The Old South Isn’t Folksy or Elegant

By , May 1, 2010 12:41 am

Two states just wrapped up a month that they dedicated to Confederate history or “heritage.”

Movie Poster For 'Gone With The Wind'

It shouldn’t be a surprise that Confederacy is celebrated in some states when the it and the Confederate flag get away with little or no criticism in popular culture. It’s because those other representations of the antebellum South are romanticized as if straight out of Gone With The Wind. That film begins with the following on the screen:

There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields called the Old South. Here in this pretty world, Gallantry took its last bow. Here was the last ever to be seen of Knights and their Ladies Fair, of Master and of Slave. Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered, a Civilization gone with the wind…

What’s incredible is that the quote includes slavery as part of the pretty world of the film’s “Old South.”

Flash forward to today. For some, the Old South is still that pretty world. For them, it’s either country and folksy or, just the opposite, elegant and aristocratic. There are films like Sweet Home Alabama where the parents of Reese Witherspoon’s character have sofa pillows with the Conferderate Flag on them. And I like watching fast cars jumping over things as much as the next guy. When The Dukes of Hazzard movie came out, though, with the General Lee and the Confederate flag on top of it, I couldn’t go see the film. Then there is the country-pop act Lady Antebellum. The story behind their name is that the band thought they looked good in pre-Civil War style photo shoot. Ok, but is that the only name they could think of? Didn’t anyone think it might be a problem for a country band from the South to be called a name that references and glamorizes (that would be the “Lady” part) the pre-Civil War era?

This might all seem petty. You might say a movie prop or pop group’s name doesn’t mean anything and it doesn’t mean they’re racists. No, the people in the movie and in the band probably aren’t racists. But it might mean they don’t know the Confederacy and the Gone With The Wind plantation-style aristocracy was fighting to protect the institution of slavery. All those images, symbols and references do mean something. It’s a tip of the hat to a time when blacks, and anyone else who wasn’t a white male, didn’t count for anything (except maybe 3/5 of a person).

So, is it ok to portray the Confederacy in a positive or sympathetic light? Is it ok when two governors set aside an entire month to remember that history? Is it ok to refer to the Civil War as the “war of yankee aggression,” like Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) did in March on the floor of the House of Representatives – as if the nation shouldn’t have stayed together and the Confederacy should have continued to engage in the barbaric business of slavery?

No. None of that is ok. The Civil War was about slavery. The states in the Confederacy seceded from the Union because of slavery. You can dress it up however you like – with a charming drawl or a glamourous gown. It doesn’t matter. The Confederacy always comes back to slavery.

That “pretty world” talked about in the beginning of Gone With The Wind is thankfully gone, but it hasn’t been remembered. It’s been rewritten into something it never was.

See also:
Confederate History Month

3 Responses to “The Old South Isn’t Folksy or Elegant”

  1. Chris says:

    I had to watch that video twice. Can’t believe he said that! What’s wrong with people?

  2. Mike Ottone says:

    You know, I should have replied earlier, but I am catching up on some reading now. I have to share, and some folks don’t know this–as a “yankee” living in SC, it still bewilders me to admit we have a State holiday (May 10) known as “Confederate Memorial Day.” The worst part, although many natives argue it is not racist–”it is about heritage”–however, this rational loses when you know this holiday was approved by the legislator jointly. It was the only way they could get the votes to establish Martin Luther King day as a holiday. You may imagine this was 20-30 yrs ago, but no. It was in the last 10 years, post 2000. Welcome to the 21st century, SC style!

  3. Post-2000? That’s sad, but considering the recent “raghead” remark made about Nikki Haley and Obama, it’s not entirely surprising. And with all the strange things happening in South Carolina politics lately, you’re right: your state certainly does have its own distinct “style!”

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