Copyright © Harry Rinker, LLC 2017

Destroying the Past in the Name of Political Correctness

I am an ardent reader of the Funnies. They are the only reason I subscribe to the local newspaper. Funnies start my day with a momentary escape from reality, a little humor, and a conviction that imagination remains alive in America. I especially enjoy comics that focus on day to day life. Doonesbury, whose bias is as self-evident as cable news channels, is the exception. Fortunately, the strip only appears in the Sunday Funnies and not weekdays in my local paper.

“The Grand Rapids Free Press” October 26, 2017, “Baldo” by Cantu & Castellanos’s four-panel strip began with Gracie reading a comic book entitled “SANCHO BURRO.” She asks: “PAPI, WHY ARE THE PEOPLE IN THESE OLD COMIC BOOKS TALKING WITH WEIRD ACCENTS.” The second panel shows Papi standing in front of a stack of comics. He responds: “WELL GRACIE BACK IN THE OLD DAYS…” The third panel shows Papi dressed as Sancho Burro and continuing his comment “EET WHAS FUNNEE TO POKE FUN AT HOW PEE-POH TOKKED AND LOOKT!” In the final panel Gracie holds up the comic in her left hand and reports “WELL, THIS COMIC BOOK STINKS.” Papi standing in front of a computer responds: “MAYBE, BUT IN MINT CONDITION, IT SELLS FOR $900.”

Cantu & Castellanos returned to the same theme a day later. In the first panel, Baldo and Gracie are seated at a table on which is a box of comics. Papi stands behind the box and notes: “YES, THESE OLD COMIC BOOKS ARE BAD…FILLED WITH NEGATIVE STEREOTYPES OF LAZY, SHIFTY PEOPLE.” The second panel shows Papi as a young man looking at the front cover of a copy of “SANCHO BURRO.” He notes: “BUT THAT’S HOW THINGS WERE 60 YEARS AGO. IT WAS NORMAL.” The third panel pictures Papi with a stack of comics in his hand. “BUT NOW IT’S NOT,” he reflects. The final panel shows a trash can filled with Papi’s “SANCHO BURRO” comic collection. As Papi walks away, he notes: “AND IT TAKES WORK TO KEEP IT THAT WAY.”

Everything is lost and nothing is gained by destroying the past in the name of political correctness. The point Cantu & Castellanos makes is commendable but misguided. The past is the past. Destroying politically incorrect items associated with it does not change the past. It just makes it more difficult for future generations to understand the past.

When I finished the second strip, the first thing that came to my mind was the German National Socialist 1930s book burning campaigns. Images of the ISIS destroying the building in Palmyra, Syria and the Taliban dynamiting Buddha statues followed. Where is the line between political correctness and political correctness run amuck?

I have devoted my life to preserving the past guided by two simple premises: (1) “the past is prologue” (William Shakespeare) and (2) “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (George Santayana) and “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it” (Edmund Burke). I approach the past at face value. My goal is to understand it, not to make moral and ethical judgments about it. I cannot change the past, but I can learn from it.

As the 21st century has progressed, the amount of politically incorrect material in the antiques and collectibles field and society as a whole has increased. Each week brings new revelations that a cherished object from the past no longer meets the politically correctness test and must be destroyed or at the very least relegated to a shelf in a basement storage facility that no one visits.

On October 23, 2017, the “Grand Rapids Free Press” ran San Diego Union-Tribune reporter John Wilken’s story entitled “Dr. Seuss illustrations and the book’s author comes under fire for ‘racist mockery’ and ‘deeply hurtful’ stereotypes.” Dr. Seuss is now politically incorrect. Enough already! Life is filled with politically incorrectness. If individuals object to the images in Dr. Seuss books, let them show it with their wallets. Do not buy the books or encourage children not to read them. Attempting to impose their version of political correctness on the rest of the world is not democracy, it is totalitarianism.

I am Pennsylvania German, a member of a group commonly referred to as the “Dumb Dutch.” Beginning in my youth, I was subjected to “Dumb Dutch” images, stories, and jokes. I did not get mad. I learned to laugh. In fact, the Pennsylvania Germans turned these negative stereotypes to their advantage. They joke about themselves among themselves. Their humor is completely stereotyped, and they love it. The biggest joke of all is the money they make from tourists who come to Pennsylvania Dutch country to stare at the “Plain People.” The Pennsylvania Germans are not as dumb as people think

Admittedly, I am from a generation that is thicker skinned than the overly politically sensitive younger generations of today. When I fail, I blame myself. I do not look for some societal scapegoat that denied me the opportunity to succeed. The lack of boot straps on today’s shoes is duly noted.

Political incorrectness is rampant in the antiques and collectibles marketplace. In categories such as Black Memorabilia, a general rule is the more stereotyped the imagery, the higher the value. The ethnic stereotype prints of Thomas Nash and cartoons from “Judge” and “Puck” are very collectible. Many lithograph tin toys, such as Strauss’s 1910 “Alabama Coon Jigger,” are politically incorrect. Must the antiques and collectible field launch a campaign to track down all surviving examples of this type of material and destroy it? It is far better to preserve this material and use it to teach future generations about the times in which it was created and why such times are different from the present.

The degree of political sensitivity per item or collecting category fluctuates. Material related to the German National Socialist Workers’ Party (NAZI) and Ku Klux Klan memorabilia illustrate the extreme end of the political correctness spectrum. Strong arguments have been raised that preserving this material only encourages the evil associated with it. While true to some extent, I am aware of many collectors who use the material to teach others about the horrors associated with it so it will never happen again.

Antique and collectible objects can be imbued with “dirty little secrets,” information individuals or groups would prefer never see the light of day. The marriage certificate of John Rinker and Henrietta Brewen, my great grandparents, records their marriage as December 25, 1870. My grandfather Morgan Jasper Rinker was born on March 28, 1871. Either his survival as a three-month premature baby was a miracle or my great grandparents’ marriage had a shotgun quality to it. When I confronted Uncle Robert, my father’s brother and the stiff necked, holier than thou family scion, he replied: “We do not talk about that.” I laughed. I am not embarrassed. Such marriages were common in rural areas in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.

There are no longer any secrets thanks to the digital age. Every dirty little secret is available somewhere in cyberspace. It is amazing how often “dirty little secret” information is preserved. Collectors of paper ephemera will attest to this. If the person did not want the information made public, why did he/she not destroy it?

Many of the beliefs I learned as a youth are now politically incorrect. I have had to change/revise my views in order to survive in today’s society. What I have not done is erase these earlier memories from my mind. Instead, I share them with individuals to help them understand how society progressed – good, bad, or indifferent.

Objects fulfill the same role. Destroying them defeats the educational value inherent in them. Preserving them is not a glorification of the past but a statement about who we were and how far we have progressed.

Harry L. Rinker welcomes questions from readers about collectibles, those mass-produced items from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.  Selected letters will be answered in this column.  Harry cannot provide personal answers.  Photos and other material submitted cannot be returned.  Send your questions to: Rinker on Collectibles, 5955 Mill Point Court SE, Kentwood, MI  49512.  You also can e-mail your questions to harrylrinker@aol.com. Only e-mails containing a full name and mailing address will be considered.

You can listen and participate in WHATCHA GOT?, Harry’s antiques and collectibles radio call-in show, on Sunday mornings between 8:00 AM and 10:00 AM Eastern Time.  If you cannot find it on a station in your area, WHATCHA GOT? streams live on the Internet at www.gcnlive.com.


back to top back to columns page