The Bletchley Circle is an enormously popular British miniseries about four women who worked as codebreakers in World War II in Bletchley Park outside London and who are able to put their skills and training to good use after the war to track down criminals outside police channels. In the first season, which premiered in the U.S. in 2013, the four women went after a serial killer after picking up what the police had missed – the hidden pattern of the killings. Like many popular films, its interest is sociological as much as dramatic, for such films are popular precisely because they strike a responsive chord in the viewing audience.
Here in Israel we do not get to see American commercials on cable TV. On the American news networks, what we get instead of the commercials are fillers. These are naturally as superficial as the actual broadcasts. Fox, for example, gives us “extras,” very often focusing on health, though, not surprisingly, not a word is said about how the American food industry is destroying it. MSNBC, on the other hand, gives us its Lean Forward promos, where its anchor people and other superstars make “statements,” that is, deliver something in the way of personal credos. These are meant to be trenchant but are in fact ludicrous.
Now that my cable provider has gotten ahold of a batch of old Samuel Goldwyn movies, no doubt at a bargain price, I have had the opportunity in recent weeks to see some real classics, like The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) and The Little Foxes (1941), for example. But classic or not, these films are worth watching as anthropological treasure droves, telling us more about America than a thousand books, for what they reveal are the unspoken assumptions of American life. However, there is another side to them as well, an ironic side. The characters in these films have no idea what is just around the corner.
Bill O’Reilly has discovered that Americans are ignorant “about their own country.” He told us so not too long ago, quoting Newsweek for the numbers, though he could just as easily have quoted some of Jay Leno’s man-in-the-street interviews (it turns out that 29% of Americans don’t know who the vice president is and 40% don’t know that Germany and Japan were the enemies in World War II). And Bill knows who to blame too: First, the public school system, which is “no longer teaching history, geography and civics in an effective way.” Next, the Internet, which allows people to detach themselves from reality. Television too, but that doesn’t apply to Fox viewers, who obviously take an interest in current events. There you have it, in a nutshell.