Happy Presidents’ Day!
Over the summer while I was working at George Washington Birthplace National Monument (GEWA) my co-worker and I stumbled upon this
fabric at the Joann’s in Fredericksburg, and proceeded to make pillows, sexy, historical pillows.
I, in all my wisdom, bought far too much fabric, which means my computer chair (see below) and my lower back support pillow (again, below) all feature shirtless versions of the United States’ most honored Revolutionary heroes…and Lincoln. While looking around my front room I see both of these pillows and think “What are these!”I know why I have them, they are nuts, ridiculous and they make me smile. But what do they have to do with Public History?
Lets break it down:
1) Notice the All-American hallo around Lincoln and to the far right Washington’s head. Those remind me of the kinds of halos you see over Saints and Jesus. So this gives us an idea of the Founders as hallowed. But, they are also shirtless, sporting ye-olde six packs. Which reminds me of Sexy Jesus (you know those depiction’s of Jesus
where his hair looks tussled yet great and he has a six pack and no shirt on) There is a large amount of literature that looks at the sexualizing of Jesus and sexual devotion and the like. Is what we are seeing in this fabric a similar situation? Will we soon see little girls promising their virginity to George Washington? There is also a great deal of literature on the Founding Fathers or U.S. history being sanctified and created into a civic-religion.
2) What is the intended use for this fabric? The man who rung up our order memorably said he used this fabric (and the Christmas version) to make “the queerest quilt you’ve ever seen!” My friend and I made pillows. Could this be used in a museum? Could we use it to talk about the sex lives of the founding fathers? The sterile George Washington and notably potent Jefferson, ect ect. Sexuality in American history, and the sexuality of American history. That would be fun, but unlikely.
3) Why do we enjoy “bad” history? Why do I find so much joy in these silly pillows? For the most part my friends and I really like collecting and commenting on odd historically themed consumer goods. I know a few people who collect Confederate memorabilia, because it is often so off-base it becomes hilarious, because it is innapropriate yet continues to exist.
But, it is appropriate for us to consume hilarious interpretations of the past, even though we work to write and rewrite history? Yes. We need the world of history created by the public to talk about the public’s interaction with the past. I love this fabric because it tells me that somewhere, someone fantasizes about this man (to the right) sexually. I don’t mean that in a mocking way, I am sure each of the Founding Fathers were sexy in their own right, but it is funny. It is funny because we are taught as children to call these men “fathers” which insinuates a bit of incessant, which is inappropriate in its own right. In middle school Americans are made to color in drawings of these guys, learn their stories, where they grew-up, what they were like, and what impressive thing they did. Before too long, maybe, you develop a relationship with them, much in the same way one could develop a relationship with a movie star or an online boyfriend.
But the best part of the Sexy Founding Fathers is that they are only one part of the diverse ways these character are depicted. Observe the range
So why does this fabric exist? Because it can. Historical characters are free for-alls. They are recognizable to most, if not all, Americans and allow people to experiment mixing meanings and creating new ones.These multiple depictions certainly do not illustrate a lack of creativity, but rather the appearance of Historical Fan-Fiction.