So I wanted to write up a few thoughts on the start of Bioshock: Infinite, inspired by this tweet and our subsequent interaction:
I played the first few hours of Bioshock: Infinite last night, and while I loved it, after I was done, something felt just a bit off.
I realized after reading that tweet that I really wished the first hour or so of the game, before all the killing happens, lasted much longer. The world Irrational has built is just stunning. It’s totally gorgeous, but more than that, it is a incredibly compelling alternate past. Roaming around Columbia before they discover I am the “False Shepard” was endlessly fascinating, and I wish I could have interacted more with the people in the city.
Overhearing talk is all well and good, but I yearned for some kind of conversation system. I wanted to talk with the people worshipping the founding fathers. I wanted to hear more about what the Liberty Scouts stand for. I wanted to understand the way the city works, from the docking schedules, to growing food, to just staying afloat. I wanted to learn more about race relations in the city, especially as you really encounter the conflict in the raffle right as things blow up in your face.
There is so much about this world they’ve built that fascinates me, but I feel like it’s out of reach. I have no doubt that more will be revealed to me through the voxophones, the propaganda posters sprinkled through the city, or the conversations I hear when I’m not gunning people down. But that just doesn’t feel entirely satisfying to me.
The scene I feel simultaneously most interested in and most disappointed by is the first time you discover people who don’t agree with the racist society in Columbia; the abolitionists running a printing press and a refuge in their home. But the only thing you get out of this is the Civil Rights poster they’re printing, and that they’re sheltering people from the hate that you’re just beginning to explore. After telling you to be quiet and hide from the guards, the owners of the house are mute. You can’t interact with them, and they don’t say anything ever again. How fascinating a conversation with them would have been!
Even more troubling are the refugees hidden in their house. As you explore the dwelling, you see two black people (escaped slaves? (are there slaves in Columbia?) servants? victims of hate crime? who knows…) who are apparently asleep and cannot be roused. I stayed in that room for a long time, hoping for any kind of scripted event, to no avail.
I realize how desperately I want to talk to the people of this world instead of just mowing my way through the city, gleaning bits and pieces. I am sure that as the game goes on I’ll learn more about Columbia, but to spend the rest of the game running and gunning through this city almost feels like a waste of this incredible world they’ve built.
I had dinner with a former professor of mine last night, and we spent a decent amount of time talking about the whole fiasco surrounding Sarah Palin’s mangling of the Paul Revere story. Namely, her assertion that he rang bells to warn the British that they couldn’t take Americans’ guns, among other fallacies. The media was quick to call her out and say that this was incredibly incorrect for a host of reasons. But I thought it was fascinating the way many of the articles corrected her inaccuracies.
If you ask any American about Paul Revere’s ride, they’re almost certainly going to tell you he saw the light in the Old North Church and rode through the towns shouting “The British are coming.” In pointing out that Revere wasn’t warning the British, most news outlets also noted that Revere probably stated “The Regulars are coming out” since the colonists thought themselves British. Furthermore, news outlets often noted that the mission (carried out by many other riders) involved little to no shouting, as the goal was to quietly spread the word.
As I was driving home, I realized that this was probably the first time most Americans were seeing even a semi-accurate portrayal of Revere’s ride. I got to thinking about what would have happened if Palin had told the commonly-accepted Longfellow story of Revere’s ride. I’m fairly certain not a single news outlet would have bothered to say, “You know, Revere didn’t actually yell out ‘The British are coming!’” And that left me very disturbed.
What does it say about the importance of history in this country if the nation has a seizure when one person’s historical inaccuracies don’t mesh with the collective historical inaccuracy, instead of conflicting with the actual historical events? The state of historical knowledge in this country is in absolute shambles exactly because Longfellow-style mythologizing is the norm in American school rooms.
How many reading this were taught the Longfellow story of Paul Revere’s ride? How many were taught the Emancipation Proclamation was the end of slavery in the United States? How many of you taught in a HISTORY class that Washington chopped down a cherry tree? Because I was taught all these things as historical fact (among many, many others) at some point in my education. It wasn’t until I took it upon myself to read real history books, instead of the shoddily written myth-making textbooks students are given, that I was able to get a real grasp on the history of this country. Certainly, my AP history classes in high school did get a bit beyond the standard American folklore, but even then there were inaccuracies and inconsistencies.
And even more troubling is the lack of interest in learning this country’s history. The most clear and telling example of this is that Palin supporters went to wikipedia to change history to conform with her statements. If there was ever a more perfect picture of the disdain for historical knowledge in this country, I can’t think of it. It’s clear from this vandalism that many people don’t care about doing any actual historical examination and instead prefer simple and digestible fiction.
My favorite example of this lack of interest in history is the Old South’s infatuation with the “Confederate Flag.” First and foremost, the flag most often flown as the “Confederate Flag” was actually the battle flag. And in reality, it was square, not 3:5. (The navy jack was 3:5, but had markedly lighter blue). And it was never known as the stars and bars, that was the name of the first national flag, not the battle flag. But most importantly, it was rarely a symbol of “Southern Heritage” until it started flying at Southern state houses in the wake of Brown v. Board as a statement against integration. The confederate battle flag is almost exclusively a racist symbol of white supremacy. But few who fly the flag know any of this. They just accept the falsified and constructed folklore (of “southern pride”) behind the flag that’s been passed down for generations, and in their ignorance, perpetuate hatred. It does not take much work at all to learn about the real history of Confederate symbolism, but to take that step requires true interest in history, a trait that is sorely lacking in America.
It is time for people to own up to the fact that they don’t know the history of this country, instead of passing on their misconceptions. There’s no shame in it, because educators have been beating folklore into their heads as history for generations. But history is important. While the old adage “History repeats itself,” is an oversimplification, there are certainly trends we can notice. History has a lot to tell us about politics, economics, and human interaction among many other topics. But if we continue to accept folklore by rote, we’ll never learn any of those lessons.
History should never be about learning stories, or memorizing dates. History should be argumentative! It should be about the interpretation of events, the motive behind actions, the way two seemingly unconnected events may be intertwined! History is a dialogue. But even in the historical dialogue, there are some things that can’t be changed. We have a record from Revere himself about his actions on the night, and they match neither Palin’s story nor Longfellow’s. Likewise, we have the record of historical uses of the confederate flags, which bear little to no resemblance to the story of “southern heritage.”
We need to remember that we can argue the reason for an event for an eternity, but in the end, it is about reconciling different accounts to arrive at a reasoned opinion and interpretation of events. You can’t just create fact. Revere never shouted “The British are coming!” And therein lies the major problem with the mythologizing of American history. The people that create and subscribe to folklore as history, be it Revere or any other mangled historical tale, are changing the very facts of history itself. And as long as we keep accepting these distortions, we’ll never have a true grasp of history and what we stand to gain from it.
Hey guys, did you know if you google “Four,” this is what happens?
From the Coit Tower.
San Fancisco is such a beautiful city.
My cat is a sleep contortionist.
Street Art of the Day: “Before I Die”: Candy Chang (previously) reclaims the side of an abandoned house on the corner of Marigny and Burgundy in her NOLA neighborhood for a giant chalkboard “where residents can fill in the blank and remember what is important to them in life.”
The collective project, she says, is “also about turning a neglected space into a constructive one where we can learn the hopes and aspirations of the people around us.”