Who knew watching an old movie classic could be such a tricky business? Yours truly tuned in last week for the annual sampling of Gone with the Wind, only to discover an advance disclaimer warning of racial stereotypes and cultural misappropriation.
here it was, house to myself, looking for nothing more than to pass a dreary afternoon in the company of great actors and a rattling good yarn from the golden age of Hollywood. Even the simple pleasure of watching an old movie on TV presents a slippery proposition in 2021 – a world where one wrong step can ensure a one-way ticket into the hungry jaws of the woke universe.
“Gone with the Wind is a product of its time,” went the advance denunciation, “and depicts some of the ethnic and racial prejudices that have, unfortunately, been commonplace in American society.”
Hard to argue with that, but did we really need reminding that Sidney Howard’s script – which won the Best Screenplay Oscar that year – was heavy on racial stereotyping and softer than cotton in its depictions of slavery? Inevitably, other classic films followed suit with similar disclaimers attached, including Aladdin and The Jungle Book.
Even Mickey Rooney playing Audrey Hepburn’s chaotic Asian-inspired neighbour, Mr Yunioshi, in Breakfast At Tiffany’s didn’t escape the social awareness police.
As if the world wasn’t complicated enough, the simple pleasure of reaching for a movie or book now insists we don an extra academic hat and transform into learned critics, fully conversant with racial and sexual politics.
Honestly, it’s been a tough day at the salt mines and all I want is Bruce Willis blowing the bad guys away. Still, in a year defined so much by Black Lives Matter and the toppling of inappropriate statues, perhaps some great films do deserve an admonitory preface.
Trouble is, living on this particular little island where the force-feeding of outrageous censorship by our so-called moral guardians was the historic norm, the notion that I need help in deciding what’s right and wrong is a cultural bridge I’d prefer to burn behind me.
Even the most persuasive case for cancel culture carries an unavoidable subtext suggesting people are not mature enough to make their own reasoned judgements. Sorry, but pious sermons or thundering pulpit admonitions from anybody on how best to employ our intellectual capacity are yesterday’s news in today’s island of saints and scholars.
For the record, while the racial stereotyping in Gone with the Wind was as obvious to be laughable, it did yield Hattie McDaniel a Best Supporting Actress Oscar – the first African-American to claim that golden statuette. Her character, Mammy, was the definition of dignity and pragmatism, offering a foil to the mercurial and fickle Scarlett. Mammy’s advice – “What gentlemen says and what they thinks is two different things” – was a line for the ages.
One area of cancel culture does have my support – Hollywood’s mangling of the Irish accent. Even though we’ve gamely suffered through Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts and Gerard Butler commit articulation homicide down the years, this weekend’s streaming arrival of Wild Mountain Thyme took the elocution biscuit.
Five minutes of Emily Blunt and Christopher Walken doing a Mayo accent had me bleeding profusely from the ears. Such was the pain, the National Leprechaun Museum of Ireland weighed in with: “Even we think this is a bit much.”
Taking sanctuary beneath the sofa cushions, I could only whimper: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”