Monday, April 11, 2005

The South Rises Again

Mike the Mad Biologist points out Steve Gilliard's discussion of The end of treason:
But for most of Hollywood's history, the Confederacy has been the perfect foil for Hollywood's image of doomed heroism. Nothing better than showing the losing side of a war to enoble the characters.

Imagine, however, a story of romance between a German factory owner's wife and an SS officer transfered to the Russian Front. You can't even play German soldiers in FPS games, imagine a movie like that. It wouldn't be made in Germany, much less the US. Yet, American film makers have done the same with the South since 1915. There are two exxceptions to this: A series of John Wayne movies where he played Union officers and Glory, which detailed the first black regiment to see combat in the Union Army.

Glory has always been an emtional film for me to see, because it's about the liberation of my family, who comes from Charleston. America's film industry has minimized the cruelty and abuse of slavery. I have never seen Gone with the Wind for that reason. At least Birth of a Nation is upfront with it's racism, Gone with the Wind is just as racist, but hides it in romance and hides the blacks.
I don't read Gilliard nearly enough. I've often thought that Civil War films are too quick to idealize the South. It's almost as if the South won. The North is often presented as a band of murderous, marauding thugs. In comparison, slavery is nearly always either ignored. Think of Cold Mountain, where I don't remember any slaves, and I certainly don't recall brutal beatings, rape and starvation of slaves. The Zellweger character in the movie was of mixed race in the book. The movie intentionally ignored race. When slaves are presented in Civil War movies, it's almost always as happy workers with their every need cared for.

Think about that. The most brutal institution in the history of this country is portrayed as great and noble, and the states which rebelled and lost, states which defended that horrific practice, are presented as the last bastion of nobility. The Northern state, states which fought to oppose slavery before and during the war, are presented as rapacious invaders. Northerners in Cold Mountain were sneaky, scheming, thieving, raping, pillaging and hateful.

As someone who never lived in a state that seceded, I resent that. We all live in the United States, not the Confederacy. Why do Civil War movies make me feel like we lost?