YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

February 9, 2013

LINCOLN (the movie) as propaganda

Apotheosis of Lincoln and Washington 1860s

Apotheosis of Lincoln and Washington 1860s

How they did it:

First, detaching Lincoln from the (Hamiltonian) Republicans to reattach him to (Jeffersonian) Jacksonian Democrats: the Andrew Jackson administration was famous for initiating the “spoils system” and by promising Democrats federal jobs as a reward for supporting the Thirteenth Amendment, Spielberg’s Lincoln affixed Honest Abe to the Jeffersonian faction. (Contrasting Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians is one route to  making sense of U.S. political history: see Stephen F. Knott’s book on the Hamilton myth.)

Second, the 2012 movie, with its positive portrayal of Lincoln, vindicated the power of the Executive branch today. There is a hidden link to New Deal propaganda, for progressives Gordon Allport and Henry A. Murray recommended in their nationally circulated notebooks on “civilian morale” that FDR be joined with Lincoln and Washington, as strong leaders and father figures.  See https://clarespark.com/2011/03/27/progressive-mind-managers-ca-1941-42/, or https://clarespark.com/2011/09/29/the-abraham-lincoln-conundrum/. The latter takes up Bill O’Reilly’s efforts to render Lincoln as the pre-eminent healer, one like himself, the good father who is “looking out for you.” (See https://clarespark.com/2011/03/30/eric-foners-christianized-lincoln/.)

Third, the unnecessary death scene linked Lincoln to Christ and to national redemption, a tactic that was effective in the North, but certainly not in the South.  See http://tinyurl.com/acbqkza on the religious response to Lincoln’s assassination, the paragraph possibly derived from Michael Rogin.

Fourth, by emphasizing the widespread Congressional resistance to the Thirteenth  Amendment, the impression reinforced the New Left line that racism is the overarching theme of American history, and that blacks are owed reparations. (See https://clarespark.com/2011/03/26/race-class-and-gender/. I do not intend to minimize the importance of “race” and “race relations.”)

Fifth, the flashback to the Second Inaugural Address, coming immediately after the assassination serves to bind the Nation as an organic entity. This is the most reactionary feature of the movie. In truth, we remain fragmented, and neo-Confederate flags still fly. By relying upon Doris Kearn Goodwin’s book, Spielberg portrayed Lincoln as the moderate man who could unite warring factions, even within his own party. I.e., all conflicts are reconcilable. The irony is the American Civil War (the “irrepressible conflict”) as the primary locale for this “moderate” strategy of manipulation and compromise. (See https://clarespark.com/2010/11/06/moderate-men-falling-down/, or https://clarespark.com/2012/11/19/abandonment-anxiety-and-moderation/.)

Sixth, Radical Republican Thaddeus Stevens was turned into a pragmatist, like Lincoln, not a wild-eyed ideologue like Charles Sumner. This was another reactionary move, designed to counter Stevens’s rehabilitation in the neo-abolitionist historiography. (See https://clarespark.com/2008/05/03/margoth-vs-robert-e-lee/. There is much detail here on Sumner and Stevens as they fought to prepare the freedmen for economic and political independence.)

Seventh, the producer-director chose John Williams to score the movie. With the exception of some plausible period fiddle tunes, Williams looted Aaron Copland, except for George Root’s The Battle Cry of Freedom. Ignored was most popular music of the period in question. Also missing in action were Stevens’s and Sumner’s program for Reconstruction, too sizzling for today’s audiences. (On slanderous depictions of Sumner, and by extension Stevens, see https://clarespark.com/2012/01/03/the-race-card/.) Moreover, by focusing strictly on a narrow period of the Lincoln presidency, there was no opportunity to demonstrate land reform by some of the Northern generals (Sherman!) as they marched through the South.

Taken all in all, I can only suggest that the emphasis on the organic Nation, as led by the moderate men (delineated above), demonstrates how the South won the cultural battle for how we remember the American Civil War. Think of the stately brief portrayal of Robert E. Lee, riding away from Appomattox on his horse Traveler, preceded by  horrific shots of the Confederate dead in Petersburg, Virginia.  That the 2012 LINCOLN movie was done skillfully and under the radar speaks to the propaganda skills of the better Hollywood producers and directors.

D.W. Griffith Lincoln 1931

D.W. Griffith Lincoln 1931

BIBLIOGRAPHY (highly recommended)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cs6cIi_mKfg Adlai Stevenson reads text of Copland “Lincoln Portrait” (1942) 15 minutes and well worth comparing the Lincoln of the “fiery trial” with the Lincoln of the Spielberg movie.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lincoln_Portrait  (1942)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lincoln_(2012_film) , http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thirteenth_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution,

http://tinyurl.com/avdpq2x (James McPherson’s review of Doris Kearn Goodwin’s Team of Rivals: the political genius of Abraham Lincoln)

http://tinyurl.com/b7kh6ak (Michael Rogin essay on D. W. Griffith and racism in American culture)






January 15, 2013

Golden Globes, Lincoln, Clinton, Hobsbawm

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 9:37 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

clinton-harlemTwo events stood out for me during the 2013 Golden Globes award show:

  1. First, Jodie Foster, recipient of the Cecil B. DeMille Award, defining her “self,” her “identity,” primarily as both a private person and a lesbian.  It made for surreal television.  If action creates essence, as Sartre argued, then sexual preference is the most significant action in our lives. Such are the fruits of single-issue politics. But Hollywood sells sex and violence, and many men are turned on by lesbian sex, so why should I be shocked?
  2. Second, the surprise visit of Bill Clinton, sometimes known as “America’s First Black President,” ahead of the award that he hoped would go to Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. Clinton not only stumped for Spielberg’s movie, he lauded the virtues of “compromise” (obviously lecturing Republicans who were and would be the butt of Sarah Palin jokes).   (See http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/movies/moviesnow/la-et-mn-golden-globes-2013-bill-clinton-makes-surprise-stump-speech-lincoln-argo20130113,0,1854944.story.)

I have been rereading the British communist historian Eric Hobsbawm’s The Age of Revolution 1789-1848, (1962) partly because he makes much of the transition from feudalism to capitalism. His emphasis on social property relations at the expense of individual biography (except in the case of Napoleon, whose ambition and military genius changed Europe forever, bringing it out of stable, rooted, feudal, collectivism into the sad, bad, uprooted world of bourgeois  individualistic profiteering), was exactly how I was taught history in graduate school at UCLA.

Here is one example that illustrates Hobsbawm’s grand method. He is describing the economic relations that determined the American Civil War– no room for “compromise” here (nor for the women and men who comprised the moralistic abolition and antislavery movements, or the drastic political realignment that led to the Republican Party and its first Republican president, elected on a free soil platform):

[Hobsbawm, p.179:] Only one major obstacle stood in the way of the conversion of the USA into the world economic power which it was soon to become: the conflict between an industrial and farming north and a semi-colonial south. For while the North benefited from the capital, labour, and skills of Europe—and notably Britain—as an independent economy, the South, which imported few of these resources) was a typical dependent economy of Britain. Its very success in supplying the booming factories of Lancashire with almost all their cotton perpetuated its dependence, comparable to that which Australia was about to develop on wool, the Argentine on meat. The South was for free trade, which enabled it to sell to Britain and in return to buy cheap British goods; the North, almost from the beginning (1816), protected the home industrialist heavily against any foreigner—i.e. the British—who would then have undersold him. North and South competed for the territories of the West—the one for slave plantations and backward self-sufficient hill squatters, the other for mechanical reapers and mass slaughterhouses; and until the age of the trans-continental railroad the South, which controlled the Mississippi delta through which the Middle West found its chief outlet, held some strong economic cards. Not until the Civil War of 1861-65—which was in effect the unification of America by and under Northern capitalism—was the future of the American economy settled. [end Hobsbawm quote]


Considering his gratuitous snipes at “backward…hill squatters,” “mechanical reapers” and “mass slaughterhouses”,  is there any doubt that Hobsbawm was more emotionally attuned to medieval collectivism and the peasantry, than to a modern world dominated by mass death, greed, and machines, notwithstanding his sometimes defense of the bourgeoisie as producers of the new industrial working class that would climb the mountain to socialism?  Does that same ambivalence characterize the business of Hollywood movies and television?

(Illustrated: a rural version of Jodie Foster, child actor]

November 19, 2012

Abandonment anxiety and “moderation”

Over the weekend, I discovered that my computer had been hacked. It set me into waves of panic. The panic was about abandonment, and the subject leads me back to certain themes on my website that have been discussed at length: attachment theory, panic attacks, the neutral state, rival conceptions of managing conflict, and the psychiatry wars between Freudians, Jungians, and anti-“talking cure” pill-dispensers.

As my Facebook friends are aware, I live in Southern California, which is home for New Age mystics and those who seek “healing” of conflicts that have lodged in the material body, or, worse, conflicts that are omnipresent in the (mis-named) “body politic.” It is to these latter seekers after “peace of mind” that this blog is mostly addressed.

It has long been my position that traumas inflicted in early childhood can never be healed, no matter how much insight into family dynamics, the poor parenting skills of our caretakers, or knowledge of world, national, and local history. For instance, I could dwell on women as particularly susceptible to abandonment fears, but men have abandonment fears too, whether they go beyond the typical feminine fear of aging and being dumped for a younger woman, or not.

This blog is not consoling, except in one respect: as mature persons looking at conflict inside or outside our own psyches, we may learn to manage conflicts, even if they can never be resolved. In the public sphere, we should beware of politicians and pundits who preach the opposite: that a neutral, artful, manipulative mediator can get warring parties to agree on compromise.

We are facing two particularly unresolvable conflicts today: 1. Israel and the Palestinians; and 2. Republicans and Democrats (the political parties not only have divergent views on capitalism, but are internally incoherent). The term “moderation” is a favorite conception of psychological warfare practitioners. “Moderation” is something that every healthy person strives for, but the word is too abstract, taken by itself, to be useful.

When we look to “moderation” are we talking about the portions of pasta that we consume, or “compromising” with the person with a gun or missile pointed at our home? We have seen how ineffectual appeasement has been in the past, while through the 1930s, Hitler constantly tested the democracies who were loath to embark upon another war after the war-weariness that ensued after the Great War. There are times when the enemy must be resisted and defeated, not pacified.

Families and family histories are a different matter. Paraphrasing Tolstoy, each family is miserable in its own unique way, whether over political differences, memories of past injuries, generational conflict, sibling rivalry, or marital strife. Liberals recommend better “communication skills” as if these techniques actually soothed the savage beast that often emerges at such moments as Thanksgiving or similar holidays. Some religions advise “forgiveness” as if such a gesture would confer “closure”, restoring a harmony that never existed, maybe not even in the womb.

My own view is that no amount of appeasement, compromise, or reparations can cure ancient hurts, but that self-knowledge (including knowledge of those organs where rage is stored), knowledge of our relatives’ sore spots, and particular needs, are skills that everyone can acquire in time. “Healing,” like the sentimental songs that the Yankee Doodle Society have reconstructed, is a utopian fantasy, but wise management of irreconcilable conflict is realizable.

Happy Thanksgiving, and work on your deep breathing. (For a different take on Thanksgiving, see https://clarespark.com/2011/11/24/thanksgiving-the-power-of-a-national-symbol/. Especially timely given the new Spielberg movie on Lincoln.)

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