Civilisation Is Good Because It Is Optimistic About Our Past

It is common knowlege that the true measure of an artwork’s greatness is how it stands the test of time. The Civilisation documentary series, produced by the BBC in 1969 and presented by the late art historian Kenneth Clark, has certainly done so.

It is down to Clark’s excellent editorial judgment that a series with the rather grand task of curating the most iconic and influential creations of western civilisation never seems over the top. This is because Clark does not gush or sentimentalise; he seems to possess a sharp sense of realism; and he often steps back and simply lets the art speak for itself.

History wasn’t presented as one long woeful tale of oppression.

Some of the most moving scenes in Civilisation are when the camera pans slowly over its canonical subject matter, set only to a musical soundtrack.

As such, nothing about Civilisation seems dated. If anything, it shows us that there was once a time when history wasn’t presented as one long woeful tale of oppression and murder, as is a view now so common in academia.

Civilisation, a work of art in its own right, is a welcome respite from that sort of cynical miserabilism. It is on the BBC iPlayer now. I highly recommend you check it out.