I've always thought first person, or "FIRPER," was lame. Here's another person who thinks so. - Jonah



by R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr.

(Washington Times, 7/10/99)


Unpack my bags! The family's summer excursion to Colonial Williamsburg is canceled! The politically correct uplifters have just brought their gruesome hallucination of American history down on once-charming Williamsburg. No longer is it a fit place for family outings. Perhaps if one's family is composed of neurotics and hysterics, Williamsburg is worth a visit. But cheerful, discerning families had best pursue more intelligent recreation. How about taking in a baseball game?

Not long ago mom and dad could pack the children into the family gas guzzler and drive off to Williamsburg for a pleasant - albeit idealized - immersion into a facsimile of America's 18th Century Colonial life. Standing on nearly 178 acres are nearly one hundred reproductions of Colonial homes and shops. Jolly women in bonnets and hoop skirts trundled along tidy streets. Friendly men in vests and calf-high stockings worked the blacksmith shop and other buildings. Whites appeared with blacks, some blacks being freemen, others being slaves. Visiting families could purchase Colonial fare in the shops and very good restaurants. The mint juleps were superb.

After an entertaining and mildly educational day, family members could return home, their imaginations aglow with visions of the American past. Doubtless those of a skeptical temperament entertained the normal questions: What of disease, of poverty, of slavery and the generalized harshness of the Colonials' more severe mentality? The politically correct uplifters may find it difficult to believe, but intelligent Americans visiting Williamsburg have over the years thought about such things.

Yet now the heavy hoof of the uplifter has transformed this pleasant family tourist stop. Today's visiting family returns home having been put through an emotional wringer during which many of man's meaner passions have been dramatically displayed. Skits put on by Williamsburg actors depict cruelty, racial bigotry and slavery, at their worst, right before the family's eyes. Apparently some members of the family are even dragged into the skits - a la the customs of this manifestly silly mode of dramaturgy. Now the family's return home will be less pleasant. Perhaps father and junior are having an embarrassing confrontation over their angry reactions to their putative ancestor's behavior. Possibly mother is in tears of counseling her troubled children. We do know that so many of the children seeing these skits become upset that Colonial Williamsburg has arranged "debriefings" to help them "calm down."

All this is the baleful consequence of new skits obtusely referred to as "Enslaving Virginia." One Harvey Bakari, development manager of Williamsburg's African-American program, explains that such distressing skits as a slave auction, the harassment of a pathetic black pedestrian by a "slave patrol " and a discussion by slaves about joining forces with King George's Red Coats are attempts to get tourists "to confront the reality of racial discrimination." But is a family tourist venue the appropriate place for confronting reality in all its grimness?

If Colonial Williamsburg is to confront 18th Century reality, let us bring back the body odor and halitosis that historians tell us made Colonial Williamsburg's fat women and scrawny men so difficult to encounter downwind. Mr. Bakari, bring us rooms filled with mosquitoes and flies and streets billowing with dust in dry times and swales of mud the rest of the time. Where are the mounds of perfumed horse manure and other animal excrement that made life with horse-drawn transportation even less agreeable than in our present age of internal combustion vapors? And for the sake of Mr. Bakari's cherished verisimilitude let us have a few drunks in the gutter, some frayed and doddering paupers and a lunatic or two chained to a wall.

Apparently today's Williamsburg has plenty of lunatics numbered among the tourists. According to The Washington Post, Williamsburg's skits "are so realistic that some audience members have attacked the white actors in the slave patrol, who have had to fight to keep their decorative muskets. . . . One visitor even attempted to lead his own revolt against the slave handlers. 'There are only three of them and a hundred of us!' he yelled. The actors had to step out of character to restrain him."

Frankly, this is not the way I want to spend my vacation. A better place to learn about such grim matters as slavery is in the library with a serious book or in the theater with serious drama. This skit flapdoodle is part of the 1970s concept of the "living history museum?' It was as juvenile and superficial then as it is today. How juvenile? One 10 year-old boy witnessing the mistreatment of a black actor acting the part of a slave begged the actor to run off with him to join the Red Coats. Which reminds me of another unsavory aspect of this production from the politically correct uplifters. It is more of their hate America theme.

Most Americans rather like America, which is why as the years go on Williamsburg will attract fewer normal Americans and more lunatics.


R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is editor in chief of the American Spectator