The Oscar for Best Fabrication - NYTimes.com

Connecticut Civil War Battle Flag
The Oscar for Best Fabrication - NYTimes.com

I'm with Maureen Dowd on this, and with Lincoln, who is quoted (by Connecticut Congressman Joe Courtney) as saying, ‘Truth is generally the best vindication against slander.’

Bards, poets and novelists, from Homer through Shakespeare to Gore Vidal or anybody writing today, have always gleefully distorted history when they chose to produce more pleasing fiction. Thus a neatly coherent and conclusive fiction, especially one that fits our prejudices, becomes our substitute for the real, messy and far more complex events of real history.

Was there really a Trojan War, and were its heroes really that heroic? Was Richard III really that bad? If we are using history just to tell a good story, and if the history is very remote from our daily lives, maybe it doesn't matter. Especially since Richard III's descendants are not likely to sue the heirs or producers of Shakespeare. Or the descendants of Menelaus, however miffed they may be. But if we are using fiction to teach history, especially about something that is still a hot current issue, like slavery, then it matters.

I'm happy to leave Tony Kushner's screenplay the way he wrote it, but I think it would be good for high school teachers to make students aware of the distortion. Not because this historical detail (whether they were Connecticut or Illinois senators who voted "Nay" on abolition) is so terribly important (except perhaps to Connecticutians), but because it can help make the students more wary consumers of movies, novels and other political mythmaking.