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Gone With The Wind: My Lost Cause

Consider a life hating a book that everyone else seems to love. And hating the nearly-as-beloved movie made from that same despicable book.

I have spent much of my life telling relatives, friends, acquaintance, passers-by and total strangers that Gone With The Wind is a terrible movie, and that Margaret Mitchell's book is even worse (419,000 words! It's like one of L. Ron Hubbard's artery-choking books).

Kin always laughed at my self-righteous piety and argumentative silliness.

But they were wrong. GWTW always made me angry. Deeply so. It even makes me angry that it does not make other people angry.

Now HBO has decided to "reframe" the 1939 movie with "context," presumably a panel discussion, and then re-show it again, and again and again. It's just what Black Lives Matter needs to make it even more justifiably angry about white mindlessness.

In GWTW, black lives don't matter at all. They are charming props.


But the movie won eight Oscars including "Best Picture" and remains a valuable piece of HBO property. If slavery taught us anything about economic morality, it's that owners hate to waste property.

HBO's resuscitation is another lost opportunity (lost cause?) to simply kill a bad piece of visual literature. Put it in a vault, slam the door shut permanently and walk away.

As for reframing, you could reframe the Confederate Stars and Bars flag with nice fringe, but it still would be the flag of traitors. No need to put translated footnotes in Mein Kampf.

Yankees don't quite get the metaphysics of that flag. Or the movie. Or the book. It's just another way to flip the bird at Lincoln and everything his Union followers believed. The Confederacy didn't lose. It just ran out of time.

I take the Confederacy's treason personally as I do GWTW's sly elevation and affirmation of racism. As for the "Stars and Bars" flag, no one raises the Nazi battle flag and suggests it's just heritage being honored.

GWTW's central premise keeps resuscitating the idea that the Confederacy and its treason were "quaint," and almost-noble-though-flawed in its misunderstandings. The South was provoked, you know?

No, the Confederacy was a brutal regime based on human misery. GWTW as a movie mugs at that proposition.

Even with NASCAR dumping the Confederate flag, we seem unable to loosen the Confederacy's grip on our windpipe.

If it sounds as though this is personal to me, that's because it is. I am a man of Southern birth, upbringing and temperament. I have fought the fake gentility of GWTW's racism among my own relatives for most of my life. It was my "Lost Cause."

Why? GWTW is an insidious lie wrapped in charm. Mitchell deliberately mythologizes Southern victimhood with central characters not even their mothers would love. In one of Mitchell's most disturbing but deliberate concoctions, she invents a mob of black men who attack Scarlett, and are driven away by noble saviors from the KKK.

Scarlett O'Hara (Shriek!) is one of the most truly unlikable heroins in literature. In Mitchell's world, she's a tempestuous feminist (Gasp!) and her slaves are happy-go-lucky dark people who love being owned. (Let me outta here!)

The first time I read GWTW as a teenager, I regarded it as among the two dozen or so other terrible books that teachers insisted were "classic."

Mitchell's book is 500 pages of shallow bodice-ripping breathiness and likely the worst novel ever to win the Pulitzer. Critics debate how such an insipid book could have been called "great" for so long.

But GWTW both as a book and movie prove that bad ideas and human cruelty can find artistic defenders if you portray bigotry as charming. But the book is not a good book, not only structurally for bad writing.

If it were well-written, would the seminal anti-Semitic screed The Elders of Zion be a good book? Even as fictional characters, unrequited bigots are very forgiving of their own bigotry. As a result, we have consumed Mitchell's interpretation of charming, scalawag traitors for 80 years.

That testifies to the power of visual and written literature, even very bad literature.

For reasons that astound and disturb me, the book remains beloved for reasons that leave me stone cold. It's still among Amazon's most positively reader-rated books of all time.

The alternate view seems more appropriate. As one of the few bad reviews on Goodreads notes: "A great ending to this book would be, 'And Mammy pulled so hard on Scarlett's laces that Scarlett's organs failed and she died. El Fin.' Then you wouldn't have to keep reading the next 500 pages or so."


You remember Clark Gable's "Frankly, Scarlett" comeuppance but little else, except for Hattie McDaniel's role as "Mammy," and Thelma "Butterfly" McQueen's turn as the addled, squeaky-voiced maid Prissy. The Prissy role - an accurate interpretation from the book - was so riddled with deep Southern racism even in 1939 that it earned McQueen the undying enmity of black audiences for generations.

As a testament to endemic racism's power to endure, she was typecast in that role for the rest to her acting life. McDaniel won the Supporting Oscar - the first black woman to win an Oscar.

When 300,000 Atlantans and guests poured into the street to celebrate the movie's debut there in 1939, McQueen and McDaniel didn't get to see it.

The movie debuted at the Atlanta Loew's Grand Theatre. It was segregated.

When the Oscars were awarded, McDaniel was not allowed to sit with the white actors. She had to sit in the back of the theater. Even that indignity was a negotiated accommodation because Gable threatened to boycott the event if McDaniel was banned.

David Selznick, the movie's producer, printed posters all across the South before the movie debuted. The posters in the South omitted the faces of all the black actors.

At her death at age 59, McDaniel's family was barred from burying her in the famous Hollywood Cemetery. It was segregated.


Recently by David Rutter:

* Kris Bryant's Future Bar Trick.

* Mansplaining To A Millionaire.

* Status Check: Chicago Sports.

* The Week In WTF Redux: Blago Is Back Edition.

* What Is A Chicagoan Anyway?

* Glenn Beck's Turn In The Volcano.

* Only Science Will Bring Back Sports.

* I Loathe The Lockdown Protestors.

* Reopening Books.

* A Return To Abnormalcy.

* I'm Having A Down Day Emotionally. Here's Why.

* So Long, Jerry.

* A Special "Trump's Bible" Edition Of WTF.

* 5 Things An Angry Old White Man Wants To Say.

* An ANTIFA American Hero.

* The Fonz Lives And Franco Is Dead: News You Can't Use.


David Rutter is the former publisher/editor of the Lake County News-Sun, and more importantly, the former author of the Beachwood's late, great "The Week In WTF" column. You can also check him out at his Theeditor50's blog. He welcomes your comments.


Posted on June 12, 2020

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