Thursday, November 24, 2016

Chicanonautica: Time Tripping the Around Alamo

by Ernest Hogan

History is hard to know because of all the hired bullshit,” Hunter S. Thompson so wisely said. Then it has to pass to things like sci-fi and television. With a lot of folks thinking that school should teach it as propagandistic mythology in the service of patriotism, it can get to be a real mess.

So when I got a heads-up that the new show Timeless was doing an episode about the Alamo, I got interested.

Timeless is one of many TV shows this season about time travel in which the possibility of changing history is a main plot point. This is interesting because Harlan Ellison, back in the nineteen seventies, tried to pitch a show called Man Without Time, about this same basic concept. It came close to happening, but an important executive just couldn’t understand said concept. It says something for media and pop culture's ability to educate in that a couple of generations most folks have no trouble conceiving of multiple time tracks. 

The show tries to be of the current century in that the owner of the time machine is an African and one of the crew of time travelers is black, which puts an interesting spin on visiting a lot of time periods. Then the white guy and gal are the typical trained professionals who act like teenagers seen in too many sci-fi shows. CGI makes bringing things like the Hindenburg and Nazi rockets doable, and period costumes are readily available.

Which brings us to the Alamo.

The Fall of the Alamo (1903) by Robert Jenkins Onderdonk
It must have seemed like a natural when sifting through the grab bag of history: “ The Alamo! Texas! Davy Crockett! Jim Bowie and his famous knife! Hoo boy!”

The somebody remembered that the bad guys on this little drama were Mexicans, and it ends with a helluvalota “good guys” -- including women, children, and beloved folk heroes -- die.

I heard some concerns about how would impact the media image of Chicanos/Latinix/Mexicans. But I am happy to report that this episode probably isn’t going to be remembered very long. It’s just not that impressive. It looks like they just plain chickened out in the face of possible controversy.

We aren’t tourists here,” says one of the time travelers, then they go on to skim the surface of history, contriving a feel good action-adventure plot that comes off as a lame compromise. 

Davy Crockett is shown to be a bullshitter, but not the failed politician who has left the United States and was helping to steal part of Mexico. I keep getting this vision of Donald Trump in a coonskin cap . . . he charms the time travelers who worship him.  

What is the difference between a pioneer and an illegal alien, anyway?

The problem of how to depict Mexicans was dealt with in the time-honored tradition of simply not showing them. Mexicans/Tejanos fought alongside Crockett and Bowie against Santana’s army, but the only Mexicans seen are Santana and his troops, who come off like slick, sinister invaders, very much like the Nazis. This inhuman horde is actually a step up from the barbaric, rapist/bandidos that we see everywhere from spaghetti westerns to political campaigns.

The episode suffers from what may be the series’ fatal flaw: a self-imposed rule about bending history, but not breaking it. It’s after the breaking point that the real fun -- the dangerous game of What If – begins. As it is, Timeless backs up popular misconceptions, but lacks the punch to stick in the memory bank. It’s what happens when popular culture is generated by corporations, for an audience that has forgotten that there actually is a real world out there.

But in a world brimming over with turmoil, people need their escapism. I suppose that after the election, a lot of people feel that they’re in they’re own version of the Alamo -- or maybe I should say Little Big Horn -- with no time machine to escape in.

Ernest Hogan is the author of High Aztech. He didn't realize that this post was going up on Thanksgiving, and begs the Go Go Gophers for forgiveness.

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