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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

We hold this truth to be self evident: Movie references are universal

I had the opportunity earlier today to stop in at a press conference at the Office of the Secretary of State where Mark Ritchie announced that an original copy of the Declaration of Independence will be on display during the sesquicentennial celebration in May. (Click here for Minnesota Lawyer story.)

Now before I go any further, I should mention that one of the reasons I decided to check out the press conference was that the costs of bringing the Declaration to Minnesota are being underwritten by Minnesota Lawyer's parent company, Minnesota-based Dolan Media. I also have a lifelong interest in Thomas Jefferson, the one founding father with whom I share a birthday. Plus he was a lawyer and a writer. If Jefferson were alive today, I'm sure he'd be posting on this blog ...

In any case, as I listened to the expected nice, but vanilla descriptions of the document's historical importance, I wondered who would be the first person to mention the action flick, "National Treasure." I did not have to wait long -- it was Ritchie himself. After a recitation of what made the Declaration significant, the secretary of state added that there had been a lot of interest in the document since the movie "National Treasure."

Sigh. Ritchie was, of course, right. The film did generate quite a bit of interest in the Declaration. But it's unfortunate that the fact that the Declaration is the cornerstone document of our entire democracy isn't enough by itself to spark everyone's curiosity. Some folks need that "as seen in the Nicolas Cage movie" tagline to get them interested. I would have asked what that means for our dwindling attention spans our celebrity-obsessed culture, but I was too busy checking on my iPhone for more coverage on last Monday's Duluth visit by George Clooney and Renee Zellweger.

Andrea Kajer of the Minnesota Historical Society, who is coordinating the security locally, no doubt will hear a lot of references to "National Treasure" in the next couple of months. I thought I'd be among the first, so, in a conversation with her immediately after the press conference, I asked whether precautions had been taken to avoid a Nicolas-Cage-type scenario. She graciously responded to my admittedly weak quip, "Yes, we don't want anyone looking for treasure maps on the back."


Mark Ritchie said...

Blockbuster movies and books, like many of the recent historical biographies by Doris Kearns Goodwin, Walter Isaacson and David McCullough, have helped to peak public interest in a positive way. At the same time, concerns about basic Constitutional rights and concerns about personal freedom and liberty in the post 9/11 era have also increased awareness about some of the founding principles of our nation. Hopefully Minnesota's sesquicentennial will be an opportunity for transforming this interest into reflection on the gifts we've received and on the future we're responsible for creating.

Mark Ritchie, Secretary of State said...

I forgot to add that David McCullough is coming for a major speech on the American Presidency as part of the Literary Legends series in October. For more info check out http://www.hennepintheatredistrict.org/LiteraryLegends/

Mark Cohen, editor said...

Mr. Ritchie brings up an excellent point. My tongue-in-cheek style aside, I believe that anything that generates interest in history -- be it a document, a movie, a blockbuster book or a trip to a national monument -- is a net positive.

The David McCullough speech will be in Minneapolis on Oct. 2. Tickets are currently available.

McCullough has written a number of excellent and entertaining books on American history. One of my favorites – his book on John Adams – is currently the basis for an HBO miniseries starring Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney.