A number of actors, musicians., etc. read writings and letters by the
rebels of American history, like John Brown. Others read quotes showing
some of the darker side of our history, like Abraham Lincoln's early
determination NOT to free the slaves. And still others read words by
unknown 'regular people' commenting on their times.
Mixed with this are political folk songs old and new performed by
Eddie Vedder, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and others.
Moving and informative, this is not, 'fair and balanced', nor does it
pretend to be. The idea is to take a specific perspective on America,
from the time of the Declaration of Independence on, as a
nation forged, and constantly changed by rabble rousers and
revolutionaries, from Thomas Jefferson to Fredrick Douglas to Susan B.
I was fascinated and disturbed to read the vitriol that this project
has brought out from the right, and the mindless knee-jerk
counter reactions from the left - quickly degenerating into the old
'you're a commie who hates America!' 'Oh yeah? Well you're a fascist
who hates what America stands for!' childish spats.
Zinn and his approach is neither the first nor last word on American
History, but it surely raises important questions, and teaches ideas
that were certainly not part of my public school education. (e.g. the
fascinating distinction between the Declaration of Independence as a
more revolutionary, idealistic document ('All men are created equal') and
the Constitution, which was more conservative, and enshrined ideas such
as slavery, and voting as only for white males as part of the very basis
of the country).
And while it's clear the film has a 'liberal' political point of view,
to say - as many have - that a film full of the words of those who
helped fight to change America for the better is somehow 'anti-
American' astonishes me.
The greatness of this country has been it's willingness to change,
grow, challenge itself, right its wrongs and attempt to be a nation
that gives voice to people from countless backgrounds and
points-of-view. This film reminds us of that. Not quite sure how that
makes it 'anti-American'.
There is no contradiction between patriotism and a questioning mind
that seeks to look honestly at our past, uncover historic wrongs,
determine to right them and avoid them in future and celebrate those
who fought for the freedom of their race, or sex, etc.
That said I do have couple of qubbiles with the film;
a) not all the readers bring the same level of passion, commitment
(or, let's face it, acting talent) to their readings.
b) some of the readings and musical performances seem unfortunately
truncated. On a 'director's cut, extended version' DVD, why not let it
run 3 hours if need be?
c) The one point I will cede the anti-Zinn folks is that he is sometimes
guilty of cherry picking facts, or leaving out facts that might soften his point.
Of course, everyone from Fox news on the right to Michael Moore on the left
is guilty of far more extreme versions of the same sin, but it's still
a fair nit-pick. (I also think Zinn would admit it more freely than most,
since, again, he never makes the claim he isn't expounding a point-of-view).
But none of these minor flaws were enough of a problem to keep me from
being constantly involved, eductated and moved.