In the video Burns discusses how he is primarily an artist, not an historian. He does, believe, however, that his work has other goals besides art. He sees himself as:
“…rooted in a humanist tradition of American History..that includes not just the old top down version, but the bottom up version that acknowledges women and labor and minorities….”
Well, if you’ve ever watched his work you would might recognize an underlying Left-Of-Center political philosophy, which tends toward moral relativism. It is usually meticulously crafted, has exquisite still photography, and is carefully researched and gives pleasure to watch. To his credit, he has also made his chosen form and subject matter popular. Burns wants to be recognized as an artist striving for higher aesthetic and technical goals in his work (his influences range from Martin Scorsese to Henri Cartier-Bresson) in addition to the “social conscience.” He also has an instantly recognizable style and as he summarizes:
“The style is essentially the authentic application of technique”
For other documentarians, especially, he probably has a lot to teach, and the programs aren’t a bad way to spend an afternoon.
Politically, though, Burns makes the argument that he absolutely needs government funding to remain free enough to pursue his art in pure enough fashion to benefit of the rest of us. This is arguable, though if he wants to do his work, the money has to come from somewhere. I suspect Burns’ beliefs are typical to many in public radio and broadcasting: they are often politically Left, humanists, often universalists, many post-modern. Many are artistically inclined as they are presenters and performers of a sort. They are popularizers, and many, I suspect, see themselves as cultural gatekeepers for the unwashed masses. While they put together shows like NOVA and clearly offer a public good with such programming and information, what unites many of them them is likely a certain conception of how society ought to be (more equal, more just, more humane) which goes hand-in-hand with a social and philosophical philosophy that can lead to Statism, a more closed society, regulated markets, and at its worst, a society that doesn’t just use art for didactic purposes, but also as political propaganda (of which Burns I don’t think is in any way guilty). Art, and not just popular art forms, has a troubled relationship with religion, politics, humanists, philosophy and often the artists themselves.
Another Addition: Perhaps also one purpose of art is to frustrate religion, politics, and other civilized structures and norms. And Burns “Prohibition” gets deep into the often disparate groups, alliances, political bedfellows and turmoil below the surface of received opinion regarding Prohibition. He also paid his NEH grants back.
Related On This Site Via Reason: ‘Salvador Allende’s Cybersocialist Command Center’… From Grist.Org Via The New Republic Via The A & L Daily: ‘Getting Past “Ruin Porn” In Detroit’…Marketplace aesthetics in service of “women”: Dove’s Campaign For Real Beauty: Pascal Dangin And Aesthetics…
Philosopher Of Art Denis Dutton of the Arts & Letters Daily says the arts and Darwin can be sucessfully synthesized: Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’
How might Nietzsche figure in the discussion, at least with regard to Camille Paglia. See the comments: Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was Successful…Here’s Nietzsche scholar J.P. Stern on Nietzsche’s anti-Christian, anti-secular morality (Kant, utilitarians), anti-democratic, and anti-Greek (except the “heroic” Greek) biases…