Sunday, February 17, 2008

Puritan Watch

Ever since I found my interests drifting backward in time from the 18th century to the 17th century, I have become more aware of references to "Puritans" in the modern media. Typically, these references characterize the early residents of Massachusetts Bay as dour, grim, sexually repressed, and allergic to happiness. Many historians much abler than I have already shown this idea to be flat-out wrong, but it persists.

Today's sighting comes from the New York Times. The article is about Dr. Carla Pugh, who builds simulators to help med students and young doctors practice examinations and procedures that make them feel icky - mostly exams involving reproductive organs. Dr. Pugh is doing fine work, and I applaud her. However, the quote at the end (from sex columnist Dan Savage, whom I usually love) is inappropriate:
What good is a mechanic who doesn’t like getting greasy? If you have a squeamish doctor, get a new doctor. That’s America. Canada got the French. Australia got the convicts. We got the Puritans and we never got over it.
For the record, there was plenty of "earthiness" in 17th- and 18th-century American culture. Savage is possibly thinking of the Victorians (though that is somewhat problematic as well).

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