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.”
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.
The turning of the year is always a time we treat ourselves to a new round of self-reflection and self-flagellation for what we have done and what we have not done. It’s a good time to take stock and make plans. But resolutions are flighty beasts. If you create them, do so with an eye towards success rather than suffering.
All of life can be broken down into moments of transition, or moments…of revelation. This has the feeling of both.
—G’Kar, Babylon 5
Blame the Romans for emphasizing this act of two-faced reflection, this looking forward and looking back. Along with roads, sanitation, and language, they also gave Europe and the New World a workable calendar. Some tweaking was required; the original “Romulus” calendar was ten months long and began in March. Legend credits King Numa Pompilius — the dude in charge sometime after Rome’s foundation but way before the Republic and Julius Caesar — with adding two more months to help bring the lunar and solar year into synchronization. The new year was moved to start a week or so after the winter solstice on January 1st in a new month dedicated to Janus, the god of doorways, the god of looking forward and looking back. Continue reading “Facing forward, facing back”