Wasn’t It Only Yesterday?

The now nearly invisible Harry Potter. Photo from Warner Bros.

I recently came across a headline that gave me the frowns. It was a week or so ago, but in the midst of my “why don’t people get their history correct” rant, Part One. So consider this Part Two. The caption was:

Why so much Obama-era pop culture feels so cringe now: How Hamilton, Parks and Recreation, and Harry Potter lost cultural cachet.

Constance Grady, Vox.com

Much of this is a calculated irritant. The headline was recommended by a browser algorithm that is the technological equivalent of supermarket tabloid stands. It’s designed to be a wet fish slap. Obama somehow seems to share in the blame. At least in the supermarket, you can also contemplate the Snickers bars. On the Internet, it’s just you and this headline and the other stories cum ads about the “Last Bed/Pizza-Kit/Migraine Remedy You’ll Every Buy.”

It’s clickbait. It’s written by people whose profession is to tell you what to think and how to live. Those folks in the ancient days were the rule-making priests, then the culture-stamping bosses; now they are self-appointed influencers. (I was going to add barely-known bloggers, but then I’m a barely-known blogger, so never mind).

We all shouldn’t care so much. And yet…so many questions spring to mind.

Who decided Hamilton, Harry Potter, and Parks and Rec are completely out of favor? Who decided these were Popular in the first place? How is Harry Potter even “Obama-era,” when all of the book were published before Obama? I dispute the premise, and I dispute the facts. And it’s worth spending a few minutes on this because we should not stir together opinions about politics, art, and facts as if they are interchangeable. When we do that, it becomes much easier to dismiss videos from January 6th as “that’s your opinion.”

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The Past Is Not What It Used to Be

A Greek temporal celestial calculator @ 200 BCE. Photo by Tony Freeth in Scientific American.

This is the time of year when we collectively think about time, about how the page is turning (ha! my website). But we don’t just turn the calendar page–we switch out the calendar. We might perhaps feel the icy fingers of Time brushing the nape of our neck, yet we also imagine the bouncing baby of 2022. Spring must be coming, yes, sometime soon? Better times?

With the new year circling the tarmac on approach, I have had a heightened awareness of time and history. Recent stories have surprised me: a wet fish slap to the brain about How We Remember the Past. I found enough examples to fill two posts. This one will talk about history by the historians, the next about history in recent memory. The Past is not simply a collection of facts.

The Past No More

History textbooks when I was growing up often had misstatements and exaggerations; I’m sure yours did, too. For example, Columbus did not discover America. He had a very good publicist, given that he didn’t even make it to North America, but only landed in the Bahamas, not to mention “discovering” an area already populated. He also brought smallpox and enslavement along with the possibility for exploitation trade. Even so, I can still visualize the cartoon of my childhood where Peabody and Sherman helped Columbus prove that the earth was round. It’s hard to shake simplistic explanations.

Peabody did correctly surmise that Columbus was a bit of an idiot. Photo from the Peabodyverse
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The Wild Hunt on Christmas Eve

Peter Nicolai Arbo’s Asgardreien (The Wild Hunt of Odin), 1872, wikipedia.

Pretend this is the Jeopardy category: Common Bonds. The Wild Hunt, mind control, and the 1871 Polaris disaster. What do they all have in common? Got it? Add in fan fiction, Zwarte Piet, shoemakers, Martin Luther, reliquary theft…. Yes? Norse mythology? Saving girls from prostitution? Louisa May Alcott, Thomas Nast? How about Shadrack, the Black Reindeer?

It is Christmas Eve, after all.

The mythology–the extensive fan fiction, which is what mythology is, isn’t it?–around the legends of Santa Claus and Christmas have roots that go waa-a-a-y beyond the Coca Cola commercial. Although I dug deep into a comparison of Santa and Jesus last year, there are Santa rabbit holes to be discovered. Even if we just talk about Santa and his helpers, there’s plenty that even that Greek scholar and seminarian Clement Moore didn’t envision.

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