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We Will Not Regret The Past, Nor Wish To Shut The Door On It.

Well Now, Just Hold On There a Minute…

I’m a longtime member of a spiritual fellowship, a rambling, disorganized and inept quasi-organization, of which the title above is a tenet and to be sure, at the very least for those of us even only slightly self-aware, an aspirational commitment with limited expectations of complete success.

I’ve stated elsewhere, in a glibly self-congratulatory note, that I hold a grudge like a bloodstain on silk.  I learn slowly and, other than grudges, I forget quickly.  Thus, I say aspirational, with forlorn hope bereft of any real expectations. Forgiveness comes rarely, if at all.

This idea of acknowledging the past but not dwelling in it in any way that interferes with living a fully engaged life comes to mind nearly every day, as one more work of art, of literature, of thought that lay behind us in history, ancient or modern, is deemed worthy of that regret, of that shutting of the door…

…Which seems to lead, almost inevitably to a clamor for erasure, for, you should pardon the all too shopworn expression, cancellation, of an artist, a performer, a filmmaker, once revered and admired in their time, now judged to be unworthy of acknowledgment by the current self-designated doyenne class making the most noise, and thus making such distinctions and decisions by bullhorn fiat—except, of course, its favorites, who are mostly perceived as martyrs to that old demon, the patriarchy.

And in echo of this cacophony of good intentions, another cadre, its representatives standing athwart its interpretation of that same history like a butt hurt Colossus of Rhodes, rushes to defend many of those self-same artists, performers, and filmmakers, except of course those who have transgressed the sacred boundaries defined by toxic masculinity.  And of course, to support the notion that Jesus, their favorite fictional superhero, looked just like Max Von Sydow, as opposed to a kind of nice guy version of Yasser Arafat at his thirty third birthday party.

We live in a time obsessed, to an odd and curious degree, with a past.   Note, a past.  Not the past.

On the one hand, one side of the ideological trough insists that the only acceptable reading of history, before the current, evolved and self-identified Panglossian enlightenment, is to define a miserable and dismal expanse of time, of despair, of hatred, of insult, of man’s inhumanity to man.

Or, to be more specific, history as a life of endless horror to anyone not in a position to profit from the patriarchy, a waking nightmare, leaving a wide open door for the culture of victimization to move in and take artistic residence, despite any actual experience, but equipped with gallons of self-regard and need for identification with the victim.

On the other, the past is identified as a rich and golden moment, tragically lost in time, when life was good, men were men and women were women, with none of that fucked up gender stuff, and were thus worthy of that life, where divine goodness and Christian charity flowed as water from a mountain stream, pure and untouched by despair…in other words, the twenty first century equivalent of the lyrics of the ALL IN THE FAMILY theme song, without those confusing LaSalle and Glenn Miller references.

Both these mindsets are, of course, to one degree or another, comical in their solipsism, in their presumptive and presumptuous conviction, their contemporary chauvinism.   and despite getting a few things right—and by “right,” I have to say that some of those things are entirely subjective, situational and experiential, so sue me–naturally, the absolutist conviction of these two crowds amount to ignoramus exalted and near universal nonsense.

It might be worth pointing out that these mindsets, these screwloose belief systems, are often symptomatic of a cultural amnesia, a historic incuriosity, a willful ignorance that puts Dunning-Kruger both on the map and to shame, and finally a wildly unjustified “I’ve got this” confidence in nothing even vaguely identifiable as factual reality.

Those too queasily butch to be true Bromosexuals of the modern right wing lunatic fringe find their contrapuntal equal in the left wing’s Proglodyte coterie’s rush to add their own identity letter to the already stretched beyond its limits, no longer encoded alphabetical identifier.

Anybody that desperate to cosplay masculinity has some unexplored issues, and the desperate need of the cushy cultural elite to shout, “Hey, I’m a victim here, too!” is just as worthy of exploration, as well.

Talk about your identity politics, for fuck’s sake.

And of course, unifying these two seemingly widely divided shithead swarms is the reality that neither has, to a frightening extent, a fucking idea what they’re whining about. Lacking actual curiosity, historically amnesiac and willfully ignorant, both sides are consumed by fantasias of a past, of a history about which they know, as the academics might have it, complete and utter jackshit.

I read Neal Postman’s AMUSING OURSELVES TO DEATH, a justifiably alarmist book on media and its actual impact on society and culture, decades ago.  I took this book very seriously, but didn’t spend an awful lot of my life dwelling on it, until, perhaps a decade ago (at my age, everything is a decade ago, so indulge me, please and forgive me my trespasses), I read a piece about college students evaluating their instructors.

What struck me in this piece was the frequent use of the word “enjoy,” as applied to the classroom study experience, as if their professors were in the business of keeping them amused.

Now, if you’ll allow me a brief interlude of egocentricity, I regard myself as a pretty bright guy, opinionated, but informed in those opinions.

On the sliding scale of approval to disapproval, those of you who agree with that statement are on the former edge, and those who reject the statement out of hand are on the latter edge, of course, and can, again of course, go fuck yourselves.

And any of you who think it’s clever to ask me to “Tell you what I really think,” please join the latter. It was never clever. Trust me on this.

That said, I checked out of the educational process at the age of twelve, and never really checked back in.  I barely graduated high school, and I dropped out of college three months in, too high to matriculate.  Like most of my mentors, I am an autodidact, and have been hard at work at that for well over a half century.

Thus, I can’t truly stand as a reasonable judge of the very idea of validating the educational experience along the same Siskel and Ebert, thumbs up/thumbs down lines as one might feel about, say, a movie or a television series. But of course, I do. That’s just me.

And, perhaps apropos of nothing, I regard TED TALKS as an abomination, a fatuous assault on human dignity.

Of course, nowadays, this very idea, the concept of everything being seen, felt or experienced through the filter of entertainment, has become the core of almost every experience available to us.  And connecting tissue can certainly be strung from this bastardization of the academic experience, and the cultural amnesia leaving several generations with no idea of what the past, our history, actually was.

Despite the warbling lunacy of the crowd decrying the very idea of Critical Theory, the story of the United States cannot be told without acknowledging the vein of terror that was slavery running through that story, our history.

And, despite the misplaced absolutism of the crowd singularly promoting Critical Theory, the story of the United States cannot be told as if that vein of terror was all there was, all there is, the central fact of that story, that history.

At least Stalin and his minions knew the history they were distorting, rewriting and recreating the past for their own nefarious purposes.  Neither of these two modern cadres at opposite ends of the ideological spectrum, seems to have a clue in this regard…

… Beyond what it has apparently retained from movies and television.  This willful ignorance, this cultural amnesia, contributes, of course, to the anachronisms rife in recently produced supposedly “historical” drama, made by writers, producers and directors who don’t know what they’re writing about, anachronisms ignored by an equally unknowing audience.

Of course, anachronisms in entertainment are nothing new.  See Shakespeare, William as a renowned culprit in this sort of thing.  And apropos of nothing other than my own bemused amusement, by the end of the 17th century the plays were being rewritten, in some cases, most notoriously KING LEAR, with happy endings grafted on.  So, it would seem the need for a positive resolution and someone to root for in the name of fan service is as old as the high Dunsinane hills, and Burnham wood, too.

But at least the original folio was able to survive this early example of patronizing nonsense.  As it was then, now the complete ignorance of what came before has created a toxic miasma over the use, and yes misuse, of the past to manipulate the present and its understanding of itself.

I recall an interview with Mort Kunstler, an illustrator of the mid twentieth century with a major career focus on historical subjects, in which he mentioned, almost offhandedly, that he always inserted an anachronistic element into his paintings of historical subjects, to be certain that the painting would be identifiable as historical in its depicted subject matter, as opposed to contemporaneous of the period depicted.

The example I recall in particular was of a nineteenth century photographer recording, if I remember correctly, the connecting of the east and west by the transcontinental railroad.  Kunstler had taken pains to include the sort of pull tabs that were attached to Polaroid photographs, tabs that were then removed as the images developed.  The tabs were scattered around the photographer’s feet, in an echo of the then current, in Kunstler’s time, practice of photographers doing a few shots with a Polaroid instant camera to check lighting and such.

Beyond the hubris of the illustrator’s assumption about the perception and longevity of his own work, is there anyone under the age of fifty who would have a fucking clue as to what those things at the photographer’s feet were supposed to be—or, for that matter, give a damn?  They had those cameras back then, right?

Right?

A constituency that demands entertainment of, that needs to be amused by, the educational process, and intrinsically insists on the same from journalism, from history, is going to, by dint of this need, tune out and reject anything it identifies as boring, or, to be honest, anything that contradicts preconceived notions, or hurts the feelings of whatever identitarian consort finds its personal, you should pardon the expression, “my truth,” questioned by, you know, the truth.

Cognitive dissonance marries confirmation bias in a blissful state of unholy matrimony, spawning multitudes who’ll believe anything as long as it supports that multitude’s world view and shits all over everybody else’s.

This commitment to willful ignorance finds its home in incoherent ideology, with much of the vast misreading, misunderstanding, misrepresentation and, of course, complete unawareness of politics, of history, of daily events as they occur for that matter, being fought over in a cultural war in the world of entertainment itself.

If it isn’t Sylvester Stallone and his band of over the hill geriatric adjacent Bromos refighting and winning the Vietnam war—a war which,  to no surprise on my part, is often conflated, if not actually confused, with the Second World War—it’s the Progs who regard western civilization as a blight on, well, western civilization, taking delight in the corporately mandated pandering and patronizing depiction of women, women of color, men of color, possessing agency over White Anglo-Saxon Protestants, AKA the White Supremacist Patriarchy,  in historical drama, which are, of course, no more historical than Game of Thrones.

The latter fantasia, of course, mistaken for historical drama by more than some.  For fuck’s sake.

Maybe Mort Kunstler was on to something here.

And speaking of the Second World War, the murder of six million men, women and children with whom I share an ethnic bond is fading into memory, and will be very likely be forgotten.  For the more sensitive, because the scale of such an enterprise, such an absolute horror, so mechanized an attempt to exterminate what were regarded as vermin in human form, is unimaginable, the stuff of the horror movies, not political movements.  This, of course, was offered as the excuse as to why no action was taken to stop it in its time, the rumors written off as propaganda, by the Jews, of course.

And of course, there are those who deny its existence out of simple political expediency, often in league with the 6MWE crowd, who know full well it happened and are delighted by that thought, but still wistfully regret the incomplete nature of the enterprise.

And, on both sides, there are those who believe my relatives and their ilk had it coming—like the Charlie Hebdo staff, or Salman Rushdie.  Fucked up, yes, but true—just wait and see.

And this is only the most extreme example that immediately comes to mind.  Several generations have come of age with an astonishingly limited, not to say nonexistent view of the years that only recently preceded their births, let alone centuries and millennia, preferring instead, when confronted with the actual past, to view it through the filter of contemporaneous chauvinism.

Although only one side of the trough culturally appropriated the word “woke,” both sides are guilty of mistaking (often nonsensical) information for knowledge, and for operating on the assumption that they are born blessed with a secret knowledge, granting an imprimatur of value to uninformed and frequently idiotic opinions, points of view with no basis in identifiable reality.

One side, the minority to be sure, gleefully embraces, or perhaps more specifically weaponizes, an interpretation of Christianity that brings to mind the Crusades and the Inquisition, neither of which they know anything about outside of some when knighthood in flower movies and maybe Monty Python.

They insist they are here to save the modern world from the iniquities imposed on them by the other, larger side, which, in its turn, regards its unjustified sense of morally superior enlightenment, secular though it may be, to be as divinely endowed as the Sermon on the Mount.

Some say “blasphemous.” Some say “problematic.”

The purpose served is the same.

Drown that witch.

And yet, and yet, this utterly uninformed, smugly misinformed, willfully ignorant, culturally amnesiac dual swarm of nitwits seeks to impose their misbegotten ideas of a nonexistent past on a present reality, just to show those of us who might very well have experienced that past, or at the very least invested time and energy in understanding it, the error of our ways.

And finally, it’s worth paying tribute to the godfather of infotainment, the man who put the mogul in media, William Randolph Hearst. After trouncing his rival Joseph Pulitzer in the war for eyes in the newspapers of the late 19th century, Hearst, in response to Frederic Remington’s cable that all seemed peaceful in Havana, replied, “Please remain in Cuba. You furnish the pictures, I’ll furnish the war.”

Hearst, like most if not all of those rapacious robber barons who made post Civil War fortunes of sizes comparable in their time to those of the Kochs, the Mercers, and the Musks and Bezos of our time, and in turn functionally financed and invented the twentieth century and thus the modern world, is completely forgotten…

…Except for those who think they know his story by having seen CITIZEN KANE on TCM.

And in that regard, let’s face it, the majority of those I’ve excoriated above would have long lost interest, their cell phones out, checking for messages well before his mother called Charlie in from the snow and his sled, to meet Mr. Walter Parks Thatcher.

As ever, I remain,

Howard Victor Chaykin…A Prince…

who’s been there.

And done that.

And paid attention, too.

 

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