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Archive for November 13th, 2008

scarlett2Gone with the Wind, both the novel and the book have won wide-spread appreciation and acclaim. But the danger lies, because of its popularity. Just because it’s popular doesn’t mean its right. Birth of a Nation was popular. Does that mean it was morally right?

Margaret Mitchell might be the best story-teller ever and Scarlett O’ Hara the most adorable heroine of all times, but that doesn’t in any way justify the book’s racist and sexist attitudes.

Malcolm X once said, “The white Southerner, you can say one thing – he is honest. He bares his teeth to the black man; he tells the black man, to his face, that Southern whites never will accept phony ‘integration.’ The Southern white goes further, to tell the black man that he means to fight him every inch of the way – against even the so-called ‘tokenism.’ The advantage of this is the Southern gonewiththewindblack man never has been under any illusions about the opposition he is dealing with.

Gone with the Wind is racist, but since its language is more subtle, we tend to gloss over it. We love pretty women in luxuriant ball gowns, huge mansions, the fight for a so-called “noble cause,” dancing and music. Its unrealistic portrayal of the South and its many historical inaccuracies has not affected its popularity; or maybe it’s popular because it has successfully glamorized the slave era.

Everyone is familiar with the great success of the movie and the film. What was surprising is that most reviewers praised Gone with the Wind and lamented the passing away of the “glorious South.” A South, which never existed except in the white man’s mind.

Black Loyalty:

Why should Afro-Americans be loyal to the whites who have enslaved them? Beats all logic! But this is the premise on which Gone with the Wind and Uncle Tom’s Cabin operate. In both salenovels, you have Afro-Americans – Uncle Tom and Mammy – being extremely loyal to the whites, who repay them for their loyalty by selling their kids and spouses, branding them as property, and chaining them to unremitting labour.

Uncle Tom and Mammy are also the “happy slaves.” What are they trying to do? Condone slavery? Were they trying to establish that the Afro-American was happy under the white man’s rule?

Malcolm X is dead against these “Uncle Tom characters or integration black fools.” I can so empathize with his views.

None of the white people in the book, including Rhett and Ahsley (the only two men who don’t follow the common herd), give Afro-Americans any credit for intelligence.

Scarlett own words are: “How stupid negroes were! They never thought of anything unless they were told.” “How dared they laugh, the black apes! She’d like to have them all whipped until the blood ran down. What devils the Yankees were to set them free!”

The author herself, in a narrative portion says, “The blacks were like monkeys. Destroying everything they black-slaves-1500could lay their hands on….A menace to white women.” What a horrible insinuation! That the Afro-American cannot appreciate his freedom? “Blacks are like monkeys?”

Mitchell even compares their mentality to that of little children, “who must be fed, clothed and protected.” So many characters in the book, say what Mitchell feels, that Afro-Americans don’t and can’t do anything unless they are ordered to do so.

Characters like Pork and Uncle Peter embody the silent loyalty and faithfulness expected of the white man, after denying the Afro-American his freedom, his dignity and life.

Slaves can only have minor roles and must be happy with their lot. Selznick’s Gone with the Wind is in many gonemammy1ways worse than the book. Prissy, who is shown as a lazy girl in the book, is turned into a really stupid person in the film.

Gone with the Wind also sends out the message: “Nice blacks stay with their masters. Nice blacks don’t want freedom. Nice blacks hate Abraham Lincoln. Wicked blacks run riot, desert their masters and desire white women.”

Even in Uncle Tom’s cabin, the nice Afro-Americans are the ones who chose loyalty to their masters over freedom.

Strong Female White characters

One of the positive aspects is the strong female white characters it portrays. Scarlett is in a way legendary. vivien-leigh-postersHer survival instincts are high. Where men have failed, she not only succeeds but triumphs. She cares a naught for social approval, whether it comes to marrying three men in a row or sharp, cut-throat business dealings.

Though the book tries to portray Ellen and Melanie as noble women with the “right” values, I don’t find them half as appealing as Scarlett. Scarlett thinks for herself. Her desires are independent of her husband’s desires. She doesn’t act like a goody, goody. If Ellen and Melanie were really all that good, they would have opposed slavery, not turned a blind eye to the sufferings of black people (I know I’m beginning to sound like a Methodist preacher, but I can’t help the vehemence).

In one of the lines, Scarlett says that Uncle Tom’s cabin is nonsense. She claims Southerners always treated their “darkies well.” She denies the existence of bloodhounds or arms to keep slaves from escaping. Lines like these are absolute rubbish! What person, in his right mind, would prefer slavery to freedom? And vivien-leigh-and-clark-gable1Margaret Mitchell is also asking us to believe that the whites did not use force to keep the blacks from revolting. Too much, I say! So lynchings never happened?

Even Rhett Butler, who has not inherited many of the prejudices of the white Southern (ironically) “gentleman,” feels justified in killing a black man, all because he has the termity to get “uppity with a white woman.”

Gerald O Hara, who is generally portrayed as a kind-hearted shrewd Irish Southerner, also feels “blacks are inferiors.” Scarlett’s mom exhorts her to treat “inferiors kindly, but firmly.”

Problems with the film

The film, glosses over war, death, disease, racist slurs, brothels, adultery and miscarriages. The film also rhettgreatly alters the original script. Scarlett O Hara obviously cannot be portrayed a virgin waiting to be ravished by Rhett Butler, so they do the next best thing. She doesn’t have any children till Rhett comes along. Since a mother of two on her third attempt at marriage might not sound glamorous, the film tried to make her first two marriages almost non-existent in the minds of the viewer and highlight only the glorious romance with Rhett.

But even here, the night of the showdown, when Rhett forcibly takes her to his bed…there is something too distasteful and insidious, because Scarlett is shown to have enjoyed the semi-rape; dangerous conclusions can be drawn. And both in the movie and book, there is the autant en emporte le ventconstant refrain that Scarlett needs someone to boss over her or she would bully them.

There is also the suggestion that a marriage can be happy only if the wife submits to her husband or at least pretends to submit to him.

Hattie McDaniel became the first Afro-American to win an Academy Award for her role in Gone with the Wind. But then again, this cannot be taken as a real step forward. The very same Hattie Mc Daniel was unable to attend the Georgia premier of the movie, because Georgia was a segregated state. Clark Gable, to his credit, protested, but in the end McDaniel solved the problem for the racists by not appearing for the show.

The Ku Klux Klan

It is a shame that racist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan are still allowed to function in the US. Both theku_klux_klan film and the book justify the actions of this despicable organization. According to Mitchell, respectable white men join this organization to protect the honour of their white women. The Ku Klux Klan has used violence to suppress Afro-Americans, Jews, Roman Catholics and labour unions.

There is also strong evidence to suggest that Margaret Mitchell was influenced by D W Griffith’s Birth of a Nation. Birth of a Nation, is the archetypical white supremacy film, which justifies lynchings of black men. I can only end by quoting Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird: “you gentlemen would go along with them on the assumption, the evil assumption, that all negroes lie; all negroes are basically immoral beings; all negro men are not to be trusted around our women, an assumption that one associates with minds of their caliber, and which is in itself, gentlemen, a lie.”

(Justification for this long diatribe: I read Gone with the Wind when I was 10 and loved it. The references to Afro-Americans made me uncomfortable. But it was only after I became 14 did I come to fully realise the depth of racism in the book. I have for long wanted to write this, and I still haven’t written everything I want to say…but that will have to wait)

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The Reserve Bank of India has come out with a financial education series. I found the series too good. I only wish I had such material when I was in school. I would have definetly opted for the humanities instead of the sciences.

*The RBI has said: “Reproduction of this material is permitted provided the source is acknowledged.”

So here we go, into the world of Money Kumar and the RBI!

cover1money1money2money3money4money5money6money71money81money9money10money11money12money13money14money15money16money17money18money19money20

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roses“God is on the side of the strongest battalion,” says Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind. For me, this line appealed more to my practical side than the lines from “Charge of the Light Brigade.”

And later I found out that the line was not a Margaret Mitchell original, but an allusion to Napoleon’s saying “God is on the side of the strongest battalion.” I now find out that Napoleon was actually making an allusion to Voltaire’s classic, “God is on the side of the big battalions.”

Some people eulogise the dead with Shakespeare’s “Some men are born to greatness, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” I have seen the very same words embossed on graves at St George’s Cathedral.

This is a gross misapplication of the lines from the Twelfth Night, because they were originally meant to ridicule red_rose1the pomposity of men. But my professor Mr Watson Solomon, says it ok to use it now as a tribute, because sayings tend to gain a different meaning over a period of time and one must also look at the context and the intention with which it was said.

“To be, or not to be:

that is the question:

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind

to suffer The slings and arrows

of outrageous fortune,

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles”

Some of the best know lines in English lit from Hamlet. My prof taught us the “law of poetic license” by showing us how this poem broke the rules of grammar; but couldn’t be so effective if it had not. He said the poem made the best use of rhythm, rhyme & alliteration. The higher law of poetic license can & must supersede the common demands of correct usage, he said.

red-roses-photo

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kidstvHow did one survive growing up in the 90’s? Definitely not by sitting glued in front of television sets. I am continuously amazed at the amount of time my nephew and our neighbouring toddler, can put in just surfing TV channels. The two usually have major fights as to the merits of Pogo vs Nickelodeon or Chutti TV vs Disney, while all the adults try to act as peacemakers and make sneaky attempts to grab the remote.

When my precocious seven-year-old nephew started singing songs like KalyaNamdhan kattikittu Odi polaama?
illa Odi poyee kalyaNamdhaan kattikalaama?

thaaliyathaan kattikittu pethukalama?
illa pulla kutti pethukittu kattikalama
? I was stunned. (For those not conversant with Tamil, the song lyrics go something like: “Should we elope and get married or get married and elope? Should we get married and have kids or have kids and then get married?”)

Then he started singing, “Dey Kaiya vachittu summa iruda (The song goes on to baser levels, with people asking how it will be if someone touches them here, kisses them there…Shucks!)

Now he seems to know everything about the birds and bees, if one gauges his knowledge by the songs he sings. ramayana

I remember my TV watching episodes as a kid were quite innocent in comparison. The worst crime, me and my parents committed, according to my grandparents, was sitting at home on a Sunday morning, watching “Mahabarata and Ramayana” instead of going to church.

I once got a nice, tight slap from my mom for singing “Choli Ke Peechey Kya He, Chumri Ke Neeche Kya He” in front of a few guests. I got to know the meaning of the words only much later.

For me, I remember Simran best as the compere for Superhit Muquabla and Preity Zinta as the bubbly teen in Liril and Perk ads. On a rainy day, I would even settle down to watch “Vaiyalum vazhvum.”

I am a prime example of the media-bullet theory of influence. As a kid, my favourite treat was Maggie 2-minute noodles, because of the Maggie ads on Doordarshan. I would imagine I was Cuthbert Calculus when DD’s Turning Point came on air.

When the TV was not switched on, I would be reliving the adventures of Tintin & Snowy and Asterix & Obelix. Strange to think, that I have achieved my very first ambition – that of being a reporter, though my job profile doesn’t even remotely resemble the Tintin escapades. Influenced by writers like Kenneth Anderson, Gerald Durrell, Jim Corbett, Rudyard Kipling and James Herriot, my jungle-bookambitions vacillated between being a zoo warden, an animal trainer, a forest range officer, a veterinary doctor, a zoologist and a wildlife photographer. Currently, I have to satisfy myself with being a journalist and a pet owner.

Chitrahar, Chitramala, Oliyum Oliyum and the Sunday feature film was a must watch for the family.

Coming from a very orthodox and strict Pentecostal family, I would watch with a sense of guilt, but still thoroughly enjoy it all the same. Doordarshan introduced me to the world of Satayajit Ray, Charlie Chaplin, Malgudi Days, Sinbad the Sailor, The Jungle Book, etc. For me the transition from comics to novels, happened because of TV or the lack of it. I remember seeing the serial adaptation of Swiss Family Robinson and because I couldn’t wait till the next week to know what happened, I started reading the abridged version.

From there it was a short step to Robinson Crusoe and Children of the New Forest. Then Oliver Twist, Malgudi Days and Jungle Book was aired; inspiring me to read the original books.

Soon, I was hooked to books and started ignoring DD. I preferred reading Dennis the Menace to watching the movies, preferred reading Wizard of Oz to seeing the VCD, and preferred readingwizard-of-oz-dvdcover Gerald Durrell to watching Turning Point. Even now books hold a stronger lure; I prefer Harry Potter books to the movies and Edith Wharton’s original The Age of Innocence to Martin Scorsese’s adaptation.

Junoon was a sore point for my grandma. Being a Pentecostal, she found it hard to reconcile her liking for the melodrama. But some of my more canny Pentecostal friends have got around the bans imposed by pastors. Since pastors exhort them not to go to “theatres and watch cinemas,” many Christian families can be seen renting DVDs and watching them at home. I don’t how watching the same movie at home is a holier pastime than watching it with a crowd in a theatre.

Even though there would be regular interruptions on Doordarshan, people never switched off their television sets. I remember seeing my aunt once sitting in front of an empty screen, cutting vegetables and waiting for the broadcast to resume; her logic being she didn’t want to miss a second of Junoon.

Doordarshan often used the national integrity song “Mile Sur Mera Tumhara” as space fillers. I remember getting goosebumps everytime I watched the song; used to make me feel so “patrotic and Indian.” Surabhi, was one of those programmes, I could watch without PG (Parental Guidance). After Kamal Hassan’s sensual song “Sivarathiri thookam yethu” was aired on Oliyum Oliyum, I couldn’t watch any filmy stuff on TV in the absence of my parents.

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