Let my people go

We have finally invented the internet. In current form, the internet allows for things like the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, and the documenting of a tragic school building collapse in China. It reveals the terrible innards of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012. This is a limited window of opportunity wherein information passes freely from person to person without direct interference. Let’s use it.

One Palestinian is dead and nine others wounded in an accident on the fence that keeps the people of Gaza from entering Israel. One side thought the fence was safe. The other side thought the fence was under attack. 6,000 miles away, I know about the ceasefire. I do not know what conditions were like on the ground. I hope everyone is committed to peace.

Palestinians began firing homemade rockets and mortars into Israel in 2001, after their land was surrounded by two fences, one kilometer apart, a no man’s land wherein any unidentified person might be shot. In 2005 Israel withdrew all troops from the Gaza strip.

In January 2011, the Gaza Youth Manifesto for Change appeared, declaring:

We are sick of being caught in this political struggle; sick of coal-dark nights with airplanes circling above our homes; sick of innocent farmers getting shot in the buffer zone because they are taking care of their lands; sick of bearded guys walking around with their guns abusing their power, beating up or incarcerating young people demonstrating for what they believe in; sick of the wall of shame that separates us from the rest of our country and keeps us imprisoned in a stamp-sized piece of land; sick of being portrayed as terrorists, home-made fanatics with explosives in our pockets and evil in our eyes; sick of the indifference we meet from the international community, the so-called experts in expressing concerns and drafting resolutions but cowards in enforcing anything they agree on; we are sick and tired of living a shitty life, being kept in jail by Israel, beaten up by Hamas and completely ignored by the rest of the world.

This is truth. We can now share it. The internet facilitates free speech by democratizing the means of production. What does this mean?

Affluenza: Black Friday is America’s new high holy day

Originally published on 11/23/2012. And it’s getting worse.

Black Friday is under way – has been since midnight, in fact. In many places around the country, retailers started kicking off the festivities at yesterday: over a quarter of Americans said they planned to go shopping on Thanksgiving. Or, as it will soon come to be known, Black Friday Eve. Or Black Thursday, maybe.

Want to hear some fun statistics? Continue reading

The Tech Curmudgeon – Eau de garbage bag

The Tech Curmudgeon was raking leaves recently when he noticed an odd smell. A flowery, almost sweet odor was wafting from the bag of leaves he’d recently filled. While some of the leaves were wet and had started to decay, it wasn’t the leaves themselves that had the overpowering stench of perfume. It was the trash bag.

Who the hell at Glad thought it was a good idea to perfume a 39 gallon black lawn and leaf bag?

The Tech Curmudgeon understands the idea of fighting odors coming from kitchen bags filled with food. He disagrees – vehemently – but he can at least understand not wanting the stench of rotting food in your house. Of course, there’s an easier solution to this problem that doesn’t require overwhelming the smell of decay with perfumes and coating the insides of you sinuses with Febreeze – get off your lazy ass and take the trash out before it starts stinking up the kitchen. But the Tech Curmudgeon digresses.

The stench excuse doesn’t apply when it comes to lawn and leaf cleanup. The Tech Curmudgeon seriously doubts anyone (sane) collects trash bags full of leaf litter or grass clippings and brings it into the house long enough for it to decay and stink up the house. As a homeowner, the Tech Curmudgeon knows just how nasty fermenting lawn clippings can get, especially after a rain adds some extra water to the mix, but that’s why he leaves them on the side of the house next to the massive covered trash can. If that smell is creeping into your house and your windows are closed, look for air leaks around the doors and windows and seal them with weather stripping or foam insulation – your sense of smell and your energy bill will both thank you.

Maybe Glad’s lawn and leaf bags are made on the same equipment that makes their “Odor Shield” kitchen bags. Maybe the perfume is just built into the polymers that make up the ForceFlex bags, regardless of whether its the white kitchen bags or the black outdoor bags.

The Tech Curmudgeon doesn’t care – it’s unnecessary and a stupid waste of money to perfume an outdoor garbage bag.

Image credit: Glad Products

Telling History vs. Making Art: “Frankly, my dear….”

Part three in a series

As the horn section carries Max Steiner’s score from its overture into the sweeping, now-iconic strings of its main theme, Gone With the Wind opens with haggard-looking slaves returning from a hard day’s work set against the first of many sunset backdrops. On-screen text immediately evokes a romanticized antebellum past:

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…

The language, although overtly sentimental, suggests that this really was the way it was. The “pretty world” depicted in the movie overflows with all the “magnolias and moonlight” clichés: beautiful gardens, white-pillared colonnades, bulging hoopskirts, batting eyelashes. Characters start sentences with “Oh” a lot: “Oh, Ashley” and “Oh, Miss Scarlett!” The few slaves with any screen time are all loyal and well-treated archetypes, from the “old uncle” Pork to the voluminous bandana-wearing Mammy. This was the idyllic Camelot Southerners fought to preserve—and the idyllic Southern stereotypes Hollywood continued to preserve. Gone with the Wind was, to use Robert Penn Warren’s words, “the old inherited delusions which our weaknesses crave.” And if Hollywood does anything well in its quest for big box office returns, it’s that it gives audiences what they crave.

The word “gallantry” is an explicit part of Lost Cause vocabulary, and its use in the opening sequence immediately signals a Lost Cause lens for viewing the film. That interpretation carries through every other bit of on-screen text. For instance, the eyes of Atlanta turn toward Gettysburg “while two nations came to death grips on the farm lands of Pennsylvania.” The built-in assumption that two nations came to grips—rather than, say, two armies—is significant as an implicit acceptance of the Lost Cause perspective. So, too, is the mantle of victimhood the South gets to wear when it faces “another invader…more cruel and vicious than any they had fought…the Carpetbagger.”

Lost Cause ideology aside, the language serves an important aesthetic purpose first and foremost: it sets a tone for melodrama. Highly charged, romanticized language raises the stakes in the film, which is essentially little more than a soap opera in hoopskirts. Such interludes with text also serve as useful transition tools to jump forward in time while keeping the viewer caught up on the action. The technique might seem heavy-handed to modern audiences, but audiences in the late Depression, not that far removed from the era of silent films, were still used to movies telling as well as showing.

And does the movie show! The sets are big and the belles are beautiful. Atlanta burns in fearsome, memorable spectacle. Never do the fortunes of the Confederacy look so dark as when Scarlett goes to the rail station, which is being used as a field hospital, and the camera zooms out and pans across the dirt train yard to reveal thousands of Confederate wounded, ending with a tattered Confederate flag limply overseeing all. With film work like that, director David O. Selznick is clearly making art.

“You will leave [the movie], not with the feeling you have undergone a profound emotional experience, but with the warm and grateful remembrance of an interesting story beautifully told,” The New York Times said after the film’s release. Variety lauded “[t]he lavishness of its production, the consummate care and skill which went into its making, the assemblage of its fine cast and expert technical staff….” “If not the greatest movie ever made, certainly one of the greatest examples of story-telling on film…” says film critic Leonard Maltin.

As a result, Gone with the Wind “almost certainly has been the single most powerful influence on American perceptions of the Civil War,” says Civil War scholar Gary Gallagher. “More people have formed perceptions about the Civil War from watching Gone with the Wind than from reading all the books written by historians since Selznick’s blockbuster debuted in 1939.”

Couple that with the fact that the movie’s source material, Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 novel, is considered on the most beloved examples of storytelling in print. “It’s been 70 years since the publication of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel…” wrote The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “And in those seven decades, it’s been outsold only by the Bible.” In the first year of its release alone, it sold 1.7 million copies.

As in the movie, Mitchell’s South is still a Utopia where “raising good cotton, riding well, shooting straight, dancing lightly, squiring the ladies with elegance and carrying one’s liquor like a gentleman were the things that mattered.” Slaveowners like Scarlett’s mother “thanked God for the health and happiness of her home, her family, and her negroes.” It is a far cry from the prewar South depicted in, say, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

While the movie stays truer to the novel than most adaptations, it still had to, by necessity (despite its 233-minute running time), leave some things out and change others. In the novel, for instance, Scarlett has a child with each of her first two husbands before she marries Rhett. In the film, the children would have been nothing more than clutter drawing focus from the simmering hot attraction between Rhett and Scarlett. When Scarlett and Melanie give up their wedding rings during a fund-raiser to support the Confederate army, Rhett sends their rings back to them in the movie. In the book, he sends back only Melanie’s, with a note: “The Confederacy may need the lifeblood of its men but not yet does it demand the heart’s blood of its women,” Butler writes. “Accept, dear Madam, this token of my reverence for your courage and do not think that your sacrifice has been in vain, for this ring has been redeemed at ten times its value.”

The novel was clearly “not just a book” but “an answer, a clenched fist raised to the North, an anthem of defiance,” says author Pat Conroy in the preface of the 75th anniversary edition:

If you could not defeat the Yankees on the battlefield, then by God, one of your women could rise from the ashes of humiliation to write more powerfully than the enemy and all the historians and novelists who sang the praises of the Union.

Conroy called the novel “the last great posthumous victory of the Confederacy” and said it “shaped the South I grew up in more than any other book.” Journalist Tony Horowitz agrees. “Gone with the Wind had done more to keep the Civil War alive, and to mold its memory, than any history book or event since Appomattox,” he writes in a chapter devoted to the movie’s legacy in Confederates in the Attic.

Few people would mistake Gone with the Wind for actual history, though, despite its historical nature. It doesn’t concern itself much with facts: it shows no battles and its characters are all fictitious. Instead, it’s far more concerned with depicting a truth—one heavily influenced by the Lost Cause tradition. But it’s the depiction (the art) not the truth (the interpretation) that gets primary emphasis in the novel and the movie. “Hollywood’s overriding goal is to provide entertainment that will earn profits…” says Gallagher. “They focus on plots and characters that create and sustain dramatic momentum.” He suspects Selznick “almost certainly never issued these instructions to an underling: ‘Find me a good piece of material laying out the Lost Cause interpretation of the Confederate experience. The dramatic potential is important but will be secondary to our getting the interpretation right.’”

In both cases, novel and movie, the interpretation is strongly embodied in the creative work, but it always comes second. Audiences respond to Gone With the Wind because it’s good art, not good interpretation. It’s good nostalgia, too, for days gone by, real or imagined.


Next: Gods & Jacksons

Cross-posted at Emerging Civil War