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Podcast Episode 6

Leadership and the Humanities Podcast
Episode 6: Building a National Myth, Part I—Portraits of a Leader

Today’s podcast is going to cover a couple of very different things. First, we’re going to talk about how national myths begin. Then, we’re going to talk about the way in which visual art helps to reinforce and contribute to our ideas about ourselves and leadership…

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24 Comments

  1. Olivia Cosco Olivia Cosco

    The part of this podcast that stuck out to me was how much each part of a historical image affects our ideas of ourselves, leadership and our national myth. If I had seen that picture of Washington on the boat, I honestly probably wouldn’t have paid attention to the framing, composition, color, background, or symbols. I was a little bit confused with the creation of national myths. If we know how they begin, why do we let them?

  2. Zachary Andrews Zachary Andrews

    For me the part that stood out the most was how myths were a necessity in order to create a nation’s identity. My question was what were the thought processes pf the authors, painters, poets, and other people who helped contribute to the formation of these national myths? Did they think it was ethically immoral to mislead people of their time and of the future? An example of this was with Paul Revere. I had no idea that he was one of four riders, was drunk, that he fell off of his horse, and that he was captured by the English.

  3. Madeline Orr Madeline Orr

    I thought that an interesting point in the podcast was how images and words contribute to telling people what we should think of leaders and how we should remember them. It also plays a large role in showing how society should see ourselves. Artists have the ability to create an image that they want people to see and remember. In many classes, photos and pieces of art have been used to explain a person or to help describe a historical event. Is there a way to distinguish art that is telling a true story from one that is not? Also does this mean we should refrain from using images or art pieces that are depicting history as true documents and sources of information or should we look at them with a sense of uncertainty?

  4. Mia Slaunwhite Mia Slaunwhite

    Everything that makes a painting is truly important. The color, the format, the subject, and the focus, just to name a few, are all crucial parts that impact the meaning of a painting. In the paintings specifically, I definitely have a concern. If color is supposed to be important to an image’s meaning, then when is George Washington as he crosses the Delaware so dull. It’s gloomy, yes, but what is the meaning behind the clarity and lack of vibrance in this image? In the presentation of images, Washington along with Lincoln have portraits that are dull and without lots of colors. Did the artists do this to portray and underlying meaning of both presidents? Is there something that we don’t know?

  5. William Coben William Coben

    I found it fascinating how deeply rooted the country is in lies. While i understand the purpose and importance of drafting narrative to instill myths that affiliate with national goals, it is frightening to know that everything we have learned thus far is fake. My question is: How does knowing the lies in our histroy affect the future history. in 100 years, we will be talked about and taught in history books… are those going to be lies as well?

  6. Olivia Cranshaw Olivia Cranshaw

    Although these stories are not the truth, I do think they have and will continue to have an important place in American history and culture because the lies themselves (even while knowing they are manipulated ideas of our leaders) reflect ideals we want in people and in the nation. Will who we frame and how we frame them, for national purposes, change as we become more progressive as a society? Is it possible to continue building a nation and national identity without some level of myth, like the American Dream?

  7. Kathrine Yeaw Kathrine Yeaw

    I find it interesting how there are so many parts to how history is told, through stories, documents, and I understand now, paintings. It makes sense for an artist to paint something the way he perceives it or the way he wants others to, but I never thought about how it could be somewhat of a lie. It reminded me of something I saw about how the artist who was doing the portrait of Churchill made him look the way he actually saw him, which was old, frumpy, slouched over, and not at all like a leader, which was not at all what Churchill was expecting, or anyone else (even though that really was how he looked). My question is, should we still trust these paintings to help us understand what people thought of a person/situation or at least what they wanted us to think, or should we discredit them and try to use our own reference?

  8. Isabela Keetley Isabela Keetley

    What I thought was most interesting about this podcast was our need as a nation for a myth to shape our national identity. George Washington being the greatest example for a national myth about the true American hero. The painting of him crossing the Delaware and the portraits of him portrayed as the strong leader he was, (or so we think) forces us to consider perception versus reality. The phenomenon known as cognitive dissonance directly relates to this idea. Cognitive dissonance is observed when one holds contradictory beliefs. We thought George Washington was an amazing man and leader, and while he was a good leader, he was also a slave owner. So, I feel obligated to ask, who really were great leaders in past American history? Or were many of these people portrayed as much more than they really were to help reinforce this so-called “national myth”?

  9. Sara Moushegian Sara Moushegian

    In this podcast, Professor Bezio discusses how post-colonial America needed to create myths in order to have a national identity. These myths were made through visual representations, works of literature, and folktales that portrayed a certain image of a strong, white, and male American leader. Bezio specifically discussed the painting of George Washing crossing the Deleware, and the aspects of a leader that are formed through it. I am curious about what visual representations create American myths in our society today. We have discussed how the movies portray certain heroes, but are there more forms of media that are enforcing certain ideals of American identity? I feel like our society does not focus on paintings, works of literature, poems, etc. nearly as much as past-times have.

  10. Charley Blount Charley Blount

    Are there more recent examples of tall tales? If so, what are they? If not, is it more difficult or impossible to establish tall tales in the 21st century? Would propaganda (ex. Nazi Germany war movies) fit into this genre?

  11. Alexander Dimedio Alexander Dimedio

    I find the role of myths to be very interesting. I wonder if America would be the large country it is today without these myths. Do the myths help make a revolution worth fighting for? These questions are a centerpiece behind propaganda, and I think it is worth the time to analyze the positive aspects that may come from a well intentioned myth. On a different note I would like to look deeper into the role images play in making a leader be perceived in a good way.

  12. Sofia Adams Sofia Adams

    I found the images that went along with the podcast particularly interesting. We as Americans glorify our leaders through imagery to the public. We expect our leaders to look a certain way. Through the imagery we portray put together, powerful leaders, who also have a soft spot. For example in the portraits of Barack Obama the solo pictures are made to make him look powerful as well as composed. The pictures with him and Michelle as well as a little boy are made to make him seem loving and approachable with a soft spot/ a heart. We use imagery such as the American flag in the background of these portraits to display power/patriotism. I think it is interesting that this dates back to before George Washington in England with the portraits of the Kings and Queens made to look regal/mighty. I think this is a vital part of leadership. Public perception. A leader can get more done easily if the public respects and reveres that leader. It makes me question how we today want The United States and it leaders to be perceived? Where did the way we want America to be perceived come from? As well as how is America actually perceived? Do the myths and visual components talked about in the podcast play into that true perception of America?

  13. Jeffrey Sprung Jeffrey Sprung

    In Podcast Episode 6, Dr. Bezio discussed the origin of national myths in the United States and the way in which visual art, poems, folk legends, and tall tales contributed to our country’s national myths. I was very frustrated to learn that our national myths were created with somewhat fake intentions in order to foster a sense of nationalism within the United States and push the heroic narratives of certain leaders in our country, such as Paul Revere and George Washington. I was very intrigued to learn the fact that paintings of George Washington, such as “Crossing the Delaware,” were exaggerated in order to develop the perception of George Washington’s incredible leadership and heroism. After listening to this podcast, I was frustrated because I always viewed George Washington as the quintessential American leader and President and didn’t want to accept the fact that he played a less substantial role in winning the Revolutionary War and mistreated his men. My question is: Is it worth debunking national myths and changing our positive perspectives on American heroes, such as George Washington?

  14. Elina Bhagwat Elina Bhagwat

    After listening to the podcast I had a whole new outlook on the images that we looked at. The idea that colors carry emotional meanings and connotations was very evident in the portraits specifically the differences between Lincoln’s portraits and Obama’s portraits. I think that Obama’s personality was the focus of his portraits so that he can be viewed as human and more personable which is conveyed through the bright colors and bright lighting. On the other hand, Lincoln’s images are all darker and have a more powerful and strict connotation. Looking at the pictures after the discussion of myth building also made me think that the portraits could be shedding these leaders in a different light than they were actually seen in during the time of their rule. This makes me wonder how historically accurate portraits are and if we’re able to analyze them for potential personality of the leaders. Especially thinking back to when all portraits were done by painting it’s hard to tell the historical accuracy.

  15. Henry Groves Henry Groves

    Again, another podcast leaving me in question with what I already know. In class, we talked a bit about Paul Revere, but hearing the story with more details really makes me wonder why we keep telling students this lie. I understand not teaching 1st graders that Christopher Columbus allowed murder; however, the story of Paul Revere is just a lie making a hero out of someone with money. My question would be, “Why don’t schools change what they teach once they figure out it is not the truth?”

  16. Maggie Otradovec Maggie Otradovec

    It’s amazing to think of how purposefully constructed American culture is. How possible is it that these myths still withstand in today’s society? If we know the truth behind these “historical” events, why are these myths still taught in schools today? What damage has it caused, and how can society work to clarify our history?

  17. Michael Childress Michael Childress

    We have talked a lot more about mythbuilding and the construction of these American folk stories. More specifically though, we have talked about their purpose, often to create an image of American pride, honor, virtue, and diligence. Do you (class or Dr. Bezio) think that these stories were started with an individual goal in mind, for example to just tell the best story with the biggest character so that the rest of the men at the bar would be impressed? Or were the founders of these stories well educated enough to create a story to reflect a strong, powerful American that they knew would persist throughout time and become a part of American culture? In other words, were these folktales about Americans with superhuman strengths and powers meant to paint a picture of American culture, or simply to impress the person next to them?

  18. Mohamad Kassem Mohamad Kassem

    An interesting idea mentioned in this podcast is the fact that myths contribute to creating a nation’s identity as well as how images shape the way we think of how a leader should be. Many art pieces such as portraits are often created with a meaning behind them. Most historical images picture leaders as great people who they want us to remember whether this is true or not. This raises the question of how credible is historical art and is it telling the real story? Also, who was actually a good ethical leader?

  19. Sophia Picozzi Sophia Picozzi

    I found the podcast about national myths and their relationships to art and visual representation really interesting and telling about leadership in general. Some of my favorite parts of History classes are when there are art sections and there is e a reflection of the current events in a different, unique, and abstract way. In class, we have been discussing who tells history and what stories are commonly told and by who. Art is an interesting form of culture because the power dynamics aren’t necessarily dependent on race, class, or gender. So, my question is if art is made with the same purpose as the commonly taught history is, which is to keep powerful people in power and to keep the poor poorer. Is art just a reflection of the American paradox and other facades or manipulations by the minority in power? Or are they commonly made with a different intent that is independent of this?

  20. Thomas Bennett Thomas Bennett

    Can art ever be a truly reliable historical source? I personally don’t think that it can be as history almost always has multiple opposing sides and perspectives. The bias the artist’s perspective creates will show through in their work even if they are a photographer. Even with this bias, artwork is and always will be an extremely important form of primary source as it gives an inside peak at the mind of an actually observant. It is just important to understand the biases the artist had while viewing the artwork.

  21. William Clifton William Clifton

    This podcast is following the trend and idea that our history isn’t what we always thought it was. One thing that really resonated with me during this was the story Dr. Bezio told about President Washington’s kneel in the snow. It is a simple story, but paints him, and the event in a light that doesn’t truthfully represent what actually unfolded. It paints a picture of true heroism and leadership. Not to say President Washington wasn’t both of those things. I believe he most certainly was, but I don’t think that makes stretching the truth to benefit his image is ok. I’m afraid the longer we go on studying the unbias version of our history, the more often we will see that to be evident.

  22. Pierce Kaliner Pierce Kaliner

    Another very interesting podcast debunking a few historical “facts” I never knew the extent of the lies of the Paul Revere story and likely Washington crossing the Delaware. I found it interesting how the depictions of leaders varied. For example, the portraits of American Presidents. Both Washington and Lincoln’s try to make them seem like strong leaders, while JFK and Obama’s seem to have a different tone to them. I wonder how has the aim of these portraits has changed over the years? And, to what extent does trying to show American Presidents as strong impact the American superiority that we want to believe?

  23. Michael Stein Michael Stein

    One of the most interesting parts of today’s podcast was the story of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poetry. While we all know him for his poem “Paul Revere’s Ride,” he originally tried adding to the American mythos through a much more complex poem, “The Song of Hiawatha.” That poem attempted to interweave white colonial culture with Native American culture to create a new American culture; however, it did not materialize in the same way that “Paul Revere’s Ride” did. Why did “The Song of Hiawatha” not achieve the same success as Longfellow’s other poems? Would American identity, society, and history look different had more inclusive pieces of literature become a part of our national cannon?

  24. Samuel Hussey Samuel Hussey

    My question after listening to the podcast is what morale boosters and national myths will be talked about in the future from this time period? What political figures will become idolized and cemented in our history books and which will be cast away, whether from the media or their public reputation from the population?

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