How the Oscars Offended Me Today

25 02 2007

MORNING UPDATE – in thinking more on this, I think I’ll go with Ralph Waldo Emerson:

“Language is the archives of history…Language is fossil poetry.”

********************

I am offended!

FavD has been watching the Turner Classic Movies channel all this rainy day. It’s an Oscar marathon of winners, and before Gone With the Wind started, they interviewed black historians about black actress Hattie McDaniel (Mammy) winning the 1939 best supporting actress. How Olivia de Havilland felt robbed but was told to suck it up, that it was McDaniel’s one chance and America should have this race history moment.

Then the overture started, and we fondly threw the syrupy, dated lines of dialogue back and forth until I wandered off to play chess with the boy. I could still hear the movie even though I wasn’t really listening, the movie I know so well that if ever in solitary confinement, I’d likely choose GWTW to replay scene by scene in vivid and excruciating detail in my mind, to keep from going insane.But suddenly a disturbing note, something was wrong.

“Miss Scarlett, we’s not fiel’ hands, we’s house — workers.”

It was dubbed in so perfectly that when I howled in indignation, Fav D was confused. Was I really sure the N word had ever been in the soundtrack, she wondered, unable to recall for herself from viewing of the DVD some years ago. Ted Turner’s self-righteous cultural redub was already working pretty well on her it seems, she didn’t notice the change herself and confronted with it, just didn’t want to believe it.

Now granted, there’s not much about the whole film or the book it’s based on that isn’t offensive, one way or another. You couldn’t possibly make it or stand to watch it, in today’s contexts. So it has its own cultural context, correct within its uniquely authentic history as book and movie.

Mess with that, Ted, and you force me to question how that is respectful of the product for which McDaniel won her history-making Oscar in the first place, and of everyone involved in its creation, much less of the generations who have known and loved it so well since then — it feels like you are messing with MY history, my personal experience of Gone With the Wind, never mind being disrespectful of real history, like the helpful and sensitive folk who sanitize Huck Finn’s times by altering the name of a major character, as if those times were just too uncomfortable to be represented authentically in our literature.

It adds up to cognitive dissonance. If Ted Turner as a liberal billionaire making money with classic movies, can redub individual words in classic movies with a clear conscience and no warning to viewers, what does it all mean, about the left, the right, and the wrong? And about media sensitivity versus censorship and faceless money-driven (amoral if not immoral) corporate decisions and artistic license and all of that. Is our culture even authentic or is it just sold to us?

Unschooling Lesson of the Day in my house — trying to understand how misguided liberalism can be as offensive and just as mis-educational, as misguided conservatism . . .

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17 responses

26 02 2007
misedjj

Lots of info and a provocative critical essay here.

Agatha Christie’s most read novel was similarly changed to accommodate changing sensibilities, using “Indian” to substitute much as the Huck Finn change did (not inoffensive either, though?) — I remember reading it as Ten Little Indians, before it became And Then There Were None (never knew about the original title until tonight!) and it didn’t matter to the plot, it wasn’t “about” race or historical events.

26 02 2007
misedjj

Gonna have to think more on this — I may have to argue myself out of my own outrage. 🙂

26 02 2007
misedjj

Okay – does this apply?
“The most erroneous stories are those we think we know best — and therefore never scrutinize or question.” -Stephen Jay Gould

Or this?
“The high-minded man must care more for the truth than for what people think.” – Aristotle

Or should I give it up and go with this?
“If the man doesn’t believe as we do, we say he is a crank, and that settles it. I mean, it does nowadays, because now we can’t burn him.”
– Mark Twain
😉

26 02 2007
misedjj

Two female radio voices (sorry to be vague, I was driving and negotiating a late lunch stop with the kids) were talking today about how offensive Eddie Murphy’s “Norbert” posters had been to them, that ridiculously huge black woman in a church dress image, how damaging and stereotypical, etc and so they hadn’t wanted him to win his “DreamGirls” Oscar last night (which he didn’t — Alan Arkin got it.)

Anyway, that led them to mention Hattie McDaniel and how little progress had been made if this was Hollywood’s idea of how to portray black women. Then they said that is was a historical fact that Hattie McDaniel herself, while a large woman in real life, had still been padded by the studios in her roles to look even MORE enormous and stereotypical. And of course she had to play mammies and maids.

I guess I don’t get why you would show that at all, then OR now, if you really were committed to purging it. The word is not the point. The image is WAY more enduring . . .

12 03 2007
misedjj

And of course it’s never just the movies — sooner or later textbooks imitate art. Dubbing in the substitute word “worker” frames public school lessons in altered reality —

Textbook rewrites slavery’s reality
Altanta-Journal Constitution OUR OPINIONS published 09/30/04

If African slaves came to America to “help” plantation owners, as a Georgia third-grade textbook proclaims, then Native Americans “donated” their land to the settlers.
. . .It’s one thing to simplify the enslavement of Africans for 9-year-olds; it’s another to sanitize it, as does a social studies book used in several metro school systems, including Fayette County:

“It took many people to work in the cotton fields. Georgia was one of the states that used slaves to help grow cotton and other crops,” the book states. “Black people from Africa and the West Indies were brought to America to help do the work on large farms.”

The book’s authors probably had good intentions in not wanting to overwhelm children with the injustice of slavery, but they overshot their target. . .

Although the local Board of Education denied Mitchell’s request to stop using the book, it directed teachers to find other resources on slavery and civil rights to fill in the gaps and asked Mitchell to help.

One good place to start would be the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s observation that “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

27 08 2007
JJ

And old cartoons. It’s all cultural power of story so it all gets messed with.
Tthis time last year Ted Turner (via Boomerang) was censoring cigarettes out of Tom & Jerry cartoons.

I came across this link just Googling: “Censored MGM Cartoons.” At the bottom is a description of how the black mammy character in the T&J cartoons (apparently dubbed Mammy Two Shoes by the animators) was sanitized into an equally dim-witted, white-legged Irish maid instead (because that’s less culturally offensive??)

23 09 2007
Banned Books Week Needs More Than Celebration This Year « Cocking A Snook!

[…] a vaguely offensive name like “Urinetown.” And there’s all sorts of hardly noticedmovie word-censoring, artistically offensive to me even done with the best of […]

3 11 2007
Choose Nine Books for Your Gift Box « Cocking A Snook!

[…] mouth and dripped down my chin. I don’t try to defend it intellectually or historically but I still bristle up just like a lover to hear it mocked or messed with. My best friend and I memorized most of it and quoted it to each other for years, like a secret […]

15 11 2007
JJ

“Saturday Matinee Banned Cartoons”:

I think it is unwise to ban these cultural gems from TV. Forget about the puritanical sensitivities of the political correctness police. I think that contextualized as part of the country’s popular culture, they are invaluable tools for the world to understand the cultural development of the United States.

27 06 2008
Ignorance Makes the N-Word Even Scarier Unspoken « Cocking A Snook!

[…] we’re taught to officially pretend they don’t exist. And this isn’t really news, I’ve blogged it before, how our own history revealed in language — in this one reductionist noun — now scares […]

16 09 2009
JJ

If ever there was evidence our own minds — the best of them! — can play cruel tricks, I stumbled on it today.


Gone With the Wind and Hollywood’s Racial Politics”
, December 1999:

Selznick wanted to retain the “Negro flavor” of the picture — but to use “nigger” he would have to face down White, Breen, the black press, and his black actors. The actors, meeting privately with Victor Shapiro, the studio public-relations director, had expressed their anxiety over racial elements of the production yet agreed to play the slaves more or less as Margaret Mitchell and Sidney Howard had written them. In return, Shapiro vowed that they would not have to say “nigger.”

Selznick, with mixed feelings, honored Shapiro’s promise. The words “darkies” and “inferiors” stayed in the screenplay — but not “nigger.”

Margaret Mitchell’s book was THE story of my childhood; I read it more than most southern children read their bibles, and then some. You might even say I worshipped it with a child’s uncritical love. I had it largely memorized word for word, especially the dialogue.

It was years later when the movie was re-released in a major motion picture restoration, and I saw it for the first (and only) time on the big BIG screen.

Somehow I experienced it then as so faithful to the book in the dialogue it included, though obviously much was cut out altogether, and I had noticed that. What I apparently never noticed though, was that the N-word had been cut out even in the original movie, not just in the televised version decades later. I can only explain this as my contributing ear hearing it where I knew it was supposed to be and then remembering it from the memorized book, sure it had been in the movie script too.

I was SURE, absolutely certain it had been in the movie and then scrubbed out later for tv. So interesting!

11 09 2010
More Than Muslims, Remember Real Threat Today « Cocking A Snook!

[…] The first book I loved enough to make me hate those who would burn it or ban it, was a bible as worth living by and dying for as any other, by god, the SOUTHERN bible — Gone With the Wind! […]

15 11 2010
Private Power of Story in Censorship « Cocking A Snook!

[…] How the Oscars offended me today […]

28 12 2010
JJ

I was just browsing after-Christmas calendar sales online and clicked on a “GWTW” themed offering where some linked books were shown, one of which was a cultural power-of-story history of the book and the movie taken as together as a whole. The accompanying review blurb could have been describing me!

Frankly My Dear
by Molly Haskell
“. . .As a feminist and onetime Southern adolescent, Haskell understands how the story takes on different shades of meaning according to the age and eye of the beholder.

She explores how it has kept its edge because of Margaret Mitchell’s (and our) ambivalence about Scarlett and because of the complex racial and sexual attitudes embedded in a story that at one time or another has offended almost everyone.

Haskell imaginatively weaves together disparate strands, conducting her story as her own inner debate between enchantment and disenchantment.

Sensitive to the ways in which history and cinema intersect, she reminds us why these characters, so riveting to Depression audiences, continue to fascinate 70 years later. “

5 01 2011
JJ

Publisher Tinkers with Twain — guess which word is purged, 219 times in all?

“I’m by no means sanitizing Mark Twain,” Mr. Gribben said. “The sharp social critiques are in there. The humor is intact. I just had the idea to get us away from obsessing about this one word, and just let the stories stand alone.” (The book also substitutes “Indian” for “injun.”)

Since the publisher discussed plans for the book this week with Publishers Weekly, it has been “assaulted” with negative e-mails and phone calls, said Suzanne La Rosa, the co-founder and publisher of NewSouth Books.

“We didn’t undertake this lightly,” Ms. La Rosa said. “If our publication fosters good discussion about how language affects learning and certainly the nature of censorship, then difficult as it is likely to be, it’s a good thing.”

The news set off a storm of angry online commentary, scolding the publisher for “censorship” and “political correctness,” or simply for the perceived sin of altering the words of a literary icon. Twain admirers have turned his hefty “Autobiography of Mark Twain,” published last year, into a best seller.

An initial print run of 7,500 copies has been planned for the revised “Huckleberry Finn.” The print edition is scheduled for publication in February, and a digital edition could go on sale as early as next week.

Mr. Gribben said no schools had expressed interest yet in teaching the book — nor did he say what ages he thought the edition appropriate for. In his introduction, however, he writes that “even at the level of college and graduate school, students are capable of resenting textual encounters with this racial appellative.”

Ms. La Rosa said that the publisher had had advance orders from Barnes & Noble, Borders and other bookstores, and that she expected more orders from schools and libraries.

5 01 2011
JJ

The Faster Times thought an even more-censored version might be even better! 😉

. . .”Why hello, neighbor Jim!” says I.

“Hello, Huckleberry Finn,” says Jim. “You will now notice that I speak with exaggeratedly precise diction.”

“That’s on account of all the schooling what apparently you retroactively is not prevented from having.”

“Correct,” he says. . .

14 09 2014
JJ

I’ve been saying that the story of the making of Gone with the Wind is really the story of the Great Depression much more than the Civil War. So these issues that were so important to Scarlett were also important to the people of the time, and I think that it resonated so much that it became an integral part of our culture that is still with us today.

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