2160: Ken Burns Theory

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Ken Burns Theory
Some of the KBCU ancillary works try a little too hard to tie everything together. Doris Kearns Goodwin, the sports journalist featured in "Baseball," was somehow ALSO a famous historian who wrote bestselling biographies of Lincoln AND Johnson? Unrealistic.
Title text: Some of the KBCU ancillary works try a little too hard to tie everything together. Doris Kearns Goodwin, the sports journalist featured in "Baseball," was somehow ALSO a famous historian who wrote bestselling biographies of Lincoln AND Johnson? Unrealistic.


Some fiction writers and filmmakers deliberately set some (or all) of their works in a common, or shared, universe, meaning that characters in one work can conceivably meet characters in another work via conventional travel, and sometimes such crossovers are made canon. In other cases, though, fans will hypothesize that a set of works take place in the same universe, even if the creators don't make such connections explicit (or even outright deny it). In such cases, fans will often pick out elements of different works, and find ways to relate them to a common storyline, creating a meta-narrative, in which each individual work is part of a larger timeline (some examples of such fan theories described in this Mental Floss article).

Ken Burns is an American filmmaker renowned for his historical documentaries; thus, all his documentary series are set in a common universe - namely, the real one - and usually the setting is a small part of that (real) universe: the United States in the last two centuries. The series mentioned are

  • The Civil War, covering the history of the American Civil War (1861-1865), released in 1990.
  • The Vietnam War, covering the history of the Vietnam War (1955-1975), released in 2017.
  • Baseball, covering the history of baseball from the 1840s to the 1990s, released in 1994.

The joke here is that Cueball is trying to find the common features between Ken Burns' series to set them in a common universe, as a fiction fan would do, "discovering" similarities between series that are simply facts in American history. For example, several series have an office named "President", which Cueball "guesses" to be the same for Lincoln and Johnson, and which obviously is just the President of the United States. Cueball has also drawn inferences from facts established in one series to draw conclusions about another, when he (correctly) concludes that the 1960s protesters depicted in Baseball were protesting "Johnson's war" as depicted in The Vietnam War.

The title text continues the joke by saying these stories are set in the "KBCU", an acronym which stands for "Ken Burns Cinematic Universe" similar to the popular Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

Doris Kearns Goodwin, mentioned in the title text, is a famous historian who has written biographies of several U.S. Presidents. She is also a fan of baseball's Boston Red Sox and a sportswriter who appeared in the Baseball miniseries. Cueball states that having a character that had written biographies of both presidents, while also a sportswriter was "unrealistic". It's not uncommon for writers trying to fit different stories into a single 'universe' to cause a single character to become important in both, even though it makes little narrative sense. This can be denounced as "trying too hard" to fit the stories together.

Finding that certain aspects of reality seems unrealistic is quite common. This is because our judgment of realism is based on our own experiences and our (often flawed) perception of probabilities. Because the complexities of the world generally exceed any person's experience, and because it's natural for highly unlikely events to occur sometimes, real events can seem implausible. In this case, people tend to think of sports journalism and political biography as being very different fields. The odds that one person would do work in both fields important enough to be relevant to all three documentaries under discussion feels unlikely. As a result, we (or rather, Cueball) deem it as unrealistic, even though it actually happened.


[Cueball is standing next to Megan.]
Cueball: Lincoln was "President" in The Civil War (1990), the same office held by Johnson in The Vietnam War (2017).
Cueball: And Baseball (1994) briefly showed 1960s "protesters." I think they were protesting Johnson's war!
Cueball: It all fits!
[Caption below the panel:]
I have a fan theory that every Ken Burns miniseries exists within a single cohesive universe.

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Is the joke in this comic that Ken Burns made documentary films about real events, meaning all of his mini-series truly were a part of a common universe - our own universe? Ianrbibtitlht (talk) 15:12, 7 June 2019 (UTC)

Could someone put in a summary of the Pixar theory from the Mental Floss article? It's the kind of thing that Randall is trying to reference. -- 17:25, 7 June 2019 (UTC)

Ehh, The Pixar theory is a famous example, but there are a lot more, like the snow globe theory, I don't think a single one needs to be summarized here to get the point 01:16, 8 June 2019 (UTC) sam

Is it weird that I found this funnier before I understood that Ken Burns was a documentary filmmaker? For some reason I thought that Burns was an actor and that cueball was trying to explain how his character could be the same person in some weird pseudohistorical fictional universe.

OMG same here! I thought Ken Burns was an actor I wasn't terribly familiar with (outside of having heard his name), and these were fictional movies based on elements of real life that he's acted in... Somehow it's less funny that Burns is a documentary maker and Cueball is just trying to create a fictional link that's actually really already there, LOL! NiceGuy1 (talk) 04:01, 8 June 2019 (UTC)
Uh, yes. You're both weird! ;-) Ianrbibtitlht (talk) 04:38, 8 June 2019 (UTC)
Or neither of us particularly care for documentaries and prefer our fiction to be fictional. :) LOL! NiceGuy1 (talk) 03:33, 15 June 2019 (UTC)

All the movies by M. Night Shyamalan are in the same universe though, right? 16:41, 8 June 2019 (UTC)

Maybe? 01:52, 9 June 2019 (UTC)

And I thought the joke was related to the liberties that Ken Burns takes with his "Histories" so that it isn't clear whether his versions of events could exist in the same universe.

What's up with the link to the "Star Wars Extended Universe Wiki"? Wouldn't Wookieepedia be a better link? 20:48, 20 December 2019 (UTC)