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Lincoln: Spielberg comes up short by exploiting southern stereotypes

 

lincoln

By David R. Altman,

Progress contributor

So, after all the fanfare and the anticipation, the movie Lincoln turned out to be short of extraordinary. Believe what you have read about the performance of Daniel Day-Lewis: it was unforgettable.

     As you think aboutcertain public  figures, you can't help but associate them with the actors who 'became' them. Clearly, you will no longer be able to look at a picture of Lincoln (and I have one hanging above this keyboard) without thinking of the extraordinary portrayal by Day-Lewis.  

This movie appears to have everything going for it, including being directed by Steven Spielberg whose films have generated more than $8 billion dollars and won him two Academy Awards. It has an extraordinary cast, which includes Tommy Lee Jones and Sally Fields.

They also had a subject matter that was taken from a best-selling book by Pulitzer Prize winner Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Not a bad line-up.

The movie itself dealt with a small section of that book that focused on Lincoln's obsession with passage of the 13th amendment, which abolished slavery in the United States. The entire film took place during the final four months of his presidency.  While the movie was incredibly well-done, it lapsed into what we so often see as somewhat predictable, interpretative story-telling and it gave in to the all-too-easy portrayal of the South as not only unlikeable, but downright evil.

According to Kearns-Goodwin, Spielberg told her well before she started the book that he wanted to buy the film rights once it was published. He was anxious to tell the story of the fight over the 13th amendment.  And this is what he did. While this film was about Lincoln, it will be remembered by some for Spielberg's decision to (predictably and unfortunately) use his film to portray negative Southern character stereotyping that we have almost come to expect from so many films (the Banjo Boy in Deliverance and the 'Captain' in Cool Hand Luke come to mind). But instead of giving us the magic (and balance) of Ken Burn's masterpiece The Civil War or the human complexities of Gone With the Wind, we instead get the same, sad (and simplistic) characterization of bad Southerners opposing good Northerners.  

If you see the film, it's easy to see who the 'heroes' are: everyone surrounding Lincoln. Beginning with the abolitionist congressmen (and they were all white men at the time, since women not only couldn't run, they couldn't even vote back then) to the members of Lincoln's cabinet - all were the heroes in the film.  

The 'Southern' contingent was portrayed,  at Spielberg's interpretation, only as hate mongers and racists (the character of Alexander Stephens, the vice president of the Confederacy, who was a Congressman from Georgia and later its governor, was portrayed by Jackie Earle Haley (a.k.a. Freddie Kruger) in what most will remember as an extraordinarily evil man representing what Spielberg stereotypically portrays as an extraordinarily evil South. 

Blacks in this film are poignantly (and understandably) portrayed by Spielberg as both social victims and military heroes. No one doubts the accuracy of that interpretation. Thematically, slavery is the low-hanging fruit of the Civil War (most scholars acknowledge this and movies love to exploit it). A defense lawyer might call this leading the witness, but it's really more about leading the audience, in this case down the politically correct road.

It's not as if this is anything new.  According to a article which appeared on CNN.com, Southern stereotypes "are very longstanding," says David Davis, a literature and Southern studies professor at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia.  Davis says it's always predictable - particularly in film as well as in many aspects of American life. "African-American caricature has become less acceptable and white Southern caricature has taken its place," Davis said.

No one is denying Spielberg's editorial and, frankly, political license to focus on this aspect of Lincoln's life. In fact, the passing of the 13th Amendment was a crowning achievement for a man who was arguably our greatest president.

But there was no effort made to show the complexities of both sides of this war or even of the debate around the 13th amendment. While I would stop short of calling the film 'revisionist history’ - what a disappointment it was that the greatest film director of our age took the easy (and politically correct) way out; that is, good vs. evil, black vs. white, Republicans vs. Democrats, liberal vs. conservative, victims vs. victimizers. Sound familiar? 

While you certainly don't expect slave owners to be portrayed as heroes, you would hope that a man of Spielberg's stature and accomplishment would not give-in to political correctness and take the predictable path of reinforcing the stereotyping of the American South.  In doing so, he has not only misses an opportunity to enlighten his audience with the tragedy and complexity of the Civil War, but he further risks playing on the unmistakable (but rarely discussed) fear of a nation already coping with racial tension and political division.  

I would have expected more from the man who gave us Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List. While Spielberg may yet win his third Academy Award for Lincoln, the Oscar will have lost some of its shiny luster; not so much for what the film was but for what it could have been. 

 

David R. Altman is a contributing writer to the Pickens County Progress.

 

 

Cat seen flying from vehicle jumped, officials say

       A cat seen flying from a moving vehicle on Cove Road last Wednesday most likely jumped, based on the investigation of an animal control officer.
    The calico cat was spotted flying from a SUV November 14 near Cove Lakes subdivision by another motorist. The driver who spotted the flying cat, an experienced animal rescue volunteer, stopped and searched for it while a second motorist got the license number of the SUV when they pulled into the nearby recycling center.  The witnesses then called 911.

For the rest of this story see the print or online edition.

 

An affront to the Constitution in our own backyard

4thamendment

By Jeff Anderson

            The need for an emergency management plan during and following a disaster is not only necessary, it’s basically mandated, since the state requires the county to have a plan in place in order to receive monies for disaster relief assistance.

            That’s a good thing; a plan should be in place in order to give an organizational template to those in charge of dealing with or preventing impending chaos. The current version of Pickens County’s plan was passed in 1997, and it is quite frankly an affront to the Constitution of the United States of America.

            Recently Coweta County proposed a new Emergency Management Ordinance. The new EMO gave the county the ability to regulate firearms. Since it is illegal under the Georgia pre-emption law for a county to regulate firearms, the ordinance was revised thanks to a friendly letter from GeorgiaCarry.Org. A few weeks later Fannin County proposed its own new EMO, identical to Coweta’s, absent the firearm language.

            This suggests a new GEMA EMO model is being spread about, probably in the same way Pickens got its 1997 ordinance, since several counties have the same EMO as ours.

            Take a look at this portion of the EMO currently on the books in Pickens County, which does not differ much from the new EMO model currently being shopped around by GEMA through the Association County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG):

            Pickens County’s 1997 EMO specifically Sec. 22-34. - Powers during an emergency or disaster.

(2)

Seizing or taking for temporary use, any private property for the protection of the public;

(3)

Selling, lending, giving, or distributing all or any such property or supplies among the inhabitants of the county and maintaining a strict accounting of property or supplies distributed and for funds received for such property or supplies;

            Can you believe that language has been on the books here for 15 years? This gives the Pickens County Emergency Management Agency {consisting of the Pickens County Commissioner and the mayors of cities} the ability to seize then sell, lend, give, or distribute private property.

            Think about that for a moment. Your stuff - your canned goods, Solo cups, water, ammo, gold, or whatever - can be seized and sold, lent, given, or distributed “among the inhabitants of the county” under the guise of “protection of the public.” Are you getting all this?

            What good is selling my “stuff” going to accomplish for the county in a disaster? It’s a silly question. The true question is why the county was allowed to seize my private property in the first place. What can we do, you ask?

            There is some good news out of all this. Fannin County’s Commission has scrapped the latest GEMA template and has drafted an all new one. They are also having a group of citizens look it over and make recommendations to make it better. I have seen the working version, and it appears to be something I would like Pickens County to examine and consider adopting once complete.

            Now I’m not saying that if we don’t correct this that the county will come take all your stuff during a disaster. I don’t think it will, but the very idea, the very thought that this is even on the books in my county, or in Georgia, or anywhere in America is wrong and needs to be rectified.             What would our founding fathers think of an ordinance that “legalizes” illegal seizure? They would easily recognize this as the tyranny they fought to escape.

            Why has it taken us 15 years to notice this injustice in our own backyard?

            [Jeff Anderson, a carpenter by trade, has called Pickens County home for over two decades.

            He is also the Central Mountain Representative for GeorgiaCarry.Org and is available to speak on Gun Rights.]

A firsthand look at helping the people of Africa

“All a Barbie Doll does is confuse them”

 

cherienewafrica

Talking Rock resident Cherie New while a Peace Corps volunteer in Zambia.

 

 

By Cherie New

RPCV/Zambia, 2009-2011

            I am a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer who spent over two years in Zambia, Africa.

            Since arriving back home almost a year ago, I am constantly asked by people how they can help the poor people of Africa. I’m still amazed, and truly touched, at how many people want to help, but don’t know how to go about it.

            What do they need in Africa? Should I just send shoeboxes full of candy and toys? How do they celebrate Christmas? How long does it take mail to arrive to Zambia? Would the Christmas toys make it in time if I send it by this date?  

            I’m sorry to say, you’re only putting a band aid on a huge gaping wound - or even making that wound deeper. Most rural Zambians (as well as most sub-Saharan African countries) celebrate Christmas by killing a chicken or a goat—and that’s if they have it—and go to church. They don’t spend Christmas like most of us in Americaland; to them it’s just another day. The kids build toys out of discarded drink boxes (that at one point probably contained liquor), wire and elephant grass—very creative if you ask me.

            They do have candy in Africa (“sweeties” as they call them). Many times when I would give my local kids “sweeties” for helping me carry my water jugs, their parents would yell at me for it (yes, like American kids, little African kids also get sugar highs. They can also get a little annoying constantly pestering their parents for candy). Overall, hand outs of any kind don't help, it just makes them become more reliant on them.  

            If you’re interested in helping Zambians, or any other African country, I will tell you the best way to go about it. But first, don’t send shoeboxes full of candy, junk food and toys that don’t stimulate their minds. There are really smart kids in Africa, just begging to learn more—and all a Barbie doll does is confuse them and make them think all American women must look like that. You’re sending the wrong message. I assisted with Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World), a one week camp devoted to teaching the young girls about confidence and feeling empowered by being a woman. Trust me, Barbie doesn’t fit into any of those teachings.

            Malaria is a huge killer in sub-Saharan Africa and many families do not have mosquito nets. There are organizations that you can donate to (I’ll post them below) that help with mosquito net distribution. Thousands of lives can be saved just by hanging a net over their beds at night.  

            Many Peace Corps Volunteers are currently trying to raise money for their projects. I was able to get funding by generous donors (this could be you!) for a poultry house project for an orphans and widows group. I assisted with the building, ordering the chickens and teaching them how to make a business out of it. As well as bringing in income for their group, it also provided a source of protein for the orphaned kids—most orphaned because of HIV/AIDS. Many volunteers have projects like this and could really use your help. Much better than sending a shoebox full of candy, right?

            The best advice I can give is to assist someone who is already serving there. There are countless projects to choose from! I know of so many volunteers who are trying to start a local library (I was one of them), and really need books - educational books, trade books, math books, science books...the list is endless. I also know of someone trying to get a carpentry workshop started and really needs carpentry books, tools and funds to help with their training.

            If we teach them how to provide for themselves, teach them a skill that they’ll have AFTER we leave, that is the greatest gift we can give them. PLEASE donate or get in contact with these people.They know what’s needed and are there to make sure your money and generosity are used correctly.

            Here are a few websites you can visit that would greatly appreciate any help you can give them:

www.peacecorps.gov/donate

http://poweroflove.org/project-mosquito-nets-launched-rural-zambia

http://www.ugandavillageproject.org/what-we-do/safe-water/wells/ this organization also worked in Zambia.

            After reading a certain letter to the editor, this rang true: Matthew 6 : 2-4.

            [New is a resident of Talking Rock. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .]

Pondering the trials of summer gardening

At right, the author on her plot at the community gardens.

 

 

By Lynn Turner

Progress contributor

July in Georgia and again here in the garden it’s hotter than a Waffle House griddle, and again, I’m on my knees in a WWW Wrestling match with crabgrass and spawn of Godzilla thistles that are clinging to bedrock between rows of tomatoes and peppers. Surely all the salty perspiration pouring off my face and into my eyes is good for my complexion and, hopefully, my ratty straw hat is keeping most of the poisonous UV rays from causing too many more sunspots. Why is this fun?

 

Gardening masochism is apparently one of my great summer joys. It’s hard to understand and even harder to explain the pure happiness that dirt, bug bites and aching muscles bring with summer in the garden. There is something about suffering that makes the corn sweeter - those few ears we beat the raccoons to - and the basil is more pungent and tastier than even the organic kind from the farmers’ market.  Purchased produce just can’t hold a, well, hoe to home grown, battled-for veggies that have been nurtured by just the right combination of compost, loving care and cow poop.

 

The site of my anticipated cornucopia is two rented plots at the community garden near the old mine in Jasper. Just getting into the garden is similar to accessing a safe deposit box in the bank. First, there is the payment of the yearly fee and the awarding of the coveted key that ensures entry into this Eden.  Then there are reminders to always lock the exterior gate and to turn off the electric fence before touching it. My husband assures me that forgetting this last step allows one to experience the fence working as a defibrillator and hair curler. He has first-hand knowledge of both. The first year he and I joined the elite group of gardeners, we felt like fraternity pledges that had escaped the humiliation of a blackballing ceremony. Lucky us!  We were astounded that anyone (like some people we know) would give up their coveted plot when getting one was such a plum. We now know that the folks in charge of recruiting for the garden could make a fortune selling Amway.

 

We have met a diverse group of fellow gardeners. Folks, like us, who have simply given up trying to grow anything at home in poor soil and too much shade while ravenous deer impatiently tap their feet waiting for the first sprouts to appear. There is one woman who douses her plants with so much Sevin dust that she moves around the garden in a perpetual white cloud, and there is a latter day hippy who gardens organically and simply laughs as he flicks the bugs off his plants. He doesn’t seem to mind in the least that his leafy vegetables are about 75 percent holes.

 

And there are the groundhogs. The hillside near the garden is riddled with their condos.  They can be seen leaning on their elbows and sunbathing as they await their opportunity for a raid which inevitably comes after some exhausted gardener forgets to turn the electric fence back on.

 

Of course, there is the expense of gardening. I have still not read it, but I no longer scoff at the title The 64 Dollar Tomato, a chronicle of one man’s gardening experience.  While it may contain some humor, the cost for the satisfaction of gardening is no laughing matter.  Next time you happen to think that organically grown or farmers’ market vegetables are outrageously expensive, you might want to reconsider.  On so many levels, they are a bargain.  Nevertheless, vegetables grown in your own garden are still the best.

 

 

Lynn and her husband Gary Corn and cat Tulip live in Bent Tree. She is a volunteer with Pickens Animal Rescue with the Rescued Furniture Store where she was inspired to write about Bob, Rescued Furniture Store’s kitty greeter. She is also involved with the Pickens County Library Board, the Bent Tree Library, the Senior Citizens Center library and the Sassafras Literary Exchange when she is not battling weeds in her garden.  Her e-mail is marwood710@ gmail.com