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Fatwah / movies / September 5, 2011

It’s Jesse James’ birthday today, September 5th. I mean the famous “frontier outlaw,” sometimes referred to as “America’s Robin Hood,” but actually an obnoxious Missouri sumbitch still venerated and romanticized by an addled public. In movies he tends to get played by pretty studs like Brad Pitt and Colin Ferrell and Rob Lowe and Tyrone Power. There’s an occasional “revisionist” attempt to come to grips with James’ less lovable qualities, such as Robert Duvall’s fake-pious looney in The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid, or Brad Pitt’s fame-swollen paranoiac in  The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. But it’s still Brad Pitt, for God’s sake, all gleaming and starry, and you can’t hide the hero-worship by claiming to do a serious critique of celebrity culture 19th century-style.

We generally get the Western-hero version of Jesse James as bold bandit and manly martyr, on accounta it’d be awkward to focus too much attention on the true-life particulars of secession-mad Border State Jesse James, the virulent racist Jesse James trained up in terror tactics by Confederate heroes William Quantrill and “Bloody Bill” Anderson, the Jesse James whose gang wore Ku Klux Klan hoods during one train robbery.

It’s no accident that the Nazi-loving, motorcycle-customizing TV jackass Jesse James claims, based on no evidence, to be a descendant of the famous cut-throat cracker.

The main reason we’re stuck with the heroic legend of Jesse James is the same reason we’re still putting up with the whole crazy “Lost Cause” narrative of the noble South, which is because a bunch of post-Civil War Confederate loyalists generated and promulgated it in phony history books and rank novels and windy political speeches and anyplace else a gullible public can be found, which is everyplace.

James was an ideal “Lost Cause” hero. His exploits were defended during his lifetime by former secessionist politicos trying to return to political power in post-Civil War Missouri, and turned into lugubrious fables by newspapermen sympathetic to the Southern cause. They ginned up the portrait of Jesse James as poor victimized farm-boy, nobly battling on behalf of the little people against corrupt railroad corporations and Northern-controlled banks.

They did such a good job, Jesse bought it himself. Here’s one of his op-ed letters to the newspapers, throbbing with self-pity, engorged ego, and punchy politics:

“Some editors call us thieves. We are not thieves — we are bold robbers. It hurts me very much to be called a thief. It makes me feel like they were trying to put me on a par with Grant and his party. We are bold robbers, and I am proud of the name, for Alexander the Great was a bold robber, and Julius Caesar, and Napoleon Bonaparte, and Sir William Wallace — not old Ben Wallace — and Robert Emmet. Please rank me with these, and not with the Grantites. Grant’s party has no respect for anyone. They rob the poor and rich, and we rob the rich and give to the poor….I will close by hoping that Horace Greeley will defeat Grant, and then I can make an honest living, and then I will not have to rob, as taxes will not be so heavy.”

Needless to say, there’s no evidence whatsoever that Jesse James ever gave a dime to “the poor.” It appears all the takings were reserved for Jesse W. James, Bold Robber Deluxe, and his gang.

So Jesse James’ goddamned birthday reminds me that we need a new film genre, which Quentin Tarantino has already helpfully named: The Southern. It’s just about time we came to grips with that sorry region and countered that insane but remarkably persistent “Lost Cause” narrative, especially now that the ol’ Confederacy is flying its flag so proudly again, and saber-rattling about States’ Rights, and saying how slavery wasn’t so bad, doing those African immigrants a favor, really, exposing ‘em to a genteel white-pillared civilization, and how Jim Crow was a pretty good time had by all, too.

You unregenerate fuckers!

Pretty much the only big popular movies of the Old South we’ve got so far are the ones initiated by the Lost Causers. Most famously Birth of a Nation and Gone With the Wind, two of the biggest events in American film history, making teaching American film history a fricking delight, let me assure you. That sickening moment watching Birth of a Nation when the students realize that the Ku Klux Klansmen are the actual heroes of the film, and are being enshrined as our new Founding Fathers! They turn their horrified eyes upon you as if to say, “Why in hell would you show us this depraved relic?” But it’s gotta be done, because I don’t make the history, I just report it.

We also need this new genre The Southern because it’s clear The Western is dead—at least in cinema, at least for now. (TV’s done some ambitious things with it lately, first Deadwood and now Justified.) Even if sagely hybridized with other, more popular genres like science fiction and animated comedy, films with Western themes and imagery dry up at the box-office like daisies in the desert. The recent flops Cowboys and Aliens and Rango have made studios skittish about anything remotely Westernish, which is why the Gore Verbinksi-Johnny Depp-Jerry Bruckheimer collaboration Lone Ranger is stalled.

(How I get the story is, Disney won’t make it at the proposed $250 million budget; Gore Verbinski won’t make it for less; Johnny Depp won’t make the film without Gore Verbinski; and so on into the sunset.

It’s a maddening snapshot of Hollywood 2011, any way you look at it. First, what the hell about a film version of the sparse old TV show The Lone Ranger costs $250 million? What could possibly need that much CGI? Is Tonto going to have magical shamanistic abilities to turn outlaw bands into snakes or horny-toads or something? Or is it just the Verbinski-Depp-Bruckheimer are taking $150 million off the top?

Next, if Depp and Verbinski want to do it so bad at that price, why don’t they just pitch in their lunch money of $100 million or so, take executive producer credits and a percentage of the gross, and carry on? You know, in Old Hollywood, people used to actually put their money where their mouths were. Producer Sam Goldwyn mortgaged his own house, twice, to finance Goldwyn Studio films. Alfred Hitchcock famously wrote a check for Psycho when the studio heads got cold feet, in exchange for gross profits, and the profits were gross all right. He wound up in Fat City, or anyway, Fatter City. But now the pious adage “Never put in your own money” is one of the first things you hear in Hollywood; it’s about the only moral they have and uphold there. It might as well be embroidered on samplers and hanging on the walls of every mogul’s mansion.

And finally, if Disney isn’t going to bankroll these guys, who’ve made them sickening amounts of coin on the Pirates of the Caribbean films, who the hell are they going to bankroll? What films are worthy of Disney money? Well, you’ll never guess. One’s called John Carter—another Confederate hero, by the way!—based on a series of books by Edgar Rice Burroughs of Tarzan fame, and lame previews for it featuring loads of generic-looking sci-fi/fantasy CGI have been running in theaters forever. And the other scintillating feature film is Oz: The Great and Powerful, starring James Franco as the Wizard. And if that ain’t exciting enough for you, it’s also got Zach Braff in it!

I know, this was a very long parenthetical, wasn’t it? I was going for the record.)

It’s an odd thing, how absolutely The Western seems to have exhausted its appeal. No charge in it at all for kids these days; try showing them a Western and they’ll watch it with glazed eyes and haggard faces; try showing them another one and they’ll claw their way out of the room if they have to maim you to do it. All those long shots of gunfighters dwarfed by the landscape, standing there not shooting for several seconds, and then maybe shooting just once or twice? They hate that. Long shots, landscape, not shooting. All bad. And as for the whole thing about The Western contemplating America’s violent founding and its relationship to our notions of freedom and the rule of law…? Yeah, they don’t care, certainly not if they’ve gotta see it played out in such old-fashioned terms involving six-guns and posses and horses and cactus and all that. For them, the whole iconography’s played out.

But The Southern, that’s still got a world of fresh potential, because it’s amazing how studiously we’ve avoided making lively films about the central drama of slavery and emancipation from the slaves’ point of view, or about the chaos of the Border States during the Civil War, or really anything about the Civil War that doesn’t involve the time Mammy done tole Miss Scarlett she couldn’t wear that low-cut dress to the barbecue. Some harsh historical accuracy about Southern madness makes everything new again, and also recovers elements of the Western, which was always heavily informed by the history and mythology of the Civil War South anyway—just check out the Western novel and film The Virginian sometime.

Quentin Tarantino laid the groundwork for all this on the Charlie Rose show back in 2009:

“I’d like to do a Western. But rather than set it in Texas, have it in slavery times. With that subject that everybody is afraid to deal with. Let’s shine that light on ourselves. You could do a ponderous history lesson of slaves escaping on the Underground Railroad. Or, you could make a movie that would be exciting. Do it as an adventure. A spaghetti Western that takes place during that time. And I would call it ‘A Southern.’

“I want to explore something that really hasn’t been done. I want to do movies that deal with America’s horrible past with slavery and stuff but do them like spaghetti westerns, not like big issue movies. I want to do them like they’re genre films, but they deal with everything that America has never dealt with because it’s ashamed of it, and other countries don’t really deal with because they don’t feel they have the right to.”

So Tarantino is getting the ball rolling on The Southern, with his upcoming slave-liberation film Django Unchained. And the Coen Brothers get an honorable mention for the Border State movie True Grit. Now maybe somebody ELSE could make an interesting move cinematically, for once? Say, a move from West to South?

 

 

44 Comments

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  • 1. Flatulissimo  |  September 5th, 2011 at 11:11 am

    I think Tarantino is insufferable, but he may be onto something here. Maybe it’ll get picked up by some other filmmakers who will actually make good movies with the idea.

    As for the kids hating westerns, I love westerns but I can totally sympathize. Young people today have been living under baby boomer tyranny in all forms of entertainment their entire lives, except perhaps video games. They’ve gotta be tired of having that shit shoved down their throats, even if it’s good.

    Maybe with some distance they’ll appreciate it, but for right now if you are a kid, everything has gotta seem like it is controlled by Tea Party types who fear the future and yet have no idea what that future might even look like. They probably see westerns as what boomers watched on tv when they were kids, and they don’t have any nostalgia for that shit. Unfortunately, Gen Xer’s have spent their entire adult lives reveling in nostalgia for the crappy toys and movies of their childhoods, so they were no help.

    The aging population only wants to stare up their own ass and return to some “real America” that only exists in their fevered imaginations. Even in “liberal Hollywood” it’s all olds who control the purse strings, and while they might not fantasize about a return to Jim Crow like the olds in flyover country they are still from a completely different generation and mindset.

  • 2. Don Keaton  |  September 5th, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    Mass bulk of North American kids shun the Western but in the Pacific Northwest there is a strong niche for spaghetti westerns and anything “alt western” like Peckinpah.

    Whole culture of hipsters into roots music, alt country and southern blues. A “Southern” movie would do rather well on Blu-Ray so Tarantino is on to something. He knows at very least he will be able to tour campuses, fill midnight screenings, sell DVD’s and Bluerays and be heralded a hero even if movie flops.

    I’m in Pacific Canada and have pretty good understanding on Seattle since fashions and tastes get shuttled back and forth. I launched a band on a whim “Swamp Music Players” based on Southern music and was shocked it actually got a followings with regular shows each year and growing interest.

    There is something ungrazed about Southern culture good and bad. The kids are ready for a Tarantino-esque carnival ride into that danger zone.

  • 3. Vendetta  |  September 5th, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    True Grit got a LOT of respect from other teenagers I know

  • 4. Phil  |  September 5th, 2011 at 12:34 pm

    Personally, if I had Hollywoood connections, I would rather do a television show chronicling the events of the late 1850s to the early 1870s from several different perspectives (one would definitely be Sherman; I think his March to the Sea should be chronicled as one of the greatest military campaigns of all time). It would be the television equivalent of War & Peace. I would call it A House Divided.

  • 5. Flatulissimo  |  September 5th, 2011 at 12:57 pm

    Don, that may be true in the PNW where the IDEA of the south is better known than the reality. In the actual south, the updating of the southern ethos with more contemporary influences ends up looking like this, which I doubt any hipster kids in Seattle are gonna want to emulate:

    http://youtu.be/WDxSgq88Clw

  • 6. A Silver Mt. Paektu  |  September 5th, 2011 at 1:25 pm

    Fuck Jesse James. John Brown is the single greatest white outlaw of Amerikan history. I’d like to see someone in Hollywood get up enough nut to make a sympathetic action-bio of the old guerrilla. Of course, that movie would bomb because white people are profoundly uncomfortable with JB and his legacy.

  • 7. Stephen  |  September 5th, 2011 at 1:57 pm

    I’d like to see a movie about South Africa filtered through the sensibility of Cormac McCarthy. The Great Trek, the Boer War, there is loads of potential there. I quite liked The Proposition. I think that film makers haven’t mined the full potential of 19th century Australia as a source for film making. It’s so sad that both of the films made about Ned Kelly are shit.

  • 8. gary  |  September 5th, 2011 at 2:09 pm

    #1 says tarantino is insufferable,baby boomers are tyrants and aging people “want to stare up thier own asses”…a real charmer and such a wit too…..actually gone with the wind did say much on southern arrogence and the fact that most of the noble southerners (and yankees) died from unromantic causes as measels and diahrea

  • 9. hon kee mufo  |  September 5th, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    I love Tarantino’s idea–altho I have to note, while he seems to imply we’ve had enough “big issue movies” we still don’t have any John Brown or Nat Turner biopics worth the name (or at all?)

  • 10. Zhu Bajie  |  September 5th, 2011 at 3:20 pm

    How about a movie of _Flash for Freedom_? Emphasize the sex and chains, of course. Or Faulkner’s _Sanctuary_? That’s about as Southern as can be.

  • 11. PseudoCop  |  September 5th, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    It’s sad how Jew-hating retards sometimes come in and troll this otherwise excellent site. Here for example is something on the Jew-haters:

    http://exiledonline.com/jim-goad-begs-mark-ames-answer-me-please-jim-goads-mother-responds-in-an-exiled-exclusive/

  • 12. Danny Boy  |  September 5th, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    Couldn’t agree more, Paektu. J. Brown & Sons. Wild, eyes, bushy beards and fiery sermons. Carbines in hay bales and impromptu executions. A hardened little militia, a folie de nombreux, sneaking across the countryside. The shocked expressions when the slaves don’t rise up. Falling plaster and tearful salutes as the armory falls down around their ears. Defiance at the gallows. Epilogue of Union soldiers marching to war, his anthem on their lips. It practically films itself.

    But I fear the coming of The Southern because it will be done badly. Plantation aristocracy could become so demonized that it will diverge from its obvious parallel to our present plutocracy. American cinema did it to the Nazis and now nobody notices that white nationalism is ballooning. We’ve now got a million blacks in prison. They’re toiling to produce two and a half billion in goods and services. We don’t need Tarantino and his imitators to push black slavery into the realm of unrecognizable mythology.

  • 13. Bradford C.  |  September 5th, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    I’ll second that John Brown movie idea, but I suspect the reason it won’t be made is because you can’t avoid dealing with just how uniformly racist and crazy Americans were. It was even a big deal among abolitionists that he let blacks eat with his family. So no wonder he went trigger happy, from his perspective the entire world was awash with evil. But then again, of course it was.

  • 14. super  |  September 5th, 2011 at 4:55 pm

    YESSSSS!!!!! EILEEEN YOU ARE THE BEST! THIS IS EXCITING AS FUCK

  • 15. Mudhead  |  September 5th, 2011 at 5:10 pm

    Why set it in the 19th Century? A movie about the Tulsa race riot of 1921 would be a good start. I know there was a dry run of sorts with Rosewood over a decade ago, but Rosewood was literally wiped off the Earth. Tulsa’s still there.

    The victorious North was far too lenient on the South. The first thing Grant should have done at Appomattox was to have Lee stripped of his insignia of rank, summarily tried, convicted, and hanged. Every Confederate officer, and certainly every Confederate politician, starting with Jefferson Davis, should have received similar treatment. The argument against this is that the surviving Confederates would have launched a guerrilla war; but they did that any way. Sherman had the right idea, and it should have been carried on throughout the entire South. Those crackers wanted something to cry about, besides the black vote? They should have gotten it.

  • 16. Flatulissimo  |  September 5th, 2011 at 5:32 pm

    I’d love to see a John Brown movie. Could be epic. White people might even see it, because they could rationalize that they would’ve been John Brown back in the day, rather than the 99.9% of everybody else who was racist. Selfless white person helps downtrodden negroes – hey, just like The Help! Might even be a hit.

  • 17. Cernunnos  |  September 5th, 2011 at 5:50 pm

    A movie about Nat Turner would be great, but probably would never happen or be watered down in its treatment because of the violence against women and children and the parallels some have noticed between Nat’s religious zealotry and Islamic terrorism.

    Personally I would like to see a movie based on the 1811 German Coast Uprising, the largest slave rebellion ever in America: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1811_German_Coast_Uprising

    Prologue would be a depiction of the successful Haitian revolution as Charles Deslondes’ owner flees to America. Rising action is Deslondes’ growing sense of revolutionary action while he’s forced to be a slave driver to his fellow underlings. He and his conspirators work out a plan. Turning point is when they wound Manuel Andre and kill his son Gilbert, kickstarting the rebellion. Excitement mounts as they go from plantation to plantation, burning the shit down and gathering an army of slaves as more join. Climax begins with battles between the slaves and the white militias, and then it all ends in a glorious William Wallace torture porn death for poor Deslondes who got his hands chopped off, both thighs shot to pieces, mortally wounded with a bullet, then burned alive in a bundle of straw.

  • 18. John Figler  |  September 5th, 2011 at 5:56 pm

    I really liked this one.

    Completely agree it’s something at cellular level or something with the adolescents not enjoying westerns.

    Westerns were my adolescence, it was the only kind of movie I would see besides war movies, (so westerns with lots of bluejackets was the perfect bliss), it was the only kind of movies every single adolescent I knew liked. I still like westerns, I even like more even the lamest attempts at western that have been made since 1975 over any movie filmed after 1999.

    But younger people around me don’t. The realization that the Western is gone saddens me. If you don’t enjoy western, how could you possibly enjoy anything in cinema besides slapstick comedy?

    Also… there wasn’t a modern flick about Bushwhackers? Yeah, the one with that narcolepsy inducing Jewel as the chick and someone of those episodic pseudo male-stars of late 90s Hollywood… MacGuire? Bloom? The films wasn’t all that bad IIRC… Lots of parochial violence with just a small pinch of “we did it because they forced us to”.

  • 19. Joshua  |  September 5th, 2011 at 7:34 pm

    @John Figler: The film you’re thinking of was ‘Ride with the Devil’ by Ang Lee. I’m sure there’s something to be said about the one of the only ‘Southerns’ made in recent memory being made by a Taiwanese director.

  • 20. Mudhead  |  September 5th, 2011 at 7:45 pm

    “Ride With the Devil” was pretty good. Even Jesus (James Claviezel) was in it.

  • 21. Mr. Bad  |  September 5th, 2011 at 8:46 pm

    Just wondering, can someone fill me in, who is Eileen? I’m in prison now and a bitch is going to use my precious face AT LEAST. Kthanxbai

  • 22. Flesh  |  September 5th, 2011 at 9:27 pm

    @Mudhead: I agree. The South in it’s “rebellion” was funded and armed by Britain. Therefore, the leaders of the South were guilty of treason. IIRC most countries back then had the death penalty for treason…

  • 23. internal exile  |  September 5th, 2011 at 11:08 pm

    Akshully, Eileen, I disliked Westerns as a pre-teen in the sixties. I remember when you could twist that flimsy plastic dial on the TV between the three channels and ALL of them had a Western on (albeit mostly the kind made for the tube, not the big screen). Maybe that’s when I began to hate TV.

  • 24. my talkative ringpiece  |  September 5th, 2011 at 11:09 pm

    #6 I’m glad you qualified that with “white” because Harriet Tubman was the baddest-ass badass of that period. Could this country even handle a decent movie about her?

  • 25. Don Keaton  |  September 6th, 2011 at 4:45 am

    @ Flatulissimo,not going to argue I agree with you on that point. Ja but they are not so much interested in contemporary, retro, nostalgia for being more authentic.

    Folk music is hugely popular for example of the early Bob Dylan,Woody Guthrie, Neil Young variety …with teenagers/20-something musicians….musicians that is. Not so much interested in whats going on now.

    Old timey “Southerns” might get some traction, “Drive Angry” did pretty well though.

  • 26. MoMo  |  September 6th, 2011 at 4:56 am

    The upcoming remake of Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs, set in the South this time rather than in Britain, might give a boost to this Southern genre..

  • 27. Sakevi  |  September 6th, 2011 at 5:11 am

    I personally think the John Carter film, though kid friendly, looks like a decent pulp-fantasy movie. Obviously sans the sex and half the blood. Confederate war veterans in space though.. that sounds very un-Hollywood.

  • 28. HueyLewis  |  September 6th, 2011 at 9:05 am

    I agree with those who posted about the Ang Lee film “Ride With the Devil.” A very underrated movie. It was marketed as a teen adventure featuring Toby Maguire, Skeet Ulrich (!) and Jewel (!!), but in fact offers a very sobering take on the guerilla wars in the Border states during the Civil War. Although the main characters are all Confederates, the film is not at all sympathetic to “the Cause.” Quantrill makes an appearance, and he and his ilk are portrayed as the opportunistic psychopaths they undoubtedly were. The American equivalent of the Dirlewanger Brigade.

    Also the John Ford film “The Searchers” offers an implicit commentary on the unreconstructed Confederate mentality in the John Wayne character Ethan Edwards, a violent racist willing to execute his niece because she has been “defiled” by a redskin. (Of course he is redeemed at the end, per Hollywood protocol.) Richard Slotkin wrote a fascinating critique of this film in his book “Gunfighter Nation.”

  • 29. Cum  |  September 6th, 2011 at 12:20 pm

    Welllll speaking of kids hating Westerns and loving video games, the 2010 Game of the Year was Red Dead Redemption. It was essentially about the death of the Wild West. And it was a smash hit, selling millions of copies.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Dead_Redemption

    I’m sorry that my generation finds old Westerns so tedious, but maybe the genre will thrive when presented on the proper medium for the times.

  • 30. Traven Torsvan  |  September 6th, 2011 at 12:27 pm

    Check out Tom Franklin’s Smonk, it has elements of a western but it’s set in early 19th century Alabama.

    “E.O. Smonk is an ugly, unwashed, murdering rapist who has terrorized the small town of Old Texas, Ala., for years. In 1911, the town summons Smonk to stand trial, and a nonstop blood-orgy of brutality and destruction is the result in Franklin’s gloriously debauched second novel (following Hell at the Breech). After Smonk’s goons assault the Old Texas courthouse and kill the town’s menfolk, reformed former Smonk associate turned lawman Will McKissick pursues Smonk. Meanwhile, a posse of Christian deputies chase teenage whore Evavangeline through the Gulf Coast, but the girl is a skilled killer, too, and the trail of her victims spans the region. McKissick follows Smonk’s trail out of and back into Old Texas, while Evavangeline drifts into the town, where all the children are dead except McKissick’s 12-year-old son and the widows lay out their dead husbands on their dining tables. The town’s sordid past, about to be exposed, involves a rabies-ravaged one-armed preacher, a rabid dog named Lazarus the Redeemer, incest and a church full of dead boys dressed in Sunday best.”

  • 31. maus  |  September 6th, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    @26: “The upcoming remake of Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs, set in the South this time rather than in Britain, might give a boost to this Southern genre..”

    Just what we need: more murky, extended rape scenes. Who fucking needs to see Straw Dogs (or for that matter, I Spit on Your Grave) again?

  • 32. JoJoJo  |  September 6th, 2011 at 2:39 pm

    One of the problems with the slave times that Hollywood may shy away from is that any action scenes present would be harder to film in the time period of powder and ball. Other than Mel Gibson’s cornball, The Patriot, how many movies are there where people musket each other in the face regularly?

  • 33. Chas  |  September 6th, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    Ooof ! Bad momma Eileen ! Tell it to them southerns like it is ! Yes ! They be North’s bitch fo-ever ! We gonna put a black govern’ n every one one of them supremacist states ! Don’t mattah none if thems black governs gonna be all bought by them self-same bankstahs that was sellin all them slaves afore thait war betwun the states . Those states was sessionist anyways.

  • 34. super390  |  September 6th, 2011 at 7:15 pm

    Consider that for a while the Western ruled not just Hollywood, but the world. Recall in “An American in Paris”, where the little French boy exclaims “Hopalong Cassidy”! I also recall a British satirical novel from the ’60s about a particularly nasty public schoolboy who, among other things, utterly refuses to believe that a new American teacher is not from Texas, and ergo not a cowboy.

    Was the once-universal appeal of the Western simply that kids liked the idea of how cowboys live? Or was it a more complex yearning for what America seemed to have in abundance for a while, space and individualism (note: not actually true). I’ve heard the cult of the West goes all the way back to Davy Crockett pulp novels back in the 1830s, before he’d even been killed.

    If California is where America’s advance ran up against the sea, then the California suburbs that both produced and consumed Westerns at a feverish pace in the 1950s was where the Western bubble burst. They were even selling ranch houses, folks! With Ford Rancheros parked in the driveway. And the little boys with Davy Crockett caps and guns, guns, guns. Always a-westerin’.

    So if you can figure out what happened in California that changed everything about young people and how they felt about their land-stealin’, genocidal forefathers, including the one elected governor in 1966, I think you will have the initial answer to our mystery.

    It’s just too depressing to think that the only thing the hippies and the subsequent three generations shared is a loss of belief in Manifest Destiny, except the hippies abandoned it by choice, along with the cowboy mythos, while their successors, growing up after America’s magic wore off in the ’71-74 economic crisis, simply could not see better material prospects for their collective population. That’s part of the Western myth made possible by land expansion; we’re all winners as long as the victims don’t count as part of “we”. After the economy stopped growing, individuals could only pursue zero-sum solutions; I get ahead because someone else gets screwed. Difference between being a pioneer and being a derivatives trader. American kids re-embraced materialism just in time for the country to run out of material, so they had no defensible position but grabby cynicism.

    As for all the other kids in the world who stopped dreaming of being cowboys, I guess they just stopped being fooled by America.

    #33:

    Yeah, like the Yankee oil companies ever had any trouble penetrating the ex-Confederate states at will under white rule – except when Huey Long was in charge.

  • 35. Mudhead  |  September 6th, 2011 at 7:28 pm

    @Mudhead: I agree. The South in it’s “rebellion” was funded and armed by Britain. Therefore, the leaders of the South were guilty of treason. IIRC most countries back then had the death penalty for treason…

    ——————————–
    The problem was, the Union got itself into a bit of a definitional jam early in the war. Under the laws of war as recognized at the time (Grotius, Vattel,Pfuendorff, et al.) a civil war dissolved the national bond until it was resolved and was formally a conflict between two sovereign nations. A rebellion did not, and was not. Thus, when the U.S. blockaded Southern ports and confiscated ships supplying the Confederacy, the affected nations, especially Great Britain, asked Washington precisely what the hell was going on. If the South was simply in rebellion, then the Northern naval actions were acts of piracy; if the South was engaged in civil war, then the blockade was an legitimate act of war. Not wishing to annoy the fucking British more than it had to, the Union, acting through the Supreme Court in The Prize Cases, held that the South was a warring nation, not a rebellious province. After the War, the judicial game changed, and the Supreme Court, in several compensation cases, basically said: “Remember The Prize Cases? Well forget them. You fuckers were traitors and the only reason you’re still alive is that we’re the most generous people in the world.” Or words to that effect. However, because of the legal status of the South in April 1865, Lee, Davis, and the rest of the bastards wriggled through the cracks.

  • 36. super390  |  September 6th, 2011 at 7:37 pm

    Maybe the “Southern” has a better chance today than the “Western” because the South has always been about limits, zero-sum solutions and getting ahead on someone else’s back. Its whole history has been about an ecosystem incapable of providing decent returns for labor, so someone has always had to do forced labor for someone else to prosper. Then that someone else must create an elaborate caste system to cement it in place until an entertaining catastrophe comes along to blow it all apart. Viewers get to wallow in the privilege, but don’t feel bad, it’ll all get burned down in the end.

    That sounds a lot more like the reality that all Americans have had to face since we hit the resource wall. Someone is going to have to do the dirty work to rebuild the country, and someone else is going to be holding the whip.

  • 37. Jesse the Scout  |  September 6th, 2011 at 7:42 pm

    The lingering sympathy for the South that still lurks in the US is downright revolting. I mean, I know it’s primarily because such people don’t know a damn thing about history other than the right wing nationalist propaganda we were fed in school, but still.

  • 38. Judah Maccabee  |  September 6th, 2011 at 8:21 pm

    Makes me almost want to whistle ‘Dixie’

  • 39. Flatulissimo  |  September 6th, 2011 at 8:27 pm

    #34: “American kids re-embraced materialism just in time for the country to run out of material”

    Excellent.

  • 40. CensusLouie  |  September 10th, 2011 at 10:44 pm

    Would “The Southern” genre also include those dreadful class of films that paint the turbulent civil rights era of the 60s as “quaint”, such as Forrest Gump (one of the most disgustingly reactionary movies ever made) and The Help?

    Dear god, I’ve just realized how bad it’s gotten. At this very moment, the most honest portrayal of the ugly South is True Blood, a ridiculous romance novel based show about vampires and a psychic waitress.

    THIS IS THE LOW POINT WE’VE REACHED, PEOPLE

  • 41. Nestorius  |  September 11th, 2011 at 7:25 am

    Jesse James looks like the typical Puritan English scumbag that he is.

  • 42. Mudhead  |  September 12th, 2011 at 10:10 pm

    @40

    Unfortunately, the bottom isn’t even in sight.

  • 43. Kevin  |  September 13th, 2011 at 8:55 pm

    Regionalism: The last acceptable prejudice in America.

  • 44. Kevin  |  September 13th, 2011 at 9:09 pm

    Regionalism: The last acceptable form of prejudice in America.


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