Entry 42: Rethinking Confederate Symbols in South Park

South Park. “White People Renovating Houses,” Season 21, Episode 1. Directed by Trey Parker. Written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

I may be letting this site lie fallow while I’m distracted by other projects, but the apparently indefatigable Matthew C. Hulbert—author of numerous blogposts and the excellent, award-winning book, The Ghosts of Guerilla Memory: How Civil War Bushwhackers Became Gunslingers in the American West—is putting me to shame and keeping things going. South Park‘s season premiere inspired Matt to think about the current debate over Confederate symbols and the role of historians in that debate (for more on that, see his excellent post on Historista), and I’m happy to give him a platform as Civil War Pop‘s long overdue 42nd entry. Enjoy!

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Civil War Pop’s Sad Commanders

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Reviewing Shenandoah made me realize something: wow, there are a lot of sad sack leaders in Civil War fiction. In that film, it was George Kennedy’s Colonel Fairchild. He only gets one scene but spends all of it in a seemingly deep state of depression. His tone is muted, his eyes are downcast, and his whole demeanor suggests he’s lost faith in the Union cause.

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Entry 36: Murdering through Georgia

The Keeping Room. Directed by Daniel Barber. Written by Julia Hart.

Release Date: September 25, 2015.

I decided to watch The Keeping Room because it’s recent and in my Netflix queue. Turns out, it makes an perfect companion (or counterpoint) to Free State of Jones. Films like Jones are chipping away at popular culture’s longstanding love affair with the Lost Cause narrative, but others like The Keeping Room show we still have a long way to go. It’s not that The Keeping Room is a pro-Confederate movie. It’s using the Civil War to tell a story about gender and the horror of war but it incorporates elements of the Lost Cause seemingly as a matter of course. Yankees are murderous rapists, William Tecumseh Sherman is a monster, and slaves are invested in protecting their masters. I kept wanting to like this movie but the script’s outdated depiction of the Civil War proved more grating than I could bear. Read More

Talkin’ Robert E. Lee Blues

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As many of you know, my office is located in the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. Those of you who know me well also know I was once a great admirer of Robert E. Lee. One of the best aspects of working at ALPLM is its vast cohort of enthusiastic and knowledgeable volunteers. Last year, I was invited to do an educational program for them on Jefferson Davis. I jumped at the chance and the program had a large and engaged audience. I got invited back this year and was able to pick whatever Lincoln-related topic I wanted, so I went with Robert E. Lee. This is a very personal choice given how my perspective on Lee has changed over the years but, unbeknownst to me until a few days ago, it has also proven to be a controversial choice among the volunteers themselves and not in the way you might think. Apparently, many people around here are concerned about how Lee iconography is currently under assault in places like New Orleans and Charlottesville. Having written the talk two weeks ago, I’m now wondering how much I should tailor it to this new context and what that says about my own feelings about the man and his image. Read More

Maryland “Dissidents” Strike Back

Update: McClanahan has written an additional response back at the Abbeville Institute. Given its tone, I think it’s pretty clear where this is heading, so I’ll happily give him the last word. Also, it looks like the Maryland legislature is going to let the issue lie until the next session, so we’ll see if it gets any legs next time around.


I was wondering if my article on “Maryland, My Maryland” that Time.com picked up would drum up some opposition from the neo-Confederate crowd, and it looks like this article by for The Abbeville Institute fits the bill (I’m unfamiliar with the institute, but the fact that it’s pushing a book titled, Emancipation Hell: The Tragedy Wrought by Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, tells me all I need to know). Besides McClanahan immediately casting doubt on his research skills by calling me “James McWhirter,” he speciously tries to undermine my argument that any state should have an official song as openly dissident as James Ryder Randall’s poem. I’m not going to dissect each of his points, but I’ll draw your attention to a few juicy bits. Read More

Entry 29: Lost Causing It in the Fifth Dimension

The Twilight Zone. “Still Valley,” Season 3, Episode 11. Directed by James Sheldon. Written by Rod Serling and Manly Wade Wellman.

Release Date: November 24, 1961.

Now that Mercy Street is over, I thought we could use a palate cleanser, and what better way than with a guest post by prolific historian, editor, and blogger Matthew C. Hulbert. Matt has a book coming out in the fall that’s right up my alley, The Ghosts of Guerrilla Memory: How Civil War Bushwhackers  Became Gunslingers in the American West, but he’s also a Twilight Zone fan. So, we decided to do a post on the series’s most famous Civil War episode, “Still Valley.” It’s a great piece and I’m always happy to feature other scholars on this blog. Enjoy! Read More

Entry 28 (Part 4): Autopsying Mercy Street

Mercy Street. “The Diabolical Plot,” Season 1, Episode 6. Directed by Jeremy Webb. Written by Lisa Wolfinger, David Zabel, and Jason Richman.

Release Date: February 21, 2016.

I don’t think historians or critics ever reached a consensus on Mercy Street. This is probably a good sign. It means the show was at least interesting. I generally enjoyed it but, even when I didn’t, the history was solid enough that viewers at least learned something. Yesterday’s finale generally followed this pattern, despite its fictional inclusion of Booth and Lincoln. The eponymous “Diabolical Plot” didn’t really grip me, but the episode had enough solid dramatic and historical moments to keep away the sour taste in my mouth I’d been afraid of since the storyline originally leaked. That allowed me to be objective in my evaluation of Mercy Street as a whole, and my final take is generally positive. Read More

Entry 26: Dreaming of a Confederate Christmas

General Lee and Santa Claus. Written by Louise Clack. Modern revision by Randall Bedwell.

Release Date: 1867; December 1997.

Original Available Here.

We’re in the heart of the holiday season and it seems fitting and proper to offer up some Civil War Christmas content for your perusal. Fortunately, I’ve had just such an item sitting on my bookshelf for almost a decade. Back before Amazon, I had to subscribe to a Civil War book catalog to get a sense of what was out there. One issue prominently featured the hilariously titled General Lee and Santa Claus. Of course, I immediately ordered it for laughs and out of morbid curiosity. As with most such purchases, it’s sat unread on my bookshelf ever since—at least until now. Read More

How Much Civil War is in Star Wars?

A ragtag group of rebels sustain an extended military revolution through pure gumption and righteousness against an omnipresent, corrupt, industrial empire. Sound familiar? You either just recognized the underlying narrative of the Lost Cause or, more likely, the plot of the most popular and influential franchise in film history. Star Wars never really left us, but it’s been inescapable for the past few months as we await The Force Awakens. I have only a scant impression of where this trilogy is going but I do know that, when George Lucas was in charge, the series wore its historical influences on its sleeves. Star Wars is often touted as an adept melange of Lucas’s cinematic influences, but it’s also a collection of historical echoes and allusions that resonate enough with audiences to add familiarity without becoming overbearingly allegorical. That begs the question: how much of the American Civil War is mixed into the Galactic Civil War? Read More

The Potential of The Free State of Jones

The big story in Hollywood right now is the upcoming seventh Star Wars film. Seemingly everyone (including me) is getting swept away by the hype while silently hoping the movie doesn’t stink. History geeks, however, are equally fired up for The Free State of Jones, starring Matthew McConaughey and based on Victoria Bynum’s excellent book of the same name. Few people are better positioned to comment on the film and its place in pop culture than Bynum herself, and I’d like to draw your attention to this thoughtful and personal blogpost she published last week. Read More