There. I said it.
This notion of “citizen journalism” and “conversations” and “participation” is history.
And here is the proof:
This is a “blog post” from Amos Doolittle, from the year 1813, called “Brother Johnathan Administering a Salutary Cordial to John Bull.”
In it, our protagonist (Brother Johnathan) is forcing foul swill down the mouth of one of her majesty’s finest Redcoats. Poor John Bull pleads for mercy (click on the picture for a closer look):
“Oh, don’t force me to take it, Brother Johnathan – Give me Holland Gin, French Brandy – anything but this D—-d Yankee Perry – it has already fuddled me!”
To which, Brother Johnathan replies in a manner only a noble American can (if that noble American is “The Rock,” and you can “smell what he is cooking.”):
“Take it Johnny, take it I say – why can’t you take it? It will mend your morals and your manners too, friend Johnny. – Plague on you, you shall swallow it!”
The play on words here regards a naval commander named Oliver Perry, as well as a reference to pear-based liqueurs that were known to cause digestive problems. (See, I told you it was like the WWE!)
A Day at the Museum
I happened upon this piece at the Birmingham Museum of Art, which is currently showing “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” on loan from Yale through January 10, 2010. It has hundreds of pieces from the John Trumbull collection, and the fact that these pieces are on the road is a story in and of itself.
Trumbull was a great painter in his own right, and collected a lot a long the way. He willed it to Yale, with the provision that the collection must stay intact and on site, or else it automatically reverts to Harvard.
When Yale wanted to do massive renovations on the building housing the permanent collection, much of it needed to move. Lawyers from both schools reached an agreement that as long as the renovations were underway, that parts of the collection could travel without penalty.
As I am not as wealthy or well-traveled, I can’t say from personal experience – but the Birmingham Museum of Art has a reputation for taking great exhibits and making them even better. Most of the curators from traveling exhibits marvel at how much care Birmingham puts into the display – (that’s “plating” for you foodie-type Iron Chef fans.) They say their pieces have never looked as good as they do here. During my brief visit, we were told that word had gotten out in Arizona, and there were an extraordinarily high number of visitors from Tuscon who were frequenting the loaned display. Who knew?
While the exhibit is fascinating from an artistic perspective, there is much for the communicator to appreciate.
What’s Old Is New Again
As much as we like to bemoan the state of our media, we’re pretty tame in our manipulation of images and events. The textbooks will tell you that the science of Public Relations began with Ivy Lee just a century ago, but that doesn’t explain the work of Paul Revere in “The Bloody Massacre.”
Historians will tell you that the firing-squad nature of the picture likely bore no resemblance to the reality of the Boston Massacre – but that fits right along with today’s “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” (Not to mention the white-washing of Crispus Attucks, who was black.)
Looking at pieces like these, you can’t help but think about the agitation caused by those ruffians, those partisan bloggers who skew reality to stir up trouble.
We’re in the midst of some fairly partisan times. Which is nothing new.
Our media is in a shambles. Again, this is nothing new.
What is new is the ability to reach around the world immediately, instead of with more deliberate pace. Or, as Peter Shankman puts it, the ability to be famous for being globally stupid in an instant.
Worth the Drive
If you’re within driving distance of Birmingham, come on in and see it before it gets crowded. The exhibit is fantastic, and loaded with history. Birmingham is notorious for being a walk-in-at-the-last-minute town, so avoid the crowds.
If you’re a professional communicator and you’re within driving distance, then you have no excuse. There is too much history to absorb, and it will snap you out of the rat-race social-media bubble, and put communications back into proper perspective.
And when you get here, go ahead and find James Madison in this classic portrait: