TV series are changing the victors of history's wars & people aren't happy

Imagine if the South prevailed in the US Civil War, or the Germans won WW2? A flood of alt-history shows are causing a stir by doing just that

13 August 2017 - 00:00 By Tymon Smith
A New York subway carriage  was wrapped in promotional material for Amazon's  TV  series 'The Man in the High Castle'. The artwork, which had a Nazi Iron Cross replacing the stars in the US flag and an Imperial Japanese-inspired design, was ditched  at the request of  mayor Bill de Blasio.
A New York subway carriage was wrapped in promotional material for Amazon's TV series 'The Man in the High Castle'. The artwork, which had a Nazi Iron Cross replacing the stars in the US flag and an Imperial Japanese-inspired design, was ditched at the request of mayor Bill de Blasio.

Nazis on the Doorstep of Buckingham Palace!" proclaimed an anachronistic Daily Mail Online headline last year in an article describing the shooting in London of the five-part BBC series SS-GB.

Based on a 1978 novel by Len Deighton, the series explores an alternative history in which the Allies lose World War 2 and the Germans now occupy London.

Its premise is similar to that of Amazon's The Man in the High Castle. Now in its third season, that show is a loose adaptation of novelist Philip K. Dick's imagination of a world in which the Axis powers have been victorious and the US is divided into three sections each controlled by one of the victors.

WATCH the trailer for SS-GB

Alt-history, as it's popularly referred to, has been a popular trope of dystopian and science fiction for decades. But its recent prominence on TV has sparked debate about what kinds of alternatives might be permissible to portray.

A case in point is the new HBO show Confederate, created by DB Weiss and David Benioff, the men behind smash hit Game of Thrones.

Confederate is a show that plans to offer an alternative view of post-Civil War America. The premise is based, according to Benioff, on the simple question of, "What would the world have looked like ... if the South had won?"

The immediate reaction to a show in which slavery would be imagined to still exist has been a plethora of angry opinion pieces, blog posts and tweets that have accused the creators of exploiting black pain and history for shock entertainment value and continuing to perpetuate a white-focused view of the bloodiest conflict in US history.

HBO has said that while the network "respects" the criticism it hopes that people will withhold judgment until they actually have something to criticise other than a premise.

In one of the most cogently argued criticisms of Confederate's re-imagination, Pulitzer Prize winner Ta-Nehisi Coates says in a recent Atlantic piece that there is a significant difference in making comparisons between this show and one such as The Man in the High Castle.

Notably, he points out that in reality the Nazis lost the war and many of their surviving leaders were tried and executed for war crimes, while the leaders and symbols of the Confederacy were not punished or excised from US life and culture.

So for generations of blacks in the US, "the war is over for them, not for us. At this very hour, black people all across the South are still fighting the battle ... [of] securing access to the ballot and resisting a president whose resemblance to [former US president] Andrew Jackson is uncanny."

WATCH the trailer for Season 1 of The Man in the High Castle 

Perhaps Coates and other critics may be more receptive to a new show from Amazon which also imagines an alternative history of post-Civil War America.

Rufus Sewell as  a ruthless Nazi officer in 'The Man in the High Castle', a series in which the allies lose World War 2.
Rufus Sewell as a ruthless Nazi officer in 'The Man in the High Castle', a series in which the allies lose World War 2.

Black America is to be produced by two black creators, Will Packer and Aaron McGruder, and it's central question is perhaps more imaginative than that of its HBO counterpart.

Amazon's show asks not what the world might look like if the white slave-owning South had won but rather what might have happened if, after the Civil War, African-Americans were given the Southern states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama as reparations for slavery, forming a new country named New Colonia which develops a troubled relationship with the rest of the country.

It remains to be seen what each show will actually end up being, but until then the question is: will we ever see a show in which British, European and American refugees, displaced by economic implosion and nuclear explosions, arrive on the shores of Middle Eastern and African countries, desperately pleading for sanctuary and learning a little humility along the way?

ANC Conference 2017
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