Monthly Archives: December 2009

Movies for the Classroom: The History of Christmas, from the History Channel

I’ll be tackling Christmas in more detail next week.  In the meantime, here’s the History Channel’s documentary about the history of Christmas, from the birth of Christ to Scrooge, to Jimmy Stewart and the Grinch.  Students can definitely get some useful information about a holiday that is often lost in all the hype.

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Update on the Blog Status

You may be wondering “Mr. D, why aren’t you putting out your usual volume of bullcrap?”

The reason is simple–the holidays.

I had a trivia contest to organize this month, plus creating/revising assessments, reviewing assessment results, explaining away the assessment results, and teaching my full load.  That and the shopping and decorating.  So I’ve been a little stressed lately.  Hopefully, now with tests and the contest over, I can concentrate on the blog again soon.

I should have the next installment of Mr. D’s Guide to the Holidays by the end of the week, with a concentration on Chanukah.  I’ll see you then.

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The High Price of Fame: Quotes on Celebrity and Stardom

Tiger Woods (AFP via Yahoo! News)

Jesus, the Prophet Muhammad, Tiger Woods—quite possibly, three of the most famous people on the planet (and not necessarily in that order).  

That fame, however, does not necessarily bring peace and tranquility.

Tiger Woods may be miffed that his “transgressions” came under public scrutiny, but students of history know better.  Fame has been a blessing and a burden since the beginnings of civilization.  Muhammad’s growing popularity (and opposition) forced him to flee his native Mecca to Medina.  Jesus had a similar brush with fame and popularity, with a more grisly end.  So it should not be a surprise to any celebrity that their lives are under the microscope.

Here in America, celebrity has been valued, as well as criticized, since the colonial period.  Benjamin Frankin was perhaps the first true American celebrity: his fame as a scientist, author, diplomat and all-around American workaholic spread across Europe.  Franklin was also among the first, ironically, to write on the dangers of celebrity.  In 1725, in his Dissertation on Liberty and Necessity, Pleasure and Pain, he wrote:

“Mankind naturally and generally love to be flatter’d…Geese are but Geese tho’ we may think ‘em Swans; and Truth will be Truth tho’ it sometimes prove mortifying and distasteful.”

Later, in his unfinished autobiography he famously wrote:

“Most people dislike vanity in others, whatever share they have of it themselves.”

In a sense, Franklin is pointing out the paradox of fame in America: we crave attention, yet hate it when others crave attention.  Yet even though we may crave stardom, it’s difficult to mask the underlying truth to our being.

Davy Crockett, the Indian fighter, frontiersman, Congressman and martyr at the Alamo, was another early superstar, according to many historians.  By the 1830s, his frontier persona, thanks to massive marketing through stage plays, books and merchandising, had become a caricature of the real person: an often uneasy celebrity who, like Tiger Woods, often craved anonymity in areas outside of public life.  Crockett once stated that:

“Fame is like a shaved pig with a greased tail, and it is only after it has slipped through the hands of some thousands, that some fellow, by mere chance, holds on to it!”

In retrospect, Tiger Woods has some pretty impressive company, and a certain match for prowess in the boudoir (if the accounts of Dr. Franklin’s escapades are true).  Here are some other quotes about fame and celebrity.

“He who pursues fame at the risk of losing his self is not a scholar.” — Chuang-tzu

“The best people renounce all for one goal, the eternal fame of mortals; but most people stuff themselves like cattle.” — Heraclitus

“What is fame? The advantage of being known by people of whom you yourself know nothing, and for whom you care as little.” — Lord Byron

“Fame is like a suffocating castle sieged by the enemy. “ — Mehmet ildan

“All the fame I look for in life is to have lived it quietly.” — Michel de Montaigne

“When once a man has made celebrity necessary to his happiness, he has put it in the power of the weakest and most timorous malignity, if not to take away his satisfaction, at least to withhold it. His enemies may indulge their pride by airy negligence and gratify their malice by quiet neutrality. “ — Samuel Johnson

“No true and permanent fame can be founded, except in labors which promote the happiness of mankind. “ — Charles Sumner

“A sign of celebrity is that his name is often worth more than his services. “ — Daniel J. Boorstin

“A celebrity is a person who works hard all his life to become well known, then wears dark glasses to avoid being recognized. “ — Fred Allen

“A celebrity is one who is known to many persons he is glad he doesn’t know.”  — H. L. Mencken

“The nice thing about being a celebrity is that when you bore people, they think it’s their fault.” — Henry Kissinger

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This Day in History 12/2: The Coronation of Napoleon Bonaparte

Since my last post was mired in the bullshit of educational minutia, maybe it’s best that today we focus on an event when the BS was finally swept away.

On December 2, 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte, general extraordinaire, First Consul of the French Republic, and essentially the dictator of France, decided to call a spade a spade and give himself a crown.  In front of a packed Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, with the pope waiting anxiously, the diminutive little tyrant took a crown and placed it on his own head, naming himself Napoleon I, Emperor of the French. 

In reality, the guy was basically a monarch for quite a while now.  The French Republic had been moribund until Napoleon led a coup d’etat in 1799 that swept away the Directory government and created the French Consulate, with himself as First Consul.  The French Constitution was rewritten several times until 1802, when the French legislature voted to make Napoleon Consul for life.  He ruled as an autocrat, pushing the revolutionary ideals of France’s liberals, while at the same time squashing popular dissent and political discussion.

By 1804, he figured that the charade was over–let’s just declare a monarchy now and dump this Republic crap.  Yet Napoleon was also careful.  He made sure that he was named Emperor of the French people–NOT France the territory as earlier kings had done.  The machinations of legislative processes were maintained, albeit under the Little Corporal’s heavy hand.  He essentially became what he needed to become: all-powerful with the veneer of popular support.

In truth, I kind of admire the little prick.  He deftly utilized public opinion and constitutional niceties to achieve absolute power.  Yet he had to go mess with the Spanish and the Russians–two groups with which you shouldn’t get into a knife fight.  Some people just learn the hard way.

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