People who know me, there are probably two or three out there, know of my great admiration for the historian Robert Caro.
IMHO, Caro stands head and shoulders above any other writer out there. He's won a National Book Award, a Pulitzer and just about every other award worth winning.
I was first introduced to Caro through his 1974 biography of Robert Moses, "The Power Broker." Having read that, I was urged to dive into his four-volume, 3000 pages-long biography of Lyndon Johnson.
At first I was cynical. Why would anyone need to read 3000 pages--no matter how good--on a failed president?
But then--one Father's Day, half a dozen years ago, my wife bought me all four volumes, and I made my way inexorably through them--to my great delight. What Caro writes about goes beyond a biographical subject--the same way Shakespeare's Merchant, or Lear, or Macbeth are more than just histories. They are studies of how men acquire, use and abuse power. They are stories of hubris.
Caro is 81 now and is racing to finish volume five of his study of LBJ--a volume about the Vietnam years. To write it up to his level, Caro will spend months at a time in Hue, Vietnam--learning all he can about the crucial battle of that protracted war from the people who lived through it. Just as he moved to LBJ's Hill Country to understand the man better, Caro is moving to Vietnam to understand the war better.
Yesterday I wrote a post about two photographers who, like Caro believed in getting close to the action. "If your shots aren't good enough," Robert Capa said, "you're not close enough."
There is of course in this resonance in our business. It's easier to be a dilettante, to stay on the fringes of the throes, the pains, the hardships, the fears and the ambitions of the people we are claiming to try to speak to. It's easier to do something that looks real than to create something that really communicates.
So much of what is on TV is so patently artificial and dumbly ugly. People talking stupidly to camera as if they're real people talking about "activating their within," or some such convolution it brings vomit up to your mouth.
We speak a lot about authenticity, as if we can capture it somehow without really trying hard to live it, to understand real life. We speak a lot about authenticity, then fall back on plasticine grins and workaday cliches.
We don't do the real work of being real.
That's our job.
To move to Vietnam on every project we approach.