It’s OK to love the classics despite their flaws
Gone With The Wind re-entered the Culture War last night. President Trump said something outrageous about it, which is what he does best, or worst. He bemoaned the fact that Parasite, a South Korean movie, won the Oscar for Best Picture.
“I’m looking for like … let’s get ‘Gone with the Wind,’ can we get ‘Gone with the Wind’ back, please?” Trump said. “‘Sunset Boulevard.’ So many great movies,” he continued. “The winner from South Korea, I thought it was best foreign film. Best foreign movie. No … did this ever happen before?”
Twitter erupted immediately, calling Trump’s mentioning of Gone With The Wind as “the doggiest dogwhistle,” less implying, and more outwardly stating, that by endorsing Gone With The Wind, Trump was embracing the “peculiar institution” of slavery and endorsing white supremacy.
Even though other critics for this publication might disagree, I liked Parasite a lot. It captured the vibe of our times better than any other film in 2019. But I also love Gone With The Wind, despite its obvious flaws. Gone With The Wind depicts happy pickaninnies working the field and gave full voice to the Mammy stereotype. It includes the most racially suspect piece of dialogue in film history when Butterfly McQueen busts out “I don’t know nothin’ ’bout ‘birthin’ no babies!”
The movie glamorizes and lionizes the slaveholding class of the Old South. It’s also undeniably racist. But I don’t think that’s why Trump mentioned it. It’s a melodramatic, trashy, gorgeous epic, the Best Picture of Hollywood’s best year that set the template for big American movies to come. Gone With The Wind has great depth of emotion, unparalleled lavishness, amazing historical scope, unforgettable strong central female performances, and a legendary score.
Donald Trump isn’t a cinematic hipster like our previous President. I’m sure Obama picked Parasite to win his Oscar pool. I saw someone say on Twitter that the only movie Trump’s seen is Home Alone 2, because he was in it. That’s an actually funny joke, but it’s also not based in any kind of reality.
Gone With the Wind is a four hour movie, and the possibility that Trump has sat though four hours of television where his name isn’t said is small. The crude white identity politics of “Korean movie bad, Lost Cause movie good” are obvious and say nothing we didn’t already know.
— Adam Serwer🍝 (@AdamSerwer) February 21, 2020
The President likes old movies. In fact, he was a guest programmer on Turner Classic Movies in 2007. His choices included Gone With The Wind, The African Queen, and Citizen Kane, among others. We could consider some of his choices “problematic” by today’s standards, but they’re also undeniably classic Hollywood, the types of movies he sat through at the picture house as a boy. TCM has shrouded most of Trump’s appearances behind an expensive paywall, but in this clip, he fascinatingly, and somewhat ironically, compares himself to Charles Foster Kane.
There’s no way that, in invoking Gone With The Wind, that Trump was signaling anything than a kind of grumpy-old-fartness about cinematic culture. He wasn’t advocating a return to the antebellum South or winking at the Klan. If so, then why namecheck Sunset Boulevard, a movies that has nothing to do with race whatsoever? I’m not a racist, as far as I know, and look at the back wall of my office.
Those are movies that Donald Trump and I love in common, and I voted for Clinton like a good boy. But am I not supposed to love classic movies now that Trump has endorsed them? Have we canceled Gone With The Wind except for secret showings at Republican Party gatherings? Trump is a movie coot. So I guess there goes one of my favorite hobbies.
Parasite won Best Picture. There were a couple of movies I would have taken over it, but it was a legitimate choice. It’s great that it came from South Korea, because great movies come from all over the world. Mexican directors have won something like a half-dozen Oscars in recent memory. People like movies everywhere, and xenophobia has no place in film criticism. Of course Parasite is a better movie than Gone With The Wind. It’s way more nuanced and sophisticated. But will people still be watching clips of it in 70 years? We love our garbage and our knickknacks, and Gone With the Wind is the most magnificent sweeping garbage that Hollywood ever made.
It’s absurd that movies exist for Red State or Blue State people alone, for Republicans or Democrats, for Americans or for people from any other country. Let’s pick apart the politics of any movie, or any piece of culture. Some of us earn money doing just that. But the classics are the classics. Gone With The Wind, and other movies from a less woke era, make everything that’s happening today possible. Maybe Trump doesn’t see that. It’s highly likely. But the fact that he likes Gone With The Wind doesn’t mean he wants to bring back slavery. In fact, it doesn’t mean anything at all. Let’s not erase Gone With The Wind because people hate the President. It’s an election season, so I’m sure he’ll do something that makes people even more angry soon.
After all, tomorrow is another day to own the libtards.