Free State of Jones is genuinely bold filmmaking that refuses to romanticize the violence and terrorism of war and its aftermath.
Americans really love their Civil War. In the popular imagination, the Civil War is the nation’s trial by fire; that utterly necessary event that determined if a house divided against itself could rise from the ashes and prove to the world that a nation “of the people, by the people, for the people” could survive.
Yet beneath the mythology of reconciliation is the reality of a war that endured long after the armies laid down their guns. Strip away the mythology and you’re left with what historian Eric Foner calls America’s “Unfinished Revolution,” a revolution defined by violence, terrorism, and a string of broken promises that stifled the march of equality for generations. This “Unfinished Revolution” was Reconstruction, and the film Free State of Jones depicts Reconstruction’s brutal reality better than any previous popular treatment.
The historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC.
Nothing seems to define the absolute worst of 21st century America quite like a bitter white guy with a chip on his shoulder and a gun in his hand. Such was the case in Charleston, South Carolina, where a twenty-one year old, bowl-cut-sporting, would-be Grand Wizard named Dylann Storm Roof allegedly opened fire into the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, killing nine people in cold blood.
Of course, it’s no surprise whatsoever that Roof appears to have ties to have white supremacist organizations, as a picture on his Facebook page shows the little tool posing like a scowling cherub on the cover of a crappy teenage metal band’s first self-produced EP while wearing the patches of Apartheid-era South Africa and the former white-dominated Rhodesia, now modern-day Zimbabwe. Reports from the Emanuel church claimed that just before he opened fire on parishioners, Root stated that, “I have to do it, you rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”
Rebels without a clue in Colorado.
The Confederate flag is an American symbol like no other. The reasons for this aren’t complicated: the Rebel flag is both distinctly American and functionally anti-American at the same time. It’s American in the sense that it once stood for a rebellion started by Americans, but anti-American in the sense that those American rebels waged a treasonous war against, you know, the United States. Yes-sir-ee-Bob, the stars and bars represents the most chaotic moment in U.S. history, when the land of the free went to war over the fact that millions of its residents were decidedly unfree, and plenty of (white) Americans wanted to maintain that status quo.
Insurgents ride triumphantly as Iraq descends into more ethnic-fueled chaos. It’s all Obama’s fault, of course.
What in Sam Hill is going on in Iraq? Yeah, remember that country? It’s the one in the Middle-East that seems to be constantly riven with ethnic strife, religiously motivated terrorism, and a spectacularly corrupt government. Okay, I guess that really doesn’t nail it down, now does it? More specifically, Iraq is that Middle-Eastern country run by a former mustachioed dictator whom the United States used to support because we wanted his oil and didn’t give a damn about how his iron-fisted tactics made the phrase “human rights” into little more than a punchline. Wait — that doesn’t narrow it down either. Okay, let’s try this one last time: Iraq is the country that President George H.W. Bush kicked out of Kuwait in 1991 in the name of
freedom oil and President George W. Bush invaded in 2003 because it was supposedly a threat to freedom oil.
Bush-the-Younger’s dunder-headed excursion into Iraq became the Biggest Mistake in American Military History. Now, Iraq is once again descending into chaos — and no one knows what in the Hell to do about it. In recent weeks, ethnic and religious strife between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in Iraq has exploded into civil war-like conditions (seriously, how many times have we heard a variation of that headline?) and the epic finger-pointing has begun.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Unicorn Land) has never let reality intrude on his impenetrable ideological “truths.”
If you’re poor in America, Wisconsin’s favorite Social Security-collecting, Ayn Rand worshipping Congresscritter thinks it’s your own fault. Why does Paul Ryan blame people for their own poverty, you may ask? After all, as I discussed in a previous post, being poor is absolutely terrible: it leaves you wracked with financial insecurity; it flattens your self-confidence, and it’s bad for your health. But despite the general awfulness of poverty, guys like Paul Ryan and his army of ideologically like-minded right-wing goons still think that the poor are poor because they deserve to be poor. And in the U.S., what you look like (hint: what box you check when asked if you’re “black” or “white”) matters a whole lot when it comes to discussing being poor.
Former South African President Nelson Mandela meets with former U.S. President Bill Clinton at the 2002 International Aids Conference.
This week one of the towering figures of twentieth century politics passed from his mortal coil. Nelson Mandela, the former President of South Africa, died at the age of 95, leaving a legacy that stretches beyond the limits of South Africa and even his own lifetime. Heck, Mandela’s legacy is one that challenges what had been among the core ideologies of the modern world dating back at least to the 18th century: white supremacy as practiced via the supposed inherent right of European powers to subjugate non-white, non-European peoples.
Mandela was, of course, the first black president of South Africa, a nation whose modern history is framed largely through the prism of its brutal system of racial segregation known as Apartheid. Mandela spent 27 years in prison as punishment for his lifelong fight against institutional racism, and his greatness as a symbol of human resistance in the face of adversity is now forever sealed. I mean, Morgan Freeman even played Mandela in a movie, and if that doesn’t attest to the South African president’s greatness, nothing else will.
A lineup of scary, urban, 19th century criminals, from Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York (2002).
Crime and cities have always been close bedfellows in America. The sense that cities, in contrast to the countryside, are havens of delinquency and debauchery populated by the worst kinds of morally deprived low-lifes is a longstanding notion in American culture that remains potent in the twenty-first century, even when urban crime rates are at their lowest point in some 40 years. But whatever the current level of crime in American cities, the denser populations of urban areas, when combined with the natural human proclivity towards delinquent behavior, has ensured that the cultural meme of “cities as havens of vice” has remained perennially popular.
The latest manifestation of urban crime fears is the viral panic over the supposed “knockout” trend that is currently sweeping the internet. Reports have emerged from cities such as Pittsburgh, New York, Philadelphia and others of the growing popularity of a depraved new game called “knockout” among groups of urban teenagers. As the New York Times reported, this game allegedly involves “young assailants…randomly picking unlucky targets and trying to knock them out with just one punch.” Essentially, the knockout game amounts to little more than a random, dangerous assault, since no reports of actual theft have emerged from these attacks.
From Harper’s Weekly: An example of racially based intimidation of voters during the Reconstruction period. The caption reads, “Of Course he Wants to Vote the Democratic Ticket.” As the party of southern white supremacy following the Civil War, Democrats feared the power of enfranchised, Republican-voting African-Americans. This is because voting symbolizes power and agency.
Voting is a radical act. That’s right, you heard me. If you’re one of the roughly fifty, to sixty percent of Americans who actually vote in presidential elections, then you’re a committed radical. If you’re one of the even fewer who vote in off-year midterm elections that decide boring stuff like congressional representation (you know, the stuff that actually matters), then you’re downright revolutionary.
Of course, the idea that voting is radical might seem ridiculous. After all, a good many Americans have, for a long time now, been convinced that their vote simply doesn’t count. They look at a political system that is infested with the wriggling worms of corporate lobbyists and “dark money” special interest peddling, and, understandably conclude that the vote of any individual Joe or Jane Six-Pack won’t make a dent in the system’s corruption-infused force-field.
A protester at a Tea Party rally holds a sign demonstrating the continued importance of slavery’s legacy in U.S. political discourse. Notes: this is how NOT to have a “conversation about race.”
What does it take for that contradictory, opinionated, but not always informed, ethnically amorphous mass of sputtering, super-sized humanity known collectively as the American public to have an honest conversation about race? Heck, what does the phrase “conversation about race even mean?” Henry Louis Gates, esteemed Harvard professor of African-American history, thinks it’s utterly meaningless, and that talking about race means recognizing how race is interwined with U.S. History. In an interview for Salon, Gates emphatically states that “since slavery ended, all political movements have been about race.”
A 1984 Reagan-Bush campaign button worn by so-called “Reagan Democrats:” blue-collar white northerners worried that Democrats had caved to black interests.
Its become a truism in modern American politics that the Republican Party traffics in coded racial resentment. Dog-whistle phrases like “taxes,” “welfare,” “food stamps,” “dependency,” “entitlement reform,” or, if you’re the non-too-subtle former Pennsylvania senator Rick “Frothy Mix” Santorum, “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money,” have helped relay the message to status-anxiety ridden working and middle class whites that the GOP will protect them from the welfare scrounging black hordes.
With good reason, the GOP’s use of racial resentment to win votes is considered a twentieth-century century phenomenon, but it also has deep roots in the nineteenth century Reconstruction era, when the intersection of race and class planted the seeds of racial resentment that show a clear link between the party of Abraham Lincoln and the party of, well, the Tea Party.