Wednesday, November 9, 2011

What Should Be the Data for News and History?

This might be an idiotic question; but at what point does a factoid become worthy of being recorded in the news or the historical record?  Obviously, the big ones, if verified, should be there.  But what constitutes big?

Let me give what is hopefully an innocuous example.  Suppose President Obama truly likes Brussel sprouts; is that worthy of news?  Now I suppose that Brussel sprouts farmers may go, "Oh bother (or some other word).  Will this affect my business?"  And maybe Democratic mothers might pressure their offspring into eating said vegetables, saying that Barack Obama goes in for second helpings.  But is this news?  Really?*

But some examples are not so innocuous, such as in the area of private morality.  I'm not sure how several years ago a President's doings with chubby lasses became so important.  Oh yes, to be honest; I do. 

1.  It was lurid.  

2.  It was politically advantageous to make much ado about it.**

This even goes with what gets included in history.  I was reading about a British art critic and social thinker and his marital woes.  Apparently, he got married; and although he and his wife were married for seven years, they never consummated it.  Poor lady must have been disappointed.  Or relieved for a while, if we believe the myths that we have about the Victorian age.

Anyway, why did that not happen?  Three versions:

1.  He was a proper Victorian guy; and the only naked women he had seen were on Greek statues.  Therefore, he was put off by her pubic hair.  (OMG -- Would have the problem been solved if they had Brazilian waxes in those days?)

2.  He was impotent.

3.  His wife had an odor problem.

These versions were offered by different historians; attempting to fill in the gaps in what is known. 
But really, these are wild surmises; transforming jumping to conclusions into an Olympic event.  And whatever private anguish and sadness that participants in the story felt, there is damage done to their dignity. 

News and history does not have to be reduced to the tabloid level. 

*Now Presidential food preferences may be a topic for some budding scholar's master's thesis.  There are some strange ones out there.
**"We know no spectacle so ridiculous as the British public in one of its periodic fits of morality."  -- Lord Macaulay.


Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

Didn't they have shaving equipment back then? This is totally bizarre. I'll bet the newspapers had a lot of fun with that story.

Anonymous said...

1. Bill Clinton was not impeached for getting a B.J.; it was for lying to Congress. Lying is a privilege reserved for Congresspersons.

2. Kind of sharp today?

Bilbo said...

I'm not sure there really was such a thing as a "proper" Victorian guy, at least behind closed doors, and pubic hair (or lack thereof) notwithstanding. After all, why do you think we call that place "Victoria's Secret?"