When Docudrama Becomes Comedy

Photo credit: History | Left to right: Adam Segaller as Andrew Carnegie, Eric Rolland as J.P. Morgan, Tim Getman as John D. Rockefeller and David Donahoe as Cornelius Vanderbilt star in "The Men Who Built America."

Photo credit: History | Left to right: Adam Segaller as Andrew Carnegie, Eric Rolland as J.P. Morgan, Tim Getman as John D. Rockefeller and David Donahoe as Cornelius Vanderbilt star in “The Men Who Built America.”

I recently caught a couple of episodes of  “The Men Who Built America – H2″ It’s the funniest thing I’ve seen in years.

In theory, this series purports to be a serious study of the period from the Civil War to WWI, which focuses on John D. Rockefeller, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford and J.P. Morgan, i.e., “The Robber Barons.” But Robber Barons is a term History Channel never uses. And there’s a good reason for that.

This series has a number of prominent modern American “tycoons” (almost all men) who periodically pop onto the screen to glow with admiration for the Robber Barons and gleefully tell you how “it’s all about the game and money is just a way of keeping score.” Those segments keep my laughing for hours.  Here’s why . . .

The MWBA are all, to a man, thoroughly bad, horrible, evil, immoral, almost sociopathic individuals. These men did terrible things and never thought of anyone but themselves, their petty ambitions, and their petty revenges. They didn’t care who they hurt (including their own employees), who they destroyed (including the US Economy, several times) or even who they murdered (including their own workers).

Knowing what terrible men these individuals were, you would think any astute, self-aware commentator with some sense of morality would point up how bad they were. But do these modern American “tycoons” (who feel their lives have paralleled the Robber Barons) do this? Oh no. Instead, they gush over the Robber Barons in a way just short of a girl with Bieber Fever.

I know I should be shocked and saddened (and I am), but it’s just so funny. I mean, at least the Robber Barons knew they were bad people doing bad things. This is why they went around donating things later in life. So they wouldn’t be remembered as the horrible people even they knew they were.

Carnegie went so far as to try and write a self-justifying book to silence his conscience, but all it really proves is his total moral meltdown. The book is called the Gospel of Wealth. Take a moment and think about this. He says it’s a Gospel. It’s a replacement for his Christian religion!

 In the book he argues that the life of a wealthy industrialist should comprise two parts: Part 1, the gathering and the accumulation of wealth — by being a total sociopath. Part 2, the subsequent distribution of this wealth to benevolent causes — trying to redeem yourself.

If you’re picturing some modern tycoon and thinking . . . oh yeah, he got rich by all sorts of questionable means and then he made that charitable foundation to help the poor (whom he helped to make poor while he was getting rich) . . . you’re right to do so. Carnegie’s book is still required reading in some US Business degree programs. How bizarre is that!?

But what’s even more bizarre is the fact Carnegie felt philanthropy was key to making life worthwhile!

If he really felt philanthropy was the key to making life worthwhile, why he didn’t believe people should live their whole life as good, honorable, philanthropic people who extend kindness, justice, and fair treatment to everyone without any regard for the accumulation of wealth?

See what I mean? Classic sociopath. No self-awareness. No moral compass. And that’s what so funny. The History Channel’s tycoon commentators are just like the 19th-century Robber Barons they happily praise. They don’t even realize they aren’t the modern version of the men who built America. They’re simply the reincarnation of the men that almost destroyed it.

[The series premiered in Oct 2012. It may have been a pre-election GOP-sponsored “Capitalists like Mitt Romney are needed” thing. It’s the only reasonable explanation I can come up with for the series existance.]
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