Rewriting History

If I could turn back time, if I could find a way, I’d take back those words that’ve hurt you, and you’d stay.  Echoing Cher’s proposition, but adding a much more historically and culturally consequential dimension, if you could learn the truth about a great mystery, prevent an event from happening, or simply prolong someone’s lifespan to see how the world would be different, how would you choose?

If you could discover the answer to one of the following, you would pick:

– Who was responsible for JFK’s death?
– Who was responsible for Marilyn Monroe’s death?
– Who was Jack the Ripper?
– Who killed JonBenet Ramsey?
– What happened to Amelia Earhart? Or, what if Amelia Earhart never disappeared?

Whose extended life would have had the most significant impact on industry, and culture? Why?
Abraham Lincoln
James Dean
Bruce Lee and Brandon Lee
Kurt Cobain
Jeff Buckley
Lisa Left-Eye Lopes
Michael Hutchence
Sylvia Plath
Iris Chang
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Louis XVI

And now for subjunctive history, how would American and global politics and culture be different if…

– Michael Vick never had dog troubles (as in he was never involved in the venture).
Tom Brady didn’t injure his knee at the start of the 2008 season.
– The Titanic never sank.
New York City still had an intact skyline.
Prohibition never happened.
Columbine never happened.
OJ Simpson was convicted of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman’s deaths; Or, Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman never met such a horrible end.
Will H. Hays never implemented the Production Code.
– The House on Un-American Activities Committee never carried out a communist witchhunt in Hollywood.
– Hurricane Katrina never happened.
Napoleon never existed.
– The Civil War never happened; Or, what if the Confederacy won.
Both Tupac and the Notorious BIG remained friends.

I believe that any what-ifs concerning Jack the Ripper’s identity and the OJ Simpson trial would have a tremendous domino effect on American culture, the legal system, and media.  The increased presence of forensic science in entertainment and news is due in part to the the interest in the Ripper murders as well as the media phenomenon of the OJ case.

11 thoughts on “Rewriting History

  1. Phil

    The syndrome you describe is shown in the film, “Sliding Doors”, about the life-changing consequences for someone leaving home for an appointment a few minutes later than planned because of something beyond her control.

    This sort of thing plays out in the personal history of all of us.

    We need think only of what Iris Chang told of in her book, “The Rape of Nanking”, about the Japanese occupation of Nanking in 1937.

    Her maternal grandparents, trying to escape Nanking, nearly became separated for ever in the chaos. Her grandfather was already on a train about to depart the city and was frantically looking for his wife who was supposed to meet him at the station, but somehow hadn’t.

    In desperation, as the train was about to move, he shouted his wife’s name over the noise of the swarming crowd and, amazingly, from far away she heard his voice and shouted back, and he was able to get her on to the train.

    Had Iris Chang’s grandfather not had the flash of intuition to shout his wife’s name, or she had not been able to hear him, he would never have seen her again, conditions in Nanking being what they were.

    Iris Chang, because her mother hadn’t yet been born, would thus never have existed, nor her book.

    And, think of this, I would not now be writing these comments.

    Mind-blowing, huh?

    Assuming an infinite universe, there is a world out there in the galaxy where Iris’s grandparents did become separated for ever.

    Thus the subsequent history of that world was changed ever-so-slightly from that of this world.

    1. sittingpugs Post author

      I’ve seen Sliding Doors. I didn’t like it much the first time, but it’s become a guilty pleasure.

      But how would the world be different if Iris Chang were still alive? If she hadn’t succumbed to the despair and sadness that eventually consumed her?

      1. Phil

        “…..But how would the world be different if Iris Chang were still alive…..?”

        Pensez à la Théorie du Chaos.

        Un papillon qui bat des ailes au Brésil peut provoquer un ouragan en Floride!!

  2. Kavitha

    JFK, hands-down

    On the subjunctive history, what if Napoleon won? And he *almost* did, you know. If he just hadn’t gotten greedy about Russia, all of Europe would have been under his control, and the world would be Francophone.

  3. Phil

    @ Sitting Pugs

    “………But how would the world be different if Iris Chang were still alive? If she hadn’t succumbed to the despair and sadness that eventually consumed her……..?”

    In my earlier comment I had misunderstood your original reply.

    The world would, of course, have been slightly different had Iris Chang not taken her life. She would have written more books (she was planning a book about the Bataan death march), and perhaps have had another child who would have set off a chain of events which made the world more different still.

    We can only guess.

    However, in her tragically short life, Iris Chang left a footprint in the sand far, far larger than most most of us will ever make, by bringing what happened at Nanking into more general awareness, particularly among Americans.

    In another book, she had made Americans more aware of the contributions made by Chinese immigrants to American history and culture, and thereby put Chinese Americans more in the centre of the general consciousness of Americans, with all the beneficial effects.

    A friend and I exchanged blogging comments about Iris Chang’s death shortly after it happened. In one of his comments he suggested, in relation to her possible attitude towards her incipient depression – which may well have given hints of its existence years before she died, that:

    “…..she may not have wanted to treat it [the incipient depression], because to not be depressed about the subjects she was writing about [the people of Nanking] would be demeaning to them, would dishonour the people who had died……..”.

    Who knows?

    Perhaps the manner of Iris Chang’s death and its cause will heighten general awareness of how devastating an illness depression is, and how real.

    Thus it will help accelerate changes to bring about better and more sympathetic treatment for people with depression.

    Incidentally, for anyone not depressed but wanting to understand how devastating depression is, I recommend highly a little book, “Darkness Visible”, which the late novelist, William Styron, wrote about his own severe depression which almost caused him to take his life.

    Think only of his description of severe depression as:

    “…….a veritable howling tempest in the brain…..”.

    Styron also wrote: “………Depression is a disorder of mood, so mysteriously painful and elusive in the way it becomes known to the self – to the mediating intellect – as to verge close to being beyond description. It thus remains nearly incomprehensible to those who have not experienced it in its extreme mode….”

    And: “……..The pain of severe depression is quite unimaginable to those who have not suffered it, and it kills in many instances because its anguish can no longer be borne……”.

    And : “………The grey drizzle of horror induced by depression takes on the quality of physical pain…………….comes to resemble the diabolical discomfort of being imprisoned in a fiercely overheated room. And because no breeze stirs this cauldron, because there is no escape from this smothering confinement, it is entirely natural that the victim begins to think ceaselessly of oblivion………”

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