When I get bored I steal away to The Daily Evergreen's archives and read old newspaper clips. Not sexy I know, but the Bowflex in my office is broken.
I'm a history buff and I think the best way to really see the past is through old headlines. Too often we Americans recast history in a dangerously nostalgic way. We assume our nation started perfect and forget that the struggle for freedom is an ongoing battle. We justify our present actions by citing former glory. We lie to ourselves.
But newspapers are telling snapshots of time. They capture society in a raw, unfiltered way. Defender of democracy and newspaper publisher Donald Graham said, "Journalism is the first rough draft of history" and he was right.
Academics and history books synthesize, they distill, they recast events and details get lost. Those details can be found in the dusty rooms of newspaper archives.
The good and the bad is all there, just waiting to be rediscovered. Unfortunately the reality of our past is less palatable than fantasy. While rooting through cracked tomes from the 30s and 40s I came across clips that made me gasp, some that made me laugh and some that made my jaw drop.
Here are the top five most offensive things I found in my college paper:
#1: "The Africans Don't Know Any Better"
The first words out of my mouth when I turned the page and saw this were "Holyeeeeeeee...!!!"
This is a cartoon from 1938. I have no idea what it means or why it was printed. It was at the bottom of the front page but doesn't accompany any story, column or editorial. I think the woman on the left is supposed to be black and the woman on the right is supposed to be white.
I'm not sure what the Africans don't know but obviously it's important. Maybe that pearls were in in '38? Curls are better than slinky-dos? It's kinda like they were just reminding everyone how awesome it feels to be a condescending douche.
#2: "Nature in the raw is seldom mild"
You know what else is seldom mild? Rape.
This is just one in a series of ads featuring unconscious women. They change the culture and time period but in almost every one of these ads there's some guy holding a limp woman wrapped in what looks like bedsheets.
I don't know what these ads were trying to convey but it looks like, "Hey! Buy our cigarettes and force yourself on a woman! Today!"
#3: "On the shelf? ... Not I!"
Don't have a savings account? Might as well be in a wheel chair ya bum! There are just so many messages being communicated here. Some good, and some that make me gag a little.
Good message: You should save money, work hard and be responsible.
Bad message: If you don't save money you are worthless. And speaking of worthless, you know what's really worthless? Old people and the handicapped.
Youth and vitality is associated with frugality and success. Illness, age and deformation are associated with weakness and irresponsibility.
Mmmm, build those stereotypes.
#4: "Heap big victory pipe"
It's a picture of an Indian so the headline is in broken English, get it? Get it guys?
Note the caption. His name is chief "Many Treaties" and when he's not appearing as a sideshow curiosity in the Hollywood picture shows he helps build bombers in a factory 1000 miles away from the reservation we put his tribe on. Oh by the way, he fashioned a cute little pipe. See guys? Isn't it nice?
#5: "Save scrap, beat the Japs"
Note the "Japanese Hitler" drawing pinned to the truck door and the enemy's effigy lurking scare-crowishly near the back of the pack on the truck bed. You never know when you're going to want to take your aggression out on a life-size doll made to look like your national enemy, y'know?
These clips help represent America in its entirety. We're a great nation -- we beat the Nazis, walked on the moon and gave the world rock 'n' roll. But only dwelling on our accomplishments and ignoring our racism, our ignorance and our ugliness is nothing more than lying.
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