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History Vs. Pop Culture

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  • History Vs. Pop Culture

    Note: please don't turn this into a flamefest. Probably a futile request, but I still have to ask.

    Which is more "accurate" to describe the happenings of a population? I lean towards pop culture.

    Example 1:
    Civil War got rid of slavery, Rosa Parks, and desegregation in schools. However, the movie "The Toy" (starring Richard Pryor, released in 1982) shows a rich white kid buying a black janitor for the boy's own amusement; basically a "slave" of sorts.

    Example 2:
    The age-old keeping up with the Jones'. We've gone into debt, but life was good. I don't know of any country that doesn't owe something to someone. However, while history books will portray doom and gloom, 10% or so (given unemployment stats and such) were affected. High? Yes. Depression Era times? Not in my book.

    Text and factual accounts tell the surface, whereas pop culture really tells the true history of a people, IMO. Thoughts?
    Never really developed a taste for tequila. Kind of hard to understand how you make a drink out of something that sharp, inhospitable. Now, bourbon is easy to understand.
    Tastes like a warm summer day. -Raylan Givens

  • #2
    Re: History Vs. Pop Culture

    I don't think it's an either/or situation; I feel the two are entwined more than people think. "History" gives the facts. This happened, which caused this to happen, but then this happened, which changed everything. However, while History tells us what happened, it doesn't necessarily give us a great understanding of the culture surrounding said events. Popular culture can help to show us that culture. You can read what was happening in England in the 1800's, but you might get a deeper understanding of that era by reading a couple of Jane Austin novels.

    However, Pop Culture should be taken with at least a grain of salt, as it is often fictionalized, or even simply exaggerated. Using Jan Austen's era again, no scientists actually managed to regenerate a dead body and unleash a monster.

    Think about people 100 years in our future looking back at popular movies. Are they to believe that there were shape-shifting cars, and wise-cracking NY Detectives routinely thwarted terrorist cells singe-handed (occasionally with the help of a somewhat reluctant black sidekick)?
    Success is not the result of spontaneous combustion. You must first set yourself on fire.
    -Fred Shero

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    • #3
      Re: History Vs. Pop Culture

      the Civil War didn't get rid of Rosa Parks (couldn't resist)


      history gives us the facts (or the facts as the historian saw them)
      pop culture gives an idea how people saw and felt about what was going on.

      not quite related, but I read an article by historian Richard Pipes last night.
      he doesn't believe in the "inevitable' theory. that history drives us towards a certain event. that the Civil War, Russian Revolution, WWII, etc. guess he's more of a "tipping point" person.
      Originally posted by mtu_huskies
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      • #4
        Re: History Vs. Pop Culture

        If you think "history" is just dates and facts, I'd question your understanding of what the field of "history" is.
        "...the great state University of Wisconsin should ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found."

        Wisconsin '05 Michigan '07

        http://noalibisnoregrets.blogspot.com/

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        • #5
          Re: History Vs. Pop Culture

          History is always tainted by who won. You do see some of the counter views, and deeper information shared. But the "history" that is taught the masses always misses important things that you "don't need to know".

          For instance, we all know what kind of sacrifices that our boys made in WWII, right? Hellish conditions and many lives lost and families destroyed.

          But how many of you ever consider what our allies at the time, enemies immediately after, sacrificed? The Soviets lost many millions of people fighting the Germans, and if not for them, our job in the west would have been immensly more diffiucult. We know about the horrors of Stalingrad, thanks to pop culture movies, but we don't know much about the massive tank battles that took place in the planes of Russia.

          Pop culture is all about preception. Take history that is already biased and tweak that so that the viewpoint is altered to match what you really want to know.

          For this example, it's how we see one part of the Russian sacrifice based on someone's story that was made into a movie about a guy who turned into a great sniper in Stalingrad. We saw Russians basically forced to fight by shooting at them from behind- which I'm sure had a lot of truth in it. But I'm equally sure that pop culture wise, few would have really wanted to know more about that important part.

          Thanks to the Cold War, a lot of what really happened in the East will never be taught us. Especially the parts were Americans were very, very much in favor of Stalin, no matter what he did. (just like there were Americans who were very, very much in favor of Hitler, which we know a *little* more about)

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          • #6
            Re: History Vs. Pop Culture

            Originally posted by Brenthoven View Post
            Text and factual accounts tell the surface, whereas pop culture really tells the true history of a people, IMO. Thoughts?
            What you're calling pop culture is snapshots of a particular person's opinion of what other particular people felt at a particular time. I don't know how applicable that is for "what really happened." It's myth building, which is necessary, since anything we can wrap our heads around is a myth -- the actuality is too big and multifaceted for one consciousness to grasp. But it's got the same relationship to history as a cafe napkin cartoon has to a photograph.

            Anyway, it's a false dichotomy, since in the last 2 generations even stogy old capital H History has been infected with "butter churn history" with its Balkanization into mutually-irrelevant niche cliques (the litany of various gender, racial and economic Grievance Studies) in academia. Real history, as a discipline dedicated to analyzing how a particular period's objectively-provable events fit into the flow of a world narrative, died with the rest of PhD quality control, circa 1970.

            What we think of as "history," even back in the days it was intellectually rigorous and attempted to be a totality, is 90% the autobiography of the later period, translating the former period in the latter symbolic language. There is no way to truly climb into the head of someone who lived in another culture separated from us by tremendous time and cultural change. Even if you read original sources in the original tongue, you're still running those programs on your latter-day operating system. It's literally not possible for a contemporary person to understand what it was "really" like to be Augustine, or Augustus, or Akhenaten. They are as different from us as a lamppost from an avocado.
            Last edited by Kepler; 08-23-2010, 10:40 AM.
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            • #7
              Re: History Vs. Pop Culture

              Originally posted by Brenthoven View Post
              I lean towards pop culture.
              Everything I needed to know about History I learned from Britney Spears.

              In any case, the Thermians would agree with you.

              Originally posted by Kepler View Post
              What you're calling pop culture is snapshots of a particular person's opinion of what other particular people felt at a particular time. I don't know how applicable that is for "what really happened." It's myth building, which is necessary, since anything we can wrap our heads around is a myth -- the actuality is too big and multifaceted for one consciousness to grasp. But it's got the same relationship to history as a cafe napkin cartoon has to a photograph.
              The movie "Tombstone" comes to mind. Based on actual events, but much of it is exaggerated or altered for storytelling purposes, or because the events had already become legendary.
              Success is not the result of spontaneous combustion. You must first set yourself on fire.
              -Fred Shero

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              • #8
                Re: History Vs. Pop Culture

                Originally posted by thecomicbookguy View Post
                The movie "Tombstone" comes to mind. Based on actual events, but much of it is exaggerated or altered for storytelling purposes, or because the events had already become legendary.
                From everything I've read about it, The Social Network* is virtually fact-free pop culture history (just 6 years' distant from the real events), and it's based on the equally "creative" Mezrich book (less than 5 years' distance). However, since it will be the only account several million people ever see, it will become "common knowledge."

                * I'm still seeing it, if for no other reason than the trailer is great.
                Last edited by Kepler; 08-23-2010, 04:12 PM.
                Cornell University
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                • #9
                  Re: History Vs. Pop Culture

                  Yah, it's very unfortunate that many people now learn things like history primarily from movies and other less substantive sources. There are a number of cases in recent years where a movie has come out on something historical, and people think that what they saw in the movie is the actual history, when in many ways the movies are glamorized and otherwise don't accurately reflect the history generally agreed to by many more substantive sources. Unfortunate.
                  Originally posted by Priceless
                  Good to see you're so reasonable.
                  Originally posted by ScoobyDoo
                  Very well, said.
                  Originally posted by Rover
                  A fair assessment Bob.

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                  • #10
                    Re: History Vs. Pop Culture

                    I don't know what you people are talking about. I EXCLUSIVELY base my understanding on late 18th century America from "Mason and Dixon" by Thomas Pynchon. There really were talking dogs back then, right?

                    "I have come up with a plan so cunning you could stick a tail on it and call it a weasel. ."
                    -Blackadder
                    "I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here. "
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                    • #11
                      Re: History Vs. Pop Culture

                      OTOH, if it weren't for The Lion in Winter, the set of people who had at least heard of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine would be reduced by 99%.

                      I think pop history can be great, as long as we (1) keep in mind the point is entertainment, not real history, and (2) pursue real sources if we get interested.

                      Of course, Foucault and the Structuralists would argue that all sources are inherently "pop" in the sense of being both deliberate and unconscious ideologically-bound constructions, and thus there's no choosing between them for Truth. To which I say, Foucault was a moron and the Structuralists never outgrew sophomore BS sessions.
                      Last edited by Kepler; 08-23-2010, 04:24 PM.
                      Cornell University
                      National Champion 1967, 1970
                      ECAC Champion 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1973, 1980, 1986, 1996, 1997, 2003, 2005, 2010
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                      • #12
                        Re: History Vs. Pop Culture

                        Agreed. Certainly pop history can at least create a shallow awareness of events in history, which can, and probably in certain cases does, create further interest in viewers who haven't paid attention to the subject before. That is a positive. But, I'd bet that's a small minority of cases, with most people who watched, say, Pearl Harbor, not going on to go to their public library or wherever and delve into the subject in a lot more detail.
                        Originally posted by Priceless
                        Good to see you're so reasonable.
                        Originally posted by ScoobyDoo
                        Very well, said.
                        Originally posted by Rover
                        A fair assessment Bob.

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                        • #13
                          Re: History Vs. Pop Culture

                          Thought of another sort of example.

                          History books will show that the internet became huge, and changed the way we receive our news (vs. paper print, speed of reporting it, etc etc). What the books may lack is how it affected solid fact-reporting and how many times it was a "who can report this first; we'll retract/change the story later if need be."

                          Pop culture medium would probably delve into that a bit more, giving a better understanding on how greatly the internet changed the landscape of news reporting.
                          Never really developed a taste for tequila. Kind of hard to understand how you make a drink out of something that sharp, inhospitable. Now, bourbon is easy to understand.
                          Tastes like a warm summer day. -Raylan Givens

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                          • #14
                            Re: History Vs. Pop Culture

                            Originally posted by Bob Gray View Post
                            But, I'd bet that's a small minority of cases, with most people who watched, say, Pearl Harbor, not going on to go to their public library or wherever and delve into the subject in a lot more detail.
                            Was it over when the Germans bombed Peal Harbor?
                            Cornell University
                            National Champion 1967, 1970
                            ECAC Champion 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1973, 1980, 1986, 1996, 1997, 2003, 2005, 2010
                            Ivy League Champion 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1977, 1978, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1996, 1997, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2012, 2014, 2018, 2019, 2020

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                            • #15
                              Re: History Vs. Pop Culture

                              The History Channel shows a lot more "Ice Road Truckers" than it shows history.

                              We're doomed.

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