Greg Victor: “The People Speak”: Matt Damon rewrites American History

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[Greg Victor, Culture Editor for "ParcBench" is a historian, pop culture critic, and theatrical writer]

Hate history class?

If so, then you must have had to put up with one of those pesky history teachers that insisted on footnotes and citations. And your teacher must have forced you to study the humankind-hating words of dead, white males that are responsible for everything bad in this world.

Now there is no more need for any of that. Matt Damon starred in a movie called “Good Will Hunting” in which he yelled “You wanna read a real history book, read Howard Zinn’s ‘People’s History of the United States.’ That book will f**kin’ knock you on your ass.” He got good reviews, so now apparently Matt is on a mission to spread the word.

Historiography has always prided itself for being a study of truth and data. Theory was always more highly regarded by social scientists and other soft academic departments. But history students – your worries of having to do research are over. No need to go through a tedious reading list to find out about history. Nowadays you simply have to wait for a Hollywood celebrity to tell you what to think, whether in a film or on a TV program such as “The People Speak.”

Sunday, Dec. 13, the History Channel will air the Matt Damon and Josh Brolin documentary “The People Speak.” It is based on Marxist academic Howard Zinn’s capitalism-bashing, America-hating history textbook, “A People’s History of the United States.” As we all know, celebrities are experts on pretty much everything, and now we don’t have to wait until the Academy Awards speeches in order to know what to think anymore.

The production uses Hollywood celebrities to deliver a self-loathing view of the United States through selective speeches, letters and diaries. Appearing in the show are the usual Bush-bashers: Marisa Tomei, Kerry Washington, Viggo Mortensen, Matt Damon, Benjamin Bratt, Eddie Vedder, Bruce Springsteen, and Josh Brolin, who co-produced it along with Damon.

Forget fact. It’s all about context instead of text these days. Don’t listen to someone’s educated opinion; think for yourself. Forget researching the totality of an historical event. Nowadays all you need to do to get an ‘A’ is define history through one of the famous “-isms”; racism, sexism, and classism being at the top, of course.

Leftist drek like “The People Speak” focuses on America’s sins and failings, yet it has received the seal of approval from the History Channel. The History Channel, you ask? Surely they know better. Not so. Let’s not forget that the History Channel is owned by NBC.

So now we have untrained historian wannabes Matt Damon and Josh Brolin making history finally accessible to “the people.” One thing I’ve always noticed about the teaching of history “from the bottom up” – it never really gets very far up. It’s pretty much all about the bottom… not exactly where the actors and ideas that made the United States the greatest nation in history can be found. So I guess we’ll just have to settle for the idea that the entire history of the U.S. is one of racism, sexism, and classism. Thanks to the Hollywood experts, we can add absurdism to the list now.

This is just one more event in the constantly declining approach to understanding history in the United States since the New Left invaded academia in the 1960s and 70s. In the course of getting a BA and an MA in History, I noticed that almost every general history course I took was some revisionist version of history.

It was clear that with so much constant revisionism, there was just no room to teach any of the “vision” of American History. Whether it was history being told from the point of view of the oppressed, the “other” (whatever that is), or from some other perceived victim, every course was created to negate the noble idea of objectivity.

Once academia happily accepted that objectivity was impossible, anything else was fair game. Explaining history no longer was about asking who, what, when, where, and why. It was about lining up chosen facts to support a subjective interpretation. Instead of looking at comprehensive primary source material and seeing complicated perspectives, professors have become experts at presenting selective readings that will support a theory, not a rigorous historical inquiry.

If you sat through a United States history course lately, chances are you spent valuable classroom time discussing the required reading of Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I A Woman” speech. That’s fine; it’s a powerful piece of literature, and it’s part of history. But the trouble is, you probably didn’t learn a thing about Lincoln’s “Cooper Union” speech during that semester. (The speech that many historians feel got Lincoln elected.)

Too often the footnotes of history (Sojourner Truth) have replaced the headlines of history (Abraham Lincoln) as we reinvent the past in order to make it more “relevant” and “meaningful.” To believe in the principles of a great nation, you have to be taught what those principles are.

How is this method of teaching history doing anyway? Well, our students usually come in last in international testing standards. But why bother with empirical data, right? With the leftists in charge of academia now combining with the mental midgets of the entertainment industry, students will have even less actual knowledge of the United States and more loathing of it.

Hooray for Hollywood.

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