Negativity Theory states, as we all know, that historical figures aren’t as good as they appear. I know this topic will be remedial for some advanced students, but I think it is still fun to explore from time to time.
As we know, most people are surrounded by friends and loved ones. Among their many functions they effectively become “Keepers of the Lore.” It is their job to conceal and/or minimize the unsavory stuff while injecting exaggeration and hyperbole into anything that might be good, not necessarily limiting themselves to things that actually happened.
The theory states that the ability to discover unflattering information about a person is directly proportional to the amount of time that has passed. It also states that just about everyone has some kind of freakish penchant or skeleton in their closet. In many cases, information about these quirks never sees the light of day.
Let’s take someone like George Washington. He famously chopped down a cherry tree and, when confronted about it, said, “I can’t tell a lie, Pa.” Or did he? The story came from a book written about George Washington after his death, which was written by a guy who plagiarized other stories for the man’s life from published fiction of the time. No credible source for the story was ever found, so the cherry tree incident is considered apocryphal and its credibility is questioned.
There is also the matter of Washington crossing the Delaware as portrayed in the famous painting. In the picture Washington maintains a heroic stance at the bow of the boat. The painting has been analyzed, though, and many “historical inaccuracies” have been found. They include:
- It was raining during the crossing.
- Some reason that it would have been difficult for Washington to stand in choppy waters. Another theory states, however, that perhaps the occupants of the boat were standing to avoid icy water.
- The flag in the painting didn’t yet exist at the time of the crossing.
- The boat is the wrong model and appears too small to carry the occupants. The actual boats used had higher sides.
- The crossing took place at night, not in the day.
- The river shown is far narrower than where the crossing took place.
- Horses were not ferried across the river in boats.
- The painting shows Washington’s boat going geographically in the wrong direction.
I think this one example shows how history can tend to get a few facts wrong. So it is also easy to imagine the volume of information that may be omitted altogether.
On the other hand, there is much we don’t know about the man. What if there were some unsavory aspects? If they did exist, the people who had knowledge of them, if there were any at all, are since long gone. That information has dissipated and is gone forever, unless, of course, some sort of evidence, like a letter, surfaces. But even then the authenticity we will be questioned, the meaning scrutinized, and the facts of the unpleasantness subjected to ridicule with a bias towards disbelief.
By now you might be asking yourself, “Why in the name of Zeus’ butthole does this asshole sit around and thing about such bullshit?” That’s a good question. All I can say is, “It’s what I do.”
I’d like to conclude with a real-life example. This dramatic tale will include things like the NFL and the Super Bowl. Whoa! Excited yet? I know I am.
In my younger days I worked for a company as a driver. Out of respect for the deceased I won’t be more specific than that. One of my job duties was taking executive’s cars to and from the airport. You see, the CEO and other bigwigs liked to drive their own car to the airport when heading out of town. They’d park then phone their secretaries with the location of the car. That’s where yours truly would jump into action. Actually, it took two of us in a company vehicle. Another driver would drive me to the car, and I’d drive the car back to the company headquarters where it would be safe in underground parking for the duration of the bigwig’s trip.
Holy fuck. I sure as hell have never had a perk like that.
Of course, on the return trip, a few hours before arrival, two of us drivers would then reverse the process. This sort of thing often took place on Sunday. The two of us would get four hours minimum pay – of overtime – for coming in on our day off for about 30 minutes of work. It was a sweet little bonus for us.
I loved getting the CEO’s car on the open highway and seeing how fast it would go. But that’s another story. 🙂
Aside from the VIP car treatment, the mechanics in our internal shop also had to gas and wash the bigwig’s company-owned vehicles on a weekly basis.
Besides the CEO there was another guy who got the bigwig treatment and his own company car. I’d driven it to the airport many times. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t like strangers in my car, much less driving it. But I guess, somehow, you’re able to get over such things when you achieve true bigwig status.
This other guy had worked for the company in the past and, after leaving for a while, came back as a bigwig. He had contacts in politics and sports. In particular he had a thing for football. In addition to all of his other achievements in life, he was instrumental in bringing the Super Bowl to our town.
One day I was out shooting the shit with one of the mechanics and he was washing this guy’s car. “Pssst,” he said. “Wanna see something?”
He sounded so conspiratorial I was immediately curious. He took me over to the bigwig’s car and opened the driver’s side door.
He pointed at the lower part of the driver’s side, just above the door jam. “There,” he said.
At first I had no clue what the hell my mechanic friend was showing me. “Get closer,” he said.
I leaned in for a look and there it was! Wow!
The entire side of that bigwig’s seat was covered with boogers. Boogers! A veritable plethora of chunky mineral resources of the nostril kind. Boogers! Little rolled-up mucus spheres clinging to the seat. And sweeping, arcing smudges of their close cousin, the more liquidy kind. It was like a little booger convention in his car. (What happens in the seat says in the seat!)
One again I was hit with one of those job moments: I could do that job for half his pay! Booger Placement Specialist. Yeah, that sounds like something I could be good at.
I have to admit, for some strange reason, it has always given me a lot of pleasure knowing such a detail about such a bigwig. In this case, the “keepers of the lore” aren’t the only ones who know. There are at least two of us (and probably more) in the Cabal of Booger Knowledge that have the information in our safekeeping. At least as long as we live.
We’re kind of like a modern day version of organizations like the Knights Templar – only more boogery.
Every person has their role to play in history. Some are more important than others. My burden is a heavy one.