The Day That Dare Not Speak Its Name!

Warning: This blog contains information about events that happened over 500 years ago.  It acknowledges their existence and does not apologize.  This blog contains humour, satire and ideas that could provoke thought and is intended for a sophisticated audience.  Therefore, it may not be suitable for university sophomores or adults who act like them.  Reader discretion is advised.


Shhh!  (I wish my computer had a whisper font, but anyway…)

Yesterday was Columbus Day.

[Serious Silence!]

I know, I know: I’m pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable, but that’s just the way I roll.  Besides, I have a burning need to set the record straight before Chris disappears from the North American landscape.  (I’m lookin’ at you, Columbus, Ohio!)  Here’s the deal.  In my lifetime, Christopher Columbus has gone from being a determined, visionary explorer, willing to put his life on the line to expand the collective knowledge of the world to being – uh – an asshole.  It’s a spectacular fall from grace.  Unfortunately, the social justice lynch mob who dragged the guy off his pedestal and put the boots to him got the wrong man.  Saying Columbus is responsible for the last 5 centuries of Western Hemisphere history is like saying a person who bought a ticket to get into the stadium is responsible for the football game.  That’s idiotic!

First of all, Columbus only crossed the Atlantic four times, he probably never set foot on South America and sure as hell never get north of the Rio Grande.  Secondly, the boy was basically lost.  He always insisted that India was just over the horizon and had no idea there were two gigantic continents in the way.  (It’s a good trick to be a total dick to millions of people when you don’t even know they exist!)  And finally — and here’s where the vegan ate the liverwurst — the guy died in 1506.  That was 10 years before Cortez showed up in Mexico, over 20 before Pizarro and his band of cutthroats visited the Andes and over 100 (that’s an entire century!) before Powhatan turned to Pocahontas and said, “You stay away from those Europeans!  Mark my words, young lady: they’re going to be nothing but trouble!”  The truth is Columbus was out of the rape and pillage business before it ever even got started.

So, how did Columbus become the supervillain of America history?  One simple reason — convenience!

Deny it or not, in the 21st century, we’re wading in the shallow end of the intellectual swimming pool.  Most people don’t know enough history to fill a mouse’s ear.  Names like Coronado, De Soto and Mendoza mean nothing, and people are perfectly content to live with that ignorance.  (After all, it’s a lot more fun to take a Facebook quiz about Disney Princesses than read a boring essay on dead Europeans!)  However, there is one dead European everybody knows: Christopher Columbus.  Meanwhile, when the good folks of North America recently found out that the indigenous people of this hemisphere have spent the last few centuries getting screwed, they started looking around for someone to blame.  (In our video culture, the villains are clearly marked.)  And take one guess who they looked at first?  The only one they knew: Christopher Columbus.  Ipso facto, he must be the bad guy.

So, so long Christopher Columbus; it’s been nice knowing you.  In a few years, you’re going to be as forgotten as Olaf the Ugly, that unknown Norseman who actually got to North America.

Groundhog Day (not the movie)

groundhogToday, in North America, it’s Groundhog Day.  For the uninitiated, Groundhog Day is one of those folksy occasions when everybody from Malibu to Manhattan pretends we all still live in villages.  The irony is it’s almost exclusively a mass media event, and although some of us might see it on TV, the vast majority mostly miss it and literally nobody I’ve ever even heard of has participated in person.  Here’s the deal.

There’s no heavy tradition behind Groundhog Day.  It was born and raised in the mind of Clymer H. Freas, a newspaper editor in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.  Sometime in the 1880s, he cobbled together some German folklore into a midwinter event that would bring local people into his town to spend money.  From there, it swept across North America until it became woven into the fabric of our society.  That’s it!

So, on February 2nd, all over the continent, various local notables trot out a groundhog or a reasonable facsimile (Alaska uses a marmot: New Orleans, a coypu.) the cameras roll and everybody waits to see what happens.  According the Groundhog Day rules, if the groundhog sees his shadow (a sunny day) he will be frightened, go back into his den (cage) and there will be six more weeks of winter.  However, if he doesn’t see his shadow (a cloudy day) he’ll hang out for a while and spring is on the way.  There is absolute no mention of hordes of people scaring the crap out of him, or what happens if he’s a tough little bastard and shadows don’t scare him.  Meteorology by rodent is obviously not an exact science.

However, trying to explain the apathetic popularity of Groundhog Day to someone who didn’t grow up with it is like trying to explain baseball to a Borneo head hunter or McDonalds to the French.  They look at you like a Labrador puppy trying to figure out “Fetch!” (It’s the head tilt.)

But, despite the fact that virtually nobody in North America really cares about Groundhog Day — nobody wishes anybody “Happy Groundhog Day,” nobody marks it on the calendar (as in, “I don’t want to miss that action!”) or even makes any effort to attend the various ceremonies — we all still know about it, talk about it, and understand it.  It’s like Kim Kardashian’s bum: it exists in our collective consciousness, but for no apparent reason.  And that’s the magic of North American culture: most of it simply exists, without explanation, and Groundhog Day is a perfect example.