Where historical fact combined with fabrication (fiction) just presented a problem

Posted on December 29, 2008 by

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As much as I hate to steamroller my own posts by double-posting (twice in the same day… truly, not among “best practices” in blogging), this story is just far more interesting than to just let it lay for a day. Call this an “historical memory watchdog” moment…

This story about fabricating portions of recent proposed book doesn’t have anything to do with the Civil War, but it does leave us with a couple of lessons which we can overlay across the way that people “present” aspects of the history of the Civil War. Consider this…

  1. This situation with the book is telling in the way that others (especially public figures and Hollywood personalities) and other “things” that we see as acceptable influences, impact us… and what those influences do to our perceptions of the past and subsequent presentations of the past to others. Granted, Oprah didn’t know that the author of the work was mixing fact with fiction, but she sold it as all fact, because she believed it. What if the author didn’t admit to mixing fact with fiction? The story would go on and on, and Oprah would have been a great vessel to push that vessel from its chocks. Who would have ever know the difference if the fabrications were taken to the grave? So, how many other reflections upon the past have been influenced over time in the same way? Someone believes something, right or wrong, or mixed with rights and wrongs, and that one person conveys this “version” of history to others. Over time, the whole package is adopted as fact. It seems to be a prime example of how adopting the “if someone wants to believe history one way” philosophy can cause problems. Carefree and happy, believe what you will, but don’t presume to pass it along as fact until you make darn certain that what you spread is fact and not tainted, or even sprinkled, with fiction.
  2. Fabricating a memoir or fabricating memory. There seems to be a striking parallel. The memoir deal, well… though it was wrong to do it, fabricating portions of the memoir paved the way to greater sales, especially with the endorsement of Oprah Winfrey. The fabrication of information to supplement historical facts… that’s another issue, but has happened and continues to happen. How many times, in the short history of the United States, have memories been fabricated or “supplemented” by fiction in order to make for just a better story overall? How many times do people today, who did not live in an historical timeframe, find pieces of information, and supplement it with materials that are out of context, incorrect, or outright lies, in order to make a better story? How many times has fact in history been supplemented with fiction for some sort of gain, either short-term or long-term?
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