Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Ken Burns trivializes the victimization of the wrongly accused men from the Duke lacrosse case

According to documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, the Duke University lacrosse players were "three rich white boys who were mildly inconvenienced by rape charges that proved to be false. In no time the prosecutor of that case was fired, disbarred, and put in jail, and the three ended up getting a huge settlement."  See here.

"Mildly inconvenienced"?  Sigh. My first reaction was that I hadn't read it right. Then I read it again, and then again. Although I am sure he's seen it, I have sent Prof. KC Johnson a note about this, and hope that he responds on his blog Durham in Wonderland

I confess I am thoroughly perplexed about why Burns felt the need to trivialize the inestimable toll that the false accusations took on the Duke boys just to underscore the severity of the harm to the victims in the Central Park Five case. I suppose he couldn't resist the urge to disabuse middle America of what he sees as its racial bias.

Imagine if Burns had branded the victim of a rape -- any rape -- as "mildly inconvenienced." They'd be protesting outside his office, and rightly so. There should be protests here, too, until Burns apologizes.

By branding the Duke lacrosse victims "three rich white boys," Burns ham-handedly implies that the young men did not suffer because of their gender, race, and class. Ironically, Burns buys into the gender-class-race meme that was at the heart of the rush to judgment in the Duke lacrosse case (remember the Group of 88?) that Prof. Johnson has written so much about. Sadly, Ken Burns -- who makes a nice living chronicling history -- has learned nothing from this sad chapter of our history. Actually, it's worse than that -- he's learned exactly the wrong thing. 

I will be watching Burns' films more critically from now on.