The Joys Of Life, Issue 4

William Henry Harrison

Today, now that Thanksgiving is happening, we’re gonna look at a real turkey, not the country, or the bird, or three strikes, the one that means “dumb person,” and show the gratitude that we feel towards his indefatigable legacy: William Henry Harrison. 

Just wanted to point out that “indefatigable” is a really long word Ms. Seebold taught me and that’s what I’m putting my Parker education towards.

So, who is William Henry Harrison? Glad you asked. I have to set the stage first, though. Imagine: 1841, Hong Kong is taken over by the British in January (P.S. ROOTING FOR YOU GUYS! (P.P.S. That could either be a reference to Brexit or Hong Kong protests and you’ll never know which)), there are volcanoes in Antarctica apparently, I didn’t know that and neither did the people before 1841 (that’s insane, are they, like, ice volcanoes?), Groundhog Day is created by James Morris in his diary, which, also, he just made Groundhog Day by writing it in a book… I wish I had that much power, Canada turns into one big Canada, the U.S. Senate uses the first piece of groundhog poop known as the filibuster, and El Salvador poofs into independence.

 And that’s all before William Henry Harrison was sworn in on March 4th. He was to be the ninth president of the United States of America and rule over all 26 (Florida was still out of the union… ). But how did he get to be the ninth president of the United States? Glad you asked.

Harrison was a military man. He enlisted in the army in 1791 at 18 and built a reputation for massacring Native Americans and forcibly and violently kicking them off their lands in what are today referred to as “wars.” He won the battle of Tippecanoe and became nationally recognized and acclaimed. He then served in the War of 1812, fighting off Native Americans in Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois. 

I mentioned this last time—  these aren’t wars, they’re genocides and they are despicable and I’m not excusing his actions, and the trauma and dehumanization continued and proliferated by Harrison carry on into the ways that Native Americans in modern society are treated. I will most likely be addressing this in a future column.

Ok, so after his big bad stuff, what did Silly Willy, as I’m calling him, do next? He ran for the House of Representatives from Ohio and won that. He ran for the Senate and won that. Silly Willy was feeling pretty confident. So he ran for President in 1836 against Martin van Buren, which is actually the best name ever. He has a type of car in his name, the only president besides Gerald Ford to have that. AND HE LOST! Silly Willy then was sad for three years.

But he ran again in 1840 and won because (repeat after me): Martin van Buren was bad at his job! The campaign got super heated. Silly Willy called Martin van Buren “Martin van Ruin,” because he was bad at the economy, which, like, ROASTED! And Farty Marty, which is my name for him, called Silly Willy “Granny Harrison” because he was OLD, boom, roasted. But, unfortunately for Martin van Ruin, Granny Harrison ran a better campaign and won the election.

So, it’s the day of his inauguration. He’s 68 years old, the oldest president until Ronald Reagan who was the oldest until Trump. His birthday was 23 days ago and he thinks people don’t respect him (which they clearly do, they just voted for him). His wife is sick so he’s there with his dead son’s wife Jane. Which, like, Jane is just the best. Good for Jane. It’s 33 degrees, let’s say. It’s raining. 

And so Silly Willy thinks it’s a great idea, with his 68-year-old aging body, to travel a mile on horseback to the inauguration, even though a carriage was provided for him. But wait! Silly Willy thought he’d look tough if he didn’t wear a coat! And even tougher if he didn’t wear a hat. And, would you look at that, he gave an 8,445-word speech that took him two hours to read, the longest in history, while he stood in the rain and cold with no coat or hat. “I’m so tough,” thought Silly Willy. “They all think I’m the same war hero from Tippecanoe.”

Except, NO, no one thought that because he got a cold and reportedly had walking pneumonia. Two weeks later, it was raining super hard and he AGAIN went out into the rain with no coat or hat and then got really bad, you have to skip school and work, pneumonia. The doctors gave him stuff that made him lose blood, throw up, and he was literally given petroleum, not jelly, like liquid. That made him sicker, and one month after his inauguration on March 4th, on April 4th, William Henry Harrison, the ninth president of the United States, was dead, the first president to die in office. Thirty-one days. According to the Siena College Research Institute’s Presidential Expert Poll, William Henry Harrison had the WORST luck of all the Presidents and is still ranked higher overall than Andy J., Jimmy B., Donny T., Warren G., AND Franky P., so he had a lot of unused potential.

So, this is going to be a big jump, but I’d argue that what actually killed Silly Willy is a pervasive need to prove that he is “manly” enough. Some call this toxic masculinity. I think that colloquialism is overused and does not capture nearly enough of the issue. It’s not that us being masculine is toxic. It is that harming others or ourselves, physically or emotionally, because we want to fit into ideas of masculine dominant identity, is toxic. Priding ourselves on sports ability and providing for our families are not “toxic” behaviors. Womanizing, abusing, and resorting to violence and anger because “society says so” are. It’s the need to “dominate” over other people, and this creates misogyny and homophobia. That is toxic.

William Henry Harrison, Silly Willy, Granny Harrison, made a bold choice to prove that he was still a man. He could brave the cold and ride a horse just like in the good old days of his Native massacring youth. This behavior, this need to prove himself as “tough,” literally got him killed. Similarly, because masculine stereotypes ask us to repress our emotions, we suffer from higher cases of depression, stress, and substance abuse than our gender-binary counterparts. To reiterate, MASCULINITY IS NOT TOXIC. But the idea that there is only one way to be a true man, dominate, and assume the “alpha-male” position, is toxic.

There are so many ways to express masculinity that confining the entire identity into “dominate and take power” is toxic. When we do that to ourselves and to each other, that is toxic. Parker tried to have this conversation during Gender Week and it failed. If you present toxic masculinity as a need to break the entire concept of what it means to be masculine, we aren’t going to listen to you. If we are to change behavior, attacks that cause defensiveness are not the way to go. Diagnosing the problem is the first step, which I hope I’ve helped with. The second step is changing behavior. If we consciously say to ourselves, “I can’t cry right now because that would make me look weak,” which I know I’ve done, and I know a lot of people who have, then we are perpetuating the idea that we all have to fit into a mold. 

So I ask Parker to begin to break the mold. Crack away at the pieces. If you aren’t comfortable to cry around your friends and you are bottling stuff up, ask yourself why. If you perform micro-aggressions to women, why? If you think it’s a weak thing to do to not wear a coat when it’s below the freezing point of water, ask yourself why. Let’s break this mold.