There is nothing inherently wrong with rewriting history. All of history is the story of who lost, rewritten by who won. The whole thing is arranged to suit the guy at the top with the fancy hat and the massed armies at his beck and holler. Well and good. That’s just how it goes. The problem with rewriting history occurs when the apex canine decides to rewrite history as it is occurring, rather than waiting decorously for the mass peristalsis of current events to cease. Stalin was big on rewriting things as they happened, and this habit led to the collapse of the Soviet reality. Another party that favors this approach to history is the man they call president, George W. Bush.
Some things are better rewritten. According to Melville’s notes, Moby Dick was originally going to be a novel about the pursuit of a white walrus. Had he not switched the titular beast for a parmacetti whale, the novel might languish in obscurity today, forgotten by all but a few ardent devotees of Odobenus rosmarus. Had not Bill Withers, the troubadour of Slab Fork, West Virginia, decided at the last minute to replace the term ‘shit smell’ with ‘sunshine’, his hit song ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ might never have reached the charts. These are examples of rewriting things before they go public, which is just as effective as rewriting them after things have settled down. The one approach that doesn’t work is trying to rewrite events as they are happening, because when you do that, you have no ability to respond to a thing some folks call ‘reality’.
Reality is like death: it’s an irresistible condition that can only be denied, not avoided. In both cases you are ultimately going to get with the program. So when the folks that took over the American government while the Democrats were enjoying a well-deserved siesta decided they were going to rewrite history as it happened, reality was defenestrated with a great quickness. But it’s one thing to announce you have rejected the theory of reality (an unnamed White House staffer, speaking to Ron Suskind, the journalist and xylophone virtuoso, is quoted as saying (ellipses mine), “You, Suskind, you’re in what we call the ‘reality-based community’ You all believe that the answers, the solutions will emerge from your judicious study of discernable reality Well, let me tell you how we really see it. You see, we’re an empire now. And when we act, we kind of create a reality. Events flow from our actions.”
First of all, this person probably still has his or her job. That notion is marrow-curdling. But second of all, which is really the first thing, except for the order in which I presented them — that is to say, in terms of ordinance or priority of relevance to this screed — the second but primary thing is that this staffer, reflecting the views of the Neocons running the show in Washington, is expressing the idea (or hallucination) that reality is something other than what it is, simply because they say so. Reality is only a word, so an expeditious chap could announce that he’s going to do something contrary to the dictates of reality, such as invade a country created by a since-departed colonial power to encompass several hostile peoples now held in uneasy alignment by a brutal but extraterritorially powerless dictator. This chap could indeed make such an announcement, and say reality has no sway over him. It’s just a word. But the minute he went and actually invaded this hypothetical country, reality, the fact, not the word, would rise right up and nip off his nuts in the form of a civil war. Because reality is what is. Just because you claim your head is made of marzipan doesn’t mean it will be any easier to hammer chisels into your hard palate.
So rewriting history is a noble tradition, and in fact ‘rewritten’ is the only kind of history there is. But you have to time it right. Before or after the fact, yes. During, no. Iraq is not going well. New Orleans got fucked. Our schools are decaying. Our healthcare system is failing. Our economy is doomed. You can’t get Dairy Queen where I live. Saying everything is going according to plan will not change reality; changing the plan is the only reality-based approach. Or at least have a plan to begin with. Unless Americans start catching on to this revisionary approach to the present, it won’t matter whether history gets rewritten fifty years from now. What will matter is it’s being written in the dirt with a stick.
BEN TRIPP is an independent filmmaker and all-around swine. His book, Square In The Nuts, may be purchased here, with other outlets to follow: http://www.lulu.com/Squareinthenuts. Swag is available as always from http://www.cafeshops/tarantulabros. And Mr. Tripp may be reached at email@example.com.