Revisionist History

Do not let the name mislead you – Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History is a show very much grounded in the present, challenging its listeners to re-examine the current day world we live in by looking back at the past. Each episode sees Gladwell investigate and analyse an overlooked event or fact, then demonstrate its current relevance, often using this technique to highlight the injustice and inequality which he believes is still rife in our society today.

Gladwell is a clear and concise narrator. Even when discussing obscure issues, you never feel like you’re out of your depth. Gladwell excels in making the connections that are not immediately evident – but crucially important – clear to his listeners. An interview with the chef at a prestigious American college canteen is used as the jumping off point to make a damning connection between how much elite colleges spend on food to financial aid. You can’t anticipate how much he will make you care about something that seemed insignificant at first.

The series finale ‘The Paradox of Satire’ is a particular highlight. Gladwell analyses how modern, ‘toothless’, popular satire has emerged, which he finds is insufficient in establishing the target and therefore powerless to out corruption. He then compares this to a left-wing, Israeli, satirical sketch show, a moment when his narration skills really shine. Clips of the show are played, interspersed with commentary by him which is charged with an infectious sense of exhilaration and awe for the courageously, unforgiving honesty of their satire.

Despite touching on many serious issues the show does not leave you feeling heavy. Although his sarcastic and dry humour will not have you laughing out loud, the show is still absorbing. He is not the most emotive speaker yet still conveys the strong passion fuelling his investigations. However, this limits certain episodes where Gladwell strays from addressing issues associated with social inequality to other topics such as art. Here the show loses some momentum – he is at his most compelling when entreating us to question the established structures through which we perceive the world.

At the end of the first series Gladwell tells us that his aim is to show that ‘to make a change takes courage’ and most episodes do leave you feeling inspired. The show draws its power from overturning the overlooked and in the process revealing a different way of looking at things, that then seems more obvious. On the whole, Gladwell has created a highly intelligent and powerfully thought provoking show.

Image: Pop!Tech @ Flickr

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