May 25, 2013
They Didn’t Say It
Posted on Aug 31, 2011
Coffee mugs, bumper stickers and posters displayed at political rallies nationwide bear the clumsy distortions of remarks made by thoughtful people throughout the ages. The question of their popularity and endurance has been the subject of a number of recent essays.
Writing in Harper’s Magazine last April about phrases dubiously credited to America’s founders, journalist and author Thomas Frank suggested that people often find simple slogans crammed into the mouths of beloved mythical figures more satisfying than complex descriptions of reality—especially when they confirm popular prejudice. Additionally, such quotes are seized upon by demagogues looking to promote themselves and their agenda by exploiting common misunderstanding.
Below, Brian Morton, author and director of Sarah Lawrence College’s graduate program in fiction, reviews sayings widely attributed to Thoreau, Gandhi and Mandela and comes to a similar conclusion.
In all cases, we are witnessing the trivialization of past genius. —ARK
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