Thursday, March 31, 2011

Peabody Recognition for HBO

The 70th annual George Foster Peabody Awards were just announced, and Dave Itzkoff has reported the results on the ArtsBeat blog for The New York Times.  These awards specifically recognize excellence in electronic media.  The HBO presence in these awards is not only admirable but also significant because all awards went to program material taking on topics that those more hooked into “consumer culture” (which, as I have often suggested, is predisposed against information) would prefer not to touch.

One cannot really rank-order the three HBO awardees by significance.  I suppose the one that hits the most sore nerves is Spike Lee’s documentary If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise, the “second chapter” of chronicling the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which painfully demonstrated how the disgraceful conditions documented in When the Levees Broke have not improved and may even have worsened.  The dramatization of the life (thus far) of Temple Grandin was far more upbeat;  but it had no shortage in its own share of sore nerves.  Grandin is admirable in her success in prevailing over some of the more brutal elements of our culture, but those brutes still rule.  Finally, The Pacific was recognized.  This, too, had an upbeat side in its acknowledgement of heroism in the field;  but it did not try to skirt around the far darker side of this front in the Second World War, making its own valiant (but not necessarily successful) effort to turn us into a society that will think twice before rushing into a military engagement.

There is one non-HBO award that I feel also deserves recognition.  That is the FX series Justified.  Every now and then one of the Fox tentacles actually manages to get beyond the prevailing standards of crass commercialism, and this one is definitely a winner.  Taking a story by Elmore Leonard as a point of departure, the series introduced itself as a lawman-versus-criminal yarn;  but it quickly became much more than that, exploring with almost anthropological detail (definitely on a part with the work of David Simon) the complexity of a society built around mining coal in Harlan County, Kentucky (one of the most historic sites in the history of labor rights).  I am reminded of Lester Boyle’s most memorable line from Cookie’s Fortune, when he insists that the man just arrested is innocent.  His reasoning is straightforward:

I’ve fished with him.

Men who work the mines together know as much about each other as those who fish together, and Justified is an uncanny exploration of that particular breed of “cultural knowledge.”

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