Saturday, October 24, 2015

Useable Pasts on Stage and Screen

"Hamilton" on Broadway
According to Ester Bloom, a writer at The Atlantic, Americans love historical stories, films, narratives, and plays that meet their personal and political needs.  She is right.  This is why Sam Wineburg called historical thinking an "unnatural" act.  We are wired to find something we need in the past--something that inspires us or helps us achieve present-day ends.  I made a strong argument along these lines in Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past and have been making this argument here at the blog and in my classes for years.

Here is a taste of Bloom's article:

Liberals seem to prioritize historical titles that offer irreverence, complexity, and, sometimes, humor. While Republicans and Democrats alike may be found waiting in line in front of the Richard Rodgers Theater to enter the lottery for discounted tickets—Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical is one of the few subjects on which former Vice President Cheney and President Obama can publicly agree—Democrats seem to be more enthusiastic, given that they are using the show for fundraising purposes. And, before there was Hamilton, there was the off-Broadway (and briefly on-Broadway) sensation Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, wherein the famous frontiersman and seventh president was pilloried via comic rock opera.

Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist and a professor of ethical leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business, has written that his research suggeststhat “liberals want to loosen things up, especially in ways that they believe will make more room for women, African Americans, gay people, and other oppressed groups to escape from traditional strictures, express themselves, and succeed.” In other words, the same kind of people who turn to satire for their news prefer their history to be inclusive and not taken too seriously...

Conservatives are also fans of civics, though they tend to come at the subject in a more sincere, goal-oriented fashion. One right-wing site, Liberty News, posits that forgetting the sacrifices made by the Founding Fathers “will ultimately lead to government dependence,” in which case, “ownership over our way of life will be transferred to the government.” A belief that the stakes are truly that high may be the reason that conservative pundits Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, and Glenn Beck have recently—and with immense success—repackaged themselves as earnest writers of a kind of history that venerates so-called Great Men.

Read the rest here.