Tuesday, April 9, 2013
Harper Lee on American Masters
American Masters may be the finest show on TV, but their segment on Harper Lee and her novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, which I caught in a recent repeat, is a disappointment, one of those documentaries characterized by talking heads, most of whom did not know Lee, only her book on which they pontificate. You get Oprah Winfrey saying how “brave” Lee was for the book’s portrayal of racism. Anna Quindlen and Rosanne Cash read from the text and try their best to appear moved, and Tom Brokaw, Andrew Young, and others offer predictable thoughts on the novel’s impact on society. Brokaw even uses the word “pantheon” (“temple for all the gods” – Webster’s). Lee was part of the pantheon, he says. Silly man.
To Kill a Mockingbird is a popular novel in classrooms, and whenever a city stages one of those reading programs, encouraging the citizenry to read a particular title, you can bet Lee’s novel will be considered and often chosen. It is, as one cynic noted, the favorite book of people who do not read much. I read a lot, mostly nonfiction, but it was years before I got around to reading the book. However, I did write book reports about it several times in my preteen years, basing them more on the movie which seemed so serious, so mature, when I saw it on TV. It is serious, it is mature. The movie is also a bit overrated.
Lee never published another novel, and, appalled by celebrity, gave no interviews after 1964. She did not appear in the American Masters program in her honor.
© 2013 Brian W. Fairbanks
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