Think Your School Is Rough? Mine Was Run By ISIS

In June of 2014, a thousand-ish ISIS fighters assaulted and captured Mosul, the second-largest city in Iraq. For the next three years, Mosul’s million-and-a-half civilians lived under ISIS rule, including hundreds of thousands of children. These kids not only had to contend with the grim specter of war invading their daily life; they also had to deal with the fact that ISIS was now in charge of the public schools.

On a recent visit to Mosul, Cracked editor Robert Evans sat down with one of these students, and several teachers and parents, who had to live with knife-wielding lunatics setting their curriculum. What the shitting shit was that like? We’re glad you asked …

6

Most Teachers And Students Refused To Go

At a refugee camp on the outskirts of West Mosul (the part of the city still largely controlled by ISIS), we met Mr. Mohammed. He was a teacher before ISIS came, but he didn’t stay long after they took charge: “When Daesh come, after a month we fled [from] Mosul.” He didn’t teach under their regime, but he stayed in touch with his friends and colleagues. His estimate is that 5 percent of students kept attending classes during ISIS’s reign: “Most of the parents, they stopped sending their children.”

Two days later we visited a school in East Mosul, and met with several teachers who, until a couple months ago, were forced to teach school the ISIS way. They echoed Mr. Mohammed’s estimate: “[During ISIS’s reign] this school had only 50-60 students. Now we have 700.” Seriously, imagine going to a school with so few students, a single basketball team (including bench players) would take up a quarter of the population.

I also sat down with 11-year-old Abdulrahman, who prefers to go by the nickname “Abood.” Which, honestly, even if he protested, I was going to call him that anyway.

Magenta Vaughn (Click Image For Full Size)
The kid is pretty damn awesome.

He spent almost two semesters as a student while ISIS ran his city, and he told us about the first day the mujahedeen (ISIS’s fighters) came to speak to his class: “They wore Afghan clothes, like a long dress with a pistol around their waistband and bullets on their chest, an AK-47 on their back. Their beards were long, their hair was long.” They mostly talked about killing people, which I’ll cover in more detail, shortly. As a general rule though, Abood saw the ISIS guys more often outside of class than in it. “When they did the call for prayer they had a vehicle and would patrol, if they found someone not attending prayers they would hurt them.”

“Abu Ahmed,” the father of one Mosul student, gave us the parents-eye view of those first few weeks: “They said children must attend school. If they don’t, they would come for the father. People were very scared at first.” But gradually, he noticed other parents withdrawing their kids from school without repercussion. There’s an important point in that; as terrifying as ISIS seems from our President’s tweets, they only ever had between 4,500 and 7,500 fighters in Mosul. That’s enough to wage a brutal guerilla battle against the Iraqi army, but it’s not enough to search 200,000 households to make sure every kid attends class. That’s definitely a “yeah, good luck with that” situation.

Abu Ahmed pulled his kid after one semester and never caught any flak for it. That said, Mr. Mohammed knew one man who died for pulling his kids out of class. A member of the Hisbah, ISIS’s religious police, caught his kid truant and asked why he wasn’t at class. “His son told the truth. And ISIS killed his father.”

We met with a half-dozen different teachers in East Mosul, and this lady, “Ms. Faeruz,” was clearly the group’s spokesperson:

Magenta Vaughn (Click Image For Full Size)
Ms. Faeruz is second lady on the left.

She’s been a teacher for 32 years, which means Ms. Faeruz has been educating Iraqi kids since Saddam Hussein was a fresh new name, practicing his mustache flexing. It also means she’s seen more war than the average general. Here’s how she described the first few weeks of ISIS rule as a teacher:

“They showed us how to teach children. They bring us their rules. They separated female from male.” That part really pissed her off (which, if I’m being honest, did give me the “hell yeah” shiver). “They should be together! This is the first thing they did. They separated male and female teachers [too].”

They also shot up the school’s water tank, because at their core most ISIS militants are childish douchebags with guns. “The barrel full of water, the water tank. They shoot it.” And then, to top things off, “ISIS burned all the textbooks.”

Once they’d gotten rid of the old lesson plans and, uh, the fucking water, ISIS really got to work.

5

School Became All About Murder

What with the whole “being an apocalyptic death cult” thing, the Islamic State wasn’t exactly big on, say, prepping kids for a successful college experience. Here’s how Ms. Faeruz described the change: “They are forcing us to teach the children the rules of [ISIS]. It’s all about the jihad, and fighting. Islamic law.”

Mr. Mohammed also told us, “The curriculum was mostly about war. When they said, ‘one plus one equals two,’ they would use bombs and bullets.” He’s not exaggerating even a little bit. Here’s the cover of an ISIS second-grade math textbook:

Yes, that’s a bunch of numbers whimsically Voltroning into a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. It kind of makes your old Wood Shop teacher look sane, huh?

Mr. Mohammed noted that, in addition to replacing standard English and History textbooks with their own and removing Geography, “They have a subject called Islamic Religion.” This focused heavily on the hadiths, purported teachings of the Prophet Mohammed. “They rewrote the hadith according to their beliefs.” The cover of this eighth-grade Islamic Faith textbook sure seems pretty, uh, sword-focused.

Our awesome little friend Abood also noted that, “[ISIS] eliminated some curriculum and added other classes, [mostly classes] talking about explosives, bullets, weapons.” He explained that, “Sometimes while [we] were studying IS would enter and talk to [us] about how, when we grow up, we will join [ISIS] and kill enemies … Most of their speeches were about how to be killed and kill for their beliefs.”

I asked him, “Who were they teaching you to kill?” half expecting him to say, “Americans.” But he replied, “The police and Iraqi army guys.” Goddammit, ISIS. I thought we had something special? Is America not good enough for your hate now?

That aside, Abood (seriously, if he’s using that nickname in the old Urban Dictionary sense, this kid needs to work for Cracked) noted one distinct upside of murderous terrorists running the education system: “Math class [was] easier. We didn’t have to do homework or spend time with mathematics.” But he did report some homework: “They would [draw] a bomb on the blackboard and tell us to draw one at home and bring it back to class.”

You’ll find a lot of stories on the internet about ISIS schools forcing kids to behead dolls:

But that stuff was mainly for the kids in special training camps who jumped on board with the whole death-cult thing. Ms. Faeruz denied it had occurred at her school, or any other schools she knew of in Mosul. She doubted it happened anywhere at all: “For the cutting heads off the doll stuff, that’s a lie.” But, she explained, they did force teachers to pose terrorism-related math questions. “For example, there’s a circle, where do you place five or six bombs inside the circle. Calculate that.” The goal of this fun math problem would be to figure out where to set off your bombs to cover the most of that circle.

Yeah, that’s dark as fuck. Let’s talk more about their wacky textbooks, because holy shit.

4

Holy Shit, ISIS Textbooks

There are a ton of ISIS textbook pictures circling online. You can find Fox News, The Telegraph, Business Insider, and a bunch of other websites publishing insane images like this:

Most of those are from printed textbooks recovered from captured parts of Mosul and sold to news agencies by “fixers” — local Iraqis who work with foreign journalists. Complete textbooks can bring hundreds of dollars. But printed ones are rare, because ISIS didn’t actually issue printed textbooks. Here’s Abood:

“They didn’t bring textbooks, just CDs. And they wrote stuff on the chalkboard. When IS brought CDs, they obliged parents to copy them with their own money. That cost them 75k dinars [about $65]. Many people could not afford this. They brought CDs to the principal to distribute to the students,” but most students withdrew before printing anything out.

Some ISIS textbooks are shockingly normal. This geology textbook (Mr. Mohammed was wrong about them cutting that class) seems to be a perfectly normal textbook ..:

… But here’s a picture my fixer, Ayar, sent us, of what appears to be the section of a biology textbook telling kids why it’s important to stay hydrated (which is super important when ISIS shoots the shit out of your water supply):

You’ll notice the kids face is blurred. That’s a fundamentalist Muslim thing: You’re not supposed to depict the human form. Slightly blurring it is apparently OK. Anyway, a lot of ISIS’s educational stuff is like this, and here’s why it’s interesting to me: All of these bland lessons are sitting right next to some extremely dark messages. Like this English textbook:

The picture they picked for “Woman” is even scarier than the fact that “sniper” is apparently a word they feel first-year English students need to know:

Ms. Faeruz was not very happy with the new curriculum she was expected to teach; “First of all, in their books, they are writing that Saudi Arabians are bastards. Second, they were teaching the children … for example they are writing down a story. There are four ISIS, two of them, they kill themselves by suicide bombing. How many is left? You have to say two.”

In, uh, ISIS’s defense, it’s probably a lot harder to fall asleep in one of their math classes. Meanwhile, their version of a history textbook …

… focuses less on world history than Ms. Faeruz would have liked. Rather than talking about stuff like World War I, the polio vaccine, or the Agricultural Revolution, “In the book of ISIS, for example, they say there was a suicide bombing five years ago … who did that? For example, Abu Qataba. The embassy in Baghdad had some kind of explosion. Who did that? Father of Ahmed, for example. So they are teaching children in this way.”

Kids in more advanced grades could expect to learn more advanced terrorism information. This ninth-grade Physics textbook dedicates a lot of cover space to homemade bombs:

And this textbook seems to be all about making vehicle-based explosives:

And that’s all, just, fucking awful. I mean, awful enough that we need to invent a new word that represents how awful it actually is. Maybe we can make that a Cracked contest or something. Wait, “Awefucked.” Scratch the contest idea; I won. But if you’re worried all these textbooks have trained up a new generation of jihadis, armed with Practical Carbomb Physics 101 and Advanced Shooting People English, well …

3

They Weren’t Super Good At The Whole Indoctrinating Children Thing

Abood’s two semesters of ISIS-school didn’t exactly turn him into a raging jihadi. If they had, he probably would’ve tried to stab me when we were talking. “I hated them. I couldn’t stand them. I wouldn’t do the homework they assigned.”

Indoctrination was a serious worry on many parent’s minds, though. Abood’s father told me, “When our children came back from school they were talking of bombs and bullets. We decided not to let our kids attend school anymore … When their answers were about bombs I was scared they would train my children to be IS fighters.”

Abood’s dad was a former policeman, and he said, “I was scared my son would be trained to fight against me.” It turns out that very situation happened kind of a lot. “I know a guy who killed his own father. His emir asked him to kill his father because he was caught selling cigarettes …”

According to Abood, the ISIS guys he met relied more on bribery than brainwashing to try and get kids to help them. “They were bribing children, giving gifts to get information about who is selling cigarettes, who has a satellite TV at home, and who was police, army before.” The gifts were generally “Toys, like balls, cars, or other toys.” The kids who went alone with them did it less out of loyalty than fear. “Children were scared of IS, and so they would answer.”

At one point, Abood saw a bunch of Hisbah searching houses they knew belonged to former policemen. They came to his house, when his dad wasn’t home, and asked, “Where is your father?”

To which Abood responded, “He’s not here.”

Next question: “Is your dad a cop?”

That also got a no. Then they asked if his dad had any weapons, or a car, and Abood kept saying “No.” Finally they asked, “Do you have a car on the roof?”

According to Abood — who we should note is 11 — they often asked ridiculous questions of children. “Sometimes their questions were tricky, like a joke, [because they knew we] would be afraid, and they wanted [us] to think they were joking around.”

It’s kind of like a bully who comes at you, fist-clenched, demanding your lunch money. Then when you tell him you don’t have any, he kind of laughs it off and says, “Gah, I’m just fuckin’ with you, bro.” Only instead of ganking your lunch money, these guys are looking to murder your dad. Abood’s answer to that trick question, by the way, was, “That’s impossible.”

So most of ISIS’s success with kids came from scaring the bejeezus out of them, very few kids showed up to get indoctrinated, and, as Abood put it, “Almost no one loved ISIS.”

But almost no one isn’t no one.

2

There Were Regular Students, And ISIS Students

Ms. Faeruz explained to us that, after the first semester or two, most of the children left in school were the kids of ISIS fighters. Those kids left with their parents as ISIS fled East Mosul and barricaded themselves in the West side of the city. ISIS did put together a very murder-focused PE plan:

Mr. Mohammed, however, assured us, “Not all children were physically trained, except the ones they trusted. The followers would be trained, not only physically. They would be trained with rifle and pistol.”

Abood echoed this, and added what might be the greatest crime to ISIS’s rap sheet: they told him taekwondo practice was forbidden. “They said it was a waste of time to do any sports but jihad.”

At this point another guy chimed in. He’d spent some time in an IS jail cell and he’d seen their kids — the “Cubs Of The Caliphate” — practicing taekwondo. He clarified that they just didn’t want kids who weren’t loyal using self-defense. Which makes sense in a pretty dark way: You train your team to fight, and make sure the opponents never learn how. You stop their asses before their montage music hits.

Clearly, some kids were very much down with the ISIS curriculum, and not just because literally any 12-year-old boy would kill for his own AK-47. Abood told us: “I knew a guy named Haris … who stayed to become a spy for IS. He gave information on the police and military guys in Mosul. He would say, ‘This is the country of Islam. We should all defend Islam.'” When ISIS fled, “They took Haris with them. He wasn’t bribed with money or toys. He was given a pistol. Haris would go around the neighborhood and ask other children to follow him.”

I asked Abood if he had any idea what made Haris so jolly for jihad. “Haris’s house was destroyed by an airstrike. He took it personally.” Last Abood had heard, “Haris was killed by [Iraqi] special forces in Mosul.”

Haris would have been around 13 when he died.

1

Our Failure To Help Rebuild Might Do More Damage Than ISIS

Ms. Faeruz and her fellow teachers have been “liberated” for months now. But it turns out “liberated” means something very different from “having your life unfucked.”

“We cleaned our school by ourselves after they liberated the area. A lot of the students arrived here without any clothes. We don’t have water here. Our hearts are very hard. We need books. ISIS burned all the books here. We have a little book for teaching students. We help them with our money, with the books and with the clothes. We are without salary. But we are teaching them.”

None of the teachers we spoke with had been paid in the last two-and-a-half years. That’s starting to change now, but while the city was under ISIS control, the Iraqi government cut off salaries for all government employees. And they weren’t exactly quick to start payments up again. All the teachers I met complained, loudly and sometimes semi-shoutingly, about the fact that the U.S. government hadn’t helped out either.

“We didn’t see any helping hand from America to help our school. You guys have all this stuff, you should be helping us. We need help. We need our students to go to university.”

Back in September, President Obama sent six hundred additional troops into Iraq to help with the retaking of Mosul. From the vantage point of Iraqi civilians, like Ms. Faeruz, this is what those soldiers look like:

During our three days in Mosul, touring both civilian areas and the front line, the only American soldiers we saw were driving absolutely titanic route-clearance vehicles (trucks designed to survive being blown up). There are U.S. special forces embedded with Iraqi military units elsewhere in the city, but if you’re a teacher or a parent or a student or basically any Iraqi civilian, this is what Americans look like to you. Well, this and airstrikes. Here’s a little something for you graph nerds, showing how much more often we’re bombing Iraq since the beginning of the year:

That’s caused a corresponding surge in civilian deaths. Remember Haris, the 13-year-old who decided ISIS seemed alright after losing his home in an airstrike? He’s not an isolated case. Drone strikes, at least, are frequently used as a recruiting tool by terrorist groups. Meanwhile, at least some evidence seems to suggest that more kids making it to secondary school “has a negative impact on the supply of terrorism.”

“We want a helping hand from other countries. Where is the American power helping us? Only UNICEF is helping us.”

All the Iraqi schoolkids we saw were sporting brand new backpacks and school supplies, courtesy of UNICEF. So if this article has you thinking, “Jesus shitballs, what can I do?” Well, give them some money.

“I like the American people. The normal ones. But the politicians, they are bad.” You know what, Ms. Faeruz? I don’t know many people who would disagree with that.

And as for Abood, “I miss my old school, and I miss Mosul.” Even though his neighborhood has been “liberated,” he can’t go back home yet. “My house was taken by IS. Today other people sent me photos of my own house. It became a clinic for IS. It got shot up and all our clothes and furniture was destroyed.”

Hey editors, can we, uh, can we find a joke to end this on?

Robert and his videographer, Magenta, are filming a documentary about the young Iraqis fighting ISIS in the media. They face gunfire and explosions every day to deliver stories like this one. You can learn more by checking out and backing their Indiegogo.

Read more: http://www.cracked.com/personal-experiences-2501-what-itE28099s-like-being-student-in-isis-controlled-school.html

7 Concepts We Totally Take For Granted, Like ‘White People’

Possibly the weirdest thing humans do is come up with something and then immediately act like it’s always been around. Like the guys who started marketing diamond engagement rings by pretending it was an immutable tradition. The reality is that once you start poking around at even the most fundamental realities of life, they reveal themselves to be laughably recent. For example …

7

Teenagers Were Invented Around The Time Of World War II

Depending on who you ask, your teenage years are either the best of your life (says your uncle who still wears his high school class ring, despite his finger looking like a tied-off sausage) or a cringefest that makes us wish the memory eraser from Men In Black were a real thing (says everyone else). If you could ask your great-great-grandpa, though, he’d likely ask you what the hell a “teenager” was, before telling you to get back to tilling that goddamned corn field.

That’s because up until the 1940s, teenagers weren’t really a thing. We don’t mean that people used to time-warp from age 12 to 20. We mean that the cultural concept — this ethereal, not-quite-child-yet-not-quite-adult period in human development — simply wasn’t considered to exist prior to the Great Depression. Up until then, you were either a child or you were an adult.

That all changed with a single spread in the December 1944 issue of Life.

In a historic attempt to quantify this “new” American youth phenomenon, Life excitedly told of the “teen-age” girl — specifically the white, middle-class teen-age girl. They did so maybe a bit too excitedly, as evidenced by their up-close examination of Dorothy’s too-tight sweater:

The expose then went on to paint a picture of American teenagers as we all know them from every teen comedy ever, from their crippling obsession with phones …

… to their insistence on playing their ding-danged music too loud …

… to their tendency to be completely bored with just, like, everything.

Fast forward several years, and the word “teenager” had officially entered the national lexicon, thereby cementing John Hughes’ future career and instilling in all of us the firm belief that everyone else’s teenage years were way better than our own.

6

Beach Vacations Were Invented In The 18th Century

In the U.S. alone, hundreds of millions of people visit the beach each year. It’s clearly the ideal vacation destination — warm sun, toe-welcoming sand, relaxing waves, and Mai Tais that practically find their way to you of their own volition. You’d assume that’s been the case for as long as humans have lived near beaches they could travel to. You’d be wrong

The vast majority of people throughout human history would view all those beachgoers as impeccably tanned lemmings marching toward their inevitable and gory demise. Because for them, the beach was a place not of summer lovin’, but of shipwrecks, pirates, natural disasters, deadly diseases arriving from faraway lands, and sea monsters with an insatiable thirst for human liver smoothies.

Greek Mythology Wiki
Pictured: the beach, circa the 18th century.

Like afternoon tea and existential despair, the origins of the beach as a paradisaical destination — and, in turn, of the vacation itself — can be traced back to England. In the middle of the 18th century, the wealthy elite came to view the working class as healthier than they were, mostly due to their having to, you know, work. The answer to this, of course, was even more relaxation, and thus was born the idea of the “restorative sea.” Doctors prescribed a dip at the beach for everything from leprosy to gout to the veritable holy trinity of Victorian diseases: tuberculosis, hysteria, and melancholy.

The town of Scarborough near York became home to the world’s first seaside resort, and as such establishments spread throughout the 19th century, so did the concept of the pleasurable beach getaway and vacations in general. See, prior to the rise in popularity of the beach, the term “vacation” itself referred to an involuntary and un-pleasurable absence from work, probably due to tuberculosis, hysteria, or melancholy. So when you’re cleaning a small Pacific island’s worth of sand out of your car after your next vacation, stop cursing your fellow vacationers and start cursing uppity Victorians.

5

We Didn’t Have Zero Until The Sixth Century (And It Didn’t Hit Europe Until The 12th)

The value of zero belies its true importance in mathematics. It’s downright impossible to solve complex equations without a numeral to represent zilch. As such, you’d think that even man’s earliest attempts at counting would have accounted for zero — for instance, “I killed precisely one woolly mammoth” pales in importance next to “I have a zero percent chance of outrunning this pissed-off herd of woolly mammoths.” But you’d be several millennia on the side of wrong.

Though humans have been happily mathing since the development of the Sumerian counting system nearly 5,000 years ago, this and the other systems it inspired — including that of the Babylonians — glaringly omitted the all-important zero. When they needed to represent nothing, early mathematicians did so via jotting down a placeholder or … well, nothing. It wasn’t until around 500 CE that the concrete concept of zero was developed in India, and it took yet another century and change for astronomer and mathematician Brahmagupta to create a symbol for it: a dot beneath other numbers.

Over the next few centuries, zero made its way across China and to the Middle East, where it pigged out on shish kebab, spread from a dot into a circle, and found a new home in the Arabic numeral system. But it wasn’t until the 12th century and the Moorish conquest of Spain that zero found its way onto the worksheets of Italian mathematician Fibonacci, who realized that you sort of need zero to, you know, be a mathematician.

Even still, it took until the dawn of the 13th century to catch on, and an additional four centuries to reach widespread use throughout Europe, thus finally paving the way for calculus. And in case your high school experience has tainted your opinion on the importance of calculus, its study is what in turn paved the way for physics, engineering, computers — that is, your ability to read this right now.

4

National Cuisines Are Modern Political Bullshit

Quick, picture Italian food.

We’re betting you imagined a heaping plate of spaghetti and meatballs heavily doused in tomato sauce. Well, we’ve got some news for you: Spaghetti and meatballs is an American creation dating all the way back to the early 20th century. Not only that, but the same way ordering up a mound of General Tso’s Chicken in China is likely to leave you with an empty plate and a hopelessly rumbling belly, ordering what we Americans tend to think of as the quintessential Italian dish in Italy is likely to get you something with olives, shellfish, or both.

As a matter of fact, seeing as how the tomato was brought to Europe from the Americas, and tomato sauce only found widespread use in Italy in the late 18th century thanks to heavy influence from Spain, it could be reasonably argued that marinara sauce is more of a joint American/Spanish concoction, which Italian immigrants to America later honed to scrumptious perfection.

In other words, almost everything you think of as a traditional “national cuisine” is bullshit. So why do we identify specific types of food with specific countries at all? Simple: Much like wartime propaganda posters or your high school gym teacher, a national cuisine is a tool. Specifically, it’s a tool employed by a government looking to create a unified national identity.

You see, prior to the late 19th century, there was no such thing as “Italian” food — at most, there would have been Sicilian food, Piedmontese food, Sardinian food, and so forth. Hell, even today there are dialects spoken in Italy that are mutually unintelligible, despite sharing the same Latin roots and having developed in the same basic geographic region. Food, however, is a fantastic unifier — something that even people who historically sort of hate the shit out of each other can agree upon.

To look at it from a more personal perspective, many of us experience such “invented traditions” firsthand each year at Christmas. If you’re trying to foster an annual tradition, it helps to pretend that everyone enjoys roasting a large bird with bread shoved up its ass, and always has. So if you’ve ever wondered what propaganda tastes like, wonder no more. Chances are you’ve eaten some this week.

3

The Concept Of Authorship Is Newer Than Shakespeare

For nearly five millennia after humanity discovered that a rock could be used to scratch stuff onto other rocks, there was absolutely no concept of having ownership of said scratches. If you were to write, say, a trilogy detailing the thrilling exploits of Rumble Thrustrod, international spy/archaeologist, some random chucklehead could come along and not only write a fourth volume, but also publish and sell it without acknowledging you whatsoever. Imagine a world in which fan fiction was a legitimate way for people to make money.

Mike Coppola/Staff/Getty Images
*cough*

This was the state of publishing up until the 18th century, which you may recognize as being long after Homer, Shakespeare, Sun-Tzu, and probably a few others wrote their most famous works. As a matter of fact, we’ve mentioned before how Shakespeare flat-out copied some of his most famous plays from earlier writers … and that he wasn’t doing anything that was considered wrong at the time, because it wasn’t until 1710’s Statute of Anne that there was even a legal concept of intellectual property. More importantly, this law had the effect of legally granting the rights to a written idea to the person who came up with it, rather than to whomever had the means to reproduce it.

Prior to the introduction of the idea that a particular arrangement of words was something that could be owned, authors not only didn’t strive for originality; they consciously avoided it. Writers built upon the creations of other writers who came before, and this literary Jenga is how some of history’s most famous works were produced.

Wikimedia Commons
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Beowulf, The Incredible Hulk, etc.

In fact, there’s a credible theory that Homer — of the Iliad and Odyssey fame, not of the beer and the donuts fame — was not a single prolific poet. Rather, “Homer” might have been entire generations of poets who built onto and streamlined one another’s writings until they had arrived at the epic works that we use to torture middle schoolers to this day, like a version of the infinite monkey theorem in which all the monkeys are plagiarists.

2

Owning A Bible Was Nearly Unheard Of For Much Of Its Existence

When it comes to the world’s best-selling book, the Bible handily trounces everyone, with Guinness World Records estimating more than five billion copies sold. And why not? The book itself commands you to buy one — it’s the Word of God that must be continually read and pondered. A faithful follower without a Bible on their nightstand is unthinkable … until you realize that for much of the book’s history, it was practically a sin to own one.

First of all, let’s remember that books are relatively recent, at least in the form of a consumer product the average Joe could buy. You’re only talking about the last 500 years or so.

As for the Bible, let’s rewind a little bit. Okay, a lot bit: Around 400 CE, the Council of Hippo got together and codified what we now think of as the Christian Bible from a big, messy-ass pile of ancient texts. Basically, they decided that some books were canonical and could be added to the existing Old Testament (27, to be exact) and the rest were heretical, thereby creating a single thread of true Christian belief that inexplicably still kept the unicorns in. The church higher-ups didn’t want budding Christians reading any ol’ scroll they stumbled across in the desert — they wanted them reading what they had determined was the Gospel truth.

Actually, scratch that — they didn’t want them reading it at all. For the next thousand years, the official stance of the church was that the average layperson was far too stupid to read the Bible for themselves. To gain a true understanding of the text, the masses needed to come to church and have it read/translated to them in bits, probably from a very expensive hand-printed copy.

The printing press was invented in the 1400s and started cranking out cheaper copies of Bibles. But in 1536, one William Tyndall had the temerity to translate the New Testament from Greek into English (you know, so the average English reader could comprehend the freaking thing), and was promptly burned at the stake for his efforts. Nonetheless, that event was the swan song of the church’s Bible-clutching, and the Reformation soon saw readable, affordable Bibles flowing throughout Europe in the 1600s.

But for most of history, telling Christians they needed to “read their Bible every night” to get on God’s good side was the equivalent of telling them they could only get to Heaven by flying there in their own helicopter.

1

The White Race Is A Recent Invention

Somewhere on social media, someone is currently asking, “Why isn’t there a White History Month?” or “Why does every White Pride parade spawn bitter protests?” To understand the problem, we have to explain why the concept of a “white” race is kind of weird to begin with.

First of all, the idea is very recent. The ancient Greeks, for example, noted that there were various lighter-skinned peoples to their north, whom they considered inferior and barbaric. This view, of course, did a horrific 180 as the world changed, but divisions based on culture and geographic location always trumped skin tone (although it did admittedly come in handy for determining who was and was not a filthy Nordic invader).

Then, near the end of the 18th century, German anthropologist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach decided to make racism easier and more accessible for everyone. So he gathered up a shitload of skulls from all over the planet, lined them up, and classified them into five races: Caucasian (or white), Mongolian (or yellow), Malayan (or brown), Ethiopian (or black), and American (or red). Blumenbach was adamant that his work was not meant to signify that one race was inherently better than any other, and he was quick to condemn the earlier work of his contemporaries who had determined that Africans were an inferior race. Then he went ahead and noted that whites were obviously the prettiest.

Great American thinkers such as Thomas Jefferson took Blumenbach’s work and further narrowed it, proclaiming that Anglo-Saxon was the white race to be. This notion of superior and inferior sub-races is clear up through the 19th century. Sure, the Irish were treated better than people of African ancestry, but political cartoons of the time still depicted them as pipe-smoking ogres who couldn’t discern pots from hats. They obviously weren’t “white.”

This ideal morphed again in the late 1910s, when the “Saxon” was dropped because it was no longer cool to be associated with Germany for some reason we can’t quite put our finger on. Finally, in the 1940s, anthropologists declared that there were only three races: White, Black, and Asian … or, since that’s not nearly offensive enough to have been conceived in the ’40s, “one Negroid race, one Mongoloid race, one Caucasoid race.” Suddenly, all of the bitter hatred of the Irish, Italians, etc was set aside long enough to establish one race of somewhat similar-looking people who could be smugly set apart from the others.

In other words, “White” became a label that truly meant “not one of those filthy minorities.” So yes, the enthusiastic embrace of the label is something of a sore spot for many people.

Nathan Kamal lives in Oregon and writes. He co-founded Asymmetry Fiction for all your fiction needs. Jordan Breeding is a part-time writer, full-time lover, and all-the-time guitarist. Check out his band at skywardband.com or on Spotify here.

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Read more: http://www.cracked.com/article_24591_7-things-you-didnt-realize-humans-recently-invented.html

The Most Underratedly Insane Film Franchise Ever Made

The Billy Jack movies are not things that I would describe as “good.” I would hesitate to even describe them as “competent.” Actually, it’s honestly a bit of a stretch to describe the Billy Jack opuses as movies, as opposed to assemblages of amateur footage into what can generously be described as narrative form.

But just because the Billy Jack movies are dreadful does not mean that they are not important. These morbidly fascinating time capsules were bafflingly popular. Billy Jack was the fifth-highest-grossing film released in 1971, and 1974’s The Trial Of Billy Jack was the third-highest-grossing movie of that year, beating out Young Frankenstein and fucking Godfather Part II. And it accomplished this feat despite being almost three hours long and borderline unwatchable.

Warner Bros
How could you possibly get tired of that face? Well, I’m gonna tell you.

Since I’m pretty sure you’re never going to watch a Billy Jack movie, and equally sure you probably shouldn’t, I therefore feel it is imperative to share five reasons the Billy Jack series is the most insane popular, influential blockbuster franchise you’ve never heard of.

5

The Billy Jack Themes Do Not Match The Hero

Perhaps the nicest thing that can be said about the over-the-top, bordering-on-minstrel-show version of Native American life depicted in the Billy Jack franchise is that it is well-intentioned. The writer, director, and star of the series, Tom Laughlin, clearly respects and looks up to Native Americans. But by treating them as cardboard saints bedeviled by cartoonish white devils and saved by the Action-Christ-like power of Billy Jack, he ends up robbing them of their humanity. On a side note, if this plot aspect sounds familiar, it’s because the movie Avatar is essentially Billy Jack Goes Spacin’.

The films attempt to compensate for earlier depictions of Native Americans as subhuman by painting Billy Jack as downright superhuman. But even if Laughlin were Native American (he is almost remarkably white), there’d be something off-puttingly narcissistic about him casting himself as a god. Laughlin is living out his corniest Native American noble warrior fantasies on screen, and the results are consistently embarrassing, as well as endearingly strange.

Laughlin is so square that if he were to encounter a joint, he’d try to either karate-chop or lecture it, yet he is surprisingly open-minded in depicting the counterculture not as seedy or debauched, but rather as home to society’s greatest hope and purest spirits — after Native Americans and Billy Jack, of course. The hippies are on hand mainly to worship Billy Jack, but he was a square who was 150 percent behind the kids, who have seldom been as alright as they are here. In this time period, hippies were mostly in movies to give the film a higher body count before the villains finally made it to the last house on the left.

The accidentally high-camp approach to Native American mythology in the Billy Jack series involves such psychedelically misguided setpieces as a snake bite ceremony involving a vision quest, an eagle’s feather, a old wise man with a halting, wooden delivery, and Laughlin dancing around a rattle snake wearing what appears to be a cross between unusually trendy buckskins and a Super Friends disguise. Laughlin fake-Indian dances like only a white man from Milwaukee can fake-Indian dance, while being bitten over and over by a rattlesnake that I like to imagine is punishing him for his vanity and Jesus complex.

Laughlin’s trippy visions leads him to “The Fourth Way,” about which, well, the less said, the better.

Just as Laughlin obviously had enormous respect for Native American customs, he also has incredible reverence for Eastern martial arts. But he expressed that affection in sometimes-problematic ways. Billy Jack and The Trial Of Billy Jack helped popularize Hapkido in the United States, but that also meant making a beefy, stoic white dude from the Midwest the face and particularly the feet of the form.

That said, I would be lying if I was to claim that Billy Jack wasn’t at least a little bit awesome. There’s a reason the film series took up permanent real estate in the brains of folks like me. Part of it is the hat. Part of it is the name. And part of it is scenes like the following, wherein Billy Jack is outnumbered by a whole squad of evil bystanders, yet slowly, confidently tells the creep in charge, “I’m going to take this right foot, and I’m going to wop you on that side of your face, and you wanna know something? There’s not a damn thing you’re going to be able to do about it.”

You know what? That’s exactly what he does, and it’s pretty fucking badass.

4

The Sex And Violence Were Meant To Promote Progressive Ideas

Laughlin and his wife/co-writer/co-star Delores were keen to use the drive-in-friendly medium of the bloody revenge movie to agitate for their progressive beliefs regarding alternative schooling. These ideas manifested themselves in the Freedom School, a totally chill and super alternative bastion of forward-thinking learning, protected by the angry scowl and athletic foot of Billy Jack.

One of the Laughlins’ progressive ideas about education involved the role Second City/UCB-style improvisation might play in tuning into the peculiar frequencies of young people and uptight townspeople alike. To that end, there are two separate scenes involving a comedy troupe blowing squares’ minds and opening the minds of the young people with some Improv Everywhere shenanigans. These involve a bit of street theater so realistic that it fools a dopey police officer and a skit about, get this, cops smoking marijuana. I know. Get back in line, George Carlin. There’s a new king in town.

Yes, the Freedom School is a pretty groovy place before a bunch of squares get all up in its business, but in The Trial Of Billy Jack, the school has ballooned into the alternative school of Laughlin’s wildest fantasies. It says a lot about the kind of guy that Laughlin was that I suspect that his wildest fantasies all involved running large, ambitious alternative schools.

The Freedom School is no longer just a school; it’s a way of life, man. Inspired by the example of Billy Jack, whose trial made him a “symbol to live by,” the embodiment of all that is right and holy and sacred in this corrupt world, they decided to make the Freedom School “bigger and better than ever before.” If that sounds like a really nice way to say “You’re gonna get these movies’ themes and YOU’RE GONNA LIKE THEM,” that’s because it definitely is.

Warner Bros
“I’m not locked in here with you. You’re locked in here with MY MONOLOGUES.”

Freedom School 2.0 is built over an abandoned military academy and owned by the students, who “govern themselves on the simple philosophy that where there is power, there can never be love, and where there is love, there is no need for power.” Simple, huh? Why can’t the rest of society be governed by that clear, not-at-all-confusing-or-nonsensical dictate? The programs at the school include “belly dancing, music, band, drill team, arts, crafts, advanced physics, mathematics, psychology, the classics, even into athletics, which they called yoga athletics.” And that still doesn’t include the students’ foray into extensive activist journalism, a plot point that was added just in case audiences started enjoying themselves.

So while it might suck to have Billy Jack, the finest human being since Jesus Christ, in prison, maybe it’s worth it if it means the creation of the only school in the world offering advanced physics, yoga tennis, meditation, and the opportunity to bring down entire corrupt industries with muckraking Nader-style exposes. We can see why Billy Jack was willing to side-kick the whole world in its face for it.

3

The Trial Of Billy Jack Was A Bizarre Manifesto About Countless Timely Events

Billy Jack overflowed with ambition and self-indulgence, but it was reigned in by budget, runtime, and genre demands. Unhappy with the way Warner Brothers handled the movie’s initial release, Laughlin re-released it himself in over a thousand theaters simultaneously and advertised extensively on television. That run’s success gave Laughlin complete creative control over his next project: an epic 170 minutes of free-floating craziness.

More importantly, since Billy Jack ended with Billy Jack in custody, the natural path for a sequel would be to follow his trial. A trial for Billy Jack would provide Laughlin with what little excuse he needed to plant Billy Jack down on a chair in a courtroom and have him discourse angrily about the sins of the Nixon administration, the mistreatment of Vietnam veterans, and the folly of war for minutes at a time, all with his trademark look of sour gym teacher disapproval.

With a bigger budget and scope, Laughlin could do things like film flashbacks to Billy Jack’s hilariously overwrought time in Vietnam, although that does not explain why these sequences feel like they were shot in the cinematographer’s backyard and performed by people who had seemingly never heard of acting before they stumbled there.

The Trial Of Billy Jack boldly announces its pretension with an opening sequence recounting the body count of real-life instances in which our country killed student protestors while an eagle soars and a wise old Native American man chants, ending with the Freedom School: “3 Dead, 39 wounded.” That’s right, Laughlin paid reverent homage to the student martyrs of Kent State by comparing their real-life deaths to the make-pretend bloodshed that concludes the film. And it somehow only gets crazier and more self-indulgent from there.

In Trial Of Billy Jack, we learn that Billy Jack’s disillusionment with the United States really kicked into high gear when he was posted in Vietnam. This approach demands at least some kind of subtlety, but the Billy Jack franchise makes Vietnam seem like it was largely a matter of American soldiers hurling grenades at terrified widows and feasting on Vietnamese baby barbecue. The movies see everything in moral absolutes, with Billy Jack and his rainbow brigade of hippie dreamers and Native Americans as eternally right and the evil white establishment as absolute wrong.

So even though Billy Jack is the one on trial in The Trial Of Billy Jack, the evil that’s really on trial is the Washington war machine, a corrupt administration, and a complicit media that covers their crimes. The Trial Of Billy Jack finds Laughlin in a confrontational and angry mood, as always. As prosecutor, jury, judge, and executioner, Billy Jack finds the establishment guilty of pretty much everything and sentences them to all getting karate-chopped.

Warner Bros
COURT IS ADJOURNED.

2

Mr. Smith Goes To Washington Was Remade As A Billy Jack Film

The Trial Of Billy Jack was one of those movies seemingly everyone saw but no one liked. A high level of deeply personal, idiosyncratic craziness is to be expected, even demanded from Billy Jack films, but The Trial Of Billy Jack was too much Billy Jack for even the most hardcore obsessive.

Still, the film was an astonishing commercial success. It kind of originated the conceit of a movie opening so big and with so much attention that it’s almost impossible for it to fail. Since Billy Jack spent The Trial Of Billy Jack railing against Washington and all those clowns known as “Congress,” the natural next step was for Billy Jack to go to Washington.

Thankfully, a template already existed for a movie in which a hero goes to Washington to combat corruption. It was called Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, and despite being the work of a lesser filmmaker like Frank Capra and starring the less charismatic and likable Jimmy Stewart, Laughlin nevertheless dug it so much that he decided that he would straight-up remake it as a Billy Jack movie. Because for some reason he could do that.

Thus was born 1977’s Billy Jack Goes To Washington, in which Billy Jack becomes a senator and stands up to nuclear power to fight for a youth camp. Yet despite the popularity and influence of Billy Jack and The Trial Of Billy Jack, this installment never got a real theatrical release.

How did Billy Jack Goes To Washington essentially become one of the most expensive direct-to-home-video films of all time? According to Laughlin, it was political pressure. In 2005, he told Showbiz Tonight:

“At a private screening, Senator Vance Hartke got up, because it was about how the Senate was bought out by the nuclear industry. He got up and charged me. Walter Cronkite’s daughter was there, [and] Lucille Ball. And he said, “You’ll never get this released. This house you have, everything will be destroyed.”

The failure of Billy Jack Goes To Washington sadly precluded subsequent Laughlin vehicles that puckishly placed its hat-wearing, karate-chopping hero inside other classic movies. We were sadistically spared It’s A Wonderful Life For Billy Jack (why should Mr Smith Goes To Washington be the only Frank Capra classic improved through the addition of Billy Jack?), When Billy Jack Met Sally, Bob & Carol & Ted & Billy Jack, Billy Jack’s Casablanca, and of course, The Billy Jack Horror Picture Show.

1

After Billy Jack, Laughlin Repeatedly Ran For President

The non-start of Billy Jack Goes To Washington did not deter Tom Laughlin from continuing the Billy Jack legend. In the mid-’80s, he planned for a sequel called The Return Of Billy Jack, which would follow the saintly Native American warrior taking on New York child pornographers. The production was decidedly not successful, as it was held up when Laughlin injured his head when a prop didn’t work. He also broke up a New York fight and made a citizen’s arrest during the shoot. At that point, he was more likely to bust someone despite not being a cop than he was to actually finish a movie project.

The Laughlins continued to try to bring Billy Jack back to the screen for decades after that. A 2005 New York Times article describes their plans for an aughts-era Billy Jack sequel that “will take on social scourges like drugs, and power players like the religious right. They say they will also outline a way to end the current war and launch a political campaign for a third-party presidential candidate. They have already formed a 527 nonprofit committee with the aim of ending the war, and say they will run full-page ads in major newspapers beginning next month explaining their plan to withdraw from Iraq. (Money raised for that committee is separate from the film project.)”

In a shocking turn of events, this film was not made. And my memory is fuzzy, but I also don’t remember Laughlin ending any war ever or being behind a legitimate third-party presidential run. The Laughlins continued to work on their dream of a Billy Jack comeback movie, and their plans for it grew more ambitious with time. In keeping with their fierce antiwar views, the couple toyed with titling this comeback vehicle Billy Jack’s Crusade To End the War And Restore America To Its Moral Purpose, and having Billy Jack “debate” George W. Bush through movie magic. Laughlin told a reporter from The St. Petersburg Times that it “will influence the presidential election in 2008.”

Not coincidentally, Laughlin himself ran several times for president as a Democrat, Republican, and Independent. Your history books are not lying to you — he did not win. In fact, he didn’t really win anything but the knee-jerk scorn and pity that typically greeted novelty presidential runs in the age before Trump. They seemed so innocent then.

When not being elected president or finishing late-period Billy Jack sequels, Laughlin whiled away the time the way old folks do, writing books about Jungian psychology and cancer and, in a departure, the movie business. Laughlin never seemed to have given up on his ferocious dream of changing and saving the world through Billy Jack, but at a certain point, the public did.

It’s Spring Break! You know what that means! Hot coeds getting loose on the beaches of Cancun and becoming imperiled in all classic beach slasher ways: Man-eating shark, school of piranhas, James Franco with dreadlocks. There are so many films about vacations gone wrong, it’s a chore to wonder if there’s even such a thing as a movie vacation gone right. Amity Island and Camp Crystal Lake are out. So what does that leave? The ship from Wall-E? Hawaii with the Brady Bunch? A road trip with famous curmudgeon Chevy Chase? On this month’s live podcast Jack O’Brien and the Cracked staff are joined by some special guest comedians to figure out what would be the best vacation to take in a fictional universe.

Get your tickets here:

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7 Concepts We Totally Take For Granted, Like ‘White People’

Possibly the weirdest thing humans do is come up with something and then immediately act like it’s always been around. Like the guys who started marketing diamond engagement rings by pretending it was an immutable tradition. The reality is that once you start poking around at even the most fundamental realities of life, they reveal themselves to be laughably recent. For example …

7

Teenagers Were Invented Around The Time Of World War II

Depending on who you ask, your teenage years are either the best of your life (says your uncle who still wears his high school class ring, despite his finger looking like a tied-off sausage) or a cringefest that makes us wish the memory eraser from Men In Black were a real thing (says everyone else). If you could ask your great-great-grandpa, though, he’d likely ask you what the hell a “teenager” was, before telling you to get back to tilling that goddamned corn field.

That’s because up until the 1940s, teenagers weren’t really a thing. We don’t mean that people used to time-warp from age 12 to 20. We mean that the cultural concept — this ethereal, not-quite-child-yet-not-quite-adult period in human development — simply wasn’t considered to exist prior to the Great Depression. Up until then, you were either a child or you were an adult.

That all changed with a single spread in the December 1944 issue of Life.

In a historic attempt to quantify this “new” American youth phenomenon, Life excitedly told of the “teen-age” girl — specifically the white, middle-class teen-age girl. They did so maybe a bit too excitedly, as evidenced by their up-close examination of Dorothy’s too-tight sweater:

The expose then went on to paint a picture of American teenagers as we all know them from every teen comedy ever, from their crippling obsession with phones …

… to their insistence on playing their ding-danged music too loud …

… to their tendency to be completely bored with just, like, everything.

Fast forward several years, and the word “teenager” had officially entered the national lexicon, thereby cementing John Hughes’ future career and instilling in all of us the firm belief that everyone else’s teenage years were way better than our own.

6

Beach Vacations Were Invented In The 18th Century

In the U.S. alone, hundreds of millions of people visit the beach each year. It’s clearly the ideal vacation destination — warm sun, toe-welcoming sand, relaxing waves, and Mai Tais that practically find their way to you of their own volition. You’d assume that’s been the case for as long as humans have lived near beaches they could travel to. You’d be wrong

The vast majority of people throughout human history would view all those beachgoers as impeccably tanned lemmings marching toward their inevitable and gory demise. Because for them, the beach was a place not of summer lovin’, but of shipwrecks, pirates, natural disasters, deadly diseases arriving from faraway lands, and sea monsters with an insatiable thirst for human liver smoothies.

Greek Mythology Wiki
Pictured: the beach, circa the 18th century.

Like afternoon tea and existential despair, the origins of the beach as a paradisaical destination — and, in turn, of the vacation itself — can be traced back to England. In the middle of the 18th century, the wealthy elite came to view the working class as healthier than they were, mostly due to their having to, you know, work. The answer to this, of course, was even more relaxation, and thus was born the idea of the “restorative sea.” Doctors prescribed a dip at the beach for everything from leprosy to gout to the veritable holy trinity of Victorian diseases: tuberculosis, hysteria, and melancholy.

The town of Scarborough near York became home to the world’s first seaside resort, and as such establishments spread throughout the 19th century, so did the concept of the pleasurable beach getaway and vacations in general. See, prior to the rise in popularity of the beach, the term “vacation” itself referred to an involuntary and un-pleasurable absence from work, probably due to tuberculosis, hysteria, or melancholy. So when you’re cleaning a small Pacific island’s worth of sand out of your car after your next vacation, stop cursing your fellow vacationers and start cursing uppity Victorians.

5

We Didn’t Have Zero Until The Sixth Century (And It Didn’t Hit Europe Until The 12th)

The value of zero belies its true importance in mathematics. It’s downright impossible to solve complex equations without a numeral to represent zilch. As such, you’d think that even man’s earliest attempts at counting would have accounted for zero — for instance, “I killed precisely one woolly mammoth” pales in importance next to “I have a zero percent chance of outrunning this pissed-off herd of woolly mammoths.” But you’d be several millennia on the side of wrong.

Though humans have been happily mathing since the development of the Sumerian counting system nearly 5,000 years ago, this and the other systems it inspired — including that of the Babylonians — glaringly omitted the all-important zero. When they needed to represent nothing, early mathematicians did so via jotting down a placeholder or … well, nothing. It wasn’t until around 500 CE that the concrete concept of zero was developed in India, and it took yet another century and change for astronomer and mathematician Brahmagupta to create a symbol for it: a dot beneath other numbers.

Over the next few centuries, zero made its way across China and to the Middle East, where it pigged out on shish kebab, spread from a dot into a circle, and found a new home in the Arabic numeral system. But it wasn’t until the 12th century and the Moorish conquest of Spain that zero found its way onto the worksheets of Italian mathematician Fibonacci, who realized that you sort of need zero to, you know, be a mathematician.

Even still, it took until the dawn of the 13th century to catch on, and an additional four centuries to reach widespread use throughout Europe, thus finally paving the way for calculus. And in case your high school experience has tainted your opinion on the importance of calculus, its study is what in turn paved the way for physics, engineering, computers — that is, your ability to read this right now.

4

National Cuisines Are Modern Political Bullshit

Quick, picture Italian food.

We’re betting you imagined a heaping plate of spaghetti and meatballs heavily doused in tomato sauce. Well, we’ve got some news for you: Spaghetti and meatballs is an American creation dating all the way back to the early 20th century. Not only that, but the same way ordering up a mound of General Tso’s Chicken in China is likely to leave you with an empty plate and a hopelessly rumbling belly, ordering what we Americans tend to think of as the quintessential Italian dish in Italy is likely to get you something with olives, shellfish, or both.

As a matter of fact, seeing as how the tomato was brought to Europe from the Americas, and tomato sauce only found widespread use in Italy in the late 18th century thanks to heavy influence from Spain, it could be reasonably argued that marinara sauce is more of a joint American/Spanish concoction, which Italian immigrants to America later honed to scrumptious perfection.

In other words, almost everything you think of as a traditional “national cuisine” is bullshit. So why do we identify specific types of food with specific countries at all? Simple: Much like wartime propaganda posters or your high school gym teacher, a national cuisine is a tool. Specifically, it’s a tool employed by a government looking to create a unified national identity.

You see, prior to the late 19th century, there was no such thing as “Italian” food — at most, there would have been Sicilian food, Piedmontese food, Sardinian food, and so forth. Hell, even today there are dialects spoken in Italy that are mutually unintelligible, despite sharing the same Latin roots and having developed in the same basic geographic region. Food, however, is a fantastic unifier — something that even people who historically sort of hate the shit out of each other can agree upon.

To look at it from a more personal perspective, many of us experience such “invented traditions” firsthand each year at Christmas. If you’re trying to foster an annual tradition, it helps to pretend that everyone enjoys roasting a large bird with bread shoved up its ass, and always has. So if you’ve ever wondered what propaganda tastes like, wonder no more. Chances are you’ve eaten some this week.

3

The Concept Of Authorship Is Newer Than Shakespeare

For nearly five millennia after humanity discovered that a rock could be used to scratch stuff onto other rocks, there was absolutely no concept of having ownership of said scratches. If you were to write, say, a trilogy detailing the thrilling exploits of Rumble Thrustrod, international spy/archaeologist, some random chucklehead could come along and not only write a fourth volume, but also publish and sell it without acknowledging you whatsoever. Imagine a world in which fan fiction was a legitimate way for people to make money.

Mike Coppola/Staff/Getty Images
*cough*

This was the state of publishing up until the 18th century, which you may recognize as being long after Homer, Shakespeare, Sun-Tzu, and probably a few others wrote their most famous works. As a matter of fact, we’ve mentioned before how Shakespeare flat-out copied some of his most famous plays from earlier writers … and that he wasn’t doing anything that was considered wrong at the time, because it wasn’t until 1710’s Statute of Anne that there was even a legal concept of intellectual property. More importantly, this law had the effect of legally granting the rights to a written idea to the person who came up with it, rather than to whomever had the means to reproduce it.

Prior to the introduction of the idea that a particular arrangement of words was something that could be owned, authors not only didn’t strive for originality; they consciously avoided it. Writers built upon the creations of other writers who came before, and this literary Jenga is how some of history’s most famous works were produced.

Wikimedia Commons
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Beowulf, The Incredible Hulk, etc.

In fact, there’s a credible theory that Homer — of the Iliad and Odyssey fame, not of the beer and the donuts fame — was not a single prolific poet. Rather, “Homer” might have been entire generations of poets who built onto and streamlined one another’s writings until they had arrived at the epic works that we use to torture middle schoolers to this day, like a version of the infinite monkey theorem in which all the monkeys are plagiarists.

2

Owning A Bible Was Nearly Unheard Of For Much Of Its Existence

When it comes to the world’s best-selling book, the Bible handily trounces everyone, with Guinness World Records estimating more than five billion copies sold. And why not? The book itself commands you to buy one — it’s the Word of God that must be continually read and pondered. A faithful follower without a Bible on their nightstand is unthinkable … until you realize that for much of the book’s history, it was practically a sin to own one.

First of all, let’s remember that books are relatively recent, at least in the form of a consumer product the average Joe could buy. You’re only talking about the last 500 years or so.

As for the Bible, let’s rewind a little bit. Okay, a lot bit: Around 400 CE, the Council of Hippo got together and codified what we now think of as the Christian Bible from a big, messy-ass pile of ancient texts. Basically, they decided that some books were canonical and could be added to the existing Old Testament (27, to be exact) and the rest were heretical, thereby creating a single thread of true Christian belief that inexplicably still kept the unicorns in. The church higher-ups didn’t want budding Christians reading any ol’ scroll they stumbled across in the desert — they wanted them reading what they had determined was the Gospel truth.

Actually, scratch that — they didn’t want them reading it at all. For the next thousand years, the official stance of the church was that the average layperson was far too stupid to read the Bible for themselves. To gain a true understanding of the text, the masses needed to come to church and have it read/translated to them in bits, probably from a very expensive hand-printed copy.

The printing press was invented in the 1400s and started cranking out cheaper copies of Bibles. But in 1536, one William Tyndall had the temerity to translate the New Testament from Greek into English (you know, so the average English reader could comprehend the freaking thing), and was promptly burned at the stake for his efforts. Nonetheless, that event was the swan song of the church’s Bible-clutching, and the Reformation soon saw readable, affordable Bibles flowing throughout Europe in the 1600s.

But for most of history, telling Christians they needed to “read their Bible every night” to get on God’s good side was the equivalent of telling them they could only get to Heaven by flying there in their own helicopter.

1

The White Race Is A Recent Invention

Somewhere on social media, someone is currently asking, “Why isn’t there a White History Month?” or “Why does every White Pride parade spawn bitter protests?” To understand the problem, we have to explain why the concept of a “white” race is kind of weird to begin with.

First of all, the idea is very recent. The ancient Greeks, for example, noted that there were various lighter-skinned peoples to their north, whom they considered inferior and barbaric. This view, of course, did a horrific 180 as the world changed, but divisions based on culture and geographic location always trumped skin tone (although it did admittedly come in handy for determining who was and was not a filthy Nordic invader).

Then, near the end of the 18th century, German anthropologist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach decided to make racism easier and more accessible for everyone. So he gathered up a shitload of skulls from all over the planet, lined them up, and classified them into five races: Caucasian (or white), Mongolian (or yellow), Malayan (or brown), Ethiopian (or black), and American (or red). Blumenbach was adamant that his work was not meant to signify that one race was inherently better than any other, and he was quick to condemn the earlier work of his contemporaries who had determined that Africans were an inferior race. Then he went ahead and noted that whites were obviously the prettiest.

Great American thinkers such as Thomas Jefferson took Blumenbach’s work and further narrowed it, proclaiming that Anglo-Saxon was the white race to be. This notion of superior and inferior sub-races is clear up through the 19th century. Sure, the Irish were treated better than people of African ancestry, but political cartoons of the time still depicted them as pipe-smoking ogres who couldn’t discern pots from hats. They obviously weren’t “white.”

This ideal morphed again in the late 1910s, when the “Saxon” was dropped because it was no longer cool to be associated with Germany for some reason we can’t quite put our finger on. Finally, in the 1940s, anthropologists declared that there were only three races: White, Black, and Asian … or, since that’s not nearly offensive enough to have been conceived in the ’40s, “one Negroid race, one Mongoloid race, one Caucasoid race.” Suddenly, all of the bitter hatred of the Irish, Italians, etc was set aside long enough to establish one race of somewhat similar-looking people who could be smugly set apart from the others.

In other words, “White” became a label that truly meant “not one of those filthy minorities.” So yes, the enthusiastic embrace of the label is something of a sore spot for many people.

Nathan Kamal lives in Oregon and writes. He co-founded Asymmetry Fiction for all your fiction needs. Jordan Breeding is a part-time writer, full-time lover, and all-the-time guitarist. Check out his band at skywardband.com or on Spotify here.

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The Most Underratedly Insane Film Franchise Ever Made

The Billy Jack movies are not things that I would describe as “good.” I would hesitate to even describe them as “competent.” Actually, it’s honestly a bit of a stretch to describe the Billy Jack opuses as movies, as opposed to assemblages of amateur footage into what can generously be described as narrative form.

But just because the Billy Jack movies are dreadful does not mean that they are not important. These morbidly fascinating time capsules were bafflingly popular. Billy Jack was the fifth-highest-grossing film released in 1971, and 1974’s The Trial Of Billy Jack was the third-highest-grossing movie of that year, beating out Young Frankenstein and fucking Godfather Part II. And it accomplished this feat despite being almost three hours long and borderline unwatchable.

Warner Bros
How could you possibly get tired of that face? Well, I’m gonna tell you.

Since I’m pretty sure you’re never going to watch a Billy Jack movie, and equally sure you probably shouldn’t, I therefore feel it is imperative to share five reasons the Billy Jack series is the most insane popular, influential blockbuster franchise you’ve never heard of.

5

The Billy Jack Themes Do Not Match The Hero

Perhaps the nicest thing that can be said about the over-the-top, bordering-on-minstrel-show version of Native American life depicted in the Billy Jack franchise is that it is well-intentioned. The writer, director, and star of the series, Tom Laughlin, clearly respects and looks up to Native Americans. But by treating them as cardboard saints bedeviled by cartoonish white devils and saved by the Action-Christ-like power of Billy Jack, he ends up robbing them of their humanity. On a side note, if this plot aspect sounds familiar, it’s because the movie Avatar is essentially Billy Jack Goes Spacin’.

The films attempt to compensate for earlier depictions of Native Americans as subhuman by painting Billy Jack as downright superhuman. But even if Laughlin were Native American (he is almost remarkably white), there’d be something off-puttingly narcissistic about him casting himself as a god. Laughlin is living out his corniest Native American noble warrior fantasies on screen, and the results are consistently embarrassing, as well as endearingly strange.

Laughlin is so square that if he were to encounter a joint, he’d try to either karate-chop or lecture it, yet he is surprisingly open-minded in depicting the counterculture not as seedy or debauched, but rather as home to society’s greatest hope and purest spirits — after Native Americans and Billy Jack, of course. The hippies are on hand mainly to worship Billy Jack, but he was a square who was 150 percent behind the kids, who have seldom been as alright as they are here. In this time period, hippies were mostly in movies to give the film a higher body count before the villains finally made it to the last house on the left.

The accidentally high-camp approach to Native American mythology in the Billy Jack series involves such psychedelically misguided setpieces as a snake bite ceremony involving a vision quest, an eagle’s feather, a old wise man with a halting, wooden delivery, and Laughlin dancing around a rattle snake wearing what appears to be a cross between unusually trendy buckskins and a Super Friends disguise. Laughlin fake-Indian dances like only a white man from Milwaukee can fake-Indian dance, while being bitten over and over by a rattlesnake that I like to imagine is punishing him for his vanity and Jesus complex.

Laughlin’s trippy visions leads him to “The Fourth Way,” about which, well, the less said, the better.

Just as Laughlin obviously had enormous respect for Native American customs, he also has incredible reverence for Eastern martial arts. But he expressed that affection in sometimes-problematic ways. Billy Jack and The Trial Of Billy Jack helped popularize Hapkido in the United States, but that also meant making a beefy, stoic white dude from the Midwest the face and particularly the feet of the form.

That said, I would be lying if I was to claim that Billy Jack wasn’t at least a little bit awesome. There’s a reason the film series took up permanent real estate in the brains of folks like me. Part of it is the hat. Part of it is the name. And part of it is scenes like the following, wherein Billy Jack is outnumbered by a whole squad of evil bystanders, yet slowly, confidently tells the creep in charge, “I’m going to take this right foot, and I’m going to wop you on that side of your face, and you wanna know something? There’s not a damn thing you’re going to be able to do about it.”

You know what? That’s exactly what he does, and it’s pretty fucking badass.

4

The Sex And Violence Were Meant To Promote Progressive Ideas

Laughlin and his wife/co-writer/co-star Delores were keen to use the drive-in-friendly medium of the bloody revenge movie to agitate for their progressive beliefs regarding alternative schooling. These ideas manifested themselves in the Freedom School, a totally chill and super alternative bastion of forward-thinking learning, protected by the angry scowl and athletic foot of Billy Jack.

One of the Laughlins’ progressive ideas about education involved the role Second City/UCB-style improvisation might play in tuning into the peculiar frequencies of young people and uptight townspeople alike. To that end, there are two separate scenes involving a comedy troupe blowing squares’ minds and opening the minds of the young people with some Improv Everywhere shenanigans. These involve a bit of street theater so realistic that it fools a dopey police officer and a skit about, get this, cops smoking marijuana. I know. Get back in line, George Carlin. There’s a new king in town.

Yes, the Freedom School is a pretty groovy place before a bunch of squares get all up in its business, but in The Trial Of Billy Jack, the school has ballooned into the alternative school of Laughlin’s wildest fantasies. It says a lot about the kind of guy that Laughlin was that I suspect that his wildest fantasies all involved running large, ambitious alternative schools.

The Freedom School is no longer just a school; it’s a way of life, man. Inspired by the example of Billy Jack, whose trial made him a “symbol to live by,” the embodiment of all that is right and holy and sacred in this corrupt world, they decided to make the Freedom School “bigger and better than ever before.” If that sounds like a really nice way to say “You’re gonna get these movies’ themes and YOU’RE GONNA LIKE THEM,” that’s because it definitely is.

Warner Bros
“I’m not locked in here with you. You’re locked in here with MY MONOLOGUES.”

Freedom School 2.0 is built over an abandoned military academy and owned by the students, who “govern themselves on the simple philosophy that where there is power, there can never be love, and where there is love, there is no need for power.” Simple, huh? Why can’t the rest of society be governed by that clear, not-at-all-confusing-or-nonsensical dictate? The programs at the school include “belly dancing, music, band, drill team, arts, crafts, advanced physics, mathematics, psychology, the classics, even into athletics, which they called yoga athletics.” And that still doesn’t include the students’ foray into extensive activist journalism, a plot point that was added just in case audiences started enjoying themselves.

So while it might suck to have Billy Jack, the finest human being since Jesus Christ, in prison, maybe it’s worth it if it means the creation of the only school in the world offering advanced physics, yoga tennis, meditation, and the opportunity to bring down entire corrupt industries with muckraking Nader-style exposes. We can see why Billy Jack was willing to side-kick the whole world in its face for it.

3

The Trial Of Billy Jack Was A Bizarre Manifesto About Countless Timely Events

Billy Jack overflowed with ambition and self-indulgence, but it was reigned in by budget, runtime, and genre demands. Unhappy with the way Warner Brothers handled the movie’s initial release, Laughlin re-released it himself in over a thousand theaters simultaneously and advertised extensively on television. That run’s success gave Laughlin complete creative control over his next project: an epic 170 minutes of free-floating craziness.

More importantly, since Billy Jack ended with Billy Jack in custody, the natural path for a sequel would be to follow his trial. A trial for Billy Jack would provide Laughlin with what little excuse he needed to plant Billy Jack down on a chair in a courtroom and have him discourse angrily about the sins of the Nixon administration, the mistreatment of Vietnam veterans, and the folly of war for minutes at a time, all with his trademark look of sour gym teacher disapproval.

With a bigger budget and scope, Laughlin could do things like film flashbacks to Billy Jack’s hilariously overwrought time in Vietnam, although that does not explain why these sequences feel like they were shot in the cinematographer’s backyard and performed by people who had seemingly never heard of acting before they stumbled there.

The Trial Of Billy Jack boldly announces its pretension with an opening sequence recounting the body count of real-life instances in which our country killed student protestors while an eagle soars and a wise old Native American man chants, ending with the Freedom School: “3 Dead, 39 wounded.” That’s right, Laughlin paid reverent homage to the student martyrs of Kent State by comparing their real-life deaths to the make-pretend bloodshed that concludes the film. And it somehow only gets crazier and more self-indulgent from there.

In Trial Of Billy Jack, we learn that Billy Jack’s disillusionment with the United States really kicked into high gear when he was posted in Vietnam. This approach demands at least some kind of subtlety, but the Billy Jack franchise makes Vietnam seem like it was largely a matter of American soldiers hurling grenades at terrified widows and feasting on Vietnamese baby barbecue. The movies see everything in moral absolutes, with Billy Jack and his rainbow brigade of hippie dreamers and Native Americans as eternally right and the evil white establishment as absolute wrong.

So even though Billy Jack is the one on trial in The Trial Of Billy Jack, the evil that’s really on trial is the Washington war machine, a corrupt administration, and a complicit media that covers their crimes. The Trial Of Billy Jack finds Laughlin in a confrontational and angry mood, as always. As prosecutor, jury, judge, and executioner, Billy Jack finds the establishment guilty of pretty much everything and sentences them to all getting karate-chopped.

Warner Bros
COURT IS ADJOURNED.

2

Mr. Smith Goes To Washington Was Remade As A Billy Jack Film

The Trial Of Billy Jack was one of those movies seemingly everyone saw but no one liked. A high level of deeply personal, idiosyncratic craziness is to be expected, even demanded from Billy Jack films, but The Trial Of Billy Jack was too much Billy Jack for even the most hardcore obsessive.

Still, the film was an astonishing commercial success. It kind of originated the conceit of a movie opening so big and with so much attention that it’s almost impossible for it to fail. Since Billy Jack spent The Trial Of Billy Jack railing against Washington and all those clowns known as “Congress,” the natural next step was for Billy Jack to go to Washington.

Thankfully, a template already existed for a movie in which a hero goes to Washington to combat corruption. It was called Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, and despite being the work of a lesser filmmaker like Frank Capra and starring the less charismatic and likable Jimmy Stewart, Laughlin nevertheless dug it so much that he decided that he would straight-up remake it as a Billy Jack movie. Because for some reason he could do that.

Thus was born 1977’s Billy Jack Goes To Washington, in which Billy Jack becomes a senator and stands up to nuclear power to fight for a youth camp. Yet despite the popularity and influence of Billy Jack and The Trial Of Billy Jack, this installment never got a real theatrical release.

How did Billy Jack Goes To Washington essentially become one of the most expensive direct-to-home-video films of all time? According to Laughlin, it was political pressure. In 2005, he told Showbiz Tonight:

“At a private screening, Senator Vance Hartke got up, because it was about how the Senate was bought out by the nuclear industry. He got up and charged me. Walter Cronkite’s daughter was there, [and] Lucille Ball. And he said, “You’ll never get this released. This house you have, everything will be destroyed.”

The failure of Billy Jack Goes To Washington sadly precluded subsequent Laughlin vehicles that puckishly placed its hat-wearing, karate-chopping hero inside other classic movies. We were sadistically spared It’s A Wonderful Life For Billy Jack (why should Mr Smith Goes To Washington be the only Frank Capra classic improved through the addition of Billy Jack?), When Billy Jack Met Sally, Bob & Carol & Ted & Billy Jack, Billy Jack’s Casablanca, and of course, The Billy Jack Horror Picture Show.

1

After Billy Jack, Laughlin Repeatedly Ran For President

The non-start of Billy Jack Goes To Washington did not deter Tom Laughlin from continuing the Billy Jack legend. In the mid-’80s, he planned for a sequel called The Return Of Billy Jack, which would follow the saintly Native American warrior taking on New York child pornographers. The production was decidedly not successful, as it was held up when Laughlin injured his head when a prop didn’t work. He also broke up a New York fight and made a citizen’s arrest during the shoot. At that point, he was more likely to bust someone despite not being a cop than he was to actually finish a movie project.

The Laughlins continued to try to bring Billy Jack back to the screen for decades after that. A 2005 New York Times article describes their plans for an aughts-era Billy Jack sequel that “will take on social scourges like drugs, and power players like the religious right. They say they will also outline a way to end the current war and launch a political campaign for a third-party presidential candidate. They have already formed a 527 nonprofit committee with the aim of ending the war, and say they will run full-page ads in major newspapers beginning next month explaining their plan to withdraw from Iraq. (Money raised for that committee is separate from the film project.)”

In a shocking turn of events, this film was not made. And my memory is fuzzy, but I also don’t remember Laughlin ending any war ever or being behind a legitimate third-party presidential run. The Laughlins continued to work on their dream of a Billy Jack comeback movie, and their plans for it grew more ambitious with time. In keeping with their fierce antiwar views, the couple toyed with titling this comeback vehicle Billy Jack’s Crusade To End the War And Restore America To Its Moral Purpose, and having Billy Jack “debate” George W. Bush through movie magic. Laughlin told a reporter from The St. Petersburg Times that it “will influence the presidential election in 2008.”

Not coincidentally, Laughlin himself ran several times for president as a Democrat, Republican, and Independent. Your history books are not lying to you — he did not win. In fact, he didn’t really win anything but the knee-jerk scorn and pity that typically greeted novelty presidential runs in the age before Trump. They seemed so innocent then.

When not being elected president or finishing late-period Billy Jack sequels, Laughlin whiled away the time the way old folks do, writing books about Jungian psychology and cancer and, in a departure, the movie business. Laughlin never seemed to have given up on his ferocious dream of changing and saving the world through Billy Jack, but at a certain point, the public did.

It’s Spring Break! You know what that means! Hot coeds getting loose on the beaches of Cancun and becoming imperiled in all classic beach slasher ways: Man-eating shark, school of piranhas, James Franco with dreadlocks. There are so many films about vacations gone wrong, it’s a chore to wonder if there’s even such a thing as a movie vacation gone right. Amity Island and Camp Crystal Lake are out. So what does that leave? The ship from Wall-E? Hawaii with the Brady Bunch? A road trip with famous curmudgeon Chevy Chase? On this month’s live podcast Jack O’Brien and the Cracked staff are joined by some special guest comedians to figure out what would be the best vacation to take in a fictional universe.

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