The Alternate History We Need.
Alternate histories I want to see:
A political drama based on an alternate timeline where Columbus is wiped out in a storm, leading to a chain of events where the triangle trade is never developed, and Europe doesn’t expand nearly as aggressively. Rising powers of Native American, Asian, and African nations compete with Europe in 2017 with modern technology, but without signs of Westernization. Imagine how global culture would have developed without entirely lopsided Imperialism.
Nat Turner’s rebellion spreads and succeeds, leading to the creation of a Republic of former slaves in the American South. They ally with Haiti and the newly independent Latin American states and ally to push Imperialist powers out of the Caribbean. In 2017, the United States is essentially New England and the Great Lakes.
John Wilkes Booth’s assassination plot succeeds. Johnson and Seward are also killed. Power now rests with Senate President Pro Tempore Ben Wade, aided by Secretary of War Stanton. They do not have Johnson’s gentle attitude towards the South. Responding to an outraged North, President Wade permanently strips citizenship from every Confederate who ever fought in the army or served in the government, essentially disenfranchising white Southerners for a generation. Stanton aggressively defends Reconstruction with extreme measures, summarily executing both captured and suspected Klansmen. In the 60s, laws are passed restoring the franchise to white southerners, but in 2017 lingering effects of their status are still felt.
Alternate histories I don’t want to see:
The South wins the Civil War and slavery is intact in 2017. I know that HBO probably really excited to show that first look trailer of a scene out in a field with black slaves picking crops and instead of guys on horses the camera pans up and there’s a drone watching. But this is a bad idea on a lot of levels.
First, counterfactuals of Confederate victory are a really tired genre of American fiction. This idea is embarrassingly old and unoriginal.
Second, HBO’s business model is built around female nudity and sex scenes to the degree where I wonder if they have a quota they give their showrunners. Let’s put on our thinking caps for a moment and ponder why that’s a really terrible fit for this concept.
Finally, I know that their reaction is going to appear dismayed and shocked two years from now, but as sure as the opening sequence will be a Ken Burns style montage filling in what happened in this alternate America, white nationalists will enthusiastically champion this show.
Prediction: they’re not even going to get the basic iconography right. Instead of the Stars and Bars hanging from public buildings, they’ll use the “Confederate Battle Flag,” a symbol that didn’t gain prominence until the Civil Rights movement. They’ll beg it off as not trying to challenge their audience too much, and giving them symbols they’ll recognize. And that’s the problem with modern day HBO: don’t challenge the audience too much has become their mantra.
What we need in 2017 is drama that shows historically marginalized people being empowered, not enslaved.