Diggin’ up crow

In today’s edition of the Daily Cardinal my colleague Kevin Slane calls for the restoration and re-release of the classic (and ostensibly racist) Disney animated film Song of the South (1946), which currently isn’t available on DVD. Kevin’s argument is based on the potentially didactic effect such a revival might have for the current generation of young moviegoers, exposing them to the ugliness of the Jim Crow South by means of a more palatable form than, say, a historical text or even a straight-up documentary. (Though, as a commenter astutely points out, the white characters in Song of the South, which I’ve never seen, are deliberately portrayed as ridiculous and reprehensible caricatures, much like the most impassioned anti-Semites in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice.)

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While I’m sort of astonished that anybody could feel so strongly about the revival of a Disney film, I’m definitely on board with Kevin’s broader point: unsavory moments in (cinematic) history shouldn’t be brushed under the rug but instead should be subjected to even more exposure and analysis, lest we find ourselves drifting backwards under the pretense of progress. In his article Kevin quotes George Santayana’s somewhat clichéd remark about the importance of historical memory, so I might as well offer one that I like a little better:

To forget is also to forgive what should not be forgiven if justice and freedom are to prevail. Such forgiveness reproduces the conditions which reproduce injustice and enslavement: to forget past suffering is to forgive the forces that caused it—without defeating these forces. The wounds that heal in time are also the wounds that contain the poison.

-Herbert Marcuse, Eros and Civilization

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3 Responses to “Diggin’ up crow”

  1. Kenneth Burns Says:

    Never underestimate the power of a Disney film to provoke strong feelings of excitement, loyalty, advocacy. The Disney marketeers have been very smart about cultivating that for a very long time.

    • Dan Sullivan Says:

      Fair point Mr. Burns, yet I also think it’s important to acknowledge that the rabbit in question may actually be a duck. Discreetly attempting to indoctrinate the masses through works of art definitely ain’t nothin’ new, but neither is the fine art of subtly satirizing something whilst superficially seeming to endorse it (again, I think here of “The Merchant of Venice”). It doesn’t take a very sophisticated act of interpretation to make a racist work of art read like a critique of racism. But, as is the case with most Disney films, I haven’t seen “Song of the South,” so perhaps I ought to shut up.

  2. Kenneth Burns Says:

    I saw the 1986 theatrical re-release when I was a youth and was weirded out by the happy singing slaves.

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