Warner Todd Huston
ABC whitewashing history: no ciggies no whites only in new early 60s-based 'Pan Am' TV series
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By Warner Todd Huston
August 10, 2011

Remember back in the early 1960s when blacks could get any job they wanted in the American airline industry? Oh, and remember back then how no one smoked cuz it was really, really bad for you and stuff? Yeah. No one else does, either. Well, maybe not no one. Big Three Network ABC seems to remember it because that is how they are envisaging how the world worked back in 1963 for its new TV series about airline stewardesses entitled "Pan Am."

In yet another example of Hollywood PCism run amuck, producers, we are told, "admitted" that studio execs at ABC-Disney nixed any chance that the show's characters or extras would be smoking during the series even though the historical fact is that the bulk of the adult population of 1960s America smoked.

In fact, smoking was as common as "Coffee, Tea, or me." Everyone was allowed to smoke on airline flights in the 1960s. It is just a fact. Yet producers have decided that the show will never portray a single fuming butt in flight despite the historical reality.

Heck, who over 45 does not remember cigarette ads portraying doctors telling consumers how smoking was good for your health? I sure do!

That isn't the only whitewashing going on either — literally. There is a worse disconnection from our history that is happening on this show. The series also intends to feature black employees as stewardesses (at least if not in other positions as the series goes forward) and that is also an historical fantasy.

The sad fact of the matter is that there were no black stewardesses in the American airline industry in the early 60s. According to reports airlines didn't start hiring black stewardesses until later in the decade. As wrong as it was, the fact is that crews in the early 60s were all white affairs, no mixing of the races occurred on the airlines of the day.

Now, we all wish that history was different in many instances. I am sure that Jews everywhere would love it if the Holocaust had never occurred. So would the rest of us. But the fact is that it did. Pretending that the vexing things from history did not happen is a childish game of avoiding truth.

It also tends to make us all ignorant of the human condition. The old saw, "those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it," is not just a pointless saying. The fact is that we must remember the sleights of history. This helps us avoid repeating them. It helps us understand other people's experiences and helps us all work toward a better future.

Sure this is just a silly TV show. But it does a disservice to us all, a disservice to our past selves, those that struggled and overcame.

How do we, for instance, understand why Martin Luther King, Jr. was so extraordinary if we've washed away the conditions against which he struggled? Truth is, he becomes a pointless name in history if we do.

Of course we don't have to burden every last TV show with a maudlin focus on past ills and a hand wringing over history. Sure we can have lite entertainment without having to load the viewer down with all the troubles of the world. But to go the opposite direction and eliminate all vestiges of historical troubles is similarly wrong.

Sadly, this little whitewashing of history on a TV show is not just occurring in entertainment. It is a whitewashing of history that is occurring in our schools, in our culture, and in our memories. And it makes us all the poorer for it.

© Warner Todd Huston

 

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Warner Todd Huston

Warner Todd Huston's thoughtful commentary, sometimes irreverent often historically based, is featured on many websites... (more)

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