Pop Culture Roundup: This Week

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Rick Shenkman is the editor of HNN. 

A New Exhibit Shows How New York Once Ruled Technology

At the 1964 World’s Fair, Bell Labs sought to connect people with the future. Beginning with the First Lady and the mayor of New York City, the company invited people to try out the Picturephone, a telephone with a video feed. New Yorkers were intrigued – it was the first time most had appeared on a television screen – but what really caught their attention was a typewriter bar hosted by IBM.
Typewriters were nothing new in the ’60s. Versions had been available for nearly a century. However the IBM Selectric – first introduced in 1961 – mesmerized everyone who tried it, and generated orders by the tens of thousands. (In comparison, Bell’s Picturephone service had a mere hundred subscribers by 1973, a number that subsequently dwindled to nine.)

Both of these ’60s technologies are currently on view at the New-York Historical Society as part of an exhibition provocatively called Silicon City: Computer History Made in New York.

Was “Censored Voices” censored? by Martin Kramer 

Censored Voices, the manipulative documentary film by Israeli director Mor Loushy on the Six-Day War, had its U.S. theatrical release last Friday. It’s now playing in Manhattan and Bethesda, Maryland, and it will open in Los Angeles this weekend. Loushy, it will be recalled, resurrects conversations among Israeli soldiers recorded in the immediate aftermath of the Six-Day War. Some of these testimonies were published a short time later in a book called Soldiers’ Talk. But Loushy retrieved material which had been omitted from Soldiers’ Talk—according to her, by order of the Israeli military censor, partly because the soldiers discussed Israeli war crimes. These weren’t just a few redlined paragraphs: the censor, Loushy alleges, cut seventy percent of the original testimonies.

As I showed at Mosaic Magazine over the summer, this quantified claim is entirely bogus. It’s an out-of-thin-air “statistic” that seems to have been fabricated in order to boost the marketing of the film. And it still works. See, for example, the latest review by film critic Daniel M. Gold in the New York Times: “The Israeli military permitted only about 30 percent of the material to be published then.” What’s the evidence for this claim, aside from the bald assertion of the filmmakers? None whatsoever. I won’t repeat my forensic analysis of who did censor the voices—go to my Mosaic piece for the full story. It matters because the relentless repetition of this mythical number is exemplary of the filmmaker’s propensity for elision and distortion in her spin of the Six-Day War itself.

Bridge of Spies: Spielberg’s Cold War is predictably one-sided

The problem with writing the history of the secret world of spies is that so much of their story is just that – secret. Despite the fact that the Cold War ended a generation ago, governments are still reluctant to declassify the files that would allow us finally to answer the many unsolved and unknown questions of that era. 

This is slightly less of a problem for Steven Spielberg in his latest film, Bridge of Spies, as he tells the Cold War story of a secret mission that ended in a very public way. The film follows humble insurance lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks), a man reviled by America for taking on the legal defence of Soviet spy Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance, who quietly steals the show) in the US state’s case against him…. 

Although it is hardly a prejudiced interpretation of the Cold War and the relationship between Donovan and Abel is tinged with mutual respect throughout, Bridge of Spies largely ignores the Soviet side of things. A Cold War historian would be very unlikely to write an account of this episode that focused only on the actions of one of the nations involved, yet that is roughly what we get.

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