Documentaries Were Better in the Past.

#11
In other words 'nostalgia ain't what it used to be'. On a more serious note BBC4 is currently running a 'Timewatch Guides' strand which deals with precisely this question, examining the treatment of particular peoples, eras and themes throughout 50 or 60 years of their own historical documentaries. And the conclusions they demonstrate are that historical documentaries reflect the preoccupations of their own times just as much as they tell us about the subject at hand. They also reveal that 'gimmicks' like dramatic reconstructions are nothing new and that apparently 'authorative' programmes 'full of facts' are just as guilty of authorial bias and sins of omission as any other.
Can you give specific instances?
 
Mar 2007
248
Philadelphia
#13
To play devil's advocate...

The best documentary I've seen in the past year was Ken Burn's 10-part 'The Vietnam War.' One of the things I was impressed by was how they interviewed people on every side of the conflict; from the U.S. fighting man to the North Vietnamese regular to the Viet Cong guerilla, to the noncombatants on all sides. You got a 360 degree view of the conflict from start to finish. Nor do I think of Burn's documentaries as all about the money. They look more like a labor of love. From what I understand it took 10 years to make.

In the past, don't you think some of the documentaries were a bit one-sided? Americans good. Germans bad. Most seem to be all about the battles. Little on the home front.
 
Likes: Edric Streona
Jul 2016
7,353
USA
#14
To play devil's advocate...

The best documentary I've seen in the past year was Ken Burn's 10-part 'The Vietnam War.' One of the things I was impressed by was how they interviewed people on every side of the conflict; from the U.S. fighting man to the North Vietnamese regular to the Viet Cong guerilla, to the noncombatants on all sides. You got a 360 degree view of the conflict from start to finish. Nor do I think of Burn's documentaries as all about the money. They look more like a labor of love. From what I understand it took 10 years to make.

In the past, don't you think some of the documentaries were a bit one-sided? Americans good. Germans bad. Most seem to be all about the battles. Little on the home front.
Every documentary has a point the makers are trying to...make.

Burn's wasn't promoting nationalism like some others were, that's why he showed numerous sides, he wasn't trying to say which country were the good guys, which were bad. He was trying to show that the American Vietnam War was unjust and unnecessary (and unwinnable), that it shouldn't have been fought at all (a very common, but hardly universal conclusion on a very complicated war). So that was the overall narrative, allowing him to interview whomever he wanted, anyone in the entire world, as long as they 1) Progressed the story in an entertaining manner 2). Their input, after editing, reflected what he wanted said.
 
Jun 2016
1,539
England, 200 yards from Wales
#16
One thing I have noticed in recent years is a tendency to play down the presenter's knowledge (even when they are a real historian or archaeologist), presumably to try and 'include' the viewer as a sort of equal. They tend to outline the subject (a question to be answered), and then you get something like "so I'm going to travel to (insert impressive location) to find out (whatever)". To which my response is usually "you're Doctor whoever from the British Museum, what do you mean find out, you must know". And then you get a lot of footage of said presenter nodding while another Doctor whoever explains stuff to him that he surely already knows (or she).
Why can't we just have someone who knows his stuff present and explain it?
 

Nemowork

Ad Honorem
Jan 2011
8,169
South of the barcodes
#17
Its a storytelling device. 'let me take you on a journey' instead of 'this is the truth'

If you want to get someone from point A to point Z it used to be accepted that an authorative older man would give you a road map, tell you to go to point Z and you were supposed to accept it was the best place to be.

These days people are a lot more sceptical of definitive authority plus they think theres a lot more choices to the world so you need to take them by the hand, pretend your an equal and steer them down the right path. Its the Sir Humphrey Appleby approach to management, make people believe theyre making educated choices for themselves when they find the ball under the right cup.
 
#18
I have mostly given up on TV documentaries where it has to be an overlong "story", and fairly sparse on facts. (I have even mostly given up watching TV news). I now intend to read good informative books, where there is no presenter gettin in the way, no visual gimmicks, just relevant, well-framed pictures (with no blurring) and no annoying music. (For news I read the Economist).
 
Jun 2016
1,539
England, 200 yards from Wales
#19
Its a storytelling device. 'let me take you on a journey' instead of 'this is the truth'

If you want to get someone from point A to point Z it used to be accepted that an authorative older man would give you a road map, tell you to go to point Z and you were supposed to accept it was the best place to be.

These days people are a lot more sceptical of definitive authority plus they think theres a lot more choices to the world so you need to take them by the hand, pretend your an equal and steer them down the right path. Its the Sir Humphrey Appleby approach to management, make people believe theyre making educated choices for themselves when they find the ball under the right cup.
I daresay you're right, that's the reason. It just piuts me off though, it's so obviously false and a pretence. It's a very odd idea that someone who knows a lot about something is somehow off-putting. Why would I want to listen to someone who doesn't? After all the other archaeologists (or whatever) he/she speaks to don't play down their knowledge, so why should he/she?
 

Similar History Discussions