The Censors Are Coming for HBO’s New Alternate History Show About the Civil War


The Battle of Nashville" by Howard Pyle

A new HBO series from two of the producers of The Game of Thrones has sparked an online campaign to block it.

The show is called Confederate, and it imagines an alternate timeline for the United States from the Civil War in which the South won and slavery is still very much alive.

This sort of alternate history plot isn’t particularly new. Author Harry Turtledove has made a fine career out of it (I recommend Guns of the South). It’s not only entertaining, if done right it can be a useful device for exploring important questions about society.

Some, though, are already objecting to the show. They’re calling for HBO to block it before even one episode has been aired:

A grassroots campaign against the upcoming slave drama hit No. 2 on Twitter’s worldwide trending topics Sunday during ‘Game of Thrones.’
Following a massive social media campaign urging HBO to abandon its upcoming slave drama Confederate, the premium cable network has responded to the outcry.

“We have great respect for the dialogue and concern being expressed around Confederate. We have faith that [writers] Nichelle, Dan, David and Malcolm will approach the subject with care and sensitivity. The project is currently in its infancy so we hope that people will reserve judgment until there is something to see,” the premium cable network said in a statement Sunday.

I’ll admit to being intrigued by the concept of the show – as you can probably tell I like alternate history stories generally – but I don’t really have an opinion about it. Because I haven’t seen it yet.

Nobody has.

At least, nobody who isn’t working on the show.

Shouldn’t that be a prerequisite for criticism? If you’re calling for a show to be spiked because of its content, why should we take you seriously if you haven’t even seen the show in question yet?

Maybe this show will be awful. Maybe it will be a wonderful program. The point is, none of us knows yet because we haven’t seen it yet.

“The campaign, organized by April Reign, creator of the #OscarsSoWhite outcry, urged viewers to tweet #NoConfederate during Sunday’s episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones in a bid to send a message to the cabler that their subscribers don’t want to see a show that explores slavery in any sense,” the Hollywood Reporter reports.

We can’t explore slavery as a topic in any sense? C’mon.

Not so long ago Amazon released a series called The Man in the High Castle (based on the excellent Phillip K. Dick story) which explored in alternate history in which German and Japanese fascism were victorious in WWII. That’s subject matter every bit as awful as slavery, and yet I don’t remember any really organized campaign to take down that show.

Why the double standard?

What’s happening here is prior restraint. The heckler’s veto. People urging censorship for no other reason than their notion that the thing to be censored might be injurious to their sensibilities.

This is an all too common thing in this digital age when social media mobs hold far too much sway over everything from television programming to politics. This is populism, in the purest sense, and it’s an ugly thing.

Kudos to HBO for sticking to their guns. For now, anyway.