I was cleaning out my TiVo last night, and I caught this odd trio debating the makeup of Lincoln’s cabinet. The phone is an especially nice touch.
(Don’t blame me for the crappy video embed. My initial instinct was to pull this from YouTube. After several fruitless searches there, I finally remembered Viacom’s DMCA lawsuit and stumbled over to Comedy Central’s nearly unusable video pages. How many thousands of like-minded YouTube users have just given up and forgotten all about their Daily Show clip? Nice move, Viacom.)
Despite media claims, polling data, and bureaucratic number crunching to the contrary, one of the main contentions of Found History is that people care deeply about history—sometimes to the point of fighting about it. For evidence of this you don’t need to go to Kashmir or Kurdistan or some other far off province where wars fester over real and perceived historical rights and wrongs. Look no further than the Ohio State Senate, where a recent debate over a bill to designate September 22nd “Emancipation Day” caused a real ruckus.
As first reported in the Cincinnati Enquirer, the debate turned heated after Dayton Republican Jeff Jacobson took issue with Columbus Democrat Ray Miller’s characterization of Abraham Lincoln’s ideas on emancipation. Miller shot back with charges of “revisionism” and was asked to desist in his remarks by Senate President Bill Harris (R-Ashland). Miller refused, Jacobson protested, and Harris quickly ordered a recess and abruptly turned off the chamber’s cameras—even as the senators continued their argument. Democrats later criticized this tactic as “baloney.” Harris said he was simply trying to maintain control. The real question is control of what: the Ohio Senate or American history?
Watch the tape and decide for yourself. (The good stuff starts at about 25:00)
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.