The Ferguson Riots: Birth of a Nation on Steroids

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The Ferguson Riots: Birth of a Nation on Steroids

The late Roger Ebert did a series of reviews on the ‘Great Movies” which are still online, one of the finest reviews he wrote was about the 1915 Movie: Birth of a Nation.

“The Birth of a Nation” is not a bad film because it argues for evil. Like Riefenstahl’s “The Tri­umph of the Will,” it is a great film that argues for evil. To under­stand how it does so is to learn a great deal about film, and even some­thing about evil.

On a Tech­ni­cal level nobody dis­putes that this early film epic was a mas­ter­piece, it was not only for a long time con­sid­ered the great­est amer­i­can movie but also intro­duced to the fledg­ling movie indus­try that made movies what they are.

audi­ences in 1915 were wit­ness­ing the inven­tion of inter­cut­ting in a chase scene. Noth­ing like it had ever been seen before: Par­al­lel action build­ing to a sus­pense cli­max. Do you think they were think­ing about black­face? They were thrilled out of their minds.

Today, what they saw for the first time, we can­not see at all. Grif­fith assem­bled and per­fected the early dis­cov­er­ies of film lan­guage, and his cin­e­matic tech­niques that have influ­enced the visual strate­gies of vir­tu­ally every film made since; they have become so famil­iar we are not even aware of them.

On the other hand for all it’s tech­ni­cal and cin­e­matic accom­plish­ments of the film those images had hor­ri­ble consequences:

“The Birth of a Nation” is worth con­sid­er­ing, if only for the inescapable fact that it did more than any other work of art to dra­ma­tize and encour­age racist atti­tudes in Amer­ica.… It is based on Thomas Dixon’s racist play, The Clans­man, and the fact that Grif­fith wanted to adapt it reveals his own prejudices.

And it didn’t just encour­age racist atti­tudes it struck a match that burned for decades

Some of the film’s most objec­tion­able scenes show the Ku Klux Klan rid­ing to the res­cue of a white fam­ily trapped in a cabin by sex­u­ally preda­tory blacks and their white manip­u­la­tors. These scenes are cred­ited with the revival of the pop­u­lar­ity of the Klan, which was all but extinct when the movie appeared.

DW Grif­fith was out to make a movie, he wasn’t out to bring back the Klan, encour­age vio­lence against the black com­mu­nity nor to cause the death of Schw­erner, Good­man, and Chaney nearly 50 years later but just as the slave­hold­ing gen­er­a­tion was finally dying out this movie fan­tasy allowed the revival of prej­u­dices and actions that took decades & blood to bring under control.

Given that the movie indus­try was in its infancy one might attempt to excuse Griffith’s igno­rance as to the con­se­quences of these movie images in 1915.

100 years later in Fer­gu­son MO, that same excuse doesn’t wash.

Stacy McCain not with­stand­ing what’s hap­pen­ing in Fer­gu­son Mo is national news, not because Brown’s shoot­ing is national news, but because of the riot­ing that has been going on for days now.

The still images and the video images and live feed of this riot­ing has been cov­ered by media all over the county and the world. It has been seen on TV’s on iPhones, on TV and laptops.

It has been the sub­ject of News­pa­pers, face­book posts, tweets and radio. Even peo­ple who pay lit­tle atten­tion to news have could not miss the dis­sem­i­na­tion of these images.

If the images of DW Griffith’s movie were dam­ag­ing to the black com­mu­nity because it rein­forced by fan­tasy exist­ing prej­u­dices and revived the Klan the Fer­gu­son riots are expo­nen­tially worse for the com­mu­nity and will have a greater effect on the culture’s per­cep­tion of Blacks in Amer­ica for generations.

Why? Sev­eral reasons:

1. Unlike Birth of a Nation these images are con­stantly being replayed every­where, one doesn’t have to proac­tively seek these images to find the.

2. Unlike Birth of a Nation you have fresh images daily from fresh riots rein­forc­ing what is being seen each day.

3. Those who saw Birth of a nation saw a depic­tion of events from a half a cen­tury ago an era that most of the view­ers did not see and was not famil­iar. The images and events of Fer­gu­son are of con­tem­po­rary cur­rent events, some seen in real time, that the view­ers can iden­tify with. Fur­ther­more unlike

4. Fur­ther­more the plan­ta­tion & bat­tle scene loca­tions might mean lit­tle to a movie­goer of 1915. The locals of The busi­ness that have been hit and looted in Fer­gu­son include Papa John’s Domino’s Pizza, Wal­greens and some cor­ner con­ve­nience stores. These types of stores exist in all over Amer­ica caus­ing indi­vid­u­als to relate to them.

And most impor­tant of all while the scenes depicted in the move are either drama­ti­za­tions of his­tor­i­cal events (Civil War Bat­tles, Lin­coln assas­si­na­tion) or pure fic­tion. Peo­ple see­ing the riot­ing and response are see­ing images of true events with the actual peo­ple involved in these events.

The Cable net­works can write all they want about jus­tice for Michael Brown as opposed to say Shaquise But­ler, Bas­ket­ball hall of famers can be given as many col­umn inches in national mag­a­zines as they wish and peo­ple can describe what is going on as a “teach­able moment” but for gen­er­a­tions of peo­ple their pri­mary mem­ory of this events of Fer­gu­son Mo will not be if the shoot­ing of Michael Brown was or was not jus­ti­fied by the events. It will be of a mob of black youths loot­ing and burn­ing their own neigh­bor­hoods for days lead­ing to the deploy­ment of National Guard troops.

So much for the influ­ence of “black lead­ers” and the New Black Panthers.

Peo­ple can pre­tend oth­er­wise all they want but to a large seg­ment of the Amer­i­can pop­u­la­tion their per­cep­tion of every young black man born in the next decade and their chil­dren will be defined by a bunch of punk riot­ers loot­ing their local Domino’s Pizza.

It’s not fair and it was not likely the intent of the peo­ple who turned this from a local & state story to a national and inter­na­tional one any more than it was DW Griffith’s inten­tion to revive the KKK in 1915 but their intent not with­stand­ing like the release of Birth of a Nation their actions will have con­se­quences for gen­er­a­tions to come, both for the coun­try as a whole and for the black com­mu­nity in particular.

The final Irony is that while Grif­fith spent a life­time try­ing to make up for what he had inad­ver­tently done, those who will rise to promi­nence or advance their causes thanks to events in Fer­gu­son will likely never even reckon or even per­ceive its price.

I’d rec­om­mend a lot of Rosaries in reparation.

Update: clar­i­fied that Brown’s shoot­ing in itself was not national news.

[olimome­ter id=3]

As monthly goals have not been work­ing out let’s bot­tom line things.

We need a total of $7225 to cover the rest of the expenses for the year.

If you think the cov­er­age and com­men­tary we pro­vide here is worth your sup­port please con­sider hit­ting DaTip­Jar below and help keep the bills paid.

Con­sider the lineup you get In addi­tion to my own work seven days a week you get John Ruberry (Marathon Pun­dit) on Sun­day Pat Austin (And so it goes in Shreve­port) on Mon­day Tim Imholt on Tues­day, AP Dil­lon (Lady Liberty1885) Thurs­days, Pas­tor George Kelly Fri­days, Steve Eggle­ston on Sat­ur­days with Baldilocks (Tue & Sat) and Fausta (Wed & Fri) of (Fausta Blog) twice a week.

If that’s not worth $20 a month I’d like to know what is?

The late Roger Ebert did a series of reviews on the ‘Great Movies” which are still online, one of the finest reviews he wrote was about the 1915 Movie: Birth of a Nation.

“The Birth of a Nation” is not a bad film because it argues for evil. Like Riefenstahl’s “The Triumph of the Will,” it is a great film that argues for evil. To understand how it does so is to learn a great deal about film, and even something about evil.

On a Technical level nobody disputes that this early film epic was a masterpiece, it was not only for a long time considered the greatest american movie but also introduced to the fledgling movie industry that made movies what they are.

audiences in 1915 were witnessing the invention of intercutting in a chase scene. Nothing like it had ever been seen before: Parallel action building to a suspense climax. Do you think they were thinking about blackface? They were thrilled out of their minds.

Today, what they saw for the first time, we cannot see at all. Griffith assembled and perfected the early discoveries of film language, and his cinematic techniques that have influenced the visual strategies of virtually every film made since; they have become so familiar we are not even aware of them.

On the other hand for all it’s technical and cinematic accomplishments of the film those images had horrible consequences:

“The Birth of a Nation” is worth considering, if only for the inescapable fact that it did more than any other work of art to dramatize and encourage racist attitudes in America…. It is based on Thomas Dixon’s racist play, The Clansman, and the fact that Griffith wanted to adapt it reveals his own prejudices.

And it didn’t just encourage racist attitudes it struck a match that burned for decades

Some of the film’s most objectionable scenes show the Ku Klux Klan riding to the rescue of a white family trapped in a cabin by sexually predatory blacks and their white manipulators. These scenes are credited with the revival of the popularity of the Klan, which was all but extinct when the movie appeared.

DW Griffith was out to make a movie, he wasn’t out to bring back the Klan, encourage violence against the black community nor to cause the death of Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney nearly 50 years later but just as the slaveholding generation was finally dying out this movie fantasy allowed the revival of prejudices and actions that took decades & blood to bring under control.

Given that the movie industry was in its infancy one might attempt to excuse Griffith’s ignorance as to the consequences of these movie images in 1915.

100 years later in Ferguson MO, that same excuse doesn’t wash.

Stacy McCain not withstanding what’s happening in Ferguson Mo is national news, not because Brown’s shooting is national news, but because of the rioting that  has been going on for days now.

The still images and the video images and live feed of this rioting has been covered by media all over the county and the world. It has been seen on TV’s on iPhones, on TV and laptops.

It has been the subject of Newspapers, facebook posts, tweets and radio. Even people who pay little attention to news have could not miss the dissemination of these images.

If the images of DW Griffith’s movie were damaging to the black community because it reinforced by fantasy existing prejudices and revived the Klan the Ferguson riots are exponentially worse for the community and will have a greater effect on the culture’s perception of Blacks in America for generations.

Why? Several reasons:

1. Unlike Birth of a Nation these images are constantly being replayed everywhere, one doesn’t have to proactively seek these images to find the.

2. Unlike Birth of a Nation you have fresh images daily from fresh riots reinforcing what is being seen each day.

3. Those who saw Birth of a nation saw a depiction of events from a half a century ago an era that most of the viewers did not see and was not familiar. The images and events of Ferguson are of contemporary current events, some seen in real time, that the viewers can identify with. Furthermore unlike

4. Furthermore the plantation & battle scene locations might mean little to a moviegoer of 1915. The locals of The business that have been hit and looted in Ferguson include Papa John’s Domino’s Pizza, Walgreens and some corner convenience stores. These types of stores exist in all over America causing individuals to relate to them.

And most important of all while the scenes depicted in the move are either dramatizations of historical events (Civil War Battles, Lincoln assassination) or pure fiction. People seeing the rioting and response are seeing images of true events with the actual people involved in these events.

The Cable networks can write all they want about justice for Michael Brown as opposed to say Shaquise Butler,  Basketball hall of famers can be given as many column inches in national magazines as they wish and people can describe what is going on as a “teachable moment” but for generations of people their primary memory of this events of Ferguson Mo will not be if the shooting of Michael Brown was or was not justified by the events.  It will be of a mob of black youths looting and burning their own neighborhoods for days leading to the deployment of National Guard troops.

So much for the influence of “black leaders” and the New Black Panthers.

People can pretend otherwise all they want but to a large segment of the American population their perception of every young black man born in the next decade and their children will be defined by a bunch of punk rioters looting their local Domino’s Pizza.

It’s not fair and it was not likely the intent of the people who turned this from a local & state story to a national and international one any more than it was DW Griffith’s intention to revive the KKK in 1915 but their intent not withstanding like the release of Birth of a Nation their actions will have consequences for generations to come, both for the country as a whole and for the black community in particular.

The final Irony is that while Griffith spent a lifetime trying to make up for what he had inadvertently done, those who will rise to prominence or advance their causes thanks to events in Ferguson will likely never even reckon or even perceive its price.

I’d recommend a lot of Rosaries in reparation.

Update:  clarified that Brown’s shooting in itself was not national news.

Olimometer 2.52

As monthly goals have not been working out let’s bottom line things.

We need a total of  $7225 to cover the rest of the expenses for the year.

If you think the coverage and commentary we provide here is worth your support please consider hitting DaTipJar below and help keep the bills paid.

Consider the lineup you get In addition to my own work seven days a week you get John Ruberry (Marathon Pundit)  on Sunday Pat Austin (And so it goes in Shreveport)  on Monday  Tim Imholt on Tuesday,  AP Dillon (Lady Liberty1885) Thursdays, Pastor George Kelly Fridays,   Steve Eggleston on Saturdays with  Baldilocks (Tue & Sat)  and   Fausta  (Wed & Fri) of (Fausta Blog) twice a week.

If that’s not worth $20 a month I’d like to know what is?