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Gone with the Wind and The Lost Cause

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  • Gone with the Wind and The Lost Cause

    One of the books high on my wish list is Amazon.com: Causes Won, Lost, and Forgotten: How Hollywood and Popular Art Shape What We Know about the Civil War (Caravan Book) (9780807832066): Gary W. Gallagher: Books. Tops among films that have shaped our "memory" of the American Civil War is "Gone with the Wind," which is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year. Here's a post that looks at the film and equates it to Pickett's charge in terms of Lost Cause mythology.

    GWTW, Atlanta and the strange twists of history | Jay Bookman

    “There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields called the Old South. Here in this pretty world, Gallantry took its last bow. Here was the last ever to be seen of Knights and their Ladies Fair, of Master and of Slave. Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered, a Civilization gone with the wind.”
    History has such a funny way of playing tricks on you. Just when you think it’s headed in one direction, something or other has already come along and begun to alter its course profoundly, in ways that are visible only in hindsight.

    Seventy years ago today, for example, Atlanta was throwing itself one helluva party. The occasion was the world premiere of a little movie called “Gone With the Wind,” and judging from eyewitness accounts, the event became a celebration of the highly romanticized Old South and a vindication of the stories that Southerners — or at least white Southerners — liked to tell themselves about the war and its aftermath, including their relationship with their African-American countrymen.

    Here’s how Time magazine described the scene in 1939:

    Atlanta’s Mayor William B. Hartsfield proclaimed a three-day festival. Hartsfield urged every Atlanta woman to put on hoop skirts and pantalets, appealed to every male to don tight trousers and a beaver (hat), sprout a goatee, sideburns and Kentucky colonel whiskers.

    While the Stars and Bars flapped from every building, some 300,000 Atlantans and visitors lined up for seven miles to watch the procession of limousines bring British Vivien Leigh (in tears as thousands welcomed her “back home”), Clark Gable, his wife Carole Lombard, Producer David O. Selznick, Laurence Olivier and others from the airport. Crowds larger than the combined armies that fought at Atlanta in July 1864 waved Confederate flags, tossed confetti till it seemed to be snowing, gave three different versions of the Rebel yell, whistled, cheered, goggled.

    And when the movie began at Loew’s Grand Theater downtown (now the site of the Georgia Pacific building) a Life magazine reporter wrote that “cheers went up and tears flowed freely. At the announcement of War (1861), the audience rose to its feet with Rebel yells (Yee-aay-ee or wah-hoo-ee or yaaa-yeee).”
    W.J. Cash, in his 1941 classic “The Mind of the South,” called Margaret Mitchell’s book “a sort of new confession of the Southern faith” and the scene at the Atlanta movie premiere “one of the most remarkable which America has seen in our time.”

    He wrote:

    “… in the event it turned into a high ritual for the reassertion of the legend of the Old South. Atlanta became a city of pilgrimage for people from the entire region. The ceremonies were accompanied by great outbursts of emotion, which bore no relationship to the actual dramatic value of a somewhat dull and thin performance. And later on, when the picture was shown in the other towns of the South, attendance at the theaters took on the definite character of a patriotic act.”
    But the GWTW premiere, complete with balls, parades and old-timey spirituals by choirs hired from local black churches, proved to be the high-water mark of the Lost Cause mythology and the Jim Crow laws it tried to justify. It was, you might say, a cultural version of Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg. Already, events were conspiring to bring it all crashing down.

    Some of the hints of impending change came from those who weren’t even there. Hattie McDaniel, who played Mammie, was barred from the festivities in Atlanta. But out in Hollywood, she would go on to win the Academy Award for best supporting actress, becoming the first African American to win an acting Oscar. Leslie Howard, who played the ineffectual Ashley Wilkes, also had to miss the Atlanta festivities. He had returned to his native England to help in the war against Nazi Germany, which had begun just a few months earlier. (Howard would die in 1943 when the Germans shot down his plane.)

    Within two years, America would be drawn into that war as well. And even though World War II was fought almost exclusively on foreign soil, it nonetheless planted the seeds of immense change in the American South. Black war veterans came home to Georgia, Alabama and other places having seen the world, and were much less willing to accept the subservient roles they had been handed. Just as important, American leaders understood that the nation could not plausibly lay claim to world leadership and moral power as long as it officially sanctioned white supremacy back home.

    Within nine years of the GWTW premiere, President Harry Truman had ordered the complete desegregation of the U.S. military. Within 15 years, the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that segregated schools were unconstitutional. Nobody in Atlanta 70 years ago today could have foreseen that the agents of so much change were already taking their places on the stage.

    One of the many photographs of the gala premiere is particularly compelling. It’s a picture of one of the local black choirs that were hired to entertain the white folks from Hollywood. Its members are all dressed in slave costume, as if they were ready to go out into the fields to pick cotton once their singing duties were complete.

    And if you look closely, one of the faces is that of a little ten-year-old boy from just a few blocks down the street, a kid named Martin Luther King Jr. In just a few short years, he too would begin to make his mark on history.
    Last edited by Shek; 05 Jan 10,, 13:45.
    "So little pains do the vulgar take in the investigation of truth, accepting readily the first story that comes to hand." Thucydides 1.20.3

  • #2
    One of the books high on my wish list is Causes Won, Lost, and Forgotten: How Hollywood and Popular Art Shape What We Know about the Civil War
    ...films that have shaped our "memory" of the American Civil War.
    Sir,

    History and Hollywood are just a wee bit different.

    fic·tion (fkshn)n.
    1.
    a. An imaginative creation or a pretense that does not represent actuality but has been invented.
    b. The act of inventing such a creation or pretense.
    2. A lie.
    3.
    a. A literary work whose content is produced by the imagination and is not necessarily based on fact.
    b. The category of literature comprising works of this kind, including novels and short stories.
    4. Law Something untrue that is intentionally represented as true by the narrator.


    Perhaps you may want to review the level of books that you deem "high on your wish list".
    Unless you just like books with lots of pictures and short words.

    But you go right ahead and enjoy fiction movies and books about fiction movies.

    Bless your heart.
    Last edited by GAU-8; 05 Jan 10,, 05:12.

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    • #3
      Ditto that. ;)

      Comment


      • #4
        Thanks Julie

        I told my wife I'd get banned for this post but posted anyway.

        "Wisdom, Justice and Moderation" indeed.
        Last edited by GAU-8; 05 Jan 10,, 06:22.

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        • #5
          Sir,

          You will never be banned,

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by GAU-8 View Post
            History and Hollywood are just a wee bit different.
            Indeed they are, yet the perception of the former can be influenced by the way it is portrayed by the latter.

            I'll give you a local example. Some years ago I attended a lecture by a noted Australian historian at the University of Melbourne. She wrote one of the first significant works on life in Australia during WW2 - focussing particularly on the lives of women. She did extensive interviews with these women in the mid-1980s, during & shortly after the screening of an incredibly popular & long running TV series set in Australia during WW2 called 'the Sullivans'.

            She began to notice two phenomena. The first was that these women would often refer to 'the Sullivans' to illustrate their own memories - 'it was just like what happened in the Sullivans dear'. More disturbing, however, was when she noticed on a few occasions that several women would 'remember' events that sounded eerily similar. When she did some checking she discovered that these events had actually happened on the TV show. The women were weaving fictional elements from popular entertainment into their own memories.

            Now, imagine an audience that has never experienced the event & most likely has only a sketchy understanding of the details. Under these circumstances it is very easy for an audience to let Hollywood form their view of history. Looks to me like that is what the book is about.
            sigpic

            Win nervously lose tragically - Reds C C

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            • #7
              Originally posted by GAU-8 View Post
              Sir,

              History and Hollywood are just a wee bit different.

              fic·tion (fkshn)n.
              1.
              a. An imaginative creation or a pretense that does not represent actuality but has been invented.
              b. The act of inventing such a creation or pretense.
              2. A lie.
              3.
              a. A literary work whose content is produced by the imagination and is not necessarily based on fact.
              b. The category of literature comprising works of this kind, including novels and short stories.
              4. Law Something untrue that is intentionally represented as true by the narrator.


              Perhaps you may want to review the level of books that you deem "high on your wish list".
              Unless you just like books with lots of pictures and short words.

              But you go right ahead and enjoy fiction movies and books about fiction movies.

              Bless your heart.
              GAU-8 and/Julie,

              I have a series of questions for both of you given the thrust of your post.

              1. One of the most popular books on the American Civil War is "The Killer Angels." Is this found the fiction or non-fiction section of bookstores (hint: it won the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for this genre)? The movie Gettysburg, adapted from "The Killer Angels," was released in 1993 (full disclosure - I own both).

              2. In your estimation, how many people who have read "The Killer Angels" or seen "Gettysburg" have read another book or seen a documentary on the battle/operation? For those who haven't, what book/movie has shaped their memory?

              3. What is The Lost Cause? When did The Lost Cause narrative emerge? Who were its champions? How much fact and fiction is embodied into it? How does it treat Jefferson Davis? How does this reconcile with the view of Jefferson Davis in April 1865?

              4. To bring it full circle, a final question. Gone with the Wind is a fictional movie based on a fictional novel. Is everything made up in the movie, or are there parts of it that are based on actual fact? If so, what parts are fact and what parts are fiction? Are there subtitles that announce what is fact or fiction? If not, how is a viewer supposed to know what is fact or fiction? In other words, how many viewers/readers do research on the entire film vs. how many simply allow the film (while fiction) to "teach" them history?

              As you answer these questions, realize that what we are talking about here is the history of history, not history in a direct manner. Historiography is the formal name, memory is an informal name. Thus, when you try to chastise me for wanting to read the Gallagher book, you're completely confusing what I'm interested in, and so the post was entirely misguided. However, if you think that people only "learn" history from history books, then there's a larger issue here, as that view simply ignores human psychology.

              If you want an example of how bad history is legitimized, just check out the some of the bad history contained at this site, dixieoutfitters.com - Mission Statement, which uses clothing as a means to gain an audience and then continue the perpetuation of myths.
              "So little pains do the vulgar take in the investigation of truth, accepting readily the first story that comes to hand." Thucydides 1.20.3

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by GAU-8 View Post
                Sir,

                History and Hollywood are just a wee bit different.
                Originally posted by Julie View Post
                Ditto that. ;)
                Obviously History and Hollywood are just a wee bit different. That's like saying that water is wet.

                But that's as far from the point of the article/thread as you can possibly get without leaving the planet.

                To think that Hollywood does not heavily influence people's perceptions, not to say outright beliefs, about history is more than a little naive, for the reasons Shek gave, among others.

                I cannot count the number of historical movies that have been released that prompted people that I know to say "Gee I didn't know they [fill in the blank] back during that time/event/battle"

                You didn't know that because they/it didn't. But Hollywood does!

                The average American gets his or her history through Hollywood. Let's face it: How many people cheerfully crack open historical non-fiction?

                It's a good way to make people grimace and look at you if you're crazy for suggesting it.

                But mention Gone With The Wind, Titanic, or another historically-based classic and their eyes light up.
                My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.

                Comment


                • #9
                  shek,

                  in the same vein, what i find interesting is how contemporary thinking influences the attitudes of those sympathetic to the South today.

                  for instance, the debated meme of tariffs, northern/government economic-political intervention, political disenfranchisement as -the- factor in southern antagonism...all ideas that the sympathetic Southerners of 75 years ago would have brushed off as nothing compared to the overriding reason of the right of southerners to own slaves.

                  and the southerners then would have said the slaves (and for that matter, everyone) was happier for it.

                  you're not likely to hear either of those reasons today. so it's actually pretty funny for me to see how more than a few Lost Causers will tell me how the importance of slavery was all a northerner fabrication when their own great-grandfathers would have told them dam' well otherwise.
                  There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "My ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."- Isaac Asimov

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    I would submit that one can use fiction to help illuminate the study of history. I know I understood the Law of Land Warfare a lot better when our instructor used Breaker Morant to illustrate his points. I learned about how the amphibious forces operated in World War II by reading and later watching Away All Boats. That exposure got me interested in reading more about the Marine Corps official history of the Pacific.

                    I think the best thing to ever come out of Gone With The Wind is a wonderful Carol Burnett skit (The bit at 3:30 onward is priceless http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TjhtxfSMIWk )

                    Killer Angels/Gettysburg is a great book and movie but lousy history. But that can also be said for a lot of nonfiction work which has been written.
                    “Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.”
                    Mark Twain

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Albany Rifles View Post
                      I would submit that one can use fiction to help illuminate the study of history.
                      Absolutely, but the context you present is key. Used as part of the study of history, it can illuminate. However, for much of the public, it isn't part of a broader study of a subject, but simply consumed as entertainment. Thus, the reader/viewer is on their own to filter out what is truth and what is fiction, and even when an honest attempt is made, it's still hard to filter out all if the director/author has done a good job (this thread tries to reveal the propaganda effects of imagery alone - http://www.worldaffairsboard.com/sta...ropaganda.html). Good entertainment is supposed to blend reality and fiction so that it's tough to separate.

                      As to illustrating/discussing the law of land warfare, the Battlestar Galactica remake does a great job of exploring the morality of terrorism, suicide bombing, and insurgency by turning the tables and making the robots the good guys and humans the bad guys: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/26/ar...on/26batt.html. I'm not a big sci-fi guys, but I saw the suicide bombing episode recently and it really challenges you emotionally to reject utilitarianism arguments that erode morality.
                      "So little pains do the vulgar take in the investigation of truth, accepting readily the first story that comes to hand." Thucydides 1.20.3

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Albany Rifles View Post
                        I would submit that one can use fiction to help illuminate the study of history.
                        Shek:
                        Used as part of the study of history, it can illuminate.
                        The STUDY of history or popcorn? Which will "illuminate" the most?


                        --Hot date there Shek! :-)

                        Shek,

                        I understand your point. The vast majority of the public doesn't read or understand history. Unfortunately, they also vote. It's a pity that mass entertainment outlets sway public perceptions.

                        The study of American history has been a life-long pursuit of mine. What I thought I knew in my 30's, I found to be wrong in my 40's. As time goes on and records are uncovered, what I've learned in my 50's has shown me that history is like an onion. It has many layers and you may never see them all in your lifetime. That's why history is a STUDY. It never ends. That's why so many of us love it. It's a pursuit.

                        A study of facts brings one closer to the chase that a study of fiction. IMHO.

                        Cheers,

                        Bill
                        Last edited by GAU-8; 06 Jan 10,, 06:37.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Albany Rifles View Post
                          I would submit that one can use fiction to help illuminate the study of history. I know I understood the Law of Land Warfare a lot better when our instructor used Breaker Morant to illustrate his points. I learned about how the amphibious forces operated in World War II by reading and later watching Away All Boats. That exposure got me interested in reading more about the Marine Corps official history of the Pacific.

                          I think the best thing to ever come out of Gone With The Wind is a wonderful Carol Burnett skit (The bit at 3:30 onward is priceless http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TjhtxfSMIWk )

                          Killer Angels/Gettysburg is a great book and movie but lousy history. But that can also be said for a lot of nonfiction work which has been written.
                          "Rule .303. We caught 'em & we shot 'em under rule .303.!!!" - take that Jack Nicholson.

                          Sorry AR, I just had to:)). So few Americans have seen the film. Still has the best 'outburst by a guy in a uniform in a courtroom' for mine. A great film despite the overly sympathetic view of the murderers.
                          Last edited by Bigfella; 06 Jan 10,, 11:17.
                          sigpic

                          Win nervously lose tragically - Reds C C

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Shek View Post
                            \
                            If you want an example of how bad history is legitimized, just check out the some of the bad history contained at this site, dixieoutfitters.com - Mission Statement, which uses clothing as a means to gain an audience and then continue the perpetuation of myths.
                            Could be worse. At least they didn't call it the "War of Northern Aggression"
                            Human Scum. Proud Never Trumper

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Gun Grape View Post
                              Could be worse. At least they didn't call it the "War of Northern Aggression"

                              That seemed to be pretty much the only piece of the fantasy that was missing.

                              I especially liked the bit where it blamed Lincoln & Congress for secession because they passed a tarriff bill AFTER 7 states had seceded. My favourite, however, is this:

                              The Confederate Battle Flag represents all Southern, and even Northern, Confederates regardless of race or religion and is the symbol of less government, less taxes, and the right of the people to govern themselves. It is flown in memory and honor of our Confederate ancestors and veterans who willingly shed their blood for Southern independence.
                              shouldn't that read 'except slaves'. A minor historical point.
                              sigpic

                              Win nervously lose tragically - Reds C C

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