Category: Richard Terrell

Should Gone with the Wind Go Away?


In the wake of increased PC attacks on Margaret Mitchell’s 1937 novel Gone With the Wind, I decided to undertake an ornery, contrarian, and politically incorrect action and plow through the novel’s 1,036 pages just for the heck of it, reacquainting myself with an acknowledged classic (which earned a Pulitzer Prize for the author) and hence be able to reflect on a cultural phenomenon with my own refreshed insights.

It is impossible to reflect on the novel without making some comparisons with its 1939 film adaptation. The film, of necessity, tightens the storyline and deletes certain characters (most notably Scarlett’s multiple children). The movie Mammy is a more dominating presence than in the novel but a similar towering moral force. Also missing from the film is the overt presence of the Ku Klux Klan in the Reconstruction period and the participation of Ashley Wilkes and Scarlett’s second husband, Frank Kennedy, in some of its activities. As far as the movie version is concerned, it defies any attempts that might be made to remake it, however uncomfortable some scenes might strike us today (Could anyone play Rhett Butler after Clark Gable? It’s difficult to imagine).      

The novel itself is long, but not tiresome. Mitchell moves her story along with lively dialogue and well-placed turning points. Whereas there is nothing poetic about Margaret Mitchell’s writing style, she was gifted in the area of dialogue. The conversations that take place between characters are vivid and energize the narrative, although today’s readers might take issue with, or be distressed by the “black-ese” accent with which the slave characters speak. Also, and most notably, objection will be made to the frequent use of the word “nigger,” employed by both white and black characters. Mitchell, as narrator of the story, does not use the word, although it is placed in the mouths of characters themselves (a given, inasmuch as it represents the usage as it would have occurred at the time of the story). As universal narrator, Mitchell uses the term “Negroes,” which in 1937 was not a derogatory concept, but represented a more-or-less neutral or even courteous reference to black people.

Is the novel racist? Certainly, it has elements that could reasonably be interpreted as such. However, it also presents a wider commentary on class-consciousness that is easily overlooked if we make race the one and only lens through which we read it. The ugly term “white trash” shows up frequently, and is put into the mouths of characters like Mammy, who despise poor whites like the Tara overseer Jonas Wilkerson. Is it too far out of the realm of possibility to understand that there might have been class pecking orders among the various nonaristocratic elements of Southern society of the 19th century? Indeed, GWTW plays heavily on the notions of “well-born” and “common” people in the social consciousness of people. I also observe that Margaret Mitchell does not seem to always present this aspect of society positively. Characters that represent the aristocratic plantation class or “proper” society take on aspects of triviality, incompetence beyond their pampered existence, or just plain silliness (e.g. Aunt Pitty). The false nature of the southern aristocratic culture is expressed powerfully in a dialogue between Ashley and Scarlett as they try to survive at Scarlett’s home, Tara, following the devastation of the Civil War. Wilkes knows that his pampered upbringing has left him prepared for little more than fox hunts and elegant barbeque get-togethers.

Rhett Butler’s cynical outlook offers up more overt indictments of the foolishness of southern life and the stupidity and futility of the “Glorious Cause.” Mitchell is often criticized for offering up propaganda for the antebellum southern culture. Reading the book, however, I found myself questioning this. There is just too much negative assessment of that culture, through some of the characterizations, dialogue, and Scarlett O’Hara’s own perspectives, to believe that Mitchell held onto a totally uncritical point of view. Yes, she hammers home the abuses of Reconstruction, and some of the characters yearn, pathetically, for the “old days” that have now gone. But I am not convinced that Margaret Mitchell is an uncritical propagandist for them on the basis of the text of this novel, however the book may have been used as such by southern admirers.

The two primary characters, Scarlett and Rhett, share a psychologically twisted relationship and are both reprehensible in interesting ways. Mitchell, of course, breaks them up at the novel’s conclusion with Butler’s iconic statement upon departing from her, “I don’t give a damn.” At that point, many readers might share the sentiment. Mitchell suggests a virtuous element in Butler lying beneath his flamboyant and rakish exterior, and this is brought out in his relationship to Scarlett’s children, Melanie Wilkes, and his own daughter Bonnie, who dies tragically and brings Rhett to grief bordering on insanity.

I found myself most intrigued by the novel’s characterization of Melanie Wilkes, the cousin and wife of Ashley Wilkes. In the movie, I find this character, as portrayed by Olivia de Haviland, quite annoying, just too good to be true, flawless and syrupy. The character of the novel, however, has more of an edge to her. She actually gets indignant, even angry, with people and also separates herself from family members (e.g. Ashley’s sister India) for spreading false allegations against Scarlett.

Mammy’s climactic scene, in both the novel and the movie, is in her appeal to Melanie to come talk with Rhett Butler, in the throes of his grief at the loss of his daughter. This scene, in the movie, is very moving and I am convinced it was the scene that put Hattie McDaniel over the top for the Oscar she received for her performance. Interestingly, I found the scene as presented in the novel highly moving as well, with Mitchell’s gift for dialogue ascending to great effect. Here, what some might find “racist” in the book — the presentation of the “black-ese” accents among the “darkies” — actually enhances the power of the scene. Mammy is a “simple” character. She’s a slave, now a loyal and free servant. She is not educated, and it is quite within reason to suppose that she did not speak “the King’s English.” But she is, here, a wisdom figure, almost an angel of salvation, as she explains to Melanie the cloud of insult and abuse that passes between Rhett and Scarlett, and how he is shattered to the core at Bonnie’s death. The distinctive dialect represented by Margaret Mitchell here goes beyond simple characterization or cartoonishness. It strengthens Mammy’s sense of character and humanity, fueling the pathos of this great scene.

In today’s culture, this novel would not gain any honors. Even its admirers will readily admit to its “flaws.” Yet it remains a compelling read, and it would be a loss should the censorious voices of sensitivity-advocacy succeed in deleting it from cultural memory. How ironic it would be, though, should contemporary controversy over it arouse a new visibility, born of curiosity, however guilty it may seem.           

In the wake of increased PC attacks on Margaret Mitchell’s 1937 novel Gone With the Wind, I decided to undertake an ornery, contrarian, and politically incorrect action and plow through the novel’s 1,036 pages just for the heck of it, reacquainting myself with an acknowledged classic (which earned a Pulitzer Prize for the author) and hence be able to reflect on a cultural phenomenon with my own refreshed insights.

It is impossible to reflect on the novel without making some comparisons with its 1939 film adaptation. The film, of necessity, tightens the storyline and deletes certain characters (most notably Scarlett’s multiple children). The movie Mammy is a more dominating presence than in the novel but a similar towering moral force. Also missing from the film is the overt presence of the Ku Klux Klan in the Reconstruction period and the participation of Ashley Wilkes and Scarlett’s second husband, Frank Kennedy, in some of its activities. As far as the movie version is concerned, it defies any attempts that might be made to remake it, however uncomfortable some scenes might strike us today (Could anyone play Rhett Butler after Clark Gable? It’s difficult to imagine).      

The novel itself is long, but not tiresome. Mitchell moves her story along with lively dialogue and well-placed turning points. Whereas there is nothing poetic about Margaret Mitchell’s writing style, she was gifted in the area of dialogue. The conversations that take place between characters are vivid and energize the narrative, although today’s readers might take issue with, or be distressed by the “black-ese” accent with which the slave characters speak. Also, and most notably, objection will be made to the frequent use of the word “nigger,” employed by both white and black characters. Mitchell, as narrator of the story, does not use the word, although it is placed in the mouths of characters themselves (a given, inasmuch as it represents the usage as it would have occurred at the time of the story). As universal narrator, Mitchell uses the term “Negroes,” which in 1937 was not a derogatory concept, but represented a more-or-less neutral or even courteous reference to black people.

Is the novel racist? Certainly, it has elements that could reasonably be interpreted as such. However, it also presents a wider commentary on class-consciousness that is easily overlooked if we make race the one and only lens through which we read it. The ugly term “white trash” shows up frequently, and is put into the mouths of characters like Mammy, who despise poor whites like the Tara overseer Jonas Wilkerson. Is it too far out of the realm of possibility to understand that there might have been class pecking orders among the various nonaristocratic elements of Southern society of the 19th century? Indeed, GWTW plays heavily on the notions of “well-born” and “common” people in the social consciousness of people. I also observe that Margaret Mitchell does not seem to always present this aspect of society positively. Characters that represent the aristocratic plantation class or “proper” society take on aspects of triviality, incompetence beyond their pampered existence, or just plain silliness (e.g. Aunt Pitty). The false nature of the southern aristocratic culture is expressed powerfully in a dialogue between Ashley and Scarlett as they try to survive at Scarlett’s home, Tara, following the devastation of the Civil War. Wilkes knows that his pampered upbringing has left him prepared for little more than fox hunts and elegant barbeque get-togethers.

Rhett Butler’s cynical outlook offers up more overt indictments of the foolishness of southern life and the stupidity and futility of the “Glorious Cause.” Mitchell is often criticized for offering up propaganda for the antebellum southern culture. Reading the book, however, I found myself questioning this. There is just too much negative assessment of that culture, through some of the characterizations, dialogue, and Scarlett O’Hara’s own perspectives, to believe that Mitchell held onto a totally uncritical point of view. Yes, she hammers home the abuses of Reconstruction, and some of the characters yearn, pathetically, for the “old days” that have now gone. But I am not convinced that Margaret Mitchell is an uncritical propagandist for them on the basis of the text of this novel, however the book may have been used as such by southern admirers.

The two primary characters, Scarlett and Rhett, share a psychologically twisted relationship and are both reprehensible in interesting ways. Mitchell, of course, breaks them up at the novel’s conclusion with Butler’s iconic statement upon departing from her, “I don’t give a damn.” At that point, many readers might share the sentiment. Mitchell suggests a virtuous element in Butler lying beneath his flamboyant and rakish exterior, and this is brought out in his relationship to Scarlett’s children, Melanie Wilkes, and his own daughter Bonnie, who dies tragically and brings Rhett to grief bordering on insanity.

I found myself most intrigued by the novel’s characterization of Melanie Wilkes, the cousin and wife of Ashley Wilkes. In the movie, I find this character, as portrayed by Olivia de Haviland, quite annoying, just too good to be true, flawless and syrupy. The character of the novel, however, has more of an edge to her. She actually gets indignant, even angry, with people and also separates herself from family members (e.g. Ashley’s sister India) for spreading false allegations against Scarlett.

Mammy’s climactic scene, in both the novel and the movie, is in her appeal to Melanie to come talk with Rhett Butler, in the throes of his grief at the loss of his daughter. This scene, in the movie, is very moving and I am convinced it was the scene that put Hattie McDaniel over the top for the Oscar she received for her performance. Interestingly, I found the scene as presented in the novel highly moving as well, with Mitchell’s gift for dialogue ascending to great effect. Here, what some might find “racist” in the book — the presentation of the “black-ese” accents among the “darkies” — actually enhances the power of the scene. Mammy is a “simple” character. She’s a slave, now a loyal and free servant. She is not educated, and it is quite within reason to suppose that she did not speak “the King’s English.” But she is, here, a wisdom figure, almost an angel of salvation, as she explains to Melanie the cloud of insult and abuse that passes between Rhett and Scarlett, and how he is shattered to the core at Bonnie’s death. The distinctive dialect represented by Margaret Mitchell here goes beyond simple characterization or cartoonishness. It strengthens Mammy’s sense of character and humanity, fueling the pathos of this great scene.

In today’s culture, this novel would not gain any honors. Even its admirers will readily admit to its “flaws.” Yet it remains a compelling read, and it would be a loss should the censorious voices of sensitivity-advocacy succeed in deleting it from cultural memory. How ironic it would be, though, should contemporary controversy over it arouse a new visibility, born of curiosity, however guilty it may seem.           



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The Obama Cult


Do you remember president Obama’s eight scandal-free years?  This question, posted on an acquaintance’s Facebook page, drew my astonished attention.  My immediate “LOL” response received a reprimand for expressing “disrespect.”  Among other responses to this lead question were rapturous expressions of “love” and even “worship” for The Great Leader Barack Obama.  As the furor ignited by the Trump election continues to burn and blow, the melancholy longing for an alleged Golden Age is arising.  The longing is deep, and accompanied by swooning ecstasy at the reappearance to public life of Mr. Barack Obama.

I suspect that such expressions are representative of a significant population.  This occasion, in which I drew the rebuke of some of the faithful also offering comments, refreshes the perception that there is in America a continuing embrace of a bizarre personality cult that has found a deep resonance within the nation’s political culture.  This cult was manifest as early as Barack Obama’s 2007-2008 candidacy and is unique in its promotion and protection by major cultural institutions.  Apparently, it did not end with a change of national administrations; rather, it continues in the form of retrospective longing for imagined wonders of a lost decade of grace, intelligence, and integrity led by one who serves as receptor for spiritual and emotional projections.

The Cult of Obama made its initial appearance with graphic designer Shepard Fairey’s famous “HOPE” poster, during Obama’s initial manifestation as a presidential candidate.  The artistic imagery draws upon a tradition of totalitarian art celebrating the persons of fascist or communist political messiahs of the past.  The linkage to the concept of “Hope” significantly draws upon a spiritual absolute.  It is wide open, transcending any specific national goal or particular political idea.  It is beyond context.  It is pure emotional appeal, the essence of propaganda’s power.  The viewer’s perspective is set as if looking upward at the calm, remote, and distanced vision of the face (recalling royal images of pharaohs, the god-kings of ancient Egypt).  This artistic structure invites more than mere support for a candidate for office.  It is an invitation to belief.

Things did not stop, with Fairey’s poster.  Subsequently, we found Oprah Winfrey’s suggestion that Barack Obama was “the One.”  The One (with a capital O) is a transcendent reference suggesting a reality beyond all particularity, a unifying, all-synthesizing, reconciling essence.  The reference is rooted in ancient Gnostic spirituality, the core and origin of universal Truth from which we mere mortals are separated through materiality and error.  Make no mistake about this: Oprah Winfrey is no dope.  She knew what she was saying and was certainly aware of the implications and connotations of such a reference.

Shepard Fairey and Oprah were just the beginning.  Other images expanded on Fairey’s fascist-style heroism.  A painting by Alex Grey, featured prominently on the website “obamamessiah.blogspot.com,” depicts the serene frontal face of Barack Obama with the globe of the Earth, emanating rays of light, in his forehead.  What appear to be veins of energy running through his body traverse the face.  The Great One’s head is then also framed in light, with beams continuing to radiate white, glowing energy.  A similar icon was created by artist Ray Noland, in which Obama looks out in full frontal gaze, while seeming to look beyond us, framed in a halo and radiating light rays.  This latter image clearly draws upon historic icons of Christ in the Eastern Orthodox tradition and is reminiscent of many images of Christ the Pantocrator (the Cosmic Ruler of All) that appear in church mosaics and devotional icon panels.

Anyone interested in the cultic status of Barack Obama will find much on the website noted above, as it catalogs images and statements regarding the One that leave no doubt about what is promoted on his behalf – i.e., his Messianic character and the notion that he in some mysterious way stands apart from normal humanity.  Of special interest is the assertion by Michelle Obama that Barack “has brought us out of the dark and into the light,” invoking imagery of the dynamics of Creation and raising suggestions of the beginning verses of John’s Gospel.  Indeed, Barack Obama himself indicated his own belief in the mythos surrounding him when he stated that the day of his nomination constituted “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”  There, in that statement, you have self-asserted cosmic significance.

One of the more bizarre contributions to the Obama cult is a book, authored by an academic by the name of Barbara A. Thompson, titled The Gospel According to the Apostle Barack.  Here, the author asserts nothing less than Obama’s having possessed answers to unlocking the “keys to the kingdom of heaven here on earth” for those who believe in and follow him.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the Obama cult was revealed early on, during the first campaign, in which a worship song, “Sanctuary,” was adapted to the promotion of the One.  In this song, the worshiper pledges to make himself a sanctuary, pure and holy, for the Lord.  In the video adaptation, Obama is substituted for Christ as the object of honor and worship.  The words of the song are regularly interrupted with images of people exhorting viewers to “say the word – Obama!” and similar invitations.  The song itself says: “Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true.  With thanksgiving I’ll be a living sanctuary for you.”

That people, even longstanding church members, were more than willing to accede to this idolatry became apparent to me as I sought to alert friends to this emerging cultish devotion.  It made no difference, and my “look at this” exhortation was met with dismissal or blind eyes.  In one instance, a rock-solid, decades-long leader in my church, after receiving a message from me about these expressions, simply replied, “I believe in him.”

The Obama cult does, in fact, insert itself into the problematic arenas where religion and politics meet.  There has never been, in the U.S., a clearer flash point providing Christians with an opportunity to embrace or turn from lurid idolatry.  It constitutes, as it were, a test of allegiance, and Mr. Obama and his wife seem to have wanted it that way.  For many people, even among the “churched,” the substitute Great One seems to have won the day.

I guess I’d feel better about it if I could detect, somewhere, just a little bit of embarrassment about it, something of a “yeah, but…” qualified support.  But I don’t.  Barack Obama is a singular figure in the sense that his persona has been promoted and protected by major cultural institutions as no other political figure in our national history, to the extent of inviting moral indictments against anyone bringing any critique forward.

This is, in essence, a true definition and characterization of worship.  The concept is not ill used or wrongly applied with regard to the Obama Cult.

Do you remember president Obama’s eight scandal-free years?  This question, posted on an acquaintance’s Facebook page, drew my astonished attention.  My immediate “LOL” response received a reprimand for expressing “disrespect.”  Among other responses to this lead question were rapturous expressions of “love” and even “worship” for The Great Leader Barack Obama.  As the furor ignited by the Trump election continues to burn and blow, the melancholy longing for an alleged Golden Age is arising.  The longing is deep, and accompanied by swooning ecstasy at the reappearance to public life of Mr. Barack Obama.

I suspect that such expressions are representative of a significant population.  This occasion, in which I drew the rebuke of some of the faithful also offering comments, refreshes the perception that there is in America a continuing embrace of a bizarre personality cult that has found a deep resonance within the nation’s political culture.  This cult was manifest as early as Barack Obama’s 2007-2008 candidacy and is unique in its promotion and protection by major cultural institutions.  Apparently, it did not end with a change of national administrations; rather, it continues in the form of retrospective longing for imagined wonders of a lost decade of grace, intelligence, and integrity led by one who serves as receptor for spiritual and emotional projections.

The Cult of Obama made its initial appearance with graphic designer Shepard Fairey’s famous “HOPE” poster, during Obama’s initial manifestation as a presidential candidate.  The artistic imagery draws upon a tradition of totalitarian art celebrating the persons of fascist or communist political messiahs of the past.  The linkage to the concept of “Hope” significantly draws upon a spiritual absolute.  It is wide open, transcending any specific national goal or particular political idea.  It is beyond context.  It is pure emotional appeal, the essence of propaganda’s power.  The viewer’s perspective is set as if looking upward at the calm, remote, and distanced vision of the face (recalling royal images of pharaohs, the god-kings of ancient Egypt).  This artistic structure invites more than mere support for a candidate for office.  It is an invitation to belief.

Things did not stop, with Fairey’s poster.  Subsequently, we found Oprah Winfrey’s suggestion that Barack Obama was “the One.”  The One (with a capital O) is a transcendent reference suggesting a reality beyond all particularity, a unifying, all-synthesizing, reconciling essence.  The reference is rooted in ancient Gnostic spirituality, the core and origin of universal Truth from which we mere mortals are separated through materiality and error.  Make no mistake about this: Oprah Winfrey is no dope.  She knew what she was saying and was certainly aware of the implications and connotations of such a reference.

Shepard Fairey and Oprah were just the beginning.  Other images expanded on Fairey’s fascist-style heroism.  A painting by Alex Grey, featured prominently on the website “obamamessiah.blogspot.com,” depicts the serene frontal face of Barack Obama with the globe of the Earth, emanating rays of light, in his forehead.  What appear to be veins of energy running through his body traverse the face.  The Great One’s head is then also framed in light, with beams continuing to radiate white, glowing energy.  A similar icon was created by artist Ray Noland, in which Obama looks out in full frontal gaze, while seeming to look beyond us, framed in a halo and radiating light rays.  This latter image clearly draws upon historic icons of Christ in the Eastern Orthodox tradition and is reminiscent of many images of Christ the Pantocrator (the Cosmic Ruler of All) that appear in church mosaics and devotional icon panels.

Anyone interested in the cultic status of Barack Obama will find much on the website noted above, as it catalogs images and statements regarding the One that leave no doubt about what is promoted on his behalf – i.e., his Messianic character and the notion that he in some mysterious way stands apart from normal humanity.  Of special interest is the assertion by Michelle Obama that Barack “has brought us out of the dark and into the light,” invoking imagery of the dynamics of Creation and raising suggestions of the beginning verses of John’s Gospel.  Indeed, Barack Obama himself indicated his own belief in the mythos surrounding him when he stated that the day of his nomination constituted “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”  There, in that statement, you have self-asserted cosmic significance.

One of the more bizarre contributions to the Obama cult is a book, authored by an academic by the name of Barbara A. Thompson, titled The Gospel According to the Apostle Barack.  Here, the author asserts nothing less than Obama’s having possessed answers to unlocking the “keys to the kingdom of heaven here on earth” for those who believe in and follow him.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the Obama cult was revealed early on, during the first campaign, in which a worship song, “Sanctuary,” was adapted to the promotion of the One.  In this song, the worshiper pledges to make himself a sanctuary, pure and holy, for the Lord.  In the video adaptation, Obama is substituted for Christ as the object of honor and worship.  The words of the song are regularly interrupted with images of people exhorting viewers to “say the word – Obama!” and similar invitations.  The song itself says: “Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true.  With thanksgiving I’ll be a living sanctuary for you.”

That people, even longstanding church members, were more than willing to accede to this idolatry became apparent to me as I sought to alert friends to this emerging cultish devotion.  It made no difference, and my “look at this” exhortation was met with dismissal or blind eyes.  In one instance, a rock-solid, decades-long leader in my church, after receiving a message from me about these expressions, simply replied, “I believe in him.”

The Obama cult does, in fact, insert itself into the problematic arenas where religion and politics meet.  There has never been, in the U.S., a clearer flash point providing Christians with an opportunity to embrace or turn from lurid idolatry.  It constitutes, as it were, a test of allegiance, and Mr. Obama and his wife seem to have wanted it that way.  For many people, even among the “churched,” the substitute Great One seems to have won the day.

I guess I’d feel better about it if I could detect, somewhere, just a little bit of embarrassment about it, something of a “yeah, but…” qualified support.  But I don’t.  Barack Obama is a singular figure in the sense that his persona has been promoted and protected by major cultural institutions as no other political figure in our national history, to the extent of inviting moral indictments against anyone bringing any critique forward.

This is, in essence, a true definition and characterization of worship.  The concept is not ill used or wrongly applied with regard to the Obama Cult.



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