Is Disparaging the South Becoming Passe?
By Gail Jarvis
Feb 6, 2015
The lack of interest in the film “Selma” by both the public and the film industry is a healthy sign. It is an indication that the public is growing tired of this particular movie formula (often called the “Mississippi Burning Syndrome”) ; portrayals of racist, bigoted Southerners from fifty years ago. This movie formula has been a powerful opinion-molding device, but political trends and social movements tend to go in cycles. Although society never completely reverts back to the way it was, social trends gradually become old hat and lose their impetus. As a social trend passes its cusp and nears the end of its cycle, its proponents are often caught unaware. And, certainly the producers of the film “Selma” were caught unaware.
Although anti-Southern bias is not as fashionable as it once was, some journalists, even those writing for Southern newspapers, apparently still think it is viable. A review of the movie “Selma” recently appeared in The Brunswick News, in Brunswick, GA. To establish her credentials on race relations, the reviewer, Bethany Leggett, stated that as a result of a college internship, she spent one month in Alabama, visited Birmingham; toured the local Civil Rights Institute, and also visited the famous 16th Street Baptist Church.
Ms. Leggett stated that she learned the facts about the 1960s events “from a textbook and reading plaques on a museum’s wall.” So, unlike the general public, her admiration for the film was effusive. And even the “historical errors” in “Selma” failed to diminish her high praise. I’m sure that most of you have read about the interpretations of 1960 events contained in contemporary school textbooks, so I don’t need to discuss that problem. But what kind of journalist would accept language on a museum plaque as corroboration for the veracity of a Hollywood version of a half-century old event? If, during her brief tour of Alabama, Ms. Leggett had encountered a laudatory commendation on a Confederate monument, would that convince her to view the Confederacy favorably?
Sadly, Ms. Leggett’s glib understanding of 1960 events has become all too common. Over 30 cities throughout the country, including Birmingham, provided free theater tickets to insure that students viewed “Selma.” It was felt that viewing Oprah Winfrey’s cinematic version of a celebrated Martin Luther King event would be an important learning experience . We wonder if schools will make Ms. Winfrey’s “Selma” film an educational tool for students in the same way that “To Kill a Mockingbird” has become a teaching device.
Leada Gore, a journalist for The Birmingham News expressed her indignation that Alabama allows citizens to celebrate Robert E. Lee’s birthday on the same day day it celebrates Martin Luther King’s birthday. The fact that Alabama has celebrated General Lee’s birthday for over a 100 years before MLK day was even created is irrelevant to her. She asserts that honoring General Lee is not only “outdated”, it is “archaic.” With astounding hubris, she actually scolded the state with: “Do better Alabama.”
Ms. Gore also claims that those who celebrate Lee on the actual anniversary of his birthday do so only to detract from the importance of MLK Day, which should be sacrosanct. This is a rather odd claim because the MLK holiday often stretches over a few days, with numerous events, and is soon followed by Black History Month, wherein MLK is lauded throughout a 28 day period. On the other hand, Robert E. Lee is commemorated on a single day.
As a result of an opinion poll and email responses, Ms. Gore learned that her disparagement of Robert E. Lee was not widely shared. In a follow-up article, she resorted to a common journalistic gimmick by selecting and printing those responses that tended to make Robert E. Lee supporters appear to be backwater hayseeds. Quite a few journalists use this technique, but it indicates a lack of integrity.
We know from past experience that no matter how many Southern traditions are eliminated or how many Southern celebrations are forbidden, activists will never be satisfied. They will immediately begin a campaign against another heritage symbol, attacking it with the same worn-out arguments they’ve used in the past. And, of course, they will be supported by gullible journalists. Many of us long for a journalist with original rather than indoctrinated opinions. And it would certainly be refreshing to come across a journalist who had achieved enough maturity to understand that there are two sides to every story.
We have to assume that Ms. Gore and Ms. Leggett belong to that aggregation of young journalists born after 1975. – More than half of our current population falls into that category. So they have been exposed to establishment-sanctioned views since their birth. The Selma March and other notable civil rights events occurred before they were born, so their perceptions of those events comes from media, movies, and TV portrayals. These portrayals are essentially presented in the versions that best accommodate the Left’s political strategies.
The failure of “Selma” is not the only healthy sign I’ve come across. Two left-of-center newspapers, who are frequently unfair to the South are experiencing declines in revenue and circulation; one national, The New York Times, and one local, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Reports indicate that these two newspapers are re-assessing their political philosophies in an attempt to recapture their lost readership. For their survival, they will have to allow more moderate, middle-of-the-road opinions. They might even ease up on their anti-Southern bias.