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Life as Performance Art

By G.C. Stoppel
If your vacation plans this year include Washington, D.C., be careful. Folks at the National Archives Museum are making sure you will not be traumatized, outraged or otherwise disgruntled by displays of historic documents.
Next to an original copy of the U.S. Constitution are warning notices that the language may be troubling to some guests because it is “outdated, biased and offensive.”
Delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 knew the document was far from perfect. It was so bad from the start they had to add 10 amendments, better known as the Bill of Rights, before members could compromise and sign it. Even then it still wasn’t perfect. Many more amendments have been added.
Museum officials are concerned the original Constitution’s langue is outdated and biased. Imagine that. A document more than 200 years ago is not universally Woke-approved, nor is its language up to date.
For example, the Constitution uses only masculine terms when referring to elected and appointed officials. They compromised and colluded over slavery. Women, minorities and Native Americans, none mentioned specifically.
Just imagine how out of date, biased and offensive earlier documents like the 1620 Mayflower, Magna Carta from the 1200s and the 1750 B.C. Code of Hammurabi must be to them.
The Mayflower Compact was Christianity-based only. The Magna Carta English nobility forced King John to sign only applied to themselves, not peasants and serfs. The ancient Code of Hammurabi specified rights of the king and responsibilities of subjects to keep him in the style he wanted.
Meanwhile in Britain, librarians and archivists are installing trigger warnings about great past writers such as Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Keats and Kipling because their works don’t match up with today’s standards.
Fictional detectives like Sherlock Holmes, Lord Peter Whimsy, Ms. Marple, Hercule Poirot and even Miss Jane Marple are potential offenders who might send the Wokes in search of a comfort animal.
Then there is J.K. Rowling, the Harry Potter series creator who is getting blasted from all sides.
The ultra-conservatives and religious right want to engage in old-fashioned book-burnings because she writes about witches, warlocks, goblins and magic. The Wokes want to bring back burning at the stake because she doesn’t use the right words regarding transgender issues. Worse, she gently mocks them. How traumatizing can you get?
Being outraged at something is nothing new. Nor is trying to excise history we don’t like. When her husband died about 1479 B.C., Hatshepsut of Egypt became the queen claiming she would hold the throne for her son Thutmose III.
But she apparently liked the perks that she didn’t let the boy take over when he turned 18. When mom died and became a mummy, her son sent his chiselers across the empire to excise any mention of her.
They didn’t succeed and we remember her to this day as one of the great queens of Egypt — one who gets better billing than Thutmose III.
When Pat and I were looking for old things in China a few years ago, our guide explained that the Japanese did great damage, then during Mao’s Cultural Revolution his Red Guards smashed up all they could find from their country’s ancient past.
More recently when the Taliban and ISIS moved into Afghanistan and wide swaths of the Middle East, they went on a campaign to destroy anything old. None seem to understand they are fighting a lost cause.
What confuses me is why people try to cancel anyone or anything they don’t like. Most of us grew up believing we could learn from people and ideas different from us.
Why not study historic documents, learn from the past and at least take pride humans have made progress? That just seems like common sense.
Why get upset about violence in Shakespeare’s plays when in the end they’re morality lessons about fatal dangers of greed, jealousy and more negative emotions? Why screech and try to cancel him because of racism in “Othello” or his sonnets dedicated to the “Dark Lady?”
Kipling may have been a jingoist and supporter of an empire where the sun never sets, but what a learning opportunity he presents.
April is the official month for studying the history of the Confederate States of America. This may not get much traction in Michigan but will in the Southern states.
I expect objections and a move to cancel it because it is based on the worst forms of racism. Yet what an opportunity to learn from bad behavior mistakes so that we don’t lapse into them again.
Yale students not long ago booed a guest lecturer from the podium. She needed security guards to get her safely out the door and off campus. Her offense? She held ideas and said things others didn’t like.
Rather than learn and then make a decision, they hounded her out the door.

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