So now that we’ve waded through the shallow inland sea of Confederate Apologetics, I’m
hoping we can all agree it’s not the “facts” that are in dispute here so much as it is
their implications. The debate isn’t whether or not the Civil War was fought over slavery—that’s
a simple matter-of-fact—but rather how & why certain people choose to spin the history
to suit their political objectives. Because make no mistake: Confederate Apologetics is
a political position, not a historical one—one which seeks to contextualize & defend the
premeditated evils of long-dead white people before even attempting to understand & improve
the social, economic, and political standing of living people of color. Some Confederate
apologists will try and argue that you can do both at the same time, but in my experience:
the people who spend their days making excuses for the Confederacy are not the same people
who'd support any kind of legislation that would
prioritize the advancement & well-being of black people.
On the contrary: they’re the kinds of people who insist that they “don’t see color,”
even though study after study proves that we do, who retweet Candice Owens as proof
that they pay attention to “black discourse,” and who misuse Martin Luther King Jr. quotes
to try and silence the reparations debate before it even begins. Because, remember kids:
if you’re not in favor of reparations, then you’re not really in favor of equality.
Not in this century, anyway.
[nervous laughter] Are there any Confederate apologists still watching? Or did y’all log off after
I called you cowards?
All right. As fun as it’s been to dismantle racist propaganda for the last 25 minutes,
I think I’ve proven my point—or at least thoroughly articulated my views. And that
was important to me, because I feel I can’t praise Gone with the Wind unless my audience
knows my opinion of the real, live Confederacy first.
Real "dead" Confederacy?
Now that you know what I think of Confederate Lost Cause mythology, I'm hoping you can follow along in good faith when I say that I think
Gone with the Wind is an unmitigated masterpiece—a transcendent specimen of cinema that demonstrates
the very apogee to which the filmic medium can ascend! Heh.
Or at the very least: a damn fine film.
I mean, the quality of the movie is the whole reason we’re even having this debate, right?
It’s not like we’re about to have the same debate about "Scarlett," now, are we?
So, for the most part, Gone with the Wind fans break down into two distinct groups.
There are those who think the film is racist, but still well-worth tolerating, because:
“Well, the people who made it were racist; that’s just the way things were
back then; the real racism would be to not make it racist; it’s just a movie; why don’t
you quit your delusional social-Marxist utopian virtue-signaling for two seconds and just
accept reality you whiney feminist SJW cu—?” Which is all just a bunch of gussied-up Confederate
apologia, if you ask me. Gussied-up racism, too. The people who try to excuse the past
by saying “that’s just how things were back then” are hoping that future generations
will say the same thing about their own unexamined evils. But anyway: the second group of fans—in
which I include myself—see the film as a carefully stylized, side-eyed critique of
the Confederacy… as told from the Confederate perspective.
"I don't care what you expect, or what they think. I'm gonna dance and dance!
"Tonight I wouldn't mind dancing with Abe Lincoln himself!"
Now, I think most everyone who investigates this controversy in good faith will agree
that the mere depiction of racism is not what progressive viewers might take issue with.
It’s the excusing, or even condoning of racist ideologies that concerns us. As far
as I’m concerned, being “great” doesn't exonerate the film—because stories don’t
exist in a vacuum. We need to ask ourselves whether or not Gone with the Wind actually
perpetuates Confederate Lost Cause ideology. Now, regardless of your political beliefs—whether
or not you think the Confederate flag should still fly over the—wait! Stop. This isn’t
the Confederate flag. This is the Confederate Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia.
This is the actual Confederate flag. Or at least it was… until it was replaced by the
so-called “Stainless Banner” in 1863… then the “Bloodstained Banner” in 1865.
Anyway, point is: whether or not you think that some vexillic representation of the Confederacy
should still fly proudly over the porches, pick-ups, and pelvises of the American South,
we should all still be able to come to an agreement on this one question: does Gone
with the Wind glorify what it depicts? It’s a tricky question, because glorification is
often in the eye of the beholder, but I still think we can draw some defensible conclusions
by focusing on four specific aspects of the discourse: what the film makes explicit, what
the film implies through coding, what we know of the author's intentions, and what impressions
the audience might take away from any given viewing. So let's dive in. The first thing
I want to look at is the history of the Confederacy as presented in the film. We already know
what the history was—that’s what the last video was for—but what does the film have
to say about it? Let’s take a look at this scene, from early in the film: Scarlett is
sneaking around Twelve Oakes, trying to find Ashley Wilkes so she can confess her love
to him before he has a chance to announce his engagement to Melanie Hamilton. Her search
takes her to within earshot of the smoking room, where all the men are busy talking about
the impending Civil War. "It's time we made them understand we keep our slaves with or
without their approval. T'was the sovereign right of the state of Georgia to secede from
the Union!" "That's right." So this is Scarlett's father talking here, and it's the very first
thing we hear in the scene. This would seem to imply that slavery was the main impetus
for secession. Not something most Confederate apologists would open with. Ashley Wilkes
then expresses his hope that the Union will let the South secede in peace. "If Georgia
fights, I go with her. But like my father I hope that the Yankees will let us leave
the Union in peace." As I said in the previous video, this is certainly something that plenty
of Southerners were hoping for—to secede in peace. But rather than all the characters
simply agreeing with Ashley, we’ve got some hot-head responding like this: "But Ashley!
They've insulted us! You can't mean you don't want war!" As if the war was a foregone conclusion
simply because of the North’s negative opinion of secession. Now, this particular view—that
the South was gonna declare war simply because they felt slighted—is not something I’ve
ever read in any historical record, but the fact that the film is presenting the Confederates
as these impulsive aggressors is worthy of note. After that exchange, another young buck
takes it as a personal offense that Rhett would even imply that the South wasn’t assured
victory over the North. “Are you hinting, Mr. Butler, that the Yankees can lick us?”
“No, I'm not hinting. I'm saying very plainly that the Yankees are better equipped than
we. They've got factories, shipyards, coalmines, and a fleet to bottle up our harbors and starve
us to death. All we've got is cotton, and slaves and... arrogance.” So what do we
have here? We have a scene that suggests the root cause of secession was indeed slavery,
and that the South was made up of short-sighted warhawks itching to start a war they were
too arrogant to realize they were never gonna win. Which refutes several major bullet-points
of Confederate Lost Cause ideology. But what about slavery? Doesn’t Gone with the Wind
depict slavery as like this perfectly amenable, happy-go-lucky institution that really wasn’t
that bad for the country—or even for black people? "Quitting time!" "Who says it's quitting
time?" "I said it's quitting time." "I's the foreman. I's the one says when it's quitting
time at Tara. Quitting time!" Yeah. Pretty much. All throughout the film, we never see
slaves enduring conditions any worse than that of butlers, farmers, maids… or extremely
incompetent midwives. Nobody gets whipped, nobody gets bought or sold, families aren’t
broken up, nobody’s brutalized or murdered—and, of course, there’s only one single attempt
at interrogating the morality of slavery itself… and it ends with Ashley Wilkes suggesting
it’s ok to keep slaves so long as you don’t treat them poorly. "Scarlett, I will not make
money out of the enforced labor and misery of others!" "You weren't so particular about
owning slaves." "That was different. We didn't treat them that way." No doubt plenty of slave-owners—hell,
I’ve heard members of my own family say that sure, slavery was bad, yeah, but lots
of slave-owners treated their slaves “like family,” taught them to read and write—to
become ministers! Anything but free them, right? Yeah... I’ve never been super-clear
on what sorta point the Confederate apologists are trying to make here when they argue that
slavery-abuses may have indeed presented on a spectrum. Like, seriously—what’s your
point? I encourage you all to explain yourselves in the comments. Because it sounds to me like
you’re saying slavery isn’t worth condemning so long as it was done out of some paternalistic
sense of evangelism-for-profit. So let’s cut to the chase: if I thought Gone with the
Wind were actually endorsing this position, I wouldn’t be able to watch it. Without
question. It’d be slavery apologia of the most unambiguous kind. But I honestly don’t
think the film is trying to endorse this position, and what’s more: I think the filmmakers
might actually want us to know that. The key factor is in who they gave the line to. If
Melanie Hamilton or Rhett Butler had said it, I’d consider it a tacit authorial endorsement,
since Melanie & Rhett are really the closest things we get to any sort of moral arbiter
in the film. Rhett may not always do good—in fact, he might rarely do good: "I'll smash
your skull between them like a walnut!" But he’s one of the only characters whose moral
compass always points north. He may not always abide by it… but at least he knows the heading.
But Ashley? Despite that hypnotic Transatlantic-by-way-of-Georgia accent, and those curly blond locks that never
seem to fall out of place, Ashley Wilkes is not presented in the film as the great arbiter
of truth & morality. On the contrary: he’s an obsequious, self-delusional, and chronically
hypocritical fuckboy. [“Fuqboi” by Hey Violet] "Oh, Scarlett, if you knew what I've
gone through!" Even when the film gives him the benefit of soft, glowing lighting, and
a swelling musical score, it’s usually only during his more ludicrous moments, like when
he points out that Melanie Hamilton being his first cousin is actually a selling point
for marriage: “She’s like me, Scarlett. She's part of my blood, we understand each
other.” He does occasionally dole out sage advice on the horrors of war: “Most of the
miseries of the world were caused by wars. And when the wars were over, no one ever knew
what they were about.” But even these moments aren’t in service of advancing Confederate
Apologetics. On the contrary: this quote would seem to suggest the pointlessness of the entire
Cause. Now, I know some people disagree with this interpretation. They think that Ashley
is supposed to be this tragic, upstanding gentleman of the South. But I always saw Ashley
as the living embodiment of self-delusional “Southern Gentleman” hypocrisy. And I
don’t think that’s just me reading into the text—I think he’s specifically coded
that way. "Dreams, always dreams with you! Never common-sense!" "Oh, Scarlett, if you
knew what I've gone through!" But perhaps we should talk more about what coding is.
Because that’s not the only “coding” that I see in the film. Coding is when a text
makes certain editorial statements about its own content without necessarily making those
statements explicitly. Like when all the men in the smoking room are saying they can’t
wait to go to war while the most sympathetic character in the scene—and the only character
with even an ounce of self-awareness—is in the corner chuckling to himself about the
foolishness of it all. See, for every pro-Confederate statement made by someone in this film, there’s
like a call & response—a suspicious side-eyeing that actively questions the merits of the
Confederacy. "Now get back to work. I can't do everything in Tara all by myself!" "What
do I care about Tara? I hate Tara!" These editorializations tend to ease up after the
first several reels, but only because we’re supposed to have gotten the point by then.
Rhett Butler is a big part of that. He’s easily the most self-aware character in the
film, and that self-consciousness is put to good use by him giving a running commentary
on the political & moral ramifications of nearly every scene he’s in. "And you, Mrs.
Hamilton. I know just how much that means to you!” Sometimes it’s downright meta:
"You should've made your presence known!" “In the middle of that beautiful love-scene?”
And Rhett, notably, doesn’t have a high opinion of the Confederacy. “Are you trying
to tell me you don’t believe in the Cause?” “I believe in Rhett Butler. He's the only
cause I know!" He does eventually join the fight, but only at the end of the war, and
only after he’s certain they’re going to lose. “Maybe it’s because I've always
had a weakness for lost causes, once they’re really lost.” And even then, he can’t
help but note the foolishness of his own behavior: “I'll never understand or forgive myself.
And if a bullet gets me, so help me I’ll laugh at myself for being an idiot.” None
of this makes Rhett a good man, mind you. "I'll smash your skull between them like a
walnut!" But he’d be the first person to agree with that. "I am neither noble nor heroic."
That doesn’t make him any less morally compromised, but it makes him invaluable for the purposes
of editorial coding. See, a lot of people dismiss Gone with the Wind because it looks
just like so much Confederate propaganda to them. Just look at those sweeping vistas!
That rousing score! Read the opening text crawl, for God’s sake! But that’s the
point. See, this flowery pro-slavery prose doesn’t sound like something Rhett would
say—or even Ashley or Scarlett. This sounds like all those hotheads that the film will
be making fun of in twenty minutes. In its opening act, Gone with the Wind deliberately
replicates the look & feel of Confederate propaganda—because it is, after all, a story
told from the perspective of the South—but only in such an exaggerated fashion that the
audience is clued into the fact that the perspectives they're about to see are irrevocably biased.
And then it spends the next several reels letting Rhett Butler tear those perspectives
to pieces. I know this might sound like I’m reading too much into this. Interpreting the
tea-leaves as I see fit. But I don’t think I am. This is all recognizable film language
here, and what’s more—I’ve seen the exact same techniques used in other films
that are unequivocally opposed to the ideologies of their main characters. And if you’re
having trouble picturing what that might look like, allow me to direct your attention to
a film I bet you never thought would pop up in a video about Gone with the Wind. "Young
people from all over the globe are joining up to fight for the future." "I'm doing my
part!" "I'm doing my part!" "I'm doing my part!" "I'm doing my part, too!" Now, I’ll
be the first to admit that Starship Troopers is a very pointed satire in a way that Gone
with the Wind clearly isn’t. But if you start with the desire to tell a story from
the perspective of slavers & fascists... "I'm from Buenos Aires, and I say kill 'em all!"
...and you don’t want to show any support for their ideologies, but you also don’t
want to turn your film into a sermonizing after-school-special, you might construct
a film very similar to either of these two, in which almost every character is a short-sighted,
self-interested jingoist with nary an ounce of self-awareness. "Force, my friends, is
violence. The supreme authority from which all other authority is derived." And that
any sentiment expressed by the characters in support of totalitarianism, or armed rebellion
in the name of slavery, is done with this sort of winking irony: "Don't talk about Carmen
that way!" "Johnny!" "How dare you! You aren't fit to wipe his boots!" "And you were going
to hate him for the rest of your life!" Even their trumpeting fanfares are similarly aggrandizing!
But wait! Just hang on a minute. Couldn’t someone still make the argument that Gone
with the Wind is a pro-Confederate film, but only with just enough muted side-eyeing to
give touchy-feely Leftists enough plausible deniability to claim otherwise? I mean, at
the end of the day, can you really get any more reverential than this? Oh, you sweet,
summer child. May I present, for your viewing displeasure: Gods and Generals. "And I hope
by your future deeds and bearing and you will be handed down to posterity. As the 1st Brigade,
in this, our Second War of Independence!" For those who don’t know, Gods and Generals
is a three-and-a-half hour Civil War battle reenactment intercut with footage of Generals
Robert E. Lee & Stonewall Jackson pontificating about all the numerous glories of the Confederacy.
“That’s something these Yankess do not understand, will never understand!" You'd
think it was made in 1903, not 2003. “Just as we would not send any of our soldiers to
march in other states and tyrannize other people... so will we never allow the armies
of others to march into our state, and tyrannize our people.” I literally don’t have enough
time to play all the clips that attempt to exonerate the Confederacy here. “Don’t
they know we’re fighting for our independence?!” It makes Gone with the Wind look like Young
Mr. Lincoln. [“I never thought I’d live to see the day when a President of the United
States would raise an army to invade his own country!” Now, Gone with the Wind is similarly
chock-full of characters who stan the Confederacy and want to cancel the Union, but there’s
one crucial difference: the characters in Gone with the Wind are presented as “protagonists,”
whereas the characters in Gods and Generals are presented as “heroes.” Where Scarlett
O’Hara is a conniving cutthroat bent on personal gain, whose ruthless methods of self-preservation
raise eyebrows all throughout the film, Stonewall Jackson is presented as a transcendently pious
man with nary a single human flaw: "Amen!" Hey, you wanna know how Stonewall Jackson
died? He got shot by his own troops while taking an unannounced night-ride through no-man’s-land.
In hindsight… seems almost fitting. “God has fixed the time for my death; I do not
concern myself with that.” Every time some kid has to decide whether he’s going to
fight for the North or the South, he screws his courage to the sticking place and chooses
his beloved home-state as the music swells in the most painfully unironic way. "Colonel
Jackson, sir. Father. I am a soldier in the 4th Virginia." That’s one of the ways you
can tell how one-sided the film’s politics are: there’s never any counter-argument
for anything the Confederates say or do. Just these dumb reaction-shots every time Robert
E. Lee says something sagacious into the middle distance. “He's lost his left arm… I have
lost my right.” Wait, I take that back. There is one scene where Union officer Joshua
Chamberlain gives a sermonizing speech about the evils of slavery. "I will admit it, Tom,
war is a scourge, but so is slavery." But it feels so bolted-on and out-of-place within
the context of the rest of the film that it actually made me wonder if it was perhaps
included as a way to try and mock the Union. As if the filmmakers were saying “Look at
these moralizing Yankees! Worried about the slaves… when we all know the South was set
to free them all, anyway!” As far as this film is concerned, nobody was in favor of
slavery during the Civil War. There’s even a scene where Stonewall Jackson—who owned
slaves, mind you—practically prays for the swift end of slavery and then tells his free
black cook that the higher-ups within the Confederacy are hoping to grant freedom to
any slave who fights for the Southern Cause.“Your people will be free… one way or t'other.
Only question is whether the Southern government will have the good sense to do it first, and
soon!" Just one problem: that never actually happened. Not even close. It was only ever
floated as a trial-balloon in the last few desperate months of the war. To say nothing
of the fact that offering freedom from bondage as a reward for enlistment—as a reward for
anything, for that matter—is still morally reprehensible. Like—we all know if Aladdin
were really such a great guy, he would’ve freed Genie with his first wish, not his last!
"Now, is that an official wish? Say the magic words!" "Genie, I wish for your freedom."
"All riiight! Yo yo yo yo!" But I’m not willing to leave it at that. Why doesn’t
this film just condemn slavery outright? Why doesn’t it show slavery for the evil that
it is? Well, this is where authorial intent finally comes into play. Producer David O.
Selznick is probably the closest we’ll ever get to an actual “author” of this film.
Gone with the Wind had three different directors working on it, three cinematographers, and
no less than six different writers. But each and every one of them reported to Selznick.
He was the one who shepherded the project from the initial acquisition of the rights
to the final premiere. By all accounts, Selznick was a progressive liberal who wanted to make
a film that was sympathetic to African-Americans—writing in one studio memo.... See, Selznick was worried
about a repeat of 1915—when the release of Birth of a Nation almost single-handedly
revived interest in the Ku Klux Klan, which had laid largely dormant for the previous
four decades. Selznick is responsible for excising any mention of the Klan from the
script. In this scene, where a Union officer shows up trying to find Rhett Butler and a
bunch of men who may have been involved in a recent killing, Melanie says they’re at
a “political meeting.” “Search if you like, but Mr. Wilkes is at a political meeting
at Mr. Kennedy's store. "He's not at the store, and there's no meeting tonight! No "political"
meeting. In the original novel, their cover was a KKK rally. In studio memos, Selznick
says he made the edit not to try and sanitize the history of the South, but because he felt
it would be too much of a narrative burden for the film to make the characters Klan-members
and then have to explain to the audience that the filmmakers weren’t actually endorsing
the Klan. And if you’re wondering why he didn’t have the same concerns about presenting
the characters as slavers, I suspect it’s because slavery was both illegal and universally
condemned by society at large in 1939, whereas the Klan was decidedly not. For the most part,
Selznick seems to have been more concerned with humanizing the black characters in Gone
with the Wind than he was with condemning slavery. The novel contains some rather notorious
passages that describe Mammy as a… whereas Hattie McDaniel’s characterization is decidedly
warm, witty, and empathic. Mammy is, in fact, the only main character, besides Rhett, who
explicitly condemns much of Scarlett’s behavior. "You know what trouble I's talking about!
I's talking about Mr. Ashley Wilkes! He'll be coming to Atlanta when he gets his leave,
and you sitting there waiting for him just like a spider!” But not everyone agreed
that Selznick succeeded in making the black characters sympathetic. Critics immediately
pointed out that Mammy and the rest of Scarlett’s slaves never seem to resent being held in
bondage. Critic & dramatist Carlton Moss even invoked Birth of a Nation in his review of
the film, saying that while Birth of a Nation was a "frontal attack on American history,"
Gone with the Wind was a "rear attack on the same.” He called the film a "nostalgic plea
for sympathy for a still-living cause of Southern reaction." Picketers at the premiere marched
with signs that read “You’d be sweet, too, under a whip!” To say nothing of the
fact that Selznick also caved to racist regional pressures—allowing the premiere to proceed
at the Loew’s Grand Theater in Atlanta, even though it refused to seat black people,
because he didn’t want to offend “the very delicate Southern attitude toward segregation."
It seems that for every step forward that Selznick took, there was a corresponding step
sideways. Selznick lead the push to get Hattie McDaniel an Oscar, but even as wonderful as
that recognition was, it didn’t prevent McDaniel from being typecast as “the maid”
for the rest of her career. I couldn't even name another film from Hattie McDaniel's filmography
until I looked it up. And Butterfly McQueen was basically forced to retire after she refused
to play any more roles that she found demeaning to black people. "I didn't want to be in any
and everything. I wanted to be in quality things." My take on Selznick is that he seems
to have meant well, and he certainly moved the needle, but he also acted as if it was
his job to decide what was best for oppressed minority groups, rather than letting oppressed
minority groups decide what was best for themselves. And lots of people were rightfully hoping
for more than just incremental progress with a project as high-profile as this. Curiously
enough, there’s still one major aspect of the film that we haven’t really talked about
yet. I think probably because she’s one of the least ambiguous aspects of the film.
I’m referring of course to the main character—Scarlett O’Hara. Scarlett exemplifies—epitomizes—the
difference between a “hero” and a “protagonist.” You won’t hear me trying to argue that Scarlett
O’Hara is a “good person.” "Oh, hush up!" Not even Scarlett would argue that. “I'm
afraid now! I’m afraid of dying and going to hell!” She certainly has virtues, like
“strength” and “willfulness,” but she’s not virtuous. On the contrary—she’s
a brutal & manipulative self-preservationist who doesn’t think twice about screwing over
anyone who gets in her way. "Well... she's going to marry one of the county boys next
month. She just got tired of waiting, was afraid she'd be an old maid, and.... Oh, I'm
sorry to be the one to tell you." Who copes with the difficulties of life by literally
shooting first and asking questions later. “Well, I guess I've done murder. I won't
think about that now. I’ll think about that tomorrow.” And that’s the point. Scarlett
isn’t a hero, she’s an anti-hero. Nothing she does is meant to be an endorsement of
said-behavior. I think that’s one thing the film is exceedingly clear on: "I left
my muff at home. Would you mind if I put my hand in your pocket?" But of course, a character
doesn’t need to be “good” or “moral” in order for us to get catharsis out of their
story. We’re not supposed to evaluate Scarlett’s actions from Scarlett’s perspective. Rhett
& Mammy are the ones who offer all the editorial analysis we’ll ever need. They both want
Scarlett to succeed, but not by any of the methods she actually uses to get ahead. Rhett
admires the virtues he sees in Scarlett, but he’s almost literally driven mad waiting
around for her to become a better person. And that’s not on Scarlett! That’s on
Rhett—for wanting Scarlett to be the way that he wants her to be, rather than the way
she ever actually was. This, too, is made explicit—by none other than Rhett himself—who
surmises that the whole reason he wanted a daughter with Scarlett so badly was because
he wanted a version of her who would accept the kind of love that he was offering. “She
was so like you. And I could pet her and spoil her as I wanted to spoil you.” And in the
end, when Rhett realizes they’ve both missed too many opportunities for self-improvement…
“Frankly, my Dear, I don’t give a damn.” ...he leaves. But before that final moment,
we witness what is perhaps the most incendiary scene in the entire film—which actually
has nothing to do with the Confederacy: "I'll smash your skull between them like a walnut!"
So first, a little context. This is late in the film, after Scarlett & Rhett have been
married for several years, with Rhett still holding out hope that Scarlett might finally
drop her torch for Ashley and fall in love with him. But Scarlett rebuffs him, and as
a token of her resolve, she says she’s not going to share a bed with him ever again.
"No, but you know what I... do you know what I mean?" "I do." Rhett plays it cool over
the denial of sex, but he can’t take the romantic rebuff. "Do you mean to say you don't
care?" "The world is full of many things and many people, and I shan't be lonely. I will
find comfort elsewhere." "Well, that's fine. But I warn you, just in case you change your
mind, I intend to lock my door." "Why bother? "If I wanted to come in, no lock could keep
me out!" Later that night, Rhett gets drunk, re-voices all of his displeasures, threatens
to kill Scarlett with his bare hands… and then hauls her up the stairs to rape. "This
is one night you're not turning me down!" An image that the marketing campaign then
co-opted to try and push the film as a swooning romance. The next morning, the film heavily
implies that Scarlett enjoyed the experience. But here’s the thing: whether she did or
didn’t doesn’t determine whether or not it was rape. Lemme say that again. Whether
or not Scarlett enjoyed it has no bearing on whether or not Rhett committed rape. Rhett
had sex with her without her consent—after she’d told him she wasn’t going to sleep
with him, no less! "Well, I hope I don't have any more children." Rhett committed marital
rape, in no uncertain terms. Now, I, for one, absolutely despise the all-too-common trope
where a man has sex with a woman without her consent, only to have his actions hand-waved
away by the filmmakers by suggesting the woman enjoyed it. "All all nerds as good as you?"
As far as I’m concerned, this is the epitome—the quintessence—of rape culture. It teaches
men that the thing to seek isn’t consent, but rather post-hoc absolution, which can
apparently take the form of just “showing her a good time.” But where Gone with the
Wind breaks from the trope is in what happens next. "Hello. I, uh. I'd like to extend my
apologies for my conduct of last night." "Oh, but Rhett!" "I was very drunk. And, uh...
quite swept off my feet by your charms." He offers Scarlett a tacit apology, then he offers
Scarlett a divorce. "I've been thinking things over and I really believe that it'd be better
for both of us if we admitted we made a mistake and got a divorce." Which she rejects on the
pretense that it would be too socially humiliating. "Thank you very much, but I wouldn't dream
of disgracing the family with a divorce." Rhett then announces he’s leaving for Europe.
"I'm going on a very extended trip, to London." See, my take on this scene is that there was
no way he was gonna stick around—not after what he’d done. The apology doesn’t absolve
Rhett, mind you. I don’t think anything does. But what’s worthy of note here is
that the film is not rewarding him for his actions. See, a lot of people interpret this
scene as a tacit condoning of marital rape. Or worse—they don't think it depicts a rape
at all. But I, for one, think this film is both depicting a rape in no uncertain terms…
and quietly condemning it—which is only as loud as they could condemn it, given the
restrictions that the Hays Code put on the production. We never see Rhett even momentarily
gratified for his attack, nor does it solidify, strengthen, or repair their marriage. On the
contrary—it’s the final act that leads to its ultimate destruction. "'Scuse me, Mr.
Rhett." It’s important, I think, to understand and even empathize with Scarlett’s motivations.
She was born into a world that asked nothing of her, built on the backs of the oppressed,
who had everything taken away without anyone telling her she had anything to offer except
the ability to marry up. But empathy & sympathy aren’t the same thing. We can empathize
with Scarlett without wanting to see her succeed. Not like this, anyway. Simply put: Scarlett
isn’t a heroine, she’s a mess. And I am a card-carrying messy bitch who lives for
drama. Her fate is a tragedy, not a romance. The fact that it's a tragedy of her own making
doesn't make it any less tragic. She’s punished for her hubris, and what’s more: she doesn’t
even know she’s lost by the end of the film. “And I'll think of some way to get him back!
After all… tomorrow is another day!” Kinda like the true legacy of the Confederacy, if
you ask me. If Gone with the Wind has a “great sin,” it’s that—by not explicitly condemning
the Confederacy, it gives plausible deniability to the bigots who’d watch it and go “Yes,
that’s my Old Beloved South!” And it’s because of this omission—which people were
pointing out as soon as it premiered—that viewers like me feel compelled to dedicate
enormous amounts of time & energy repudiating the viewers who would seek to use this film
as a showpiece for their racist ideologies. I spent about four months in active production
on this video series, which means I spent a third of a year—almost 1% of my entire
life—analyzing, interpreting, and expounding my views on the film… just so that I can
put it on my shelf. That's the problem with this film. You don’t know what you're condoning
by simply turning it on in public. It is the film's fault that we are still asking this
question even 80 years later. But I don’t think that’s a problem best solved by banning
Gone with the Wind. I mean as a blanket rule. I’ve got no problem with theaters cancelling
local screenings if they can’t account for the political leanings of their audiences—especially
when the theater happens to be located in the state that birthed the KKK. But as one
of my friends put it: Gone with the Wind should definitely still be watched… but it needs
to be more than just watched. It needs to be discussed. Interpreted. Contextualized.
Which is what I hope I’ve done with these videos. But we can’t stop here. We need
to finally start making better media about the Civil War. Yes—better than Gone with
the Wind. Like—you know what’s way cooler than a TV show headlined by two white guys
about what the United States would look like if the South had won the Civil War? How about
a TV show about what the United States would look like if slaves had actually gotten reparations?
If Andrew Johnson hadn’t rescinded the 40-acres-and-a-mule promise? If Confederate veterans hadn’t
gotten their voting rights restored by a sympathetic Southern president within three years of the
end of the war? If Jim Crow hadn’t happened? If Plessy v. Ferguson went the other way?
If the Civil Rights Act were passed in 1864 instead of 1964? If the Southern Strategy
hadn’t been a thing? Or maybe if the ruling classes of the United States hadn’t deliberately
codified racial hierarchies into the fabric of American life in the wake of Bacon’s
Rebellion as a way to keep the lower classes in check way back in 1676? I’d watch the
shit out of that! And I’m just a white boy from Davie. What’s your excuse?