Scribbler’s Saga #108 – Karen O’Hara

Posted: June 12, 2020 in Uncategorized

© 2020 G.N. Jacobs

As I wrote this, HBO Max chose to yank down Gone With the Wind from the service. The obvious reasons including – ‘romanticizes the pre-Civil War South’ – ‘apologizes for slavery’ – were cited. Well, yeah, that’s a bit like my sister-in-law saying this about the average James Bond movie – “I really like James Bond movies, the action and so forth, but sometimes they’re really sexist.” My reply – “You think?”

And like the Carla Hall writing in the LA Times maybe we shouldn’t freak out so much about the old cinematic relics of the past in our rush to do better in the wake of George Floyd’s tragic murder at the hands of police. The takedown of the movie is, we’re told, temporary until HBO Max can reframe the streaming link in a greater context that tells the, admittedly, previously under-told truth that slavery, the wholesale campaign to steal wages from people who didn’t ask to be turned into Americans, required the invention, expansion and/or promotion of the violent and soul destroying racism that still bedevils us today. Erasing Gone With the Wind also erases Hattie McDaniel’s legacy.

So, it sounds like HBO Max will, at the very least, include text in the link page much like how Disney+ posts all of its parent studio’s old movies, except for Song of the South (that I have never seen in toto, just the relevant clips), which apparently has too much of the bad for the ‘outdated cultural references’ tag to cover up. In the probable case of Gone With the Wind, said warning text will probably add several paragraphs of apologizes for slaveryrefuses to acknowledge the harm causedwhitewashes cruelty that led the South to commit mass treason against the rest of America and others. Why? It’s Gone With the Wind, Stupid.

Despite my reservations that are more generally rooted in an almost atavistic protect the artist and all their expressions stance, I’m actually okay with the takedown if it truly is temporary and stops at the extended warning label and/or appropriate context. I see this as the Nobody is Completely Happy Meet in the Middle response. Or you can look at it as a government warning label on a pack of cigarettes, some people take the warning to heart and do something else…the rest won’t.

The extended text won’t stop people from clicking through. If I need to see the antics of Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler, I’ll find a way whether borrowing a copy from my library when they reopen…or buying the disk. Or in the case of HBO Max deciding that certain Bugs Bunny cartoons are just too much for me, a grown ass man who might have a good reason to see the gloriously horrible cartoons of the Bad Old Days, to make an intelligent informed decision about how I blow out my brain cells…well, there’s always a Google search.

In her piece, Ms. Hall made the excellent closing point – “If you watch Gone With the Wind and don’t get that it’s a piece of the past to be left in the past, then you’ve got problems that the contextual analysis won’t solve.” I agree, only acquiescing to the warning label because Meet in the Middle, not because of any strong opinion for or against the film.

Did I hate the movie? No. Seeing Clark Gable and Vivian Leigh tear up the screen in this massively doomed relationship was and is occasionally electric to watch. But, there’s the slavery and later Reconstruction mockery of freed blacks to contend with as you watch. Or is it that the movie is at core a story about a scheming, manipulative and most importantly entitled woman willing to do anything to get what she wants? So, don’t love the movie either.

Yeah, let’s take that to heart that Scarlett O’Hara is basically the patroness saint of all Karens. This fictional woman just isn’t nice. After the war, in order to rebuild her business interests as cheaply as possible Scarlett employs convict labor over the objections of her former lover and brother-in-law Ashley Wilkes. He begged her to hire free blacks (he used the D-word in the scene) because the convicts are treated so cruelly (paging Section One of the Thirteenth Amendment – “…except as a punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted…”) that even he lost his lunch. 

Scarlett also plays every kind of cruel teasing head game on Rhett that culminates with him getting loaded and – “tonight Scarlett, I refuse to be turned out!” – prior to a Kick, Drag and…scene that results in their daughter. And he makes things worse the next morning when he sobers up realizing that, whatever the man was legally allowed to do to his wife, it still behooves him to apologize as he recovers his veneer of gentleman. This says that this particular Karen is also completely unable to articulate her real needs to her husband. I guess this counts as a character flaw to make Scarlett interesting.

Other than enjoying seeing Vivian Leigh eat up the screen, I suppose the women in my life who love the movie like Scarlett precisely because she’s a Karen, safely confined to the screen. Men have J.R. Ewing to fill the same niche of the interesting bad guy who we tune in every week to see what schemes he’ll cook up to chisel more money out of the Texas oil system, while acknowledging that J.R. had to contend with his brother Bobby who stood up as the counterbalance to J.R.’s schemes.

Who is Scarlett’s Bobby Ewing? Sounds like it was or should’ve been Rhett (I’ll have to see the movie again to make sure…unsubtle hint). Did he stop her worst impulses or simply enable her until he finally had enough and just walked out the front door?

Getting back to the here and now, there are people out there that based on the previous two paragraphs are just going to like or love this movie. My reason for acquiescing to the warning label is as much to accommodate them. We all like books, movies and music that others don’t and it seems like such a waste of time to police what they can and can’t experience. So, warning label with paragraphs of extra content on the landing page? Yes. Hiding it forever in the vault because adults can’t be trusted to make their own decisions about their leisure time? No.

Given that it is Gone With the Wind, a film of the same stature of, say, Doctor Zhivago that Quentin Tarantino could’ve substituted the reference in True Romance, this movie will pick up the extra scrutiny that could be even more tragic. It is possible that the anti-Wind crowd will succumb to the temptation to “annotate” the movie while it plays. Think about that, animated pop-ups with links to sites with the truth while the characters say their lines and commit their actions?

In other contexts, I’m all in favor of certain nonfiction videos being livened up the way that CBS adroitly promotes Tooning Out the News having a go at certain speeches that I frankly can’t and don’t watch without either a comedic or outright news analysis filter softening the blow. However, I really don’t think for a fictional movie that I want to deal with pop-ups that, say, in the scene with Ashley expressing his repugnance at Scarlett’s usage of prison labor leads to a page highlighting that scary clause in the Thirteenth Amendment that opponents say is part of the problem because of racist application.

Another thing likely to happen is that HBO Max may feel the need to pay to produce some talking heads videos to discuss these concepts to play out automatically after the movie wraps up and rolls credits. I’m not entirely opposed here; I suppose we do have to have the conversation as often as possible until enough decades pass (if ever) that the Civil War and the ongoing racism that went with it are truly in the past. I would simply point out that Gone With the Wind is already a three-plus-hour epic that not everyone likes enough to also put up with the presumed teachable moment at the end of the movie. 

If I don’t always sit through the credits unless trained to do so by the liberal usage of Marvel-style mid and post-credits scenes, then I’m also not sticking around for any well-intentioned discussion pieces after the camera fades to black on Scarlett surveying her ruined plantation trying to find hope for tomorrow. HBO Max can do what it likes here, but I have a Hans and Franz prediction – “hear me now believe me later!” – of these videos going largely unwatched.

Anyway, we’ll see what will happen in a few days. Director John Ridley, in his piece, also asked for a respectful cooling off period. After that, reframing the context on the landing page seems like it’s a job that should only take a couple hours putting the intern with the fastest and most accurate typing skills at the nearest workstation to enter the new data. Leading to the probable truth that figuring out what to say and running it by more than one concerned advocacy group, because we never take just one opinion in the arts, will take longer than it would to type. 

Nasty question here, once the movie cools off, at what point does a failure to get the appropriate text just so lead to the suspicion that no one on the removal side ever intended for the movie to come back? Six months? A year? Two years? I do try to take people at their word when temporary escapes their lips. We shall see…

Update: We saw. HBO Max only needed approximately three weeks to create and post the new content to go at the beginning of the movie. We are gratified that the many players in this story appear to have kept their implied word. Such acts of good faith should perhaps be reciprocated by the rest of us in other areas of this discussion and it might hurt. So does yanking off a used Band-Aid…

Anyway, it’s still a long ass movie about the patroness saint of all Karens; it’ll be a minute before I can muster the give a damn and three plus hours to actually watch it again.

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