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Wednesday, August 06, 2014

 
Two really stupid complaints about Perlstein's book

by digby

Dday has done a definitive piece on the bogus Perlstein controversy, covering all the bases from wingnut operative Craig Shirley's hackish history to his idiotic contention that repeatedly citing someone's work is akin to plagiarism. Read the whole thing. It pretty much covers it all.

I just want to expand on a couple of the complaints in this trumped up controversy that have nothing to do with the plagiarism hit job.

First, contrary to the pearl clutching of a few critics, the idea of putting footnotes online is an amazing innovation. The only people who read footnotes are those who are mentioned in them, reviewers and scholars. And all of them, even those who really love to delve into the footnotes just for fun, can very easily access them on the device they are likely to be reading the book --- their tablet. It won't be long before the vast majority of readers read books that way.  Now I know this is very modern and strange to a lot of people my age and older but it's just silly.  I too love to hold a book in my hand and make notes in the margins. But I'm adapting and everyone else will too.

Honestly, this complaint sounds like someone who still has a VCR and it's still blinking at 12:00 because they still haven't learned how to program it. That's fine --- not everyone has to adopt all this fancy modern technology. But you should be aware that you sound like a cranky old coot for carping about the changes and nobody under the age of 40 takes you seriously when you complain about it.

Second, is this completely daft idea in Sam Tanenhaus's equally daft review of the book in which he takes Perlstein to task for being nothing more than a "web aggregater" because he liberally uses the contemporaneous media accounts of the day to tell his story.  I don't even know what he's talking about and pretty clearly, neither does he. This stuff mostly isn't on "the web" and even the material from that era that is, isn't easily accessed simply by "googling" it. Most of the contemporaneous media Perlstein cites is from his physically digging into media and academic archives and following long trails in contemporaneous books and magazines. You know, the job historians are supposed to do. That he chooses to lay out his narrative using many of these sources (what Tanenhaus calls "crowd-sourced scholarship" thus proving he doesn't know what crowd sourcing is) is part of the genius of his books -- we see how the history of the era unfolded in the national conversation.  In a culture in which the conventional wisdom was both reflected by an elite, national media and created by it, these accounts are primary documents. So too are the local and regional news stories, along with various subterranean strands of popular culture, which revealed the undercurrents the big national media failed to grasp.

Maybe Tanenhaus thinks history is more accurately rendere by conducting interviews with aged elites who are burnishing their legacies and consulting official government press releases and that's his privilege. But if so his idea of history is not only extremely limited it's dull as dishwater.

Part of what makes Perlstein's history so special is that by reading all the popular accounts, watching the movies, checking out the fashions and obsessions of the era, he gives context to these cross currents of American politics in the culture of the time. You simply cannot understand anything about the 1960s and 1970s without understanding the culture --- and that includes a right wing culture that wasn't just sitting around feeling all forlorn that those kids in bell-bottoms and long hair were acting the fool. It had agency and lots of it -- and it wasn't any "nicer" or full of "ideas" then than it is today. Tanenhaus seems to think Perlstein misrepresents this.

Sorry, Perlstein gets it right. They weren't quoting Edmund Burke or even William F Buckley when they were screaming at the hippies.

They were saying "love it or leave it":



Ronald Reagan just made it cute for public consumption:
“A hippie is someone who looks like Tarzan, walks like Jane, and smells like Cheetah”
Hahaha. So loveable.

But then I'm going to guess that people who think that citing contemporaneous media sources from a certain period is "crowd-sourcing" haven't been too hip to actual American culture for a very, very long time. Maybe ever.  Which also explains why they have zero understanding of Perlstein's work.

More to come on this later.




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