Monday, April 23, 2012

It's the Narrative, Stupid!

"Are you telling me a story?" my father would ask when questioning my veracity. That expression, from northern Arkansas and southern Missouri where he grew up, meant are you fibbing, stretching the truth, practicing MEN-DACITY!! (Tennessee Williams, right?) My dad wanted to know if I was spinning a yarn, telling a tall tale, or telling a bald-faced lie. "Telling a story" comes to mind when I contemplate how the Republican party is re-writing our national history, a practice which, when the Soviets did it, we called "revisionism." Visiting Russia in 1999, I heard my daughter's friend Natasha recount how her school textbooks had different facts from year to year. Not interpretations, not new understandings; facts had to be changed to suit the regime in power. Facts just would not stay put. And now come American revisionists to change American school textbooks by overturning years of established earth science and biology. American children are learning a nonsensical "intelligent design" tale and a whopper about the earth not warming up too fast. The parents learn that a Kenyan Muslim socialist wants to impose European-style socialism on us Americans! (Not Canadian style; we don't hate Canada yet; we're not aware enough of it.) If not gullible enough to fall in with that party line, the rest of us bleat weakly to deplore "extremists on both right and left." Give me a break!!! All these idle tales co-ordinate and match because the revisionist party line is controlled by a meta-narrative, the underlying "story," aka falsehood aka lie that the right wingers are peddling. Over all behind all and underneath the anecdotes and chapters looms a unifying revisionist myth that holds it together: about a country much like Mayberry USA, populated by all-white churchgoers bearing hunting rifles politely. A few sweet-tempered helpful Negroes might deserve some justice that we would definitely have stuck up for. We were good, and America was great because of self-reliance. This place of manufactured memory this "real America," that revisionists want to "take back," was doing great until all these "others" came along and started in being lazy and unionizing and feeling entitled to eat and stay warm in the richest nation on earth. These "others" are ruining us, but we can still summon the old-fashioned patriotic small-town mystique by getting rid of that foreign President who looks too much like our actual future and not enough like the wishful history. Of course, many realize everything said above, and we have our own counter-tales about tax cuts for billionaires and so forth. But we need a more compelling meta-narrative and more rhetorical weapons than the limp "extremists on each side are regrettable" approach. We need to tell a better subliminal story, a compelling true story. Tell these "Soviet-style revisionists" to "Stop re-writing our history." (To Be Continued...)


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