I love liberal bias. I love the way the media didn’t stay enamored with Sarah Palin past her initial speech. I love the way newspapers point out that jobs are drying up and that the war with Iraq was unjustified. I love the New York Times. Yet, I hate NPR.
Better yet, I don’t mind biased histories. History doesn’t necessarily have to be objective to be interesting. Whether it’s The Cartoon History of the Universe taking potshots at the Bush Administration or American Aurora writing a compelling argument against John Adams being anything but a petty tyrant ready to rush America into war, I rather like biased history. Means that the historian has passion. As Lies My Teacher Told Me pointed out, the only true crime a historian can perpetrate is boredom. Ignore Woodrow Wilson’s racism and anti-sedition laws or Helen Keller’s radical socialist perspective and you denigrate both of these people. And yet, I hate Howard Zinn. There’s bias and there’s preachy bullshit. However, I once thought that Howard Zinn was the worst offender. I was wrong.
Enter Sarah Vowell. Having read Jacques Barzun, I was ready for an interesting examination of the puritans. Barzun made a compelling argument that the puritans were pioneers in religious freedom and civil liberty, never given proper credit due to the religious underpinings of their mandates. Vowell, as an NPR liberal, could have brought more to that argument. She could have examined these claims and put the puritans in context of their time and place. I imagine those familiar with Vowell snickering at my naivete.
Sadly, Vowell has one subject in mind when she writes about the puritans and that’s Sarah Vowell. Oh sure, she talks about the speech that accompanied the vessal to America. She even tries to make Fox’s speech into a quintessential version of Manifest Destiny and then she goes overboard and blames one little sermon for Indian genocides, WWII, Cambodian carpet bombings and the Iraq war. And then to make matters that much more “fun” for the reader, she distinguishes the pilgrims that she’s going to talk about from the ones that came over on the Mayflower and landed at Plymouth Rock. Only she doesn’t. She just labels them, and then practically apologizes to the reader for bringing up such trivial relgious differences. And then tries to explain the religious differences by drawing up an analogy of a movie fan being confronted with a woman in a bar who can’t tell Godfather II from Godfather III.
Yes. She did.
When I was in college, I took a class on Horace’s Odes. It was a Latin class that assumed knowledge of Latin. Almost every paper I wrote came back with a C or lower and a note telling me that I was being tedious. My crimes included using modern slang, comparing Horace’s Odes to my troubles with my girlfriend and generally ignoring Horace in favor of a paper about myself. I was a Junior in college and up until that point, I had been encouraged to write papers with personal anecdotes. Now that I am revising other students’ papers for cash, I can see why I got away with it for so long. However, I was still writing crap papers.
I wonder what could have happened if only Sarah Vowell had gotten that professor. She would have probably ignored him.
So the book goes on about Sarah Vowell. Oh sure sometimes she mentions the pilgrims, but mostly she talks about The Brady Bunch, Happy Days, some guy at a party that asked her about The American Revolution, her apartment in New York, her friends that wondered why she was studying the pilgrims and that really bad day she had on 9/11. Every so often, if you’re lucky, she’ll even mention those pilgrims again. And she might even give you a little history if it ties into her life story. She’s part Indian, so guess what? White people committed genocide against Indians.
And that was bad.
Really really bad.
And of course, you didn’t know that. Because you’re five.
Then Sarah Vowell is off talking about Reagan. She didn’t like him, but he quoted one of the puritans. So she really didn’t like him. She could even quote some of his speeches. She quotes the speeches because she really didn’t like him. And she’s very upset that she couldn’t even dance on his grave because Alzheimer’s is such a sad disease.
That’s when I gave up. Also I was listening to the audio book and she was narrating the thing, and her annoying little girl voice was hurting my eardrums. I read on wiki that she’s the voice of the daughter on The Incredibles. And that’s the most tragic part of all. Means I won’t be able to watch The Incredibles without fast forwarding over her scenes.
Else I’d have to throw a boot through my television.
But ultimatley Sarah Vowell isn’t a shitty historian because she’s self-centered and biased. She’s not even a shitty historian because she can’t be bothered to talk about the subject that she’s supposedly writing about. Oh she’s a shitty historian for all those reasons and one more – when she talks about herself, she’s boring. And she talks about herself for 90% of her book..