The problem of revisionist history has been much on the minds of opinionators of late. In the Washington Post, Alexandra Petri weighs in on the Sarah Palin-Paul Revere scandal
that has resulted in a flurry of insults, protestations, scoffing, and—most astonishingly—attempts to rewrite the Paul Revere entry on Wikipedia in order to make it correspond to Palin’s somewhat embellished account. In the New York Times, the brilliant Ta-Nehisi Coates examines how the new X-Men film has managed to efface the hot-button racial issues of 1962
that the X-Men—ironically—were largely based on.
In her post, Petri notes that the Palin-Revere situation is but a small piece of the overall tendency of Americans to a) overwhelmingly fudge their history and b) subsequently refuse to face up to the fact that they’ve fudged their history. No one likes to own up to the fact that they don’t know something, and even less people like owning up to the fact that they made a mistake. And this is especially noticeable in the Tea Party era, where a recreated conceptualization of American history has democracy-loving founding fathers running rampant through the streets of old America with a gun in one hand and a copy of the bill of rights in the other.
Of course, we can’t blame it all on the Tea Partiers (no matter how much we want to). Studies have recently shown that the human brain makes decisions about issues within fractions of seconds—and those decisions once made are almost completely impervious to the introduction of dissenting information. The irrationality of the rational processes of the mind are clearly visible in such things as the Birther movement, the belief that abortion leads to breast cancer, the notion that the country can be treated like an individual when it comes to debt management, the idea that women who wear mini-skirts ask for it, the insistence that indie bands can’t make good records once they go major, and the myth of a post-racial society.
This particularly irksome myth of the post-racial society is taken up in Coates’ post. He notes how this subtle denial of historical reality allows people of both dubious and considerable social advancement to claim a superiority that they do not really possess. Racism remains lamentably ingrained in the very fabric and one needs look no farther than Hollywood—the so-called bastion of the liberal-media bias—to see how institutionalized racism continues to permeate us each and every one.
In the first decade of the twenty-first century such films as The Last Airbender
and The Prince of Persia
(which I fully admit that I enjoyed) have shown us how very far we have yet to go, and these in extremely obvious ways. It would seem that X-Men First Class
is showing us something similar, albeit in a far more subtle and insidious way.
And yet, I have to think there is hope. True the mind plays tricks on us all, but perhaps being aware of how the mind works, of how it takes shortcuts that don't suit the society we are now evolving into, can help one to circumvent the system by assessing and changing the process as it happens. If I know that I make snap decisions, in spite of myself, then I'll be better equipped to recognize when I make a snap decision and to back up and try it again. If I know that racism is still so interwoven into my culture that even a story meant to act as a metaphor for racism still reflects and utilizes the inequality that inspired it, then I can call it out and know that we are not there yet and that hard work must still be done.