The Men Who Built America would be right at home on Game of Thrones | Bleader

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Men Who Built America would be right at home on Game of Thrones

Posted By on 07.09.13 at 01:16 PM

Tywin Lannister
  • Tywin Lannister
A week limited to basic cable can drive a fellow to desperate measures, and in my case this meant watching hour upon hour of the History Channel. To be fair, I was multitasking—pitting cherries for a pie while staring slack-jawed at the inception of the American century as rendered in The Men Who Built America, a six-hour-long miniseries that's both risible and hypnotic.

The MWBA are Cornelius Vanderbilt, John Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, JP Morgan, and Henry Ford. They are played by unknown actors obviously chosen for their ability to sit at desks, suck on cigars, and look shrewd, visionary, and ruthless. They have few actual lines, and most of what we learn about them is told by an off-screen narrator. Every so often one of a rotating chorus of talking heads (Donald Trump! Mark Cuban!) pops up onscreen to assure us of the brilliance of these Founding Plutocrats and shamelessly insinuate that they, the talking heads, belong in the same company. At that task, they don’t make the slightest headway.

Vanderbilt gave us railroads, Rockefeller oil, Carnegie steel, Morgan investment banking (he financed Thomas Edison), and Ford cars. In TMWBA, they compete, connive, risk all, and when disaster looms exploit it for fresh opportunity. The history is dished out at a junior high level, but when you’re pitting cherries that’s the way you want it.

At some point it hit me. This was American history as Game of Thrones. Vanderbilt et al are stamped from the die of Tywin Lannister (and sort of look like him). They are the toughest and wiliest; they prevail as the weaklings are hacked to pieces. If you protest, yes, but where’s the nudity? my answer is that the only artistic reason for it on Game of Thrones is to establish how little it matters to the mightiest warlords. Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Carnegie, Morgan, and Ford go to bed and wake up with their big ideas; besides, they have their cigars. Grab-ass isn’t on their minds either.

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