ApproximationDocumentary, History and Staging Reality

History as Incidental Event

Here, my aim is to reverse the normative relationship between pivotal historical moments and drama, by looking at ways in which even the ‘big’ events of history can materialise in dramas as ‘incidental’.


The use of television in ‘The Grown Ups’ (Man Men Season 2, Ep. 12) is especially interesting. As a series Mad Men is generally applauded for its ‘authentic’ rendition of its 1960s milieu – through design, decor, costumes etc. When it came to representing the defining event of US 1960s history – the Kennedy assassination on 22 November 1963 – the series needed to be no less authentic. If we, now, think of images associated with the death of JFK, we no doubt recall Abraham Zapruder’s 8mm home movie of the assassination; but this was withheld from public view until the mid-1970s, so whilst Mad Men viewers might have the world’s most famous snuff movie in mind as we watch ‘The Grown Ups’, the Mad Men characters cannot. Instead, from the first CBS bulletin to carry news of the shooting, through Walter Kronkite’s choked announcement that Kennedy had died, to Lee Harvey Oswald’s death on live television and the president’s funeral, they replicate the contemporary experience.



Stella Bruzzi FBA

Stella Bruzzi

Stella Bruzzi is Professor of Film and Television Studies at the University of Warwick and was made a Fellow of the British Academy in 2013. She was Head of Department 2006–2008 and Chair of the Faculty of Arts at Warwick 2008–2011. She lives in Oxford with her husband and two children.


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