“I don’t know much about Boston except that they threw a bunch of tea in some body of water.” So said Hannah Brown, ABC’s “Bachelorette” in residence, on Monday night’s episode.
“There was a chant, what was it?” she continued, searching her memory for scraps of Revolutionary-era history. “No taxation… No (sic) represation… No representation. No. No… without taxation. No taxation without representation!”
“Is that right?” a producer asked.
“I don’t know, I feel like it’s close,” Hannah replied, before proceeding to give one of her suitors a tour of Boston guided by purposefully bad facts like “Paul Revere invented the bike.”
Hannah, we are to believe, is very dumb but also very funny! To the extent that her ignorance was intended to boost some sense of relatability, the joke wouldn’t really have worked. We laugh at her, then with her. (Intelligence, by the way, isn’t necessarily measured in historical knowledge, but that did seem to be the show’s suggestion.)
I’m generally okay with the idea that some chunk of the adult population doesn’t remember some chunk of the American history they learned in school. It’s not ideal, but it’s also realistic. In that sense, making a joke of Hannah’s limited knowledge, as “The Bachelorette” did, is actually not a bad thing: It’s a form of cultural shaming. The message is that she’s laughably ignorant, not laudably ignorant.
Even so, my colleague John Daniel Davidson wrote last week about waning interest in the Civil War, demonstrating how the “politicization of history invites ignorance.” Howard Zinn’s cartoonish approach to teaching the past, “is now common among professional historians, with the result that growing numbers of Americans don’t know much, or care to know much, about their own history,” Davidson argued (emphasis added).
Hannah Brown is 24. I can’t speculate on whether her knowledge base reflects broader trends among our age demographic. Most likely she’s just not all that interested in history, which is not all that uncommon or new.
But her reduction of a principle like “no taxation without representation” to a “chant,” or the Boston Tea Party to the throwing of “a bunch of tea in some body of water,” gets at Davidson’s point about the generations raised on Zinn and his acolytes. Davidson quoted the historian Wilfred McClay, who recently criticized the Zinn model by asking, “Why learn what the Wilmot Proviso was, or what exactly went into the Compromise of 1850, when you could just say we had this original sin of slavery?”
Perhaps there’s been a Great Simplification, and perhaps that’s fueling something corrosive in our culture.