Here is a story in a small paper in Philadelphia that serves as a fine example of the junk that all too often passes for "journalism" in America today. This example is as ridiculously anti-intellectual and dismissive of the importance of preserving our history as it is anti-corporate. It's a fine example of a journalist who thinks he is smarter and funnier than everyone about whom he writes -- even his name reflects that condescension. The arrogance and smarminess is so thick with James Smart's "Renovating a historic home" that it just drips off the page.
Of course, Mr. Smart's work isn't what one would call straight journalism, but more like the sort of commentary one would see from writers such as Dave Barry. Light hearted, ultimately pointless wastes of time that would find readers no better informed after having read them, but no worse off for the four minutes or so of their lives they'll never get back from the exercise. But, in this particular piece, Smart goes over the edge of simple minded, blather and into uncalled for denigration. It also reveals his intense anti-capitalist feelings. Whatever his past work, this one reveals far more about his generally dismissive attitude against our history and capitalist system than it does about the subject matter.
Mr. Smart's little story is about the renovation of Pennsylvania's Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Museum. To Mr. Smart, it seems somehow amusing that the state of Pennsylvania would care enough about its history to build a shelter to protect from the open air and weather this ancient and interesting site of human habitation that goes back at least 16,000 years. In a country that many complain is a "throw away society," the fact that Pennsylvania finds this site worth protecting is admirable. But, no, Mr. Smart can only find ridicule on his plate today.
The Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Museum in western Pennsylvania is getting a lot of attention this week, as it reopens the archaeological site of a 16,000-year-old human habitation. It had been closed to the public for a year for renovations.The idea of renovating a dwelling after 16,000 years is intriguing. They could have called in a television team consisting of the guys from This Old House, that Extreme Makeover crew and those cavemen from the insurance commercials.
Radioactive carbon testing in 1974 of remnants of burned firewood determined the age of the domicile, making it probably the oldest known human habitation in North America. A good renovation project would replace that fireplace with a gas grille. And a stone-age homeowner might be pleased that granite is all the rage for kitchen counters.
Yes, yes. And hilarity ensues.
As it happens, having worked for and with museums in my own past I take the history of this country very seriously. It's already an area of education that most American schools are miserably prepared to teach and do a miserable job at teaching. Mr. Smart should be using his little throw away column to advocate teaching history, not to further diminish it as a joke. But the fact that the state is taking it seriously is encouraging. In fact, I have always thought that historical interpretation and preservation is truly one of the areas that government can do better than the private sector. It is one area that pure profitability should be less of a concern than is education.
But that is not to say that government should stay out of trying to make some money to help with upkeep and improvement of our historical sites, either. And here is another area of which Smart isn't so smart to make light.
The Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Museum of Rural Life was formed, and one thing led to another, as happens at such places. Now there is a nearby recreated 19th century village with log cabins, a blacksmith shop, a covered bridge, and nice ladies in costume teaching people to make apple butter.
An authentic 17th century Indian village is under development. Can an amusement park be far off?
I'm just rolling with the humor, here. If we're lucky he'll take his comedy tour on the road and leave the columns to someone else.
Now, I don't want to be mistaken as saying that this tiny little column from a small regional paper is the end of the world. It is, though, a good example of the absurdities that fill newspapers all across the country. But, more than that, it is a shame to see our history made into a joke and unfortunate to see capitalism so unnecessarily attacked by this snide, snarky columnist in Philadelphia.
Our history is important to pass on to our progeny and Pennsylvania should be praised and encouraged to be so interested in preserving it for our school children. I'd dare say that the left over scraps from the camp fire of a prehistoric American is of far, far more import than the pointless meanderings of one James Smart, esq.
(Photo credit: James Smart's Philadelphia)