So I got called out by a 4th grader regarding a piece I wrote about our recent vacation where I continued my endless and tiresome mining of my middle-age mindset and suggested I might cut off my ear. Anyway, a hundred adults had already “read” the story and I heard not a word from them and then this sweet child says, “Excuse me, but Picasso did not cut off his ear like you said in your story, it was Van Gogh.”
One can only hope that this child will continue along the path of educational development and eventually come to realize that in the real world “truth” and “reality” might be a little more fluid.
Yes, it is well documented that Van Gogh cut off his ear. But would that suggest he was the only artist to ever have issues involving a blade and some important appendage? What is not as well known is that Picasso lost a piece of his ear during a terrible shaving accident. See? In the context of my story that MANY of you failed to read with ANY attention to detail, doesn’t it make more sense that I would refer to Picasso’s shaving accident instead of that old, tired Van Gogh cutting off his ear thing? Come on, I was just home from vacation when I wrote it. I NEEDED to shave.
But let’s go back to the well-educated tyke who called me out. I say well-educated because in the classic sense of “truth” and “reality” then maybe this child is right. Still, learning history these days is kind of like learning Latin. People will go on and on telling you how important learning different languages might be but try chatting up your local neighborhood policeman in Latin and you’re liable to end up in chains. And then after getting out of jail you will spend decades waiting tables at the local pizza joint, where you will know the origins of words like “pepperoni” and “anchovy” but that’s about as far as it will get you.
It is worse with a history degree.
Some people say if we don’t talk about history then our mistakes will only repeat themselves. Hello! Need I remind you that we have a World War I AND a World War II? Thinking that you can prevent history from repeating itself IS the mistake. History will repeat itself. There’s no way it can’t.
Look at presidential politics. Except for the last eight years that office has always been occupied by a rich, old, white man. Now we get to choose between another rich, old, white man or, perhaps historically, a woman. Except, why would we call it historic if she won since we have no history by which to judge a woman as president? And yet, I keep hearing people refer to her possible win as a “historic” event. Given that we have nothing else to judge it by, history would suggest that the older, rich, white guy is the best bet for president. EXCEPT, history also tells us that the last old, rich, white dude to occupy the White House was not a big reader of books and was academically indifferent to lessons of the past, just like the rich, white, old dude who is running this year. And given what happened when the last old, rich, white dude was in the White House, then history would tell us we probably ought to take a chance on the broad.
See what I mean? History is confusing.
And what the heck is the big deal about history anyway? History is wrong as much as it is right. Little known fact: Custer sent invitations to the Sioux for a meeting at Little Big Horn. Unfortunately, Custer dictated the instructions to a sergeant whose name history has forgotten and that lame brain misspelled the a word so instead of inviting most of the Sioux Nation to a “Pow-Wow” like he wanted Custer invited them to a “Pow-Pow”. Can you imagine how mortified Custer was when he showed up with his little patriotic table cloths and tubs of Chicken Salad? Is it the sergeant who ends up with mud, and blood, on his face in history’s mind? Clearly not.
Or the guy I mentioned before. One day in the Oval Office he was reminiscing about Yale and asked Dick Cheney a simple question about STD’s and the evil Dick Cheney/”Darth Vader without Life Support” somehow changed the whole conversation around to WMD’s. Another guy complained about it and Cheney shot that guy in the face. That’s a fact. That is history. Except no one cares to remember.
And besides, keeping up with “HISTORY” can be so inconvenient. Is what REALLY happened on any given day or time THAT important? Clearly sites like Wikipedia, which allow regular people to shape the reality of what may or may not have happened are much better suited for our world today. How bad would it suck to be a Fact Checker in this day and age? Talk about a profession on its way out!
So ask yourself this simple question: What is truth? Can’t answer that one? Well, there can’t be history if there isn’t truth.
And that brings us full circle to my previous story. Did Van Gogh cut off his ear? That’s what people say. Did Picasso have a shaving accident? According to Wikipedia he did. Honest Abe (like he was THAT honest) I’m shooting you straight. Matter of fact I’m looking at it on the World Wide Web right now.