06 June 2011

The Midnight Rider 3.0

Recently, Sarah Palin attempted to co-op the legacy of Paul Revere in some public remarks that re-cast the scout as having "warned" the British that we were armed and waiting.  Now I could go into the ins and outs of Revere's legacy (he never saw the lantern light, didn't reach Concord and it was either William Dawes or Samuel Prescott who actually completed the mission and sounded the alarm), the historiography of Revere (credit goes to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow for making him a household name almost a century later) and lecture about how it's okay to put forth a different interpretation of what happened but wrong to attempt to change the very nature of what happened when discussing history (see: Palin defenders swarming Wikipedia to literally rewrite the page on Revere).  I could do all that, but you know what?  My heart's just not in it.

Ultimately none of that matters outside the realm of academia or this blog because people have been handed a shorthand version of all this that reinforces specific world views and they're not interested in anything that conflicts with their preconceived notions.  I'm so accustomed to it that I try to avoid any conversation about history unless it's something entirely benign and unlikely to mean much to anyone in the room with me.  I can recite various amusing anecdotes about Daniel Boone, point out that Caravaggio was often arrested for carrying a sword without a permit and laugh about how CIA plans to assassinate Fidel Castro often appeared to be derived from watching Bugs Bunny cartoons (seriously, we tried to send him exploding cigars) and that makes me fun at dinner parties.  But when it comes to things like Paul Revere or the Puritans, Sarah Palin has demonstrated that I'm hopelessly outmatched in explaining why what's being peddled isn't a competing interpretation but an outright revision designed for one purpose alone: to legitimize actions taken today by linking them with the past.

What irks me really is that there was no reason to screw around with Paul Revere.  His story as it actually was has been good enough to inspire patriotic admiration for quite a while.  What, we weren't satisfied with his ride as it had been?  Furthermore, it's not like there weren't revolutionaries who hadn't said and done things more in keeping with what Palin wanted to invoke.  But, you know, whatever.  I've become so discouraged in recent months that I just don't even care anymore.  You want to rewrite what Paul Revere or said and did, go ahead.  At this point, I'm just disappointed Palin didn't go all out.  Maybe have the British strap a bomb to Revere's horse that would detonate if the horse ran slower than twenty miles an hour.  Better, why not change the horse into something else?  I mean, hell, the 1770s were so long ago they probably still had dinosaurs running around, right?  Who would ride a horse when they could ride a velociraptor?  Not only is it fast, but it can be a weapon, too!  If Paul Revere had been a real patriot, he'd have ridden a raptor.

Once upon a time, our society admired education and accomplishment in the fields of academia.  Today, though, Sarah Palin gets away with reinventing Paul Revere to suit her purposes because her base is just as ill-informed as she apparently is (though I suspect she's sand-bagging everyone and likely laughs behind closed doors at how successful her prideful ignorance act has gone over).  Revere was nothing more than a scarcely recalled silversmith until Longfellow mined his story and rewrote it himself to rebrand the footnote into a legend.  If Palin wants to give us Revere 3.0, so be it.  After all, what do I know?  I only hold a degree in history from the University of Louisville, which in Palin's America can only mean I surely can't be trusted to actually know a thing about history.