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.”
President Barack Obama does prayer stuff at the National Prayer Breakfast.
Americans don’t do nuance. The basic dictionary definition of nuance is “a subtle difference in or shade of meaning, expression, or sound,” and boy does this ever go against the American predilection for dualistic thinking in absolutely everything. From the highest level political “masterminds,” to the status-anxiety wracked petite bourgeoisie, to the common blue-collar Bubba, Americans prefer simplistic approaches to a very complicated world. They therefore derive thought-free comfort in the notions that black and white long ago teamed up to gag the numerous shades of grey with a balled-up American flag; that there is only good (America) and evil (everything that isn’t America), and that might ALWAYS equals right — at lease when America uses might.
And no U.S. subculture better exemplifies this inoculation-proof allergy to nuance better than the conservative hive-mind. Yes, if Americans in general prefer simple answers to complex problems, the Right Wing goes a step further: they deny that complex problems even exist. Thus, we have the dunder-headed conservative reaction to President Barack Obama’s invocation at the 2015 National Prayer Breakfast. Continue Reading
A makeshift memorial for the slain Charlie Hebdo journalists.
There are few things more dangerous in the modern world than pissed-off zealots drunk on the potent, backwoods hooch of religious fundamentalism. We received yet another reminder of this fact on January 7, when Muslim fanatics opened fire on the workforce of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, killing twelve people and injuring many more. The two main douche-canoes suspected in the Paris terror attacks were identified as Cherif Kouachi and his older brother, Said Kouachi. Their motivation appears to have been a revenge-attack in response to Charlie Hebdo’s habit of publishing uncompromisingly satirical cartoons depicting the Islamic prophet Mohammed and generally mocking radical Islam in a manner that only the French could pull off. You see, visual depictions of Islam’s founder are forbidden under Muslim religious laws, so, yeah, guns; murder; terror, etc.
And, just to add some good ole’ fashioned anti-Semitism to the mix (because you can seemingly always blame the Jews for something!!!), two other suspects followed the Charlie Hebdo attacks by taking hostages in a kosher supermarket in a traditionally Jewish quarter located outside of Paris. A man named Amedy Coulibaly (a career-criminal with a bad case of Caliphate-itus) and a women named Hayat Boumedienne (Coulibaly’s former squeeze), apparently decided to bring about the second Muslim Conquest of Europe by shooting people in the frozen-foods section. Continue Reading
Norman Rockwell’s Freedom from Fear (1943). This depiction of American kids getting safely tucked in at night while England experienced The Blitz had a clear message: Americans should, above all else, be free from fear.
Be afraid, America, be very afraid. It’s a dangerous world out there, with a never-ending series of threats laying siege to the republic from every possible angle, each of them exposing the quivering globule of disquietude that is modern society.
If Americans have wanted nothing else over the span of their history, they’ve wanted freedom from fear, but they never seem to get it. With each passing era, new fears arise in the form of internal and external threats that shake American society to its foundations. Sometimes these fears have been real and justified; other times they’ve been born of prejudice and paranoia, but the results have always struck terror into the American collective psyche. Indeed, it’s no stretch to say that U.S. history has been one long age of anxiety.
Some angry dude from ISIS shows off a missile that is in no way compensating for anything else.
Iraq. It’s the gift that keeps on giving, amiright?! You’d think that after America flexed its collective freedom muscles and
bombed the shit out of liberated Iraq from Saddam Hussein — the dictator that America once supported — that all of the Fertile Crescent would rejoice at the chance to bow before the benevolent, freedom-extolling Yankee occupying forces. Because, after all; freedom! But nooooooo, Iraq had to go ahead and turn itself into one of the biggest American foreign policy blunders ever — maybe even out-porking the Bay of Pigs. And so, the current American President, Barack Obama, has been forced to deal with the latest Mesopotamian morass known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria — or ISIS, for short.
Civil War-era cartoon depicting Copperheads as venomous snakes attacking liberty herself.
I initially wanted to avoid writing what might very well turn into yet another hackneyed patriotic post on The United States’ most recent and visceral national tragedy. Plus, I like to keep this blog at least partially rooted in the nineteenth century, and what do the September 11, 2011 terrorist attacks have to do with that era? Well, there actually is a connection. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that 9/11 actually connects to some deep-seated and long-lasting American ambiguities about the use of violence and the wisdom of war.