Bad History: Essays toward the Crisis, 2008-2018 (#12, in which at last we get to “Alexander Hamilton: An American Musical”)

The premise for this selection from about a decade of essays is here.

OK, we’ve arrived at last: the first of two massive, unpredictable cultural and political events that seemed to rear up like Grendel, followed by what my eighth-grade students used to call “Grendel’s mom,” out of the mucky subconscious of these selected essays, which I began writing in ’08, events that have seemed to push my themes into explosion. Like, “See, I was right, but wait, no, I didn’t want to be this right, that’s huge, agggh!” Fade to black.

“Hamilton: an American Musical” transferred to Broadway in ’15, and for a while I was truly speechless. As you know if you’ve even glanced back at these essays, public misconstrual of Hamilton had been my obsessive theme since even before ’08. I’d construed public misconstrual of Hamilton as the secret illness at the heart of the body politic. Like Kevin McCarthy at the end of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” I’d been trying heroically, futilely, to warn you off. The Hamilton cult led us astray. The financial crisis. The foreclosure crisis. Hank Paulson. Tim Geithner …

… and now … this? The most popular phenomenon since the invention of popular phenomena? People who’d never even heard of Hamilton now obsessed by him?

I had no words. I couldn’t even.

Nice people would come up to me and say, “Hey, how about that Hamilton musical, pretty wild, that’s kind of in your wheelhouse, right?” and I’d simply goggle at them, amazed. It wasn’t happening. For a long time, I think I actually believed I could just ignore the whole thing. Maybe it would go away.

Hence this, from ’16. My first, tentative effort to admit that the musical phenomenon exists — and to shift responsibility for the dire misconceptions it writes large, and their disastrous effects on American civics, away from its author and toward pop and scholarly history themselves. “Historian, Heal Thyself.” 

Next up, also from ’16, but very brief: another angle on the same topic.

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