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UnHerd's blog
Actors from The Crown attending the premiere of season two, last November. Credit: Ian West/PA Wire.

Fake news drama reigns

I know I’m a bit behind (started last week and have only just finished the third episode of season one) but I was really enjoying Netflix’s The Crown but that enjoyment was spoilt somewhat by what Peggy Noonan documented in her column in last Friday’s Wall Street Journal. Protesting against “The Lies of ‘The Crown” Peggy notes a consistently mean-spirited treatment of Harold Macmillan, the third of the 13 (so far) prime ministers to have served during Her Majesty’s reign. But it’s the treatment of JFK that most appals here:

“JFK was not, as “The Crown” asserts, enraged with his wife for dazzling Paris on their first state trip to Europe. He was thrilled at her success; it elevated him on the world stage. Suddenly he saw her as what she was, a political asset to be deployed. She transfixed Charles de Gaulle, that stern and starchy old man who was always mad at America, often with good reason. Biographer Richard Reeves quotes JFK to his wife: “ ‘Well,’ he told her, ‘I’m dazzled.’ ”

There is nothing—literally nothing—to support the assertion in “The Crown” that after the trip JFK, in a rage at being upstaged by his wife, drank, threw things and lunged at her. There is no historical evidence that he ever got rapey with his wife.

Also he didn’t smoke cigarettes.

All of this, and more, is so vulgar, dumb and careless. It is disrespectful not only of real human beings but of history itself.”

After I tapped “historical accuracies of The Crown” into Google I found plenty more. “Artistic licence” is forgivable when certain sub-elements that might be necessary to serve a wider narrative are not knowable (although the  “based on a true story” claim of too many dramas deserves X-ratings) – or when things aren’t knowable yet – but when a character or event is presented negatively in ways that good research would have counselled against you have to wonder if political or other biases from writers and directors are driving things. I’ve been entertainment-industry-sceptical ever since I read Michael Medved’s provocatively-titled Hollywood versus America and the persistence with which the studios of Tinseltown made such a disproportionate number of transgressive films, against all commercial logic. I admire people who have a bigger purpose than making money but audiences should not be blind or indifferent to that purpose? And is it an industry that encourages or at least permits alternatives to the dominant herd or is it too much like the world of academia – as, sadly, confirmed by the Nigel Biggar episode – and critical, even suppressive, of any unfashionable views?

All of this matters because we live in an age of massive consumption of entertainment. If that industry is largely spreading one worldview – and sometimes using falsehoods to do so, because ‘ends justify the means’ – we should at least have some awareness that we’re often being preached at – while still being able to enjoy a production that, like The Crown, is so brilliant in most respects.

The entertainment industry has led opposition to Donald Trump and his “fake news” – but is “fake drama” at least as big a problem? The star of The Apprentice did, after all, emerge from the celebrity/entertainment world as much as from business. That might, just possibly, be more than a coincidence.