Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Fascinating Convergence

Maybe it is just me. Probably. But, when I get immersed in studying another era or another life, the daily events seem to run parallel or link back to that which I'm studying. For example, I'm reading the most amazing books and online information about the Civil War.

Did you know that soldiers -- some, not all of course -- carried photos with them of naked women? Who knew there were such Playboy-esque things in the 1860s. History books rarely cover that kind of behavior in our courageous soldiers. For me, I just accept that pin ups and 'girly photos' and the various magazines are part of the debris that fills a soldier's living space. I wonder how much Internet time is devoted to pornographic sites? Oh certainly not OUR soldiers! Well, yes, probably some....

But I hadn't associated that interest with Civil War soldiers.

The Civil War era items I am referring to are called carte de visite, a "type of small photograph which was patented in Paris, France by photographer André Adolphe Eugène Disdéri in 1854." It didn't come as a surprise that this would be a French invention.

Carte de viste are the size of a 'visiting card' or what we today would probably call a business card and soon became popular as a trading card. Maybe the first trading cards. No, they weren't all nudes.... The first one, evidently was of Napoleon. And he was wearing his clothes.

It took the photographers a little time to figure out how well this photographic form would adapt to erotic images. If those soldiers' families had held onto those little naked images, they might be trading them in for a few thousand dollars today. Recently a French Erotic Stereoscopic Daguerreotype, a form of photography that preceded the carte de viste, but somewhat similar, sold at auction for $6-$8,000. Some of the carte de viste sell for much more, especially if of fully clothed celebrities of that era, say Abraham Lincoln for example.

Perhaps the link to today that came through most strongly upon learning of this type of photography and its erotic use, was the way media and historians did not include it in the information about the Civil War. Somewhere it was discovered by an enterprising individual, but the main historians covered it over. One writer, while reading records of military court martials, stumbled upon several cases of sexual misconduct and some included these photographs.

Is this detail important to the whole story of the era? It certainly wipes a bit of the romantic aura away and turns these god-like men of history into humans, where I think they should be. And it reminds me of recent media coverage of wars -- what is not being told? What is being covered up? Is there an aspect of the Iraq war that we should know but it is being covered up?

I think of the 9-11 coverage and where there were no photos of falling bodies. Very little reference to the hundreds, maybe thousands who jumped or fell from those upper stories of the trade building. Are we Americans unable to handle such graphic truths? I'm sure someone chose to exclude it worrying about children seeing it or sensitivity to such issues. Yet, aren't we adults? Shouldn't we be given the whole story and allowed to pick and choose what we want to see or not?

I also think of the sexual exploits of our presidents. Our media decided to focus on the Clinton adventure. But failed to put it in context with his predecessors. I don't condone his behavior; I appreciate it being uncovered; but being made more important than Bosnia or NAFTA or balanced budgets? Sex in the oval office between two consenting adults. That is news?

So, I'm wondering -- are historians and journalists required to report everything they see and know? Should they censor what they report? Or perhaps an alternative -- fit the information in context and importance to the times? I prefer the latter, let me see how it fits in with the scheme of things and let me make my own informed choices.

So, I'm learning about the Civil War, but evidently the most important lesson I've learned is about censorship, history, media, and what is being manipulated. Turns out I and my fellow Americans are the ones being manipulated. I don't like it. Just give me the facts, please. Allllll of them.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Remind me to send you a list of the Rockhills from Allen County who served in the Civil War. Also I have not proven anything but a small lead on Bell Bailey Rockhill ( Uncle Ed and my mom's grandmother) father, George Bailey may have served on the Confederate side. I do know the the Kiracofes ( her mother's family ) were agaisnt the war and may have moved to Allen county before or right after it started. Interesting what you looked at, I like chasing down who in my family served. You look for pictures of nude ladies . LOL Guess that never crossed my mind !! I also like to check out the battles And where they happened in relation to our ancestors. The area if Augusta County , VA where the Bailys and Kiracofes were from was almost ruined because of battles and raids from both sides. Many left Va becuase of this ( Sangerville and North River country area) It took a long time for this area to recover.