Friday, 9 September 2016

The Song of the South, Life's inevitable conclusion and the SS Edmund Fitzgerald

I recently acquired a DVD copy of 'Song of the South'; Disney's 1946 classic live action/animation film from 1946 about the tales of Unce Remus about Br'er Rabbit. This proved to be more difficult to obtain than I first envisaged; apparently Disney have embargoed any release for the domestic market since the '90s on the grounds of incipient racism. I find this hard to credit. It reflects a view not only prevalent in the year of its creation but also a view prevalent at the time in which the film is set.

Yes, it paints an anodyne picture of a world which is neither realistic nor true to the horrors of slavery and the imported slaves but when did Disney ever paint a realistic picture of anything; Cinderella always gets Prince Charming and every story ends happily ever after in spite of what vagaries the characters experience. Does anyone complain about the gung-ho' war movies of John Wayne or Audie Murphy, the stylised 'cowboy' movies of John Ford or the silly rom-coms of Cary Grant or Gene Kelly. No, of course they don't! So why are Disney so reticent about releasing the first integrated live action/animated movie, which in technical terms is at least as accomplished as Mary Poppins twenty years later? And bear in mind what the later film says about English society in the 1920's; about the us and them class system.

Does one denigrate the inherant racism in Defoe's 'Robinson Crusoe'or the pciture of English society in Austen or the Brontë sisters; the bleak often dire depictions of Dickens or Zola? No, of course not; they depict society, in part at least, as it was and not perhaps what it should be. We do not judge the 'Malleus Malificarum' on the basis of twenty-first century beliaf; why should the wonderful 'Song of the South' be consigned therefore to a metaphorical dustbin.

I think much of the criticism stems from an initial misunderstanding of the period in which it is set; antebellum (Civil War) as opposed to the correct period post emancipation*. Uncle Remus is not a slave, merely an emancipated slave. I also think that neo-liberal whites do not want to remember that period of American history because it upsets their sensibilities; remember that the whole of Europe was involved in what has euphemistically been called the triangular transatlantic trade. (The Texans even managed to try to get the slave trade officially redesignated the TTT in text books used to educate the young; thankfully they failed at the last hurdle) It is an uncomfortable fact, much like the genocide of the Native American 'Indians', which perhaps 'enlightened', liberal America would rather forget. But as Santayana pointed out (in relation to the Holocaust); 'Those who forget the past are doomed to relive it'.

I think that Disney have seriously misjudged the young. 8-10 year olds do not view a Disney film as a gospel of history, they view it as entertainment. And even if they did, they should, if the education system is even half-good, have it knocked out of them by the time they are sixteen and if they don't then something is seriously wrong somewhere.

Europeans do not appear to have this angst about their history, which was much more dire then American history. They seem to accept more readily that trying to understand an historical view which does not accord with twenty-first thinking is a futile gesture except in an abstract sense; i.e I understand that view because of what everyone believed was the case AT THE TIME. Perhaps all that is required is for Americans to GROW UP.

Commiserations and much sympathy go to poor MG who has recently lost his mother, at 90, to that great leveller, death. Humans are often quoted as believing that they know when it is time to die. That they know that what you came through once becomes harder the second time around and so they cannot face a third round of the same and so bow out shortly before the bell for the third round. Perhaps true , perhaps not but I do know that MG in his grief believes it so.

And finally. If you have never heard the song 'The wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald' by Gordon Lightfoot (a Canuck singer-songwriter), please download from iTunes; you will not be disappointed. MG has a vinyl copy bought at the time (around 1972/3) which he plays to this day; for some reason it reminds him of Salzburg.

* Slavery was, I think, the 'stated' cause of the Civil War' but not necessarily the actual cause. I think that the Southern States had wanted to secede long before the North abolished slavery and pressed the south to do similar; bear in mind that Lincoln was not even on the papers for the Presidential ballot in the Southern states. Lincoln's over-riding concern was the preservation of the Union and would, I believe, have accomodated a continuation of slavery in the Southern states had the South not seceded in the way that they did.