Let Us Now Discuss Gone With The Wind

There are two ways this can go: desperate attempt to defend this oh-so 1930’s take on historical drama, or dump all over it as the irritation it is. I will do the second thing. I do not like Gone With The Wind and never have. I don’t know why anyone does. I shall give a set of reasons why, and then I will lament its erasure anyway, because it’s really not hard to do that if you aren’t a millenarian bookburner.

Why I Detest Gone With The Wind:

  1. Scarlett O’Hara.

The big problem I have with this film is the protagonist.  You see, the protagonist has to be someone we identify with, someone whose values and motivations are roughly on a par with ours. This way, when the protagonist encounters conflict in the story, we have sympathy for her. Sympathy is a Greek Word that means “feels with”. We feel what the protagonist feels, and thus we are involved in the conflict of the story. We want the protagonist to win and the antagonist to lose, or if there is no antagonist, to overcome the conflict.

But if the protagonist is someone whose motivations we either don’t understand or don’t respect, we can’t identify with that person. This doesn’t mean the protagonist has to be perfect and without flaw, but there has to be some desire or motivation that we share with that person. These can be, but are not limited too: love, success, discovery, etc.

As to values, the protagonist needs to be someone who has a set of ethics roughly in line with the audience’s. Otherwise, we don’t like the protagonist and won’t sympathize with them.

Finally, the protagonist needs to be someone who we could sit in a room with for five minutes without desiring to slap the living hell out of them. She needs to be a more-or-less likable person, or even if their motivations are clear and their ethics impeccable, we won’t want to see or hear them, much less root for them.

So, a quick protagonist checklist – the Protagonist needs:

a) a clear and reasonable motivation

b) a clear and acceptable set of ethics

c) not to be irritating.

And for me, Scarlett O’Hara fails on all three counts. Her motivations are murky and/or ridiculous, her ethics are at best questionable, and she has absolutely no personal charm that would balance that. She’s a spoiled little rich girl who spends the bloodiest time in our nation’s history angry that she can’t marry the handsomest man she knows, and she deals with everyone around her with a mix of high-handed contempt and vicious infighting. She’s Goneril in a green gown.

Far from sympathizing with her, I revel in her misfortunes and desire that she suffer more of them. The first time I saw the movie, even as kid, I kept watching because I dearly wanted to see her suffer. I wanted someone, anyone, to teach her that she wasn’t the center of the known universe. The only other time I’ve had this experience with a movie was when I first saw Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, when I wanted someone to do the same to Charlie. Just kidding. I meant Veruca Salt. But considering Veruca is supposed to be a villain, the fact that she and Scarlett remind me of one another is not a good thing.

2. Ashley Wilkes Useless Wanker

Neither can I stand the to-the-manor-born fopwagon Scarlett spends three hours obsessing over. It may sound odd an American like myself to use the insult “wanker”. It’s a word we generally associate with English people, especially working class ones. And that’s kind of the point I want to make about Useless Wanker, which is that some things don’t sound right in the wrong accent. 

So will someone explain to me why Useless Wanker is the only character in the movie who speaks in an English accent, even though he’s supposed to be from Georgia, just like Scarlett? This makes no sense, and is never addressed. They don’t even come up with a stupid cover explanation, like Useless went to finishing school in London, or is mom is English. They don’t give us anything.

Feed me no swill that Leslie Howard was English and couldn’t do a Southern accent. Vivien Leigh was English, and she trotted out her stage-southern “fiddle-dee-dee’s” just fine. I don’t know if anyone in antebellum Georgia ever talked like Scarlett O’Hara, but at least she tried. She helped us to suspend disbelief. Howard was just being lazy. Which is why I supposed he’s playing Useless.

You might argue that not everyone ostensibly Southern in the film has an ostensibly Southern accent. Gable doesn’t, even though Rhett Butler hails from South Carolina. You would argue fairly. However, Gable’s lack of an accent offends less than Howard’s, for a couple of reasons:

a) Gable was already an established star. American audiences knew what he sounded like. If he’d tried some rinky-dinky accent, it might have distracted audiences rather than helping them.

b) Rhett Butler is an outsider. Sounding different from the people at Tara or Twelve Oaks helps to establish this character’s first noteworthy trait.

c) Gable still sounds like someone from the United States of America. Suspend disbelief is easier on his behalf.

d) Clark Gable was cool. He’s the best thing in this movie. He gets a pass.

On the other hand, Leslie Howard was mostly known for playing – guess what? – stiff-necked Englishmen. So he actually needed that effort not to sound like himself, to resemble someone belonging in antebellum Georgia. Instead, every word out of the mouth of this belle idee of the Southern Gentleman announces to everyone with ears that he’s a foreigner, and again, this is never explained.

Since we’re on the subject of accents, I should point out the silly brogue that Thomas Mitchell throws on to play Gerald O’Hara, Scarlett’s father, an immigrant from Ireland. It’s not a dreadful accent, although I do find myself expecting him to fulminate that the Yankees are after his Lucky Charms. I am instead confused that none of his Hibernian nature seems to have rubbed off on any of his three daughters. Not one of them say anything like what their father says. Not completely implausible, given growing up somewhere vastly different from Ireland with rather strong pressures to conform, but still weird, and it adds to the difficulty I have with Scarlett. 

She seems completely unrelated to her father, despite the emotional bond the film takes pains to establish between them. Despite her name, Katie Scarlett O’Hara is about as Irish as everyone pretends they are on St. Patrick’s Day. This is another opportunity to give the protagonist depth that the film chooses not to make, despite the labor involved it making Gerald O’Hara the most Oirishest paddy what ever drank whiskey from a pot o’gold.

3. Fetishization of the Confederacy

I’m just gonna display my biases. I’m a Yankee. I had two ancestors who fought in the Union Army. I’m not a big fan of the Confederacy or the people who engage in apologetics in its name. I have never understood why anyone would want to honor it.

The Confederate States of America lasted a little bit longer than a presidential term. Every state in it has been part of the USA way longer than the CSA. The states on the Eastern seaboard were British Colonies longer than they were part of the CSA. The CSA was a failure in every respect.

Not only did the Confederate government lose the war, but it violated its own principles even as it fought for them. Far from being a libertarian haven, the CSA was a borderline fascist state by the time the war ended. Let’s go through the checklist:

  • Conscription – check
  • Assumption of dictatorial powers – check
  • Roving bands of terror squads seizing goods and executing those who resisted – check

In fairness, a lot of this stuff happened in the North, too. There was also conscription, and a pretty corrupt system of hiring substitutes to go with it. And Lincoln and the War Department certainly assumed dictatorial powers during the war. But the north didn’t go to war as a protest against the loss of liberty. The North went to war to put down a rebellion.

The only way you can possibly look back at this egregiance fondly is if you have grievances from that time that you cannot let go of. Which is exactly the problem that people who want to tear down Confederate monuments and to erase this movie have. But more on that later.

4. That Music

Look, it’s not a bad piece of music. It’s memorable, or hummable, or whatever. It used to be the CBS Million Dollar Movie Theme, when they had that sort of thing.

I even get the reason it’s repeated so many times. One of the themes of the movie is Scarlett’s profound and mystical connection to the plantation she grew up on – Tara. And the theme is called “Tara’s Theme” So, the idea must be that every time something significant is happening in the movie, Tara is all around her, swelling its heaving slave-flecked bosom in emotional catharsis.

Unfortunately, since none of these scenes ever indicate anything but plot points, and never actual moments of catharsis in the character, it just sounds like they’re turning on the music as a kind of punctuation, like the scene wipes in Star Wars.

Consequently, the theme is overused, overused, overused and I become numb to anything good about it. This isn’t necessarily the music’s fault, but I still come to hate it. It’s hardly great music, anyway. It’s a pretty simple melody, actually, and really only evokes one emotion, that of nostalgia, and considering what the film is nostalgic for, I’d just as soon not. I’d rather listen to someone torture a cat with a nail file, or someone playing harmonica with their rear end. I would rather listen to ABBA, than ever hear that theme music ever again.

So let’s do like HBO Max and erase it, so I can be happy. Down the memory hole with this trash! Right?

No.

Gone With The Wind is not a film to my tastes. The story it tells doesn’t interest me, and it’s full of the 1930’s being nostalgic for the 1850’s in a way that frankly offends me. But the solution I have for that is the one that occurred to many readers a good way through my rant:

I don’t watch the damn thing.

It’s that simple. I watch other things, which are too my tastes, instead. Gone With The Wind is not a requirement in anyone’s life. No one will be shocked that you haven’t watched a movie that no one under the age of 85 will remember seeing in a theater. You don’t need to have anything to do with it.

And by all means, correct the narrative that Gone With The Wind offers. Give us Twelve Years a Slave instead. Raising a voice to describe the horrors of our history is necessary and good.

But erasing voices is not. Healthy cultures do not destroy art. Yes, Gone With The Wind is art. Have you seen it? Whatever my problems with it’s characters and framework, it’s an epic piece of visual storytelling. Even I, who can’t stand the film, think the Burning of Atlanta is gloriously shot.

And that’s the last time there’s been a film that even touched on The Burning of Atlanta. Think about that. 150 years ago half of our country underwent invasion by the other half, and we can’t abide to look at how this was done. (Is this one of the reasons I wrote The Sword? You think?) We’d rather smash anything that reminds us of it.

And to no purpose. Erasing every last statue or rememberance of Robert E. Lee won’t change his place in the course of history. Commanding his name be slashed from the books like an Egyptian Pharoah won’t change that we are in the world he had a hand in making. His ghost remains with us.

You don’t like the fact that a sizable portion of your fellow citizens find Lee honorable, and Scarlett O’Hara an iron woman? You will not change their minds by attempting to crimethought it away. Quite the opposite in fact: The Blu-Ray Edition of Gone With The Wind is now the #1 Move on Amazon.com. That’s right, people are panic-buying an 80-year-old film because they think their cultural history is being destroyed by people who despise them.

Gone With The Wind deserves to be replaced by a better film. It doesn’t deserved to be removed from film history, or attached with a lecture telling us what we should think about it. The only way its unpleasant influence can be undone is by outdoing it. Make an epic about the Civil War that’s more entertaining, more satisfying, that stares our history in its face and balances the loss of the past with the joy of progress. Add to the art, lest we find ourselves repeating its subject.

Rethinking President Grant

I don’t link much to National Review anymore, but the resurrection of the popular image of Ulysses S. Grant has been a cause of mine since I wrote a bad term paper about it in college.

A pertinent fact: Grant was one of the more popular presidents of his era, winning two lopsided elections and very nearly getting the nomination for a third term in 1880.

When you combine the popular vote with Professor Michael McDonald’s historical approximations of the turnout rate of eligible voters, Grant in 1868 won 42.6 percent of all eligible voters, the highest proportion in U.S. history; his 1872 reelection ranked sixth

Check the whole article out.

We Don’t Actually Want Another Civil War

A rare political post that I’m throwing up because it touches upon an area I just finished writing about.

Larry Correia takes the world’s dumbest tweet by a Congressman, and drops a hydrogen bomb of truth on it, and makes the rubble bounce.

Last week a congressman embarrassed himself on Twitter. He got into a debate about gun control, suggested a mandatory buyback—which is basically confiscation with a happy face sticker on it—and when someone told him that they would resist, he said resistance was futile because the government has nukes.

And everybody was like, wait, what?

Not a new statement. Whenever this comes up, proggies love to retort that the armed populace of the US could not possibly resist the U.S. Military. This is, sadly, a meme among them.

It’s dumb for a number of reasons, most obviously the fact that a high school senior today has never known a time when the U.S. Military has not been actively engaged against insurgents in Afghanistan, and by all accounts, we are not getting anywhere. Afghanistan is Vietnam with a lower body count (and according to some authors, we actually made some progress in Vietnam after Westmoreland left in ’68. But whatever):

Nobel Peace Prize Winner Barack Obama launched over five hundred drone strikes during his eight years in office. We’ve used Apaches (that’s the scary looking helicopter in the picture for my peacenik liberal friends), smart bombs, tanks, I don’t know how many thousand s of raids on houses and compounds, all the stuff that the lefty memes say they’re willing to do to crush the gun nut right, and we’ve spent something like 6 trillion dollars on the global war on terror so far.

And yet they’re still fighting.

Extrapolate that to the resources necessary for the U.S. Military to conquer North America, and some 20-30 million (if we go with the low estimates) of gun owners. Keep in mind that it took the better part of a century – from Fallen Timbers to Wounded Knee, for the U.S. Military to take North America from a variety of Indian nations, all of whom stepped out of the Stone Age no sooner than their first encounter with Europeans. I recently went horseback riding with some Blackfeet in Montana, and they told me that until the early 18th century, no Blackfeet had ever seen a horse. The Indians fought back with every weapon they had at their disposal, at a massive disadvantage in population and firepower, and it still took decades to defeat them. And they weren’t even unified. The Apache, Comanche, Iriquois, Dakota, etc., each fought their own individual war against the invader. And they each went down hard.

Oh, but that was when we had an emaciated army, underfunded and undermanned? Sure. But Correia reminds us not to be to sure of that high-tech, all volunteer military, to say nothing of the cops:

The problem with all those advanced weapons systems you don’t understand, but keep sticking onto memes, is guess who builds them, maintains them, and drives them?… Those drones you guys like to go on about, and barely understand? One of the contracts I worked on was maintaining the servers for them. Guess which way most military contractors vote? Duh. Though honestly, if I was still in my Evil Military Industrial Complex job when this went down, I’d just quietly embezzle and funnel millions of DOD dollars to the rebels.

This is what prompted me to come into this, as someone who just finished writing a novel that takes place in the Civil War, especially Sherman’s March: in 1861, the U.S. Military had about 16,000 men and 1,100 commissioned officers. Of those, about 20% defected and joined the Confederacy. Of the 200 West Point graduates who came out of retirement, nearly half joined the Confederacy.

How long did it take to defeat the South again? 4 years. Despite the fact that the North had over double the population, five times the railroads, and virtually all the industrial capacity. Despite the fact that of the southern population, one-third were slaves who were by definition (until the very end) banned from military service. Despite all of that, it took the advanced, industrialized, highly populated section of the country 4 years of bloody conflict to crush the agrarian, thinly populated half. And that was only because at the end those West-Point-trained Southerners honored their commitments to peace. That’s right, that was after four years of conventional warfare. The Confederates didn’t even try a guerrilla insurgency.

So how many current members of the U.S. Military are right-wing enough to have a real problem with firing on civilians in support of the abrogation of the 2nd Amendment? Wanna bet it’s higher than 20%? How many Robert E. Lees join the rebellion this time? How many Apache attack helicopters do they take with them? How many Abrams tanks?

Hell, how many nukes? Do you know where we keep all of our land-based missiles? That’s right: out in flyover country. When I was a kid, the running gag held that if Montana and the Dakotas seceded from the Union, they would instantly be the third-largest nuclear power on earth. I don’t think they have as many missiles now as they did in the 80’s. But they still have some.

How hard would it be for the governors of those states to order their respective National Guards to take over the missile silos? How many guys inside the missile silos would help them do it? And how many cities would they need to wipe out to win the war?

Two. New York and Washington. Game over.

Now, of course, it might not break down like that. War is never as clear in reality as it seems at the outset. But that’s my point. The scenario in which the 1.3 million members of the U.S. Military are going to be able to contain a guerrilla revolt by a group an order of magnitude larger than them, and within the country they draw their logistical support from?

That’s not gonna be over by Christmas.

The Sword Inspiration Pieces: The Red Badge of Courage

rbocI read this when in high school and it made a very small effect on me. I liked it, but it’s slog through the awareness of a Union private undergoing his first battle seemed very small-potatoes to me, a snail-eyed view of an epoch-defining conflict. The Red Badge of Courage seemed to reduce the entire Civil War to a neurotic’s fit.

Now, on an older man’s reread, I am startled by two things: the vividness of Crane’s prose, and the verisimillitude of the story. Reading Henry’s journey of dread, shame, and redemption captures me in a way it did not in my callow youth. As a meditation on how the modern soldier conceives and attempt to implement the military virtues, Red Badge is a grown-up’s adventure story. Thus, the fact that we have no idea what battle is being fought, or when in the war (my instinct says Virginia in 1864, but my instinct didn’t write the book), a fact that quietly annoyed me in my teenage years, fits the theme of a young man struggling to find his place in the Great Unknown. It doesn’t matter what the battle is, or what is decided, if young Henry cannot earn his piece of the decision, the book seems to say.

Now, as to Crane’s prose, a sample:

But the firing began somewhere on the regimental line and ripped along in both directions. The level sheets of flame developed great clouds of smoke that tumbled and tossed in the mild wind near the ground for a moment, and then rolled through the ranks as through a gate. The clouds were tinged an earthlike yellow in the sunrays and in the shadow were a sorry blue. The flag was sometimes eaten and lost in this mass of vapor, but more often it projected, sun-touched, resplendent.

This constitutes a common sample of what’s in Red Badge, and it can be appreciated both for its imagery and for the ease in which that imagery folds into the narrative. It surprises me that I did not notice how good this was when I was young. Crane strikes me as a significant writer, surprisingly modern.

In other words, I’m going to be checking my work against the Master when its done.

Back to Work

I don’t just write and Dad (and Play Crusader Kings) all day, I also work for a living. And the end of summer means the resumption of the daily sweat to earn my bread. Which is fine, because it doesn’t put a halt to writing.

Specifically, it doesn’t put a halt to editing Last Tomorrow. I’m aiming for the end of this month as a release date. As I have for Void, which comes next.

And of course, The Sword, which will be drafted, hopefully by EOY. It’s going to be the next big thing after Void comes out, and the one I’m going to put the biggest push on.

In the meantime, here’s a perversely relevant historical argument I pose on Medium: Yes, the Civil War was About Slavery.

A lot of people seem to think otherwise, but they’re wrong. And I have the historical documentation to prove it. Plus, some rad Shakespeare quotes.

More posting will happen later.

 

Elizabeth Warren: Daughter of the Confederacy

So apparently Elizabeth Warren, who to all appearances is whiter than Denis Leary doing an impression of Bryant Gumbel, can actually conjure up a single drop of exotic non-honky blood, in the person of a Cherokee great-great-great-grandmother. To which I can think of no better response than a hearty “whoop-de-do.” No doubt every thirty-second corpuscle feels delightfully oppressed by the other thirty-one.

But Stacy McCain points out a startlingly pertinent fact: That the Cherokee were allied with the Confederacy during the Civil War, and Warren may thus be elgible to join the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

“We are Good Old Rebels, Paleface.”

In a just world, someone in the press would ask Warren how she feels about her oppressed ancestors’ ancestral oppression of others. Handy having that protective (D) after your name isn’t it? Unless she gets caught in bed with a live girl or a dead boy, she hasn’t much to worry about…