The best sign of media is when a line, or a phrase, or an expression of an idea transforms the way you think about things. These two youtube channels both, this year, gave me a nice, tight, clear way to grapple with some big ideas that I already knew, but which had not yet been crystallised, been turned into memes for me to easily and readily share.
First up: Atun’Shei Films. Dude is a history nerd and former tour guide who makes videos about the Civil War, about American war history that isn’t just the civil war, about the history of places that are often obscured because of the simplified language of the civil war, about Nazi ideology informing our views of history and also makes fun fictionalised public performance things like going to Mardis Gras roleplaying a witchfinder general. He’s a real nerd’s nerd. Oh, and a fun video about cannibalism.
In this video, after the break from the kayfabe, he lays out a simple, excellent phrase that I feel does an great job of breaking the mind from a need it had to justify a connection to our figures from history:
These old dead racists are not your friends.
There is a need, a yearning, to put ourselves in a connected thread to our histories. There is a want to see people whose lives led to our lives, who were related to us, to be humanised to be people, but people as we can handle them. And when you remember that no, old dead people are old and dead and not your friends, you can more easily handle the fact that yeah, they were pretty abhorrent.
The other person who did something in this vein is Quinton, of Quinton Reviews:
Now, as a non-American, the hagiography of American foundationalism is just… odious as hell to me. It’s basically one country jerking itself off about how its founding was a unique and interesting story when it was, largely, just a rearrangement of the fancy chairs at the big tables. Still, Americans, largely, love Hamilton and they love the mythology of Hamilton and they love the idea of there being, again, a connection to that meaningful legacy of people borne by high ideals and not just the latest upper class ponces.
The crystalliser in this one was: I wonder what Alexander Hamilton would say, if he could see this, and all I can think is that he’d say something extremely racist.
It’s a bit, it’s a gag, it’s a punchline for a paragraph, but it is also extremely interesting when you’re thinking about the narrative we tell ourselves about these characters. It helps you shake the brain a little, and remember that these people lived and breathed and ate and they were okay with the racists in their midst. If you met an actual slave owner and you had the right to shoot them if you felt offended by their presence, wouldn’t you? Or would you just be okay with them and just hope they never brought it up at your mutual fancy dinners?
Both Atun’Shei and Quinton are working on building subscriber counts. So hey, go check them out. I like their work.
EDIT: There are four times in this post that I used Quinton’s name, and somehow I did not notice when I originally posted this that literally none of them were spelled correctly.