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The Fragmentation Of History

Discussion in 'The Observation Bar' started by LizzieMaine, Apr 20, 2019.

  1. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    Those who follow sports might have noticed items out of New York and Philadelphia this week announcing that the Yankees baseball team and the Flyers hockey team will no longer play Kate Smith's 1939 recording of "God Bless America" at their games due to "having learned that" Smith recorded songs with racist lyrics earlier in the 1930s. The Flyers, in addition, have shrouded the statue of Smith located near their arena until completing "an investigation."

    I've been thinking about this affair for the last couple of days, and it's crystallized something that's been bothering me for a while -- the way in which the Internet, by its essential nature, fragments public understanding of cultural history. Please note that I'm not taking any side in the Kate Smith controversy, and if your first impulse is to post a reply to the effect of either "It was a different time! PC SJW Snowflakes hate America!" or "It was wrong then and it's wrong now!" then you're actually part of the problem and you're only proving the point I'm going to make. Those with an understanding of nuance are welcome, on the other hand, to chime in anytime.

    This whole imbroglio started when someone, identified as "a Yankee fan," sent that team's office links to Kate Smith's 1931 Columbia recording of "That's Why Darkies Were Born," and a clip from her rarely-seen 1933 film "Hello Everybody" in which she performs a production number called "Pickaninny's Heaven." Now, there's no questioning that both of these tunes are a product of the structural racism that dominated American culture at that time -- yes, I know "TWDWB" was intended as a satire of overblown Southern nostalgia -- and even more specifically, of the sort of religion-cloaked naivete found in the concurrent show "Green Pastures," and that it was presented as such on Broadway -- but nevertheless, the parody is a reflection of a cultural reality that existed as a form of oppression at the time. I also know that Kate Smith didn't *choose* to record either of those songs -- they were, as was all of her material, selected for her by her domineering manager Ted Collins, who controlled every aspect of her career down to the smallest detail. And I know that pretty much every performer of that era at one time or another recorded material that was just as racially fraught as these particular songs. And that therefore, you can't make a valid conclusion about whether the material reflected Smith's own views or not. Whatever she really felt, as a middle-class Southern white woman born in 1907, about racial issues is not part of the historic record. She never spoke up publicly for civil rights -- but neither did she ever publicly defend segregation. We can guess or assume what she felt -- and judge her according to those guesses or assumptions -- but we cannot *know.*

    But this hasn't stopped both sides of the controversy from constructing elaborate arguments concluding that Smith, a figure that the majority of those commenting had likely never heard of before the current controversy erupted, was or was not an active racist -- based solely on fragments gathered from You Tube, Wikipedia, and Google Books. And my point is -- exactly why do they think they're qualified to draw those conclusions, or any conclusions on this particular topic? Because they know how to use a search engine? This is the world the Internet has given us -- a world where there is no coherent presentation of contextualized history, but instead a jumble of fragments, scraps, and pieces thrown into a heap where every morsel carries the same weight. It's like taking a dozen different jigsaw puzzles, dumping all the pieces into one box, and then tossing the whole melange on the floor -- and expecting then to make something coherent out of the result.

    Please note I'm not talking here about the historical fallacy of presentism, the use of current standards to judge the past. What I'm troubled by is that the internet has given us a world where people with no understanding of how to parse disjointed, decontextualized information are nevertheless using that information to draw conclusions they are in no way qualified to draw. How do we deal with a society where "facts" are simply whatever you can Google up to support your own point of view?
     
  2. belfastboy

    belfastboy Call Me a Cab

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    Has this not always happdned? The role of the interweb has been to speed up the process and democratize the process. There has always been people who have taken threads and wove whole cloth....it just took them longer and the work involved eliminated the lazy. Now a few keystrokes while still in your underwear and bingo you have a few 'facts' to support your POV. No getting dressed and tromping to the library required any longer.
     
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  3. belfastboy

    belfastboy Call Me a Cab

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    PS I have standards....so at least i wear decent underwear in case someone comes to the door.
     
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  4. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    I never used to run into too many people researching talking points at the library, but then I was always in the back with the microfilm machines and didn't get a constant view of the foot traffic. But the point about all this being sped up I think is a big part of the problem. Everyone not only thinks they have to have an opinion about whatever the topic du jour happens to be, but they also think they have to share it *immediately* because, you know, Twitter don't wait. An immediate opinion is not, and cannot be, an informed opinion.

    And that's the problem. *Why* do people feel like they need to have an instant opinion even on topics about which they know essentially nothing? What do they gain from this? And, more to the point, what does society *lose*?

    As for surprise visitors of at the door, if they can't handle me in a patched flannel nightgown and a bathrobe that hangs in rags around my ankles, I don't even want to know them.
     
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  5. 3fingers

    3fingers One Too Many

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    I have struggled with this same question for some time. I don't have the answer.
    All of the reasons that I have tried to make work are only fragments themselves. We as a society seem to be constantly in need of a fix of outrage and offense, but at the same time we don't want to put in the effort to find truly suitable things to be outraged about or even figure out if we should actually be outraged at all. I agree with belfastboy that the tendency has always been there, but the effort required to feed it made it not worthwhile. The ability to pop off at will without repercussions is too much to resist.
    Developing intellect and patiently putting together a cogent opinion is much harder than allowing online bites of information presented in a way to generate maximum effect to trigger a reaction.
     
  6. GHT

    GHT I'll Lock Up

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    How very considerate of you. I too have standards, which is why I have never tweeted. In the King James Version of the bible, verse: 1
    Proverbs 17:28 reads: Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding.
    Twitter users often forget that their tweets are there forever, so while their opinions might change, their tweets remain the same.

    Lizzie, I had to Google Kate Smith, and my guess is that others on our side of the pond did too. Your argument, your thread, resonated because we have much the same. Do gooders, in the name of political correctness.

    Am I reading a case of: "Political correctness gone mad?” If so, a quick perusal of the news will reveal any number of people using it to attack a policy from their rivals.

    A case in point: Justice Thomas, of the American supreme court, claimed the world has gone PC mad, while Brexit campaigners invoked the phrase to describe a decision to ban a Union Jack rubbish truck. Political correctness has often been used, correctly, to help under-protected groups, but there are many examples of overzealous decision makers taking it way too far.
     
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  7. tonyb

    tonyb Vendor

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    A recent American ex-president, whilst on an overseas trip, cited his fellows' habit of being so quick to "call out" violations of the political orthodoxy du jour that they fragment and find themselves doing the opposition's work for them. They form a "circular firing squad," he said, repeating a commonly enough heard phrase over here in God's Country.

    The smart money is on that former president's comments going largely ignored.
     
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2019
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  8. tonyb

    tonyb Vendor

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    The human desire for certainty goes some distance toward explaining this. People want stable ground underfoot. They want absolutes. They want something to believe in. So they make saints and ogres of people who have never been either. They lose perspective.
     
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2019
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  9. Tiki Tom

    Tiki Tom Practically Family

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    I get so tired of it all. I should probably not admit this, but I have somewhat become like Charlie Brown listening to his teacher. When someone mounts a soapbox or launches into a well-rehearsed expression of outrage, all I hear is “mwah, mwah, mwah, mwah, mwah.” Regarding the news, I TRY to at least skim a wide range of news outlets to hopefully see different points of view so that I don’t get caught in an “echo chamber” of my own making. And there are certain discussions that I refuse to get dragged into because I know the person I am talking to has long since stopped viewing the topic as an objective problem that might be approached from different angles, but exclusively views the topic as a good vs evil crusade where he/she stands righteously with the angels. Yawn. I agree with Lizzie in that I long to meet people who take a much more nuanced approach. Now I shall climb down off MY soapbox.
     
  10. Lean'n'mean

    Lean'n'mean Call Me a Cab

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    " There are no facts, only interpretations." - Nietzsche. And it has ever been thus.
    Most people's conception of their religion is based of fragmented excerpts from their holy books, our understanding of science has been formulated by snippets of infomation that we deem relevant & interesting. Likewise, our observation of history is based on selected incidents, extracted from their context & related to us through the interpretation of others, often long after the event.
    None of us are qualified to interprete the world but no qualification is necessary since all interpretations are erroneous. All we have are fragments that each assembles to comfort their own particular bias.
     
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  11. Lean'n'mean

    Lean'n'mean Call Me a Cab

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    I Tweet therefore I am. :rolleyes:
     
  12. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    I think the phrase "political correctness" is part of the problem -- far too often it's used to dismiss legitimate concerns and legitimate criticisms of institutional oppression. How many people who put their hands over their ears and scream "PEE CEE!" at every calling-out they see in the media make any effort to actually listen and understand the complaint being made? Are they really any better than someone who complains about some decontextualized film clip from 90 years ago they saw on You Tube, or are they in fact reacting with exactly the same desire to *not* understand? "I don't need to know any more about this issue! You're wrong! I'm right!"

    The fatigue that Tom mentions is a very real thing, and I think the current "all news all the time" mindset will inevitably produce that. All-news radio has only existed since the mid-sixties, and all-news cable TV goes back no further than 1980 when CNN started, which means there are probably quite a few of us here who remember a world where you didn't have "all the latest" blasting out at you 24-7. I recently sat down and watched several hours of CNN from the early eighties, and realized that I'd forgotten how different it was from what it is now -- the stories were longer, more substantial and more calmly delivered, and the closest thing they had to a "personality" was Flip Spiceland. And there were no "info boxes" and no crawls to distract your attention from what was being said. Watch CNN or any cable news channel of your choice now and you'll see how far we've come in thirty-five years. And I think pretty much everyone who sits down and thinks about it will realize what the single biggest factor in pushing that de-evolution along was -- the rise of the Internet. Think about how much of the "news" that gets shoved in your face each day isn't really "news" at all, and ask yourself if access to this information has actually imrpoved your understanding in any meaningful way.

    I offer a challenge to all reading this. Go down to your favorite convenience store, drug store, bodega, or newsstand -- if you can find one -- and pick out a substantial daily newspaper. I don't care what its political alignment is, that's not the point. For the next two weeks, buy that paper every day and make it your sole source of world and national news. Don't listen to radio news, don't watch any kind of TV news, and don't get any of your news from the Internet. Instead, dedicate half an hour or so out of your day to reading your paper front to back. And then, at the end of two weeks go back to the cable news and the Internet and see if your head doesn't explode. My point will be proven.
     
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  13. tonyb

    tonyb Vendor

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    Certain phenomena are empirically verifiable.

    I fear for a world in which reality is however any person chooses to define it.

    A certain number of people attended an event or they didn’t. A certain statement was made or it wasn’t. A building with 58 floors doesn’t have 68 floors because someone says it does.

    There is such a thing as objective reality. This is not to say that what any person might make of that reality ought be the final word on the matter. But branding clearly erroneous assertions “alternative facts” doesn’t make them factual.
     
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  14. 3fingers

    3fingers One Too Many

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    I don't think we can change it short of some massive epiphany and I'm not holding my breath on that one. I used to believe wholeheartedly in people learning by good example. Call me cynical and I'm not saying that it never happens but as I've gotten older I've not seen much real life evidence of that. What we can do is reach those people in our lives who can be influenced to think for themselves (not necessarily to think like we do) and not be swept along by the constant barrage of noise that surrounds us. Other than that, not engaging with people who have already made up their minds on a thimbleful of information and will rabidly claim "victory" seems the best path toward preservation of your own sanity. You're not going to beat willful ignorance or stupidity.
     
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  15. 3fingers

    3fingers One Too Many

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    I still read print media from several sources for this very reason. I agree that it still is better than online and television/radio offerings. I also think that even there, regardless of the political leanings of a particular publication, the line between news and opinion has become fuzzy. They are just a step or two behind the other sources. They are fighting for their own survival, so it is somewhat understandable that they are going to provide what they think people want to read. Doesn't mean I have to like it.
     
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  16. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    Certainly the quality of print reportage is not what it once was -- I've been a daily newspaper reader since I was six years old, but you don't have to have been as absorbed in the medium as that to realize that a paper that closes down all its bureaus and relies on wire pickups for much of what it prints is not up to the standard of decades ago, regardless of slant. And I'm enough of a student of journalism history to know and understand that the most slanted print paper today is dead neutral compared to the shameless brasscheck journalism of the 1910s-50s. But I'm talking here about the delivery method more than the specific content.

    When you read a paper you're focused in a way that you aren't with the online type of presentation: go read any random story on CNN.com and see how long it takes for a video to start autoplaying, distracting your attention from what you were trying to read. Or any other news website of your choice -- the very nature of the medium is intended to fracture your attention and feed you information in disjointed chunks, not as a cohesive, narrative whole. And television is even worse. When you're distracted like this, when you aren't focused, it's that much easier to get you to swallow whatever they're trying to feed you. "Yeah, right, whatever, don't bother me." You're *trained* not to think, you're trained to absorb only the bits and pieces without absorbing the context. And that, I think, is the real problem.

    I'm sure a lot of people are saying right now, "TL-DR." Well, maybe so. But how were you trained to think that way?
     
  17. Lean'n'mean

    Lean'n'mean Call Me a Cab

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    Had to Google TL-DR, all I got was a fragmented response & out of context but from what I gather it means ' Too long, didn't read' ................I'm not sure yet if my life is any richer knowing that.
     
  18. GHT

    GHT I'll Lock Up

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    You are not alone, I looked it up too. The fragmentation of history, thinking about it, isn't just internet inspired, conspiratory theorists have been quoting misinformation for as long as there has been conspiracies, but because it's in a book it must be true. None more so than Dan Brown's highly readable book: "The Da Vinci Code." How those who really want to believe it fervently argue their case.

    A brilliant book, but clever though it is, it's a work of fiction.
     
  19. Lean'n'mean

    Lean'n'mean Call Me a Cab

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    Just like the Bible. :rolleyes:
     
  20. GHT

    GHT I'll Lock Up

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    Written four centuries after the event, surely not?
     

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