Cast of Characters:
Actress Lillian Gish
Producer/Director D.W. Griffith
Bowling Green State University administrator (“Mr. Gobsmack”)
Black Lives Matter (BLM) representative
Black Student Union (BSU) representative
Two anonymous soldiers
February 8, 1915: The Birth of a Nation premieres in Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.
Lillian Gish: “I don’t know, Mr. Griffith, this moving picture could cause trouble.”
D.W. Griffith: “Oh, come now, Miss Lillian. Just because it depicts the Ku Klux Klan as saviors? This is 1915 and no one cares. Who in Robert E. Lee’s name is this ‘Jim Crow’ fellow anyway? Besides, it’s not my fault…it’s the guy who wrote the book.”
Lillian Gish: “Well, despite the unusual interpretation of history, it is an awe-inspiring achievement. Critics are already calling it a motion picture landmark. It’s a shame sound hasn’t been invented yet, so people would be able to hear my voice.”
D.W. Griffith: “And Lil, you’ve done so well in Birth, I would like you to appear in my next epic project.”
Lillian Gish: “Mr. Griffith! Thank you! My friends back in Ohio will be so thrilled! What is the title?”
D.W. Griffith: “I’m calling it Intolerance.”
June 11, 1976: The GISH FILM THEATRE is dedicated at Bowling Green State University in northwest Ohio, U.S.A.
Bowling Green administrator: “…And in this glorious two-hundredth year since our nation’s birth, we humbly dedicate this new theatre to two of Ohio’s own, legendary actresses Lillian and Dorothy Gish, for their combined 136 years on stage and screen!”
Lillian Gish: “Thank you, Mr. Gobsmack. I accept this elegant honor in honor of my late sister and myself. Dorothy was a better actress than I, and I only wish she, and mother, could be here to bask in this lovely moment.”
Bowling Green administrator: “And tomorrow we will be presenting you with the honorary degree of Doctor of Performing Arts!”
(more loud applause)
Lillian Gish: “Dear me, you are all so very kind. I have never been a doctor before. By the way, can everyone out there hear my voice?”
February 2019: Black Lives Matter approaches Black Student Union at Bowling Green State University
BLM representative: “Put your smartphone down, brother. We gotta remove another intimidating and hostile name. We’ve been spendin’ time researchin’. Do you know who Lillian Gish is?”
BSU representative: “Uh…doesn’t she have a cooking show?”
BLM representative: “No! She was a white actress from Ohio! Did a bunch of silent films! She was in that film Birth of a Nation!”
BSU representative: “Huh? You mean that racist Civil War movie with Cary Grant?”
BLM representative: “No! You’re thinking Gone With the Wind, and the actor was Clark Gable! (But don’t worry, that movie is next on our agenda.) No, I’m talkin’ ’bout a 1915 film dealing with Reconstruction where the KKK is a hero!”
BSU representative: “Damn! And she acted in that shit?! Yeah, we need to wipe out another name, like Wisconsin did last year with Fredric March. I’m now intimidated by that hostility!”
BLM representative: “Good, glad you agree. Get with those university trustees and tell them to wipe that intimidating and hostile Gish name offa that theatre.”
BSU representative: “Got it covered. And I guarantee it’ll be a 7-0 vote in favor of wiping. No American college official these days wants to risk being labelled racist. We can’t tolerate our university having a performing arts theatre named after a legendary actress from Ohio who had the intolerance to appear in a racist film 104 years ago. We will wipe!”
BLM representative: “Cool. Her sister Dorothy wasn’t in any racist films that our people can determine—yet—but she doesn’t have a voice in this. This is 2019 and no one cares that her name will also be…uh…whitewashed. Anyway, she was friends with that Griffith guy!”
ACT 4 (Epilogue)
July 3, 2063: Somewhere on a field strikingly similar to Cemetery Ridge near the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.
First soldier: “I think this battle could be the turning point in the war.”
Second soldier: “You could be right. Finally, the end of political correctness.”
First soldier: “Yep. You don’t need to correct anything when there’s nothing left to correct.”
20 thoughts on ““How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Social Justice Fascism:” A Comedy-Drama in Four Acts”
Roll out the tumbrills, we have lot of work to do. Lately the Village of Oaklawn Illinois removed a mural from a public building. It depicted an idyllic winter afternoon upon which a large group of white kids are skating and sledding. The mural was created in the 30s when the neighborhood was pretty much all white. Not the case now, so the art was removed causing a media opportunity for selling advertising. The best comment came from an African-American lady who disagreed with the censure, and said, ‘You can’t change history, but you can paint more murals showing the Oaklawn of today.’ That’s the right response.
There are constructive ways to fight racism and encourage diversity, like increasing and improving public education. But, see, that’s hard work. Picking on dead actors and pressuring cowed university officials is much easier. But it’s like putting a Band-Aid on a malignant tumor.
Hi Pete. Right, staying focused on the big picture is the key. Still, America’s history has been and still is troubling in many ways, So, I can’t argue with “small potatoes” attempts to right past wrongs. Sometimes those efforts end up having positive, wide effects.
Well, I guess my fear is that these “small potato” attempts to “right past wrongs” can grow into large potatoes. How far is the distance between removing an actress’s name from a building and removing existing copies of a film from circulation? Woodrow Wilson permitted this film to be shown in the White House. Remove his name from public facilities as well? We’ve already seen, in 1930s Europe, how small embers can quickly evolve into conflagrations. Censorship is a favorite ploy in fascist societies, whether it comes from the Right or the Left.
Griffith’s film is disgustingly racist, there’s no doubt about it. But how complicit is a 21-year-old actress? And an award-winning actress who appeared in 105 “non-racist” films and did more than any other thespian to preserve the medium of silent film? Let’s look at things in their context before we start erasing names.
Lastly, I don’t see how erasing a name can possibly have a “positive, wide effect.” On the contrary, I see it as having a negative effect by emboldening opponents of social justice and causing serious backlashes. Fighting racism with fascism, even “small-potatoes” fascism, is not a recipe for success.
Nevertheless…always enjoy hearing from you, and thanks for contributing!
I see your points. I’ll have to give this some more thought.
In the meantime, Neil, I’ve been thinking: maybe “fascism” is too strong a word for this PC stuff? I don’t know. I’m concerned about the censorship, but maybe I went overboard with that word.
Daring stuff. I think erasing history is erasing hard lessons learned, and it is a dreadful mistake.
I appreciate your visiting and commenting. A Toledo columnist said that the theatre issue could have been an opportunity for a “teachable moment.” Keep the Gish name, but bring the “Birth of a Nation” racism to the forefront and have students discuss it (maybe annually?). I’m on record supporting removal of certain Confederate monuments…which on the surface may look like a contradiction. But erecting those monuments, to obscure slavery, in glorification of a “Lost Cause,” was a distinct political act. Conversely, BGSU just wanted to honor a local gal for her film and theatre achievements.
Yunno, they could just show Birth of A Nation for a week and get a fresh look at this chestnut. Unless of course activists refuse to let it show. And what would we learn from that?
Most wise. I do not see you as being contradictory at all. You simply have a better way. It seems if anything ahead of these times. I appreciate it. And your style and approach are excellent. Nicely done.
A timely post Peter, and so apropos as I find this article by Christian Toto in The Hill: he raises some provocative thoughts about PC. https://thehill.com/opinion/technology/443282-will-political-correctness-kill-classic-movies
As always, thanks for your writing.
Thanks, Phil, I read it. I’ll add to “The Hill” article that TCM (Turner Classic Movies) has recently morphed into TMM (Turner Message Movies). Saturday nights at 8 PM, they used to show not only “classic” movies, but “Essentials.” They now have an African-American woman film director as a co-host, and 5 of her next 6 “Essentials” are movies that concern minorities. They may, indeed, be good movies. But are they essential? Obviously, she would like them to be.
Re the article, while “The Hill” is non-partisan, author Christian Toto appears to lean conservative, and I just wish more fellow liberals/moderates would speak out about this excessive PC and attempt to “scrub” everything. It’s just not healthy. Unfortunately, America is now two armed camps. Each “club” has rules and regulations. The “Liberal Club” requires one agree with everything that stands up for minorities and women…even if it might be wrong. Sorry, I don’t play that game.
I don’t want this post to turn into a bitch session, so I’m going to shut up! 🙂 Anyway, my “Newsboys” piece is on the docket, and is next in line, just wanted to get a few time-sensitive posts published first.
Can’t wait to read Newsboys!
Whoo! Daring post. Much that needs saying. Context is so important in learning from history and shutting off part of the conversation does not move that conversation forward. It just limits it. That said, we have to move beyond racism; being racist (or sexist or ageist or many other -ists) is such a display of ignorance over the multitude of gifts that people in all their colors and preferences can contribute to the human condition. But our tribal tendencies make that a long shot.
Yes, I’m afraid our inclinations toward tribalism do make overcoming bigotry an uphill battle. It’s good that we at least make the struggle, though (in an intelligent manner).
Another reader also used the word “daring” for my post. I’m probably overly naïve, but I would say it’s more daring to cavalierly remove names without looking at context. Here, I criticize (make fun of) two organizations, seven college officials, and one racist filmmaker. I realize the Gish sisters are deceased, but they don’t have a voice. I’m championing the underdog. Yet I wonder how many readers notice this.
Not enough. The removal of names without looking at context is a lot like not reading to the end.
Pete I’ll way in with this. We have a thing going on up here called “Truth and Reconciliation”. It’s about addressing and healing the damage done by “Indian Residential Schools”. It is a big step in righting a wrong. But how do you give someone back a lost life? Do I feel guilty for what happened ? No. Do I feel empathy and an obligation to be part of the healing? Yes.
Enjoyed your piece and it certainly is something that will get passionate debate from the opposing sides. As far as the film goes it is a piece of film history plus a time capsule of the filmmakers mindset at that time. Maybe a bit of an education tool? Again, what does CB know I’m just trying to stay warm up here.
I would say you know a lot. You’re absolutely right, you can’t give someone back a lost life. While I don’t know what the Canadian “Truth and Reconciliation” program entails, it sounds like a noble idea, and it would be nice if the United States had something similar for Native Americans. Our sins against Indians are abominable. That being said, and in line with my post, we have to be careful about overshooting the target. Cavalier removal of names, attempts at censorship, permanent warehousing of uncomfortable art (who defines what is and isn’t “uncomfortable”?), erasure of radio shows (Garrison Keillor)…strange disappearances…not good. Although the Germans were real successful at it for a few years in the 1930s and ’40s.
“Overshooting the target” is a good one. Sometimes change does that. Hopefully it finds it’s proper place.
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