Ric Burns's NEW YORK (continued)

Bapopik at AOL.COM Bapopik at AOL.COM
Tue Nov 16 06:04:28 UTC 1999

    I've read the book and I've now seen two episodes of Ric Burns's NEW YORK.
    It's not awful just because of the Big Apple (which it never mentions),
Gotham (which it falsely describes as a mythical city), or the Empire State
(which it falsely attributes to the era of DeWitt Clinton).
    It's not awful just because Ric Burns neglects to discuss anything at all
about New York speech, that he never consulted the American Dialect Society,
that he has actors speak in all sorts of varying dialects, and that he never
bothered to talk to William Labov (author of THE SOCIAL STRATIFICATION OF
    It's awful because there's this segment in Part II where candidate
Abraham Lincoln sets foot in New York City in 1860, and the narrator mentions
that the song "Dixie" came from New York the year before, and the background
music is Bizet's CARMEN (Paris premiere in 1875)!
    It's awful because we're also told in Part II that Walt Whitman was
playing baseball in the 1820s.  (We're never told that baseball was invented
in New York about a decade later.  You'd think Burns would know baseball!)
    It's awful because:

1.  MISSING HISTORY--No mention of  the explorer Verrazano, the city's flag
(with a Dutch man named "Dexter"),  the John Peter Zenger trial, Nathan Hale,
the Astor Place riots, the Crystal Palace, Clement Clarke Moore's "Night
Before Christmas," Edgar Allan Poe, the Tombs prison, shysters, hookers, the
first tenament building...
2.  OVERSTATED HISTORY--Burns is obviously in love with Walt Whitman and F.
Scott Fitzgerald.  Whitman took up over half of Part II!
3.  ANACHRONISMS/EDITORIALS--Olmstead didn't desire to bar
"African-Americans" from Central Park.  The British were said to have done
"intolerable acts" against the "patriots."
4.  HYPERBOLE--The worst sin of the series.  The grid was "the greatest act
in Western civilization."  The Erie Canal made New York "the most splendid
commercial city on the face of the earth."  Manhattan was "a natural location
for a great city."  The early 1800s immigration "was the beginning of the
greatest run any city has ever had."  LEAVES OF GRASS was not only good, but
"nothing like it had ever been written in the English language."
5.  POOR DOCUMENTATION--When a passage is narrated, it ends with "Barnum" or
"Trollope" or "New York Times."  When did they say this?  In one case, the
quote was for a period before the New York Times began.  Was the quote from
the other paper with the same name?  (BTW, the New York Times sponsors the
series, but that fact was never mentioned in last Friday's review.)
6.  NO PERIOD MUSIC--The Erie Canal was discussed for 30 minutes.  You expect
the famous "Erie Canal" song.  It's never played.  "Dixie" was never played.
You'd never know that there were minstrel shows in New York and popular
Bowery entertainments.
7.  TALKING HEADS--Too many "scholars" are featured, instead of narrating a
story.  And what's Fran Lebowitz doing among them?

     Ooh, I'm so mad...

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