If you’ve been to see the new (at the time of this writing) movie Lincoln, you may have wondered at the numerous scenes in which congressmen sit in the House of Representatives and hurl colorful insults at each other. Surely, one imagines, this is not the behavior of gentlemen. Why, a congressmen in recent years was censured by the House simply for shouting, “you lie!” at President Obama.
In fact, America’s political history is far less constrained and proper than one might imagine. In times past, the passion for politics very much involved great magniloquence and the use of all manner of offensive speech. It was understood that this was an expression of one’s freedom of speech.
We have lost that sort of fervor, for certain—and not, many suppose, for the better. Politics, today, has become too staid and boring, which should not be the case given the important issues with which politicians deal.
When we speak of the past, of the episodes of famous forefathers standing up and speaking boldly, accusingly, and derogatorily of their fellow congressmen, the word which is used to describe that period-specific fever of excitement and passion is zeitgeist (TSITE’guy’st).
Zeitgeist does not refer specifically to the erstwhile colorful tones of American political speech, but to any spirit associated with a given time. Any time period in which an entire community (or indeed, country) is consumed by the attention surrounding an experience can be described as having its fair share of zeitgeist. Zeitgeist is merely the word that refers to the greater spirit of the time, the underlying excitement and energy that seem to penetrate all.
Editor’s Note: This post was written by Mark Jacobs. Mark is a volunteer assistant editor for Jet Fuel Review. He is double-majoring in Physics and Air Traffic Control Management at Lewis, but the left side of his brain is an avid writer. Mark is a junior and works as a ramp traffic controller at O’Hare and at Panera Bread, from which he does not steal dozens of bagels every day.