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Absolut Historical Ignorance: Or, How I Learned to Love More Than One Book

absolut disgrace

If you aren’t familiar with the concept of Reconquista, check it out here. It’s a term applied to many movements that, at the core, advocate for reclaiming real estate that one used to own, that one doesn’t own now, and that one wishes to own in the future.

The merit of Reconquista arguments is best judged on an individual basis, but it’s safe to say that advocating – or even alluding to – Reconquista of any sort is bound to draw ire from some group, namely those who won’t come out on top when the ink dries on the deeds.

I don’t drink Sweden’s Absolut spirits because I don’t like them. I’m a sucker for symmetry and frosted glass, so I’ll admit that their bottles look sharp. I’ve always found their Absolut ______ ad campaign to be banal and weak – and really, it would take a Hell of an ad to draw my support from Pabst and Jim Beam, so I don’t fault them too much.

But their latest offering, pictured above, shows a map of the United States with boundary lines that reflect a Mexican Reconquista “In an Absolut World.”

Calls for boycotts were swift and robust. For me, a boycott not to drink swill – no matter how charming the bottle – doesn’t change much.

Michelle Malkin has been on top of the story from the get-go. She’s got a wild set of notes from Absolut executives, commenters and the like that demonstrates well both the arrogance of Absolut and the ire their actions have drawn – it’s worth a look.

And Absolut apologized several times, from the half-hearted, mealymouthed doublespeak non-apology to something more clear:

“The ad has been withdrawn as of Friday April 4th and will not be used in the future.

In no way was the ad meant to offend or disparage, or advocate an altering of borders, lend support to any anti-American sentiment, or to reflect immigration issues.”

Uh-huh.

Anyway, Elementary History Teacher’s post on the debacle is solid:

What’s next? Will we soon be seeing ads intended for German citizens showing maps with concentration camps highlighted? Will Italians see ads showing the gradeur that was Rome by depicting Christians being torn apart by lions? What about an ad targeting Native Americans depicting North America in its natural state? In this type of context we can see how these types of things can be offensive to some.

Personally, I find the map of Germany with Third Reich borders to be the most powerful parallel example – because it embraces Absolut’s talking point of “a time which the population of [Germany] might feel was more ideal.” There are some who might get a boost from that map, but I doubt that the rest of Europe would find it as charming.

With apologies to EHT for swiping some of her content, a commenter on her site left the following:

I like your blog (it’s certainly on my blogroll as a teacher), but have to say that it seems to me that you’re ignoring what America actually *did* to Mexico during that war. Whether it was the raping of nuns, the burning of Roman Catholic churches, or the looting of villages, cities, and monasteries, America’s interests were purely selfish… in fact, it was our first illegal/immoral offensive war – of many.

I don’t agree with Absolut here, but can see what they’re getting at – many Americans wouldn’t think much of it – I personally *don’t* put much faith in my fellow countryman/woman to get a lot of meaning from this ad… sorry ;)

Perhaps it’s a statement regarding our lack of care for the rest of the world – and a darn good one at that.

Oh my.

I responded:

Of course, anonymous, you failed to point out how Mexico made it very clear that annexing Texas to the United States would result in a declaration of war against the US. Or have you not come across President Herrerra wanting to negotiate a peaceful solution and, for that, being considered a traitor to his country and deposed en route to continued hostilities?

The conduct of some individuals in the Mexican War – just like in most conflicts – was deplorable. That conduct was, by and large, committed by undisciplined, poorly managed volunteers.

If you want to discuss the conduct of all-volunteer armies vs. that of wholly professional forces, it’s a conversation worth having, though it’s one not appropriate for this thread.

Your barb at the average American’s knowledge is shameful considering your own willful ignorance.

What was that in Luke 4:23? “Historian, heal thyself?”

If you’re interested, I can recommend a few history books to go along with that one Zinn book you read.

First, I hope that Monmouth University’s Jim Horn stops posting as “anonymous.”

Second, this travesty of a comment by a teacher is a perfect demonstration of how revisionist historians and their students, most of whom can be labeled as embracing diversity and liberal ideals [this is not pejorative], buck common sense and engage in anything but intellectual diversity.

Believe it or not, it’s important to read more than one book, hear more than one perspective and come at a topic from more than one angle.

Though personal histories are compelling and, to some, more interesting than the standard fact-fare, we can’t rely just on narrow accounts. Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” and its offshoots is worth reading – if only to familiarize one’s self with talking points one will encounter in any academic debate.

If we don’t read history from the inception of the event to the present, we just won’t get it all – we’ll just get a piece of it. And we’ll leave uninformed, moronic comments like anonymous, who fails to express even valid points [war-time atrocities were a real thing in that conflict] in the proper context.

We need to start with dusty old stuff like John Clark Ridpath’s “History of Texas [1884],” newspaper sources from the time of the war and some primary accounts – and then put that information with The Office of the Chief of [United States] Military History’s account and niche-historians like Zinn.

So, I’ve composed a brief letter to those who in upcoming months will graduate high school and pursue studies in history at some post-secondary school:

Dear Graduates-to-be,

a) Read things. It’s obvious when you haven’t.

b) Read more than one thing. It’s responsible historical scholarship and it’ll save you from embarrassing yourself.

c) If you can’t commit to a) and b), please, for the love of God, don’t become a history teacher. Things are bad enough already.

Love,

Matthew

13 Responses to “Absolut Historical Ignorance: Or, How I Learned to Love More Than One Book”

  1. I’m so glad you addressed this. I about fell over when I saw the ad posted on fark.com (yes, it’s pretty bad when most of my news comes from fark.)

    The history/social studies teachers here in the great state of MI have to teach students how to read/interpret information from primary sources and secondary sources. I wish that more teachers would do that, plus teaching the students to think for themselves. Not everything from a book is Gospel truth.

    Again, great post, Matthew. I love your writing.

  2. Michael says:

    Matthew, do remember that all good historians are revisionists. Unfortunately, not all revisionists are good historians.

  3. Hm. If the students read things, then they will probably see how ridiculous are the objections to Absolut found in this post.

    A comparison between the original Mexico and the Third Reich? What, is she serious? Are you serious, for posting such nonsense?

    The American west was acquired largely through conquest. That is the point of the ad, and it is a point that is established historical fact.

    Americans may not like to be reminded about the methods and less-than-altrustic motives that prompted the creation of their continental empire, especially by Swedes, but the reactions to the ad campaign are more than a trifle overly sensitive.

    Get over yourselves. The only moral high ground you occupy is the one outside the barn.

  4. Leon says:

    Stephen I agree with the overly inflammatory comparison to concentration camps not being apt. A more parallel ad would be continental Europe without borders with a Nazi Flag implying that the Third Reich maintained control. But how the American West was acquired is not the point of the ad, the point is Absolut making a statement about the outcome of a 19th-Century war, and the present “Cold War” reconquest of said area by immigration. And Absolut’s point is that “In an Absolut world” Mexico wins. America is beyond transparent about its past wrongdoings, ever been on the campus of an American university? Sure seemed that way to me.

  5. Never apologize for quoting me….mi content y su content.

  6. Michelle,

    Thanks for the compliment. I almost didn’t post anything about this ad because reactions are everywhere, but I found that comment on EHT’s site disturbing. That many know so little – and have so little reverence, respect or awareness – is a sad thing.

  7. Michael,

    Richard Landes, a historian who has over the last 7 years or so done work on Palestinian media, the Muhammad Al-Durrah incident, etc., has a website called “The Second Draft.” It’s at http://www.seconddraft.org.

    I bring this up because of the quote on the landing page for that site:

    “Journalism is the first draft of history.”

    Landes et al. are essentially revisionists of that first draft, hence the name “Second Draft.” I think it’s a remarkably clear, clever way to look at a historian’s job.

  8. Stephen,

    The point of the ad is first and foremost to sell vodka. Don’t forget that part.

  9. Brian Nelson says:

    Stephen,

    “Americans may not like to be reminded about the methods and less-than-altrustic motives that prompted the creation of their continental empire”

    I nearly choked from laughter when I read this because I think every school I have attended from elementary school through university has made every shortcoming of the United States and its expansion exceedingly clear, sometimes to a fault.

    “Get over yourselves. The only moral high ground you occupy is the one outside the barn.”

    Uh huh. You’re the guy defending the Vodka supplier.

  10. Abigale says:

    All advertising, particularly for a brand of alcohol that relies on flash rather than taste/quality, is about toeing the line between being “edgy” and offensive. In stepping over that line, they have gotten you to give them free advertising – displaying a pulled ad for a group of readers which would probably never have seen the original in the first place. Sort of makes your continuing to not drink their vodka even more of a moot point, huh?

  11. Abigale,

    “All advertising” isn’t about edgy and offensive. Some of it, particularly image-based products like alcohol, can be. But if you truly think that all advertising follows the same pattern, I’d invite you to give a presentation to executives from… Century21 or ReMax [real estate]. You can imagine the blank stares after you told them that you think they’d be best served by an ad campaign that “toe[d] the line between being edgy and offensive.” Maybe something “edgy” about black families getting crushed in the foreclosure crunch, without offending so much that the NAACP would get involved? You can toe that line on your own.

    Also, you couldn’t be more wrong about the “free advertising” mantra – but I’ll leave that to you to work out.

  12. Noxious advertising is endemic. Good advice for prospective history teachers less so.

    Stephen Downs is correct that comparing Mexican Reconquista of the American Southwest (certainly a trend in immigration) to Nazi conquests is far from “solid”. The popularity of Howard Zinn’s history notwithstanding, American memory of the war with Mexico, and Mexican history generally, more closely resembles the views of Sam Houston and James Polk than that of José Joaquín de Herrera. In contrast, German students are taught that their Nazi-era grandparents were criminals.

    On the other hand, your curriculum suggestions–starting with primary and early accounts and working forward–is exemplary. W. H. Prescott’s History of the Conquest of Mexico might be a better place to begin as it was written while the American Southwest was still part of Mexico. Such “niche-historians” as Zinn should be read alongside those from a contrasting niche.

  13. Good comments. It’s important that people be reminded that, to use the German phrase, “Einmal ist keinmal” — once is none. If you get information from one source, you might as well have read nothing. If you read things from but one POV, you might as well not be reading anything, either. I would go so far as to suggest that if you read things in just one discipline, you’re just as blind.

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