Monday, June 15, 2015
Reality TV, World War II, and Controversy
SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: There’s a new reality TV show, an eight-part series called Holiday in the Protectorate, about life under Nazi rule in the Czech Republic airing now on Czech television.
This is not a joke.
If you don’t believe me — or just want a taste — a trailer (in English) may be viewed here.
The show sends three generations of a present day Czech family back in time to the year 1942 and life under Nazi occupation, to recreate the circumstances in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia after the invasion of Germany. The family members are not professional actors, but the rest of the “cast” is, such as the Gestapo informers, who keep a close eye on the family.
The director, Zora Cejnkova, came up with the idea for the program, calling it “not just entertainment, but a kind of history lesson for all those who didn’t experience the period 76 years ago.”
Critical reaction has been divided. While some people praise the show for its attention to historic detail and educational value, others have found much to criticize. A columnist for The Times of Israel wrote, “Fortunately, for the family, they will not be treated like the 82,309 Jews who lived in the protectorate” — who were deported to concentration and extermination camps.
Lovely readers, I haven’t seen the show (if anyone can find it online, even without subtitles, please tell me), so I’m going to withhold comment.
But I will say that my family and I have enjoyed many of the same sorts of shows from the BBC — 1940s House, about life in England during World War II; Manor House, an upstairs-downstairs view of the aristocracy and servants; and 1900 House, set in London during Victorian times.
There are U.S. versions “docu-tainment” shows as well — we just finished watching PBS’s Colonial House with Kiddo, who’s studying the build-up to the Revolutionary War. We all enjoyed it—and learned quite a bit.
Reds, what are your thoughts on these sorts of shows? And if you could choose produce a reality TV program highlighting a particular time and place, what would you choose? (Me? I’d go for Lower East Side of New York City at the turn of the 20th Century and call it Tenement House.)
RHYS BOWEN: I find that idea tasteless, since so many were persecuted and died. But I have enjoyed other reality shows sending people back in time. They had 1900s House, 1940s House set in London during the war, even Jane Austen house which was fun. I liked the American frontier one, although in each case I thought they chose the participants badly. These people had trouble adapting and did nothing but complain. Having grown up in an old unheated house in England I would have had no problem.
But yes, Susan, a taste of the Lower East Side 1900 might be interesting, although I don't see how you could recreate the teeming masses. Ancient Rome, minus the gladiators?
HALLIE EPHRON: This question really stumped me. Maybe because I've never watched a reality show. Also because I'm devoted to my space and creature comforts. I remember reading Little House on the Prairie thinking how glad I was I didn't have to deal with what Laura Ingalls Wilder's family did. Or the stench and violence of Oliver Twist's London.
LUCY BURDETTE: Can we spend just an hour or two somewhere instead of days or weeks? LOL I don't watch reality TV shows either, and I have to agree with Rhys — I do like the idea of making sure people don't forget what happened, but not sure this is the way...
Places I'd like to be for a couple of hours: My first thought was same as Hallie, Little House on the Prairie. But how about Gertrude Stein's Paris? That would be fascinating!
DEBORAH CROMBIE: I'd go for Gertrude Stein's Paris! But then, it might not be nearly as glamorous as we like to imagine...
Marcia Talley set one of her Hannah Ives novels in a fictionalized version of Colonial House (based on a real historical house in Annapolis) and she did a great job of showing the difficulties of adjusting to life without modern conveniences—and showing that these programs deliberately pick people who whine and complain and can't adapt because it makes "drama." I'd like them much better with cast who really tried to cope!
I was fascinated by the guy who came and spoke to the North Texas Jane Austen Society. He wore full period clothing and explained the history and use of every item. Made me wish I was writing Regency books!
SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: My absolutely unscientific opinion is that the British on the various shows are better at "coping" than the U.S. casts, who are always trying to bend the rules and get away with things...
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh that is tantalizing! I certainly would love to be in Lady Georgie's world for a little while…the glamorous part, with heat and bathrooms at least. Or maybe in New York Society, in… The 30s? With the Stork Club and evening clothes and big bands and Broadway babies.
Do you know what would be really fun, though… To be transported to a Broadway musical. To be the lead in the Broadway musical, and know what it was like to practice and worry and have talent and sing wonderful songs and have opening night. Well, perhaps that's A Chorus Line… :-)
And Susan, the show you mentioned… Not quite sure I would watch that…
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Agreed, Hank, I'd love to see a reality show set in Lady Georgie's time — although the contrast between upstairs and downstairs, or Mayfair and the Isle of Dogs would have been appalling in the 1930s. Really, being rich is always nicer in any era, isn't it?
I loved the 1900 House, the Colonial House and the one set on the American frontier - can anyone recall the name of that program? [Julia, it was Frontier House — xxSusan] 1900 House was perhaps the most interesting, because it was just technologically advanced enough so that the modern-day participants didn't spend all their time just trying to heat water or get food. Instead, they had to deal with the subtle effects of the class and gender roles they were saddled with. I recall the Royal Marine father coming over quite the Pater familias, while the whole upstairs family began to treat their maid as a sort of domestic machine.
As for the Czech show, I suspect a better, more comprehensive and more tasteful way of educating the current generation on life under the Protectorate would be a good-quality miniseries or multi-part documentary.
SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Yes! The fathers in every era seem to become (even more) overbearing with their white male power and privilege, don't they? That seems to be a constant, regardless of era.
I was discussing this idea with Hubby (who is Black) and we decided the one show we could never do here in the U.S. is Plantation House — although he brought up the interesting idea of having African Americans in the roles of plantation wonders and European Americans in the role of the slaves....
Lovely readers, what are your thoughts on Holiday in the Protectorate? Have you watched any of the historical reality TV shows we're talking about? Is there any era you'd like to go back to? Please tell us in the comments!