I’m not really into dinosaurs – but I could go back to Dinosaur National Monument in a heartbeat. Sure, it has some of the best scenery I saw in my summer-long camping trip in the Rockies. But what’s magnetically drawing me is what’s not there.
When you leave the visitor center and the dinosaur-related trails, when you leave some truly spectacular sights behind, when you drive down a dirt road that ends in a dead end, you find a lie.
There’s an old cabin here, less than a century old, so I can understand why it’s not a major part of the dinosaur-driven tourism. And that’s good, since it keeps some beautiful canyon trails from being abused. It belonged to Josie Basset Morris, who died at age 90 in 1964. From the signs and literature provided by the Park Service, you’d think she was a good-hearted solitary soul who lived without modern conveniences while raising flowers and cattle in the middle of nowhere. Conveniently left out are her bootlegging, five marriages, accusations of poisoning her last husband, and her affairs with members of Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch gang. [She claimed that Butch couldn’t have died in Bolivia, because he came to visit her in 1930 and lived in Utah into the 1940’s.]
OK, so she wasn’t exactly a role model for today’s young women. Or was she? She was independent, wore pants and short hair in the 1920’s because it was convenient, not fashionable, and supplied food and shelter to her far-flung neighbors during the depression years.
Does society – and what passes for discourse today – have to be all black or white, good or bad?
Is there no room for context, for shades of grey? The Park Service Disneyfied a minor historical character, turning the interesting story of an interesting woman into Little House on Walton’s Mountain. Shakespeare had Bowdler. Today we have Disney and other self-appointed arbiters of good taste. Any doubts? Take a look at the Grimms’ original collection of tales. Then see what’s left of them in twenty-first century culture.
Subtlety, nuance and context may not be appropriate in stories for a four-year old. But if we don’t teach people their use and meaning as they grow older, we’ll have a polarized nation with people and politicians acting like intolerant schoolyard bullies.
Oh yeah, we already have that.