Are you watching Ken Burns’ National Parks documentary on PBS?
Not sure I can recommend it. Having established his formula, Mr. Burns continues to repeat it. He’s got old images and experts you’ve never heard of. He’s so busy being exhaustive, so busy getting it right, that sometimes it seems he’s completely forgotten about the audience. That’s the first rule of entertainment, you’ve got to keep the audience enthralled. If people change the channel, get up and walk out, then you’ve screwed up. You don’t have to play to the lowest common denominator, but you must stir something inside in the viewer, stimulate and manipulate him to the point where he looks forward to experiencing your art. That’s the mark of a good book, it calls out to you from the nightstand. You can’t wait to get home and read it. Whereas this National Parks show sometimes seems like a chore.
But it does have some stars.
There’s Teddy Roosevelt, a larger than life President who’s shrunk a century on. A walking contradiction, a conservationist who lived to kill, TR was the anti-Obama. He didn’t care what Congress said, he kept establishing national monuments.
And then there’s Teddy’s new buddy, John Muir.
Touring the country, going 14,000 miles in eight weeks, Teddy sends Mr. Muir a mash note. Tells him he wants to experience Yosemite with him, and only him.
Alas, this proves untrue. Muir spiffs himself up, buys a brand new suit, but he’s just a cog in the entourage. Until they get to the Mariposa Grove, where TR stiffs his handlers and those throwing a party in his honor to sleep under the giant redwoods with the founder of the Sierra Club.
They wagon it up to Glacier Point, overlook the Yosemite Valley sans handlers and onlookers, even get caught in a freak snowstorm, which Teddy considers to be such an exquisite experience that he calls it the best night of his life. I’ve been caught out at night in a snowstorm, a regular camper would find it depressing. But spending most of his time in D.C., TR is thrilled.
Teddy and John maintain a friendship. Akin to that one between Elton John and Ryan White. They come from different worlds, but they’re buddies. But Teddy ultimately lets John down, he doesn’t prevent the damming of the Hetch Hetchy Valley in Northern Yosemite, to provide water for San Francisco.
Progress. It can’t be stopped. Or can it?
Well, not exactly progress. Muir referenced the dollars. He didn’t trust corporations. He felt they’d rape any land in pursuit of profits. Kind of like Niagara Falls. Everybody’s goal was to prevent another Niagara, where privateers dunned tourists, ripped them off and established scabs on the landscape.
But it was not only Niagara. Arizona wanted to exploit the Grand Canyon. Yup, for mining, for tourism. When TR made it a National Monument, the state freaked out. But as Stewart Udall says on screen, you wouldn’t find an Arizona citizen today who wouldn’t be in agreement with TR.
Point being, do you let businessmen have their way, is that the best way to serve Americans and the land they live upon?
Somehow this has become the mantra of the country. We need fewer regulations, business is self-regulating. But this documentary is testimony to the opposite. Sheepherders wanted to utilize the Yosemite Valley, the buffalo was almost extinct, killed for hides and heads. Feathers and complete birds became fashionable in hats and the flying creatures in the Everglades almost went extinct. Eventually the government protected them too.
To go to Hetch Hetchy today is heartbreaking. The valley is under two hundred feet of water. Why? Progress. A century later you become an instant environmentalist, this dam needs to be torn down. We can get water elsewhere, but we can’t replicate this natural wonder.
This is one of the few battles John Muir lost. He almost single-handedly started the conservation movement. An itinerant Scotsman, he fell in love with the landscape, eventually married a rich woman, but she set him free to pursue his dream, he was only happy in the mountains. He wrote about his experiences, his dreams, and inspired the public. To come see for themselves and to take his point of view. He didn’t do it for the money, but for the soul.
Landscapes inspire. As does music.
I don’t want to hear one more person talk about P2P, that they’re being ripped off. They’re looking at it from the wrong perspective. Instead of worrying about their pocketbook, let’s start thinking about the listeners. Why establish a wall between this elixir and the hoi polloi. Just so corporations and stars can get rich? Technology provides a medium for all to have access to music. This is what corporations and so-called artists are fighting. Let’s work from the reverse. How do we make music accessible to all. Seeing that that makes us a richer society, and that by having everybody infected by sound money ends up raining down anyway.
John Muir was right. You’ve got to be suspicious of those with dollars. Left alone, they’ll ruin everything.
The RIAA ruined lives, forced people to drop out of college to pay their outrageous fines.
Lily Allen frolics in Mediterranean resorts while listeners live a life of drudgery in the equivalent of mines. But the audience must be bled dry to support an industry that refuses to acknowledge technology.
But throngs of those serving wrong are no match for one serving right. Sure, John Muir didn’t win them all, but he won many more than one. The British government, the French, will never succeed against those fighting for access to all. Just one person can establish a P2P site. You can drive trading further underground, but you can’t eradicate it.
New models are the future. Streaming of all to many.
Let the past be prologue. Fight for what’s right, not what’s expedient. We’re a richer country when everybody is included, when there’s not a separate class keeping desirables for themselves, throwing crumbs to the lower classes when time sees fit.
Music has been Niagara. It needs to be Yosemite. Armed with computers the public is protesting just like John Muir. They’re right.