I noticed this billboard on I-84 in Danbury, CT on my way back from Christmas in Massachusetts. Since then, I’ve been kicking myself that I didn’t stop to get a picture for Found History. But now I’m glad I didn’t. As I learned in my online search for the billboard, it turns out to be sponsored by something called The Foundation for a Better Life. Here’s how they describe their operation:
The mission of The Foundation for a Better Life, through various media efforts, is to encourage adherence to a set of quality values through personal accountability and by raising the level of expectations of performance of all individuals regardless of religion or race. Through these efforts, the Foundation wants to remind individuals they are accountable and empowered with the ability to take responsibility for their lives and to promote a set of values that sees them through their failures and capitalizes on their successes. An individual who takes responsibility for his or her actions will take care of his or her family, job, community, and country.
You can draw your own conclusions.
In any case, it looks like they’ve spent an awful lot of money on billboards and TV ads in which not just Lincoln, but a host of prominent historical figures, are used to embody certain selected (family?) values. Thus, Lincoln is “persistence”, Edison is “optimism”, Ghandi is “soul”, and Churchill is “commitment”. Obviously there are serious problems with this kind of historical argument, first and foremost the attempt to write biograpy in a single word. There’s also the choice of subjects, the choice of values, and the parings between the two. Still, I think the billboards do a pretty good job of tapping into popular notions of historical biography and are probably worth paying attention to … if only to know what we’re up against in our pursuit of the popular historical imagination.