Tuesday, August 27, 2013
History By Design
I have always thought that history was a matter of fact. Past events that happened, retold in the present or documented for future reference. Of course, I was aware of the old saying...proven true through investigation, that history is written by the victors. Simply put, if you have two groups at violent odds with each other, and one wipes the other out...the surviving group can write or say anything about the other side, and there would be nobody to say differently. History, as designated by the whims of a particular group. I had never seen this actually happen...until now.
Let me be clear, I’m not talking about a surviving group from conflict, just the fact that history has been rewritten. History has been designated by people wishing it to be presented differently than it really happened. I know this to be true, since the event I’m speaking of was witnessed by my own eyes.
When I was a child, somewhere in the range of five to seven years old, I saw a documentary on television. I want to say it came on PBS, which would be Channel 2 in my area, but my memory, as good as it is, isn’t that good. The documentary was on Elvis Presley. As a child, he was a hero of mine. I liked his songs, I liked his moves, I liked doing impressions of him. My mother wasn’t too thrilled with my choice, but let me experience my slice of the world anyway.
As I watched this documentary, my slice of the world would forever have a different taste to it. The year was somewhere in the range of 1976 to 1978 (but probably 1977 since that was the year he died). I remember the dark green rug in our living room with light green patches. I remember the grey Zenith television with rabbit ears on it. I remember thinking I really saw colors...while watching a black and white television. The most profound thing I remember, is hearing and seeing Elvis say “the only thing a negro can do for me is shine my shoes and buy my records.”
As a child, I was confused. I was hurt and deflated. My hero wasn’t all I thought he was, and the world was filled with controversy. My world, in the seventies, was filled with constant reminders that as a black child, I was different. The civil rights movement was still fresh and being bused to a predominately white school came with dealing with the ignorance of some children while being integrated by the school institution. Interesting times, to say the least.
I remember after seeing Elvis say that, the emotions I felt and the need to have help to process them. I looked at my mother, in shock...only to see her mixture of pain and vindication. Her pain for me having to experience this utter deflation as reality replaced my fantasy...and her vindication that her disapproval of my choice of hero was justified. That day resonated with me forever and as I grew older, I integrated it in the reality that people are constantly changing their political and personal beliefs...and despite all that, a talent or gift manifests with no regard for those beliefs.
Now...for some reason, I decided to look in on that old footage, only to find that not only can it not be found, but history has changed! Now, Elvis never said that according to nearly every source on the internet. It was a myth, an event that showed up in print, but proved as false soon after. What?? Wait...really, what??
This is, without a doubt, one of the most profound things that has ever happened in my life. Again, I’m having trouble processing, but my late mother isn’t around to offer any guidance or voice an opinion. Therein lies the problem...without historical evidence (the footage) or a majority of people still around that witnessed the event, history is being designed...not remembered.
The VCR made it’s way into homes in 1975, but you had to be affluent to afford one...so we didn’t have one. Not that it would make a huge difference since there can always be the claim of “photoshop” or fake footage by those that simply refuse to acknowledge the truth. I have never read that Elvis said those words, that was never my introduction to all this. I was sitting in front of the television, watching it some twenty years after it was said to have been written...and summarily, disproved.
I’m not excessively concerned with how Elvis is remembered, it is what it is...and I saw what I saw. However, experiencing the remaking of “history” has me questioning how much other history is really history...and how much is designed and/or forgotten, with something not accurate taking it’s place. How many elderly people can recount certain events and say that the way it’s being presented is not the way it really happened? How much footage of the past has been destroyed or lost leaving us no evidence of the footprints where time has already stepped? This is the most disturbing aspect of history, now becoming a myth.
Worse still...is trying to figure out how to stop it from happening again. It seems technology has outstripped our good sense in using it, and now we can make a video show us anything we want. Reality no longer withstands the recording of itself and the greatest sufferer of this is the truth. In a world where there is no truth, there is no history.