SCREEN-L Archives

April 1995, Week 3


Options: Use Monospaced Font
Show Text Part by Default
Show All Mail Headers

Message: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]
Topic: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]
Author: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]

Print Reply
Donald Larsson <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 14 Apr 1995 17:11:45 CDT
text/plain (54 lines)
----------------------------Original message----------------------------
Dan Streible writes:
"Ailes replied (paraphrasing here):  "Well, I don't know if Griffith was a
conservative or not.  But he made a great film.  Of course in this day of
political correctness a lot people don't even want the movie shown, just
because of some racial images.   But it was a different time.  A person can
help the times they live in."   It was as if he had said, "Boys & girls:
if you don't know who Adolf Hitler was you should.  He was a great, great
Quite an apologia.  Quite a repesentation of the nature of the film.  I'm
still amazed at the staying power of BIRTH as a historical touchstone and
the willingness of white men to continue proudly defending its
representation of race."
I'll assume the accuracy of the paraphrase, which is not at all out of line for
Ailes (Rush Limbaugh's producer, among many other things), but it doesn't sound
to me so much that he's "proudly defending its representation of race" as
 offering the kind of weak-kneed apology that he (and Rush) would never tolerate
someone who sought to point out mitigating factors of race, class or sex in
someone else's behavior.  (Eg, The Weather Underground couldn't help the times
they lived in.)
On the other hand, the point is one that continually comes up in discussion
about Griffith, well as Leni Reifenstahl, Richard Wagner, D.H. Lawrence,
Ezra Pound, and other artists who have been important, influential, and--yes--
"great" in some way, but who often spoke, thought, and acted in despicable
ways. As far as I'm concerned, BIRTH OF A NATION is an "important" film in
many ways and should be seen by many people, but always with the contextual
understanding of Griffith's blatantly racist appeals.  The film shouldn't be
banned, but the racism should not be overlooked either.
I think Ailes' *real* offense is typical of those who slap the "politically
correct" label on any protest of elements that the right wants to ignore or
shout down (not that the left can't be guilt of similar simplistic argument).
By dismissing the racial factor as unworthy of discussion, Ailes tries to
naturalize racism and put it beyond the pale of discussion, leaving "art" a
purified form that exists far above the political realm (which is certainly
not true).  It also presents history as an uncontested set of events in which
people were pre-determined to act in a certain way because of their historical
context--quite an argument for a conservative to make, especially one who
espouses the ideals of individual liberty and choice!  I think the point is
that Griffith, while constrained in certain ways by history--as all of us are,
also *could* help his beliefs and behavior--as all of us do.  He *chose* to
act and think in a particular way and make a film that is both great and
loathsome as a result.
Don Larsson, Mankato State U (MN)