History As Hagiography

Sarah Marshall revisits an odd relic from America’s past – a series of grim “Bicentennial Minutes” that aired every night for two-and-a-half years during the 1970s. Her takeaway from the one starring Jessica Tandy (seen above):

No ambiguity hangs over the story: the Redcoats cut down the “Liberty Tree” not because they wanted firewood, but because it “bore the name of Liberty.” History has only one version, and it can be parceled into one-minute increments and sponsored by Shell, then slipped in before the evening news as testament to the fact that whatever happened today can’t be as bad as what happened two hundred years ago today.

Her feelings about America’s self-seriousness:

For Americans, our country’s legacy—and in particular the legacy of our founding has calcified into myth, and our Founding Fathers have become inhuman and larger-than-life. To have such an inflated sense of our own importance as a country is both a blessing and a curse; envisioning our forefathers as flawless men who could do no wrong, we are both ill-prepared to acknowledge our mistakes and somewhat overwhelmed at the prospect of living up to their example. If we regard our national history with more humility—and a keener eye for the wonderfully absurd—we may feel far more ready to contribute to it, knowing that, as anxious and overreaching misfits, we would fit in with our Founding Fathers far better than our schoolteachers would have us know.