Okay okay it’s the Fourth of July blah blah fireworks you bought in Indiana blah. I for one celebrated the holiday by brunching harder than usual and forcing my friends to make room on the grill for vegetables when clearly all they wanted was heated encased meats stacked as high as an elephant’s eye. Too bad, pass the freedom-asparagus.
I was at the aforementioned Independence Day Brunch, reading aloud my friend Emma’s text messages, cursing King George for her lateness to the meal. One of my friends at the table finally asked “I don’t get it, is this some inside joke? Why is she talking shit about the King of England?” On the Fourth of July.
We need to have a talk about U.S. history. Because, frankly, it just doesn’t get talked about enough. We’ve got motherfucking literal witch hunts and human servitude in our history books and yet I remember almost none of it because I was too busy doodling those cool pointy sword “S”s during history class as a teenager.
So in the name of social betterment and also not looking like an asshole every time you travel abroad and can’t list more than seven American presidents, here are some things to watch when you realize you know nothing about American history.
1. John Green’s “Crash Course” series. Aside from the fact that John Green talks charmingly fast, refers to George Washington as “Mr. Creepy Eyes,” and openly slams New Jersey in a historical context every chance he gets, Green also graduated from my alma mater, and there’s nothing I like more than a little unbiased enthusiastic nepotism.
Green, sometime young adult author and veteran nerdy vlogger, does a really fantastic job of highlighting the strange and ridiculous bits in our national history, along with actually being deeply informative and contextualizing events in a pretty self-aware, distrusting-the-patriarchy sort of way. With cartoons, jokes, a huge number of gratuitous explosion-effects, Green makes history… really fun?
I think this is what the kids call edutainment.
Watching this series not only confirms my deeply held beliefs that humans are historically awful and hilarious, but it makes me want to be better informed about… everything. If this hyper-literate nerdboy has his stuff so down that he can score hundreds of thousands of views on his video blog solely about the same stuff kids would be learning in the history classes they blow off to youtube Kreayshawn videos on their iPhones (or whatever it is kids do these days), then there must be something to be said for being sassy and educated, right?
2. Micro-prescription: Lin Manuel Miranda’s Alexander Hamilton Rap from the 2009 White House Poetry Jam
3. Drunk History. While, yes, these historical accounts sometimes skew away from the accurate and even coherent, they are at least based on IRL history. And even if you’re pretty sure that Alexander Hamilton didn’t call his wife on his celly to tell her he was about to die, it is pretty gratifying to finally have a sense of what the Hell the Hamilton-Burr duel was even about, to begin with. And with Comedy Central picking up the youtube series for television (starting next week), now is the perfect time to brush up on some slurry, bleary, effed up historical accounts.
The concept is this: Derek Waters gets together various of his friends,—who all appear to be both lushes and history buffs—gets them super drunk, then has them recount major historical events on camera. Spliced into the recordings of them trying desperately to stay awake while describing the important friendship between Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas, are lip-synched reenactments of the stories, performed by weirdly and perfectly cast comedians and actors. Jack Black is Benjamin Franklin. Adam Scott is John Wilkes Booth. In one seasonal departure, Jim Carrey is Santa.
The saddest part is that after an entire bottle of whiskey, these guys and gals can still recount American history better than I can sober.
4. Microprescription: “Hey Sandy” by Polaris. Yes, it was the theme song to “Pete and Pete.” But did you even know it’s about the KENT STATE MASSACRE??? Secret history lessons.
5. The HBO John Adams miniseries. Let’s be real, I didn’t watch this. It came out when I was eighteen and I was way too busy pirating music and trying to justify my haircut to my mother. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t look amazing or that I don’t want to watch it now. And that counts for something, right? Am I part of the informed citizenry yet?
Just get out there and ace your history presentation.