Guilty As Charged

I was just a little kid when I first saw the movie. It was still the ‘70s and I was just a little dude when my family went to see the movie. It was a Disney film, a re-release of an older movie, and my family was in love with it. I was still a very, very wee guy, having been born in ’74, but seeing the animation mixed with live action blew my wig back. It was one of those experiences that stick with you and here, almost forty years later I still can remember the excitement we all felt for the film. A few years back I was on my second tour of duty working at a local used and collectibles store when I decided to go through their vintage posters and see what they had under the guise of cataloging them. It was a treasure trove. I had first discovered the poster gold mine the first time I worked at the store and had wrangled some great ones from them – THE EVIL DEAD, THE CAR, CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS, DEEP RED, THE THING, GO APE (if you know posters and collectibles this is a sort of holy grail poster that was for a screening for all of the PLANET OF THE APES films that showed a gorilla-guy in the Uncle Sam pose. Alas, my poster is very much used as it was modified by the theater it was at so the value is only in its awesomeness now) and a lot of other original theater releases that were right from the time they came out. There were a few I missed out on but I got the best. The second time through I was able to go through all of them and cataloged them and acquired another boatload of great stuff and in this second group I found the poster from this movie I had loved long ago. That poster know hangs in my living room and is sort of my little happy place because it reminds me of a time and moment that meant the world to me and a film I still love.

Ah, but the poster has become a controversial one as I have had at least one friend vocally tell me of his disdain for the poster and a friend of my wife simply refers to the poster as ‘that racist poster’ and other versions of that sentiment. To say that both opinions upset me is an understatement because I am blinded by the past and by my sentimentality and honestly, because some things just are what they are and this, this is just a movie.

The movie is called Song of the South and it is a film that has become a firebrand and has garnered enough anger and controversy that Disney has never properly released it for home release and the film has all but been buried. The film is an adaptation of a book of fairy tales written by a white man and ‘told’ by a black man who was an ex-slave who had all manner of folk stories about the animals of the area that he would tell to children. The stories had been collected from other actual stories and anecdotes and had been released in the late 1800s. Disney adapted these stories into a film it released in the ‘60s and as time and social consciousness caught up to the film it was seen as racist at worst and criminally naïve at worst. The film depicts the storyteller, Uncle Remus, as a kindly old black man who lives with other former slaves on the plantation where we can presume he used to be a slave and he tells the stories to the children there, including the white children of the area. The plantation workers are happy and sing, Remus is playful, and overall everyone is content. The film is a sweet tale about the mischief the children get into on the plantation peppered with Remus’ stories, which are told via cartoon. One of the bigger issues people have with the film is the ‘tar baby’, which is a trap used by the two cartoon villains Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear to trap Br’er Rabbit. Br’er Rabbit and the other animals are voiced by what I would have to guess are black voice actors who play up the Southern sass of the characters and the slowness of that dialects delivery and it is considered by some that these vocal characterizations are racist because they deliver exaggerated performances that border on mockery. The ‘tar baby’ consists of two lumps of tar molded to look like a small figure and dressed to complete the look. When the arrogant Br’er Rabbit comes across the baby he is angered at the insolence of the baby when it refuses to speak to him and so he decides to fight the tar and gets very, very stuck.

The film has only managed to grow in controversy as society has become more and more socially aware and aware of the ways in which blacks and other races and peoples were portrayed. Let’s face it, we white folks have a lot we of misdeeds and ignorance we need to face up to and while this isn’t the blog for discussing that and I am against a sort of reparation I do think it’s legit to want a little understanding that how whites portrayed others did effect how those people saw themselves and how we saw them and did effect people deeply. All this being said though, I have to be honest – some things are overblown. This is one of those things.

I love Song of the South and that isn’t apt to change. I see it for what it is and for what people believe it to be. I completely understand the criticisms levelled against it and won’t argue – the film is painfully naïve in its portrayal of post-slavery Southern life. The film came out in a time where people were struggling and fighting for rights that they deserved to have as American citizens and I can’t fathom how upsetting this film would have been to those people fighting for those rights. This is a film that wouldn’t and couldn’t be released now as it is because while it doesn’t glorify slavery in any way and doesn’t get into any of that the notion of the ‘happy slave’ is still there in the background and while these are former slaves it’s not something that can be outright ignored. Imagine a film that portrays happy Jews living ‘free’ at a death camp. Not the most pleasant image. BUT in saying all that we miss that this is a FILM, a FAMILY FILM and was an adaptation of a book that was set in and written just outside of this period in history – and again, this is just a movie. Too easily we forget that while we consider ourselves to be high thinkers and desperately concerned with the world we are still becoming self-aware to things that common sense dictates we should know. We are just now facing that – wow, gays are people too, people who may want to marry, wow, mind blown! – and we still have a lot to learn. So pardon me if I find it a bit convenient and disingenuous to lob hatred at something that came from an era where we were still learning and judging it for things that we can never know whether they were intentional or not.

It’s a movie!

Song of the South is a sweet, dopey film that has become legendary when it didn’t really deserve it. Instead of using it as a tool to discuss that era – the ‘60s and the post-slavery era – we have hidden the film away. Hundreds of people worked on that film. The film starred a black man in an era where that wasn’t a usual thing. And dammit people did love the film. How dare anyone tell those people they are racist or ignorant for loving it. If I am able to see the story for what it is and not get hung up on what other things people see then why am I a bad person? Personally I do see the issues in the film but also understand that it wasn’t the intention of the filmmakers or the original author to make a mockery of former slaves or to make light of their lives. This is essentially a fairy tale and as such it doesn’t cleave to the common world we live in. It’s not meant to tell a story that’s based on reality no more than Titanic was meant to tell the real tale of what happened to that ship. Look, Song of the South upsets and offends some people. OK. Fine. But leave me out of it. It is very convenient to look to the past and judge it for things that we are just seeing as wrong. Some things again are common damn sense – slavery is bad as is any abuse of a hu
man or animal, pretty simple logic there – but some are not. Some issues take time to come terms with and unfortunately some lessons take time to learn. There are things we need to still learn but we can’t always learn them without time to reflect.
Movies have power. All art does. Make no mistake. And we don’t always understand its power. But we can choose whether or not we want to get outraged. Sometimes though that outrage serves a purpose and makes us think about things we may not have wanted to and to be aware of feelings we weren’t aware we had. I am offended by things all the time but it doesn’t make those things invalid or the love people have for them invalid. Just means that I see things differently.

Too often we love to pull out our personal milk crates to step up on and tell people all the things they are doing and thinking and saying that is wrong all while we ignore the mirror every morning that shows how flawed we are too. There are issues we need to address and will never be able to stop addressing and racial issues are very high on that list but we can’t start judging history and every person and thing that came before us for thinking in a manner that was simply what people thought like. We all conveniently forget our own ignorance and most folks, given a learning moment or an experience will see the world open up before them and their narrow views will change but we cannot hate those who never had that moment. And we’re not talking about people who committed atrocities but people who just didn’t get the chance to see a bigger world. I have too much baggage to go around judging people for things and if someone thinks they’re that infallible and they have nothing better to do than they are free to judge me and my love for this film.

It is what it is and people will do and feel what they feel. I would never tell someone to not be upset or offended by something because it isn’t for me to tell them what to think and feel but in saying that I expect them to let me think and feel what I will. It’d be swell if we all were great people and wanted only what was best for the human race and the earth and its creatures but the song doesn’t play that way and sometimes we’re just muddling along. I am sad that Song may never be released because it deserves to be seen. It deserves to be loved. And people deserve to see it. I grow tired of hearing how racist it is from people who have never seen it. At least if some folks see it they can speak more intelligently when they swing their holier than thou around. In the end it is what it is and if someone wants to be mad at me for having a poster up of a movie I love – a movie I grew up with – then so be it. I am happy to show them the way out and will be wise enough to lock the door when they’re gone. I struggled for a long time in writing this because the last thing I wanted was to be seen as insensitive or racist because I have this poster up and love the film but I finally just don’t care. If a stranger wants to judge me they can because they know nothing about the real me and if people I know do it then as I said, I have a swell door just waiting to be used.

Whatever you think, whatever you feel don’t let someone tell you it’s invalid – just never stop examining why you feel that way and whether that feeling might need to be updated.

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For Those Who Stay

For Those Who Stay

 Sometimes the wisest thing you can do is leave.

Just…go.

In the end sometimes you just have to look out for yourself.

In Flint that’s been an issue that’s plagued the city for decades now and it’s something I find it hard to argue with. But sadly, the landscape of America is starting to look a lot like Flint.

The jobs are all but non-existent and those that exist are given to friends, or family, or the jobs are outright eliminated.  When the recession hit the corporations took it as a cue to cut their staffing with claims of poverty and those cuts have extended out to raises and benefits. Corporate poverty is a phantom epidemic where the workers are punished for the mismanagement of the business interest. The street philosophy of ‘I gotta get mine’ was born in the penthouse and finally hit the streets only to be re-invented once more on high so that ‘getting mine’ meant you were willing to wade through a virtual river of blood to make sure you got it.

The government is broken, almost beyond repair. Everyone is in someone’s pocket. Everyone owes just one favor which becomes three, which becomes six, which becomes strange servitude. The Left and Right waste their tenure arguing and whining and complaining and do the predominance of their work in front of the TV camera where they lie out of hand as if it’s the most natural thing they do. It feels anymore as if there is no way to fix a system that can only be run by the wealthy and even the eager do-gooder will eventually be bought off or pushed out.

The school system has been decimated, the entirety of it a scorched earth of politics where robber barons took the funding to push towards needless wars and pointless plans. We have bankrupted the cities and broken the school system and all of those children who were once trapped by district boundaries are freed to go wherever they want. Suddenly the suburban schools are becoming overcrowded and the problems that plagued the city schools are starting to break the backs of the suburban schools. We are blind to the obviousness that without the next generation, and the generations that follow there IS no city, no state, and no country. We forget that we have to invest all we can into them if they have any chance of succeeding. It’s bad enough that college is mandatory to get a job as we price it so that these kids will spend decades paying off their loans and live in an infinite debt that we cannot fathom how they’ll ever get free.

The smartest thing we can do is run.

When the systems break, when the hope runs dry you run.

But here’s the thing – where are you going to go?

Therein lies the rub.

With Flint it is almost assumed you’ll leave and the city doesn’t do much to encourage you to want to stay. There is so much city corruption, so much politicking, and the system is so overburdened and broken I cannot tell you how it can be fixed.

Yet…

Where will you go?

There are always better places, better options, better ideas…but the troubles, the big troubles, are yours no matter what you do and the problems with the System are like weeds – they spread and they spread and they spread until they kill everything around them. The problem has become that so many people run instead of stand that the wrong people get elected and re-elected and the wrong people are making the decisions. Will staying fix things? Not on its own but when you stay you invest yourself in the area, the culture, and the people and that’s when you become willing to fight.

For those who stay you are the last line of defense, not of some grand notion of AMERICA or FLINT but the last line of defense for yourselves and your friends and family. It’s you that makes a town, a city, a state, a land what it is. You that feeds it and supports it. It is you that puts events together, and fundraisers, and awareness campaigns, and you that digs out your neighbors when the worst times hit. The System is broken, was born broken and we have spent hundreds of years fixing it but the truth, the truth of this land and every land is that it’s us, the people that make these vast areas of land a home.

Sometimes we need to run.

Run far, run fast, and find a new place to call home.

Sometimes we have no choice.
But a day comes when you have to stop and put down roots and make someplace home. There comes a time when you have no choice but to, well, stand and fight. And fighting can just mean giving a damn what happens in your kid’s school, in your neighborhood, and to the people around you. It can mean voting. It can mean doing things that help people forget the stress, or helping people dig out from under it. It means that you have stopped running and are willing to find ways to be a part of the world around you and to not keep looking for the escape hatch. Sometimes staying is simply caring for and inspiring those around you and showing them that that greed and jealousy and rage and hate in the world are just parts of a larger world and larger picture but are never the only thing there is.

Sometimes you need to stay.
And for you that stay don’t you ever forget that when you stay, when you stand you will find that there are a lot of people around you to catch you should you lose your footing and begin to fall. If you run, the only place to go is away.

Sometimes you need to stay.

And sometimes, staying can make all the difference in the world.