"Who was Bob Hope?" To anyone over 35 that seems like such a strange question. Bob Hope, everyone knows, was one of the greatest American entertainers of the 20th century, and whose greatest public service was his decades-long commitment to U.S. troops all over the world for many decades, which earned him the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, among other honors.
And yet it's quite possible that a senior graduating from high school this month would scrunch up his face with a puzzled look over the question. It is why it was refreshing to hear that the Library of Congress has a new exhibit called "Hope for America: Performance, Politics and Pop Culture," drawn from the Bob Hope Collection, which was donated to the Library by the Hope family in 1998.
Unfortunately, as with so much that affects our popular culture, this man's legacy is also an excuse to unveil a leftist political agenda, the likes of which Bob Hope would be the first to denounce.
On display are items from Hope's personal papers, joke files, films, and radio and TV broadcasts. This exhibit really makes you feel that the 20th century was more like distant history. It follows that it would be educational to walk students through exhibits like this to give them information that we older people have deeply ingrained in our memories.
Alan Gevinson, the Library of Congress exhibit curator, told Penny Starr of CNSNews.com that Hope's daughter Linda and son Kelly have seen the exhibit and approved of it. But that doesn't mean a Bob Hope fan wouldn't expect more than this.
Unfortunately, this exhibit seems to consider Hope merely an excuse for a much broader exhibit sprawling all over a myriad of topics. It gives the impression that what the Library calls its "treasured" Hope Collection would fit in about three boxes. Much of its Hope Collection material is contained in the very back of the exhibit space in dimly lit corners where it's hard to even read the exhibits.
Instead, the first thing a visitor would notice and absorb is the video presentation, hosted by Comedy Central star Stephen Colbert. Think of all the archival television material they could use to showcase Bob Hope entertaining the troops, and remembering all the stars who generously donated their time to bringing the home front to the war front, especially at Christmas time. But the Library of Congress displays its boredom with Hope in the interests of a broader topic. But while they broadened the subject, the exhibit didn't have the slightest whisper of interest in who's been entertaining the troops in the last few decades, and honoring them.
Instead we get Colbert, in his usual self-absorbed shtick, showing clips of himself joking with Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton: "Why are you undressing me with your eyes now?"
The Library's bureaucrats found room for a section touting "Government Support for the Arts," and how "federal support for the arts remained unrealized until the twentieth century," with the founding of the National Endowment for the Arts. There was no space for debating the wisdom or the controversies of that agency.
But there was space for debating Bob Hope. A letter is on display written by feminists who claim they want to stage their own U.S.O. show, since Hope was a incorrigible sexist. "Since this is a counter-U.S.O. show, we think that the script should have none of the sexist scenes in it that Bob Hope specials have, dancing girls or any portrayal of Women (sic) being inferior to men (which they aren't)," the feminists declare.
Political correctness seems to overwhelm the supposed exhibit topic of "American comedians commenting on the political scene in satires that have entertained and rattled the political establishment." In the video, Colbert proclaims Hollywood movies "draw the nation's attention to matters of urgent importance," with scenes shown from the union-glorifying film "Norma Rae" and the movie "Milk," Sean Penn's portrayal of slain gay San Francisco city councilman.
Under the title "Causes and Controversies," exhibit highlights include video footage of Jane Fonda visiting North Vietnam, the polar opposite of Bob Hope. There's an exhibit on "A Climate of Fear," how "the entertainment industries suffered greatly" from McCarthyism.
This isn't about comedians or satire at all.
In this exhibit in our nation's capital, Bob Hope deserves better than to be treated as a mere introductory point to shoehorn in every other political controversy of the last century. An unabashed Republican, Hope bent backward to keep politics out of his performances when entertaining troops or doing anything as an "ambassador" of the United States. It's why he was beloved by people in both parties. If people wanted today to find a role model for national unity and civility, they could no better than that.