You have to understand. It was a different time.

I just watched a documentary called HIDDEN FIRE: THE GREAT BUTTE EXPLOSION.

[insert beavis laugh]

It was horrible. Bullet points of the horrible:

  • Standard post-Ken Burns style with sad violins, period pictures, and voiceovers reading letters and newspaper articles. “Dear Mama…” Did everything in the 19th century happen with a bassoon or a scrapy fiddle playing?
  • Hack academics with slow careful mellow NPR English diction saying obvious things and things that made no sense. Firefighters were simultaneously described as indentured servants and as inhabitants of a bastion of male privilege. The local historian said that people forgot about the incident because people forget things.
  • The town archivist, who was exactly Dana Carvey’s Church Lady. She kept telling us that “that’s how things go in Butte” when describing unique and bizarre atrocities such as mining companies being beastly, or rich guys going unpunished. After each disapproving “Forget it, Jake” statement she stopped and pursed her lips like a high school assistant principal announcing detention.
  • Two ladies in the town had written a very 1895 poem and song about the explosion. The documentary people actually hired a couple of musicians to record an over-the-top version of this song with tremulous soprano singing (this was hideously painful) and then played almost the whole thing.
  • A terrible constipated straining at the toilet of ivory tower liberalism. This included the constant inclusion of “diversity” and pictures of Chinese immigrants, and the specious assertion that some of them must have died because there was a railway station next door and therefore they would have been just arriving. Everyone actually involved in the incident was a white male, except for the horses.
  • A bespectacled bearded academic who said, roughly ten times, that firefighters are brave and sometimes die, and that this is noticed more after an incident in which many of them do, and then not as much for a few years. I think he was Anne Elk.
  • Reenaction of incidents in 1895 using “silent movie” film effects and piano background, as if it was somehow a 1925 silent melodrama. Folks I guess it’s all “period.”
  • No actual analysis of the economic state of Butte, who the major players were, why exactly the miscreants behind the explosion weren’t punished, or even what the fuck they were mining in Butte at the time. It was just assumed that there were Powers That Be, and that businessmen weren’t punished even if they killed 57 people. More disapproving pursing of the lips and playing of sad bassoons. Come on, guys. Three minutes of exposition in a documentary is not hard.
  • Who greenlighted the title THE GREAT BUTTE EXPLOSION? This is a Montana PBS production. It’s going to be shown to school kids. Are you this dumb?
  • Ken Burns has ruined documentary filmmaking. It’s all The Old Negro Space Program now.

Okay I’m done and I can go back to bed now.

10 thoughts on “You have to understand. It was a different time.

  1. After each disapproving “Forget it, Jake” statement she stopped and pursed her lips like a high school assistant principal announcing detention.
    your analogies are the best, and your posts are always a good source of entertainment. 🙂 ❤


  2. That wikipedia article has managed to make a very funny Monty Python sketch sound horrible. Why even bother trying to describe it?
    I greatly enjoyed your recap of the whole horrible Butte disaster. Enjoy it, kids! lol


  3. “Ken Burns has ruined documentary filmmaking?” the same way that Britney Spears ruined pop music, right? because she had a few big hits, and thereafter, nobody made any other kind of music.
    i know i should ignore idiots like you, but every now and then i can’t resist.


    1. 1. This was a deliberate exaggeration for purposes of humorous style, using a particular technique called sarcasm. I apologize for any literal interpretation that may have been implied.
      2. I know I should ignore idiots like you, but every now and then I can’t resist.
      3. Helloooo Nashville!


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