We recently subscribed to Showtime, the pay channel, in order to watch Oliver Stone’s “Untold History of the United States.” It’s been a worthwhile investment. These pay channels offer a side street for a little subversion, as there are no advertisers hovering about. Companies that don’t want certain content aired have to sue the network rather than achieving their end by withholding advertising dollars.*
So Stone’s work has an outlet. Even with 200 other cable channels with absurd names like “History” and “Learning,” none would touch such an offering. Censorship in the United States is pervasive. We are so sheltered from the real world that Stone’s work, which would be part of a classroom discussion in a free country, seems radical.
Such programming as Stone’s is an unintended side effect of the so-called “premium” channels. Originally HBO merely offered a way to show uncensored movies at home, but with so many hours to fill, it became a place where box office flops recovered some of their investment. Showtime had the same problem, and so became the T&A alternative, a niche now owned by Skinemax. Showtime still has its raunchy side (as does HBO). Dave Attell has a truly disgusting show called “Dave’s Old Porn” which features men with legs crossed making Mystery Science Theater-like snarky comments about ancient pornography, like Debbie Does Dallas. The lens-fogging effects still don’t distance it enough from true porn to make it watchable. Who thought this was a good idea?
HBO found a way out of the B-movie trap with The Sopranos, a well-written and acted show with characters that seemed both true to and larger than life at once. These premium channel series are now standard fare, some worthwhile, others not. The Wire was very well done, Californication is embarrassing.
That’s where Oliver Stone comes in. He puts the camera on us for a change.
Given a choice, I’ll take Dexter, the compassionate sociopath, anytime over Carrie Mathison, beautiful terror-hating CIA agent. He’s a little more believable.
*Does anyone else notice that Koch money is all over PBS these days? That guarantees that PBS won’t be investigating any of their activities, just as Archer Daniels Midland bought off NPR years ago after it had done some real investigative journalism. (Honest – they did one time! It happened in 1996, I think. The link to that program, like NPR, is dead.)