Saturday, September 22, 2007

Cecilia Alvear's Inconvenient Statistics

Complaining in the Macaca Post that the Ken Burns mini-series "The War" doesn't spend enough time pandering to her particular vaguely defined racial/ethnic/cultural group, Cecilia Alvear relies on these statistics with zero context:
As many as half a million Hispanics served in World War II and earned at least 13 Medals of Honor.
Missing context always bothers me, so I looked it up:

464 Medals of Honor were awarded in World War II.

13 is roughly 2.8% of 464.

Over 16 million Americans served in World War II.

Based on Alvear's statistics, about 3% of those were Hispanics.

And here's part of the official description of the series:
THE WAR, a seven-part series directed and produced by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, tells the story of the Second World War through the personal accounts of a handful of men and women from four quintessentially American towns.
Why should we expect a handful of men and women from only four towns to represent every possible 3% subdivision of America?

Burns said at the screening I attended that some Latinos were reacting as if "The War" would be the definitive account of World War II. Others could produce documentaries on this subject, he noted. I doubt, however, that PBS or any commercial network would be willing to spend millions of dollars on another World War II project anytime soon. And no other filmmaker would receive the attention or editorial freedom Burns gets.

In discussing the criticism, Burns told the Los Angeles Times this month that he noticed that Hispanic groups hadn't pressured Latino filmmakers to tell the stories he omitted. "No, no, no -- it has to be Ken Burns," he said. "In a way all of this was an extraordinary compliment." Yes, it was. Latinos recognize that Burns is the country's preeminent documentary filmmaker. We want him to recognize us and our contributions to America.

So we should expect a handful of men and women from only four towns to represent every possible 3% subdivision of America because it's Ken Burns. With this kind of fanatical obsession, I half-expect Alvear to cry herself to sleep every night because Private Ryan and Oskar Schindler were too white.

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