Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Movie Review: Gone with the Wind

A friend mentioned popular conceptions of history, specifically Southern American history, in a recent letter, talking about how people seem to glamorize the antebellum period and focus on it rather than other periods of history.

I thought that I had already written a blog post on 'Gone with the Wind'. I was sure that I had written about it somewhere. But no matter how much I search, I cannot find any blog posts, or even emails or notes, about it. Maybe I composed it in my mind and then forgot to actually write it down. That happens sometimes. Or maybe I was talking about it in a conversation, and said these things then. So let me say what I thought I had already said:

I watched Gone with the Wind a few years ago, and I hated it on almost every level imaginable.

Fifteen minutes into the movie, after seeing the depiction of a spoiled, frivolous, idle aristocracy, I was rooting for Sherman to come and burn the entire society to the ground. I wanted something, anything, to end their pointless, wasteful lifestyle.

Then a lot of stuff happens, almost all of which reveals the main characters to be despicable human beings. Their only redeeming feature is a Nietzsche-style will to power that causes them to be interesting and dynamic, if you ignore the innocent people they crush under their heels.

It was obvious that Rhett and Scarlett hated each other, that they were two greedy and amoral people who only entered into the relationship because they thought they would gain personal advantage from it.

After their daughter died, he raped her. There is no other word to describe what happened. I was appalled both by this action, and the movie's insinuation that she was happier as a result. It was almost as bad as the movie's obvious pro-Klan propaganda.

If I did not know the historical and social context, I would assume that Gone with the Wind was a deliberate attempt to make the viewer hate the characters and the society they lived in.

And yet, people love Gone with the Wind. They specifically love the bits that I find most abhorrent, such as the rape scene and the idle parties of the aristocracy. If you take inflation into account, it is still the best-selling movie of all time. Aside from the technical quality of the movie, which is impressive, I cannot understand this. It must have something to do with 'beauty' and 'glamour' and other such nonsense. Or more worryingly, perhaps people identify with and/or idolize the main characters.

It is always hard to tell the difference between a cause and a symptom in cases like this, but Gone with the Wind must be at least partially responsible for people glorifying the lifestyle and culture of the antebellum South. This is a very bad thing, because when people idolize dysfunctional and abusive social systems they are more likely to make bad decisions about how to organize our country in the future. 

The movie's justification of racial violence and marital rape must also be responsible for at least a few instances of those crimes. I have made this comparison before, but Gone with the Wind is much like Triumph of the Will. Both movies have core values of of pure poison, wrapped in an attractive coating of artistic quality.

I support free speech. There should never be any official attempt to suppress anything. But some things are so toxic and harmful that responsible people should caution against them. I would not want my child to watch Gone with the Wind. It has a proven power to be attractive to simple minds, to distort perceptions of history, and to cause people to form positive associations with despicable things.  A young mind should not be exposed to something like that.

For reference, here are some other blog posts I have written about how I dislike certain popular books and movies:

I also hated Avatar, for reasons that are eloquently explained here.

In my mind, the main unforgivable sin in any work of fiction is to distort the consumer's perception of reality. Anything that is very vivid, yet not representative of reality, will permanently distort the thoughts of anyone exposed to it in harmful ways. Jaws is a perfect example. Shark attacks are very rare, much less common and dangerous than things like car crashes, but people who watch that movie tend to think that shark attacks are a much bigger threat than they really are.

Our brains naturally assume that anything we see is an accurate representation of reality. Our emotions and subconscious thoughts do not know how to deal with the vivid lies of movies and well-written books. Whenever you consume any work of fiction, you must constantly remind yourself that it is a vivid lie, something that is not true yet will be easily recalled in your mind. This easy recall of false information will bias your understanding of reality, potentially causing you to make bad decisions.

In most cases, the effect is mostly harmless. But in cases such as 24 making torture look like a good thing to do, society can be actively harmed by fiction that distorts reality. Gone with the Wind clearly fits into the category of harmful, reality-distorting entertainment. It is something that people love, yet it rots their mind away. It is yet another example of a harmful superstimulus.


shelbykate said...

THANK YOU. I am an undergraduate history student at a southern university (Pennsylvanian by birth). I just watched this movie for the first time a few months ago... it was completely horrendous. I thought the audience was supposed to hate Scarlett until I read movie reviews afterward. The film is so jam-packed with white supremacist/Lost Cause propaganda, I CANNOT BELIEVE how popular this movie still is. Sigh. At least you understand.

Alleged Wisdom said...

Thanks for the comment. Out of curiosity, how did you find this blog? Was this post the only recent thing that popped up on a search string like 'hated gone with the wind'?

Adela said...

Hi. I'd like to thank you as well. It feels good to read your own thought being worded so much better by someone else :)
It is exactly what I thought of the movie. I just saw it yesterday for the first time and for the entire 4 hours I was confused and could not understand why people liked this movie. I can understand why they liked it back then, but how can they not see how much wrong there is in it in our time?