Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Fun with History

For the last couple of days I've been reading a book by Patrick Dillon detailing the so called Gin Craze that London went through in the early to mid-eighteenth century. It was very interesting in describing how it began from the Dutch development of distilling wine to becoming widespread problem, and then to slowly declining. What was most interesting were the vivid descriptions of the usage of gin and its effects. Most people weren't just getting drunk off of gin; they were drinking it until they would pass out, work only enough to get money to purchase more gin, prostitute themselves until they could purchase gin, and then sell the clothes off their back to acquire even more gin. Parliament passed several different Gin Acts, but the most restrictive one effectively outlawed gin with absolutely no change in gin consumption.
Mr. Dillon doesn't ignore the parallels that England experienced to the USA's 18th Amendment which prohibited alcohol, and then the subsequent drug wars in both countries, but points out the similarities in terms of the actions the governments took and the similar ineffective results.
I never remember history being this exciting. The USA went through a whiskey rebellion in the late 18th century because of a tax imposed on distillers. The only problem is that the government conveniently ignored the fact that they were taxing a bunch of pissed off people, who then physically demonstrated just how pissed off they were. This sounds exciting, doesn't it? And I think most of history is, but the history I remember was extremely different, especially 11th grade US History.

Mr. Merret was our history teacher with a penchant for pleated pants, striped shirts, and garishly colored ties. He would walk in as we would be seated and say, "Awrightnowchirrenletsgitstaaahted." This would always prompt a couple of confused stares and "huh's" to be muttered, so he would take a deep breath and repeat, "Ah saaaaaaid awrightnowletsgitstaaaahtedlearningboutthathistooooory!" Bloody rebellions were summarized down into the simple facts that they had occurred and were put down and that life continued. Occasionally some point would excite Mr. Merret and he would start waving his arms around which would hike up his shirt and display his fleshy white belly. But more often than not, we had to make our own fun in history class. And consequently get into trouble.
"CAMERON! BRADLEY! WHY are y'all taaaaahlkin'? Ithoughtisaidididntwanttohearno taaaaaahlkin'!"
"Oh, we weren't talking Mr. Merret. We were singing."
"...Oh. Ok. Now as I was sayin'....CHAAASTOWN wastheporthathadthemostsugarexportsin-"
"Mr. Merret, where is Chastown? Isn't it in Bolivia?"
"OfCOURSEitsnotinBolivia! This is US HISTORY! It's in So' CarolIIINA!"
"Oh, ok, Charleston."
"Yes! That's exactly what I saaayed! Now if we-CAMERON! BRADLEY! WHY are y'all taaaaahlkin'!"
"We were just discussing the Hawley-Smoot Tariff Act, Mr. Merret."
"Yes! And what an act it was!"
"....Oh. Ok. Nooooww second to port Chastown was Nawlins."
"...That's in...Idaho?"
"Well, there's no such thing as a dumb question! Where is it?"
"It's in Looseyanna."
"Oh! Louisiana! Ok, I think I understand now. I'm going to make a hundred on the next test, don't you worry Mr. Merret!"
"[indecipherable mumbling] Awright, now if there aren't any more questions, can we PLEASE continue?!"
"Mr. Merret, why didn't economists step in and point out that a tariff act would effectively raise the current prices of goods in addition to lowering consumer surplus? Why didn't they point this out? Why didn't the Federal Reserve Bank step in sooner for the Great Depression? WHY DO FOOLS FALL IN LOVE?!"
Mr. Merret would pause, face flushed, and would begin waving his hands, exposing his belly, "AH CAIN'T DEAL WITH ALLTHISNONSENSEYOUCHIRRENAREEXPOSING ME TOOOOO! Y'ALL DRIVE THE POPE TO DRAAANK!"
And it was usually at this point that the bell would ring and we'd all hightail it out of there before detention could be awarded. So although the history was rather dull, the process of learning it was the most exciting.
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