April 30, 2002


Gen. Washington, Meet Gen X (Jonathan Yardley, April 29, 2002, Washington Post)
Is it to laugh or to cry? George Washington -- First in War, First in Peace, First in the Hearts of His Countrymen -- is now deemed by the custodians of Mount Vernon, the estate he cherished above all places on Earth, to have fallen so far out of popular favor that "an unprecedented $85 million public awareness campaign" is being undertaken "to restore the standing of the first president." The campaign was inaugurated Saturday night with a "gala reception and tented dinner at Mount Vernon for 250 donors," chief among them representatives of the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation of Las Vegas (!), which has chipped in $15 million to help Mount Vernon transform the Father of His Country from "a stoic elder statesman" into "the action hero of his times."

These last are the words of Jim Rees, executive director of Mount Vernon, as quoted in a release handed out by the "Press Room" of Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens. "While scholars continue to acknowledge that George Washington's character and leadership were among the best the nation has ever known," Rees said, "many contemporary Americans, unlike previous generations, have lost touch with the real Washington. Our historic campaign intends to reverse that trend and restore Washington to the prominence he deserves."

This will be accomplished by constructing on Mount Vernon's grounds "a new state-of-the-art Orientation Center, Education Center and Museum," 50,000 square feet in all. Not merely will its electronic gizmos put any video arcade's to shame -- "computer imaging, LED map displays, lifelike holograms, dynamic graphics, surround-sound audio programs, 'immersion' videos, illusionist lighting effects, dramatic staging and touch-screen computer monitors" -- but it will feature a "fast-paced" 15-minute film by Steven Spielberg, which "will provide an action-oriented insight into Washington's life story and enable visitors to understand the personality of the real George Washington." As Rees told Jacqueline Trescott of this newspaper, if the film is "as exciting and action-packed as 'Indiana Jones,' we would be thrilled." [...]

[T]he soft hand of sympathy as well as the mailed fist of scorn must be extended to the ladies of Mount Vernon and their hired guns as they try to keep George Washington alive in a world of MTV and Britney Spears. But it is not unreasonable to hope that whatever comes of this "historic campaign" will somehow be less offensive than the rhetoric with which it has been introduced. George Washington was a man of action, but he was no "action hero," and he certainly was not Indiana Jones. He was a great man, if a flawed one, and he accomplished great things. One likes to believe, perhaps foolishly, that the American people are still capable of understanding this, unassisted by the pedagogical ministrations of Steven Spielberg.

Mr. Yardley is more optimistic about the American people than we. Posted by Orrin Judd at April 30, 2002 1:37 PM
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