Impressionism. Pasteurization. Das Kapital. Gregor Mendel’s laws of inheritance. All in an eight-year span. Dang.
Twenty-five years after its first airing on PBS, Ken Burns has remastered his epic documentary, The Civil War, and PBS will be airing the new version all this week, starting tonight. The remastered series will also be available on Blu-ray in October.
Oh, this sounds fantastic: PBS is set to air a six-hour documentary series, Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies, starting at the end of March. How have I not heard about this before today?
This “biography” of cancer covers its first documented appearances thousands of years ago through the epic battles in the 20th century to cure, control and conquer it, to a radical new understanding of its essence. The series also features the current status of cancer knowledge and treatment — the dawn of an era in which cancer may become a chronic or curable illness rather than its historic death sentence in some forms.
The series is based on Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, which is one of the most interesting books I’ve read in the past few years. Ken Burns is executive producing and Barak Goodman is directing.
Thanks to Sarah Klein at Redglass Pictures for letting me know about this. Redglass created a pair of videos for the series featuring Terrence Howard and Ken Jeong talking about their experiences with cancer.
Update: All three parts of the series are available on the PBS site for the next two weeks or so.
Today, President Obama came out strongly for net neutrality and asked for the FCC’s help in implementing his plan.
More than any other invention of our time, the Internet has unlocked possibilities we could just barely imagine a generation ago. And here’s a big reason we’ve seen such incredible growth and innovation: Most Internet providers have treated Internet traffic equally. That’s a principle known as “net neutrality” — and it says that an entrepreneur’s fledgling company should have the same chance to succeed as established corporations, and that access to a high school student’s blog shouldn’t be unfairly slowed down to make way for advertisers with more money.
That’s what President Obama believes, and what he means when he says there should be no gatekeepers between you and your favorite online sites and services.
Tim Wu, who coined the term “net neutrality”, reacted positively to the President’s statement.
With another compromise looming, the President today released a video that suggests, in short, that he’s had it. In unusually explicit terms, he has told the agency exactly what it should do. Enough with the preëmptive compromises, the efforts to appease the carriers, and other forms of wiggle and wobble. Instead, the President said, enact a clear, bright-line ban on slow lanes, and fire up the agency’s strongest legal authority, Title II of the 1934 Communications Act, the “main guns” of the battleship F.C.C.
Motherboard notes that the classification of the internet as a utility would not include rate regulations.
To do this, Obama said the FCC should reclassify internet services as a utility, but should do it in a way that has slightly different rules than say, an electric company. Obama’s suggested rules focus specifically on net neutrality and service interruption, not prices, a concession to big telecom companies.
“I believe the FCC should reclassify consumer broadband service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act — while at the same time forbearing from rate regulation and other provisions less relevant to broadband services,” he said.
In a series of tweets, historian Yoni Appelbaum connects the dots between net neutrality and the Affordable Care Act a bit more elegantly than Ted Cruz did:
Obama’s call for net neutrality his latest effort to grow the economy by defending equality of opportunity. The ACA is the biggest boon for entrepreneurs in generations, allowing individuals to take economic risks without risking their health. The common thread here is a policy framework giving individuals the same access to essential resources as enormous institutions. Obama prefers to stress commonalities than to define his policies in such oppositional terms. But still, that’s what he’s doing here.
This makes me think of Tom Junod’s piece on increased access passes at a water park, The Water-Park Scandal and the Two Americas in the Raw: Are We a Nation of Line-Cutters, Or Are We the Line?
It wouldn’t be so bad, if the line still moved. But it doesn’t. It stops, every time a group of people with Flash Passes cut to the front. You used to be able to go on, say, three or four rides an hour, even on the most crowded days. Now you go on one or two. After four hours at Whitewater the other day, my daughter and I had gone on five. And so it’s not just that some people can afford to pay for an enhanced experience. It’s that your experience — what you’ve paid full price for — has been devalued. The experience of the line becomes an infernal humiliation; and the experience of avoiding the line becomes the only way to enjoy the water park. You used to pay for equal access; now you have to pay for access that’s more equal than the access afforded others. The commonality of experience is lost, and the lines are striated not simply by who can pay for a Flash Pass and who can’t; they’re also striated by race and class. The people sporting the Flash Passes are almost exclusively white, and they tend to be in better shape than those stuck on line. They tend to have fewer tattoos, and to look less, well, pagan. And by the end of the day, they start cutting lines where Flash Passes don’t even apply — because they feel entitled to — and none of them, not even their kids, will so much as look at you.
I think 2008 and 2012 Obama voters are nodding their heads here at Appelbaum’s and Junod’s thoughts…Obama’s statement on net neutrality and the rationale behind it is what they voted for. If you watched any of Ken Burns’ The Roosevelts on PBS, you’ll recognize this is right out of TR’s and FDR’s playbooks. Worth noting also that Teddy was a Republican and FDR a Democrat.
NYC and the Central Park Five have agreed to a $40 million settlement that will bring a years-long civil rights lawsuit to an end.
The five men whose convictions in the brutal 1989 beating and rape of a female jogger in Central Park were later overturned have agreed to a settlement of about $40 million from New York City to resolve a bitterly fought civil rights lawsuit over their arrests and imprisonment in the sensational crime.
The agreement, reached between the city’s Law Department and the five plaintiffs, would bring to an end an extraordinary legal battle over a crime that came to symbolize a sense of lawlessness in New York, amid reports of “wilding” youths and a marauding “wolf pack” that set its sights on a 28-year-old investment banker who ran in the park many evenings after work.
Ken Burns made a documentary film about this case in 2012. Highly recommended viewing…and you can watch the whole thing on the PBS web site.
The next Ken Burns PBS long thing will be a seven-part series on the Roosevelts (Theodore, Eleanor, and Franklin).
This seven-part, fourteen hour film follows the Roosevelts for more than a century, from Theodore’s birth in 1858 to Eleanor’s death in 1962. Over the course of those years, Theodore would become the 26th President of the United States and his beloved niece, Eleanor, would marry his fifth cousin, Franklin, who became the 32nd President of the United States. Together, these three individuals not only redefined the relationship Americans had with their government and with each other, but also redefined the role of the United States within the wider world. The series encompasses the history the Roosevelts helped to shape: the creation of National Parks, the digging of the Panama Canal, the passage of innovative New Deal programs, the defeat of Hitler, and the postwar struggles for civil rights at home and human rights abroad. It is also an intimate human story about love, betrayal, family loyalty, personal courage and the conquest of fear.
Fall 2014. (via @tcarmody)
Caught The Central Park Five on PBS last night and it’s one of those films that puts you into rage-against-the-machine mode.
The Central Park Five, a new film from award-winning filmmaker Ken Burns, tells the story of the five black and Latino teenagers from Harlem who were wrongly convicted of raping a white woman in New York City’s Central Park in 1989. The film chronicles The Central Park Jogger case, for the first time from the perspective of these five teenagers whose lives were upended by this miscarriage of justice.
The entire film is available to watch on the PBS web site. Tonight, there’s a TimesTalk in NYC featuring Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, Times columnist Jim Dwyer, and all five of the exonerated men; the talk will be broadcast live on the web here.
The Dust Bowl is a four-hour documentary by Ken Burns airing on PBS starting this weekend.
The Dust Bowl chronicles the worst man-made ecological disaster in American history, in which the frenzied wheat boom of the “Great Plow-Up,” followed by a decade-long drought during the 1930s nearly swept away the breadbasket of the nation. Vivid interviews with twenty-six survivors of those hard times, combined with dramatic photographs and seldom seen movie footage, bring to life stories of incredible human suffering and equally incredible human perseverance. It is also a morality tale about our relationship to the land that sustains us — a lesson we ignore at our peril.
You can watch the first five minutes of the film on the PBS site.
In this short film by Sarah Klein and Tom Mason, Ken Burns shares his thoughtful perspective on what makes a good story.
Abraham Lincoln wins the Civil War and then he decides he’s got enough time to go to the theatre. That’s a good story. When Thomas Jefferson said “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”, he owned a hundred human beings and never saw the hypocrisy, never saw the contradiction, and more importantly never saw fit in his lifetime to free any one of them. That’s a good story.
Over at the Atlantic, Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg has an interview with the filmmakers.
Documentary film by Ken Burns about Prohibition? As Aaron Cohen said, “twist my arm”.
PROHIBITION is a three-part, five-and-a-half-hour documentary film series directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick that tells the story of the rise, rule, and fall of the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the entire era it encompassed. Prohibition was intended to improve, even to ennoble, the lives of all Americans, to protect individuals, families, and society at large from the devastating effects of alcohol abuse. But the enshrining of a faith-driven moral code in the Constitution paradoxically caused millions of Americans to rethink their definition of morality.
First part premieres October 2 on PBS.