I can understand why he’d be miffed that Lincoln wrongly depicts representatives from his state voting against the Thirteenth Amendment, but sending a letter to Spielberg asking him to fix it in time for the DVD release is going a little overboard.
Category Archives: History and Memory
Filmmakers are finding it difficult to cast period movies because people are so darn pretty these days. Check it out:
Historical movies such as Steven Spielberg‘s “Lincoln” have placed a greater premium on authenticity in recent years, with on-set researchers ensuring that costumes, production design and language accurately reflect the age. Filmmakers, however, have a more difficult time making sure the contemporary appearance of their casts doesn’t strain a movie’s credibility.…
Teeth whitening, plastic surgery, body piercings, weight training, healthful eating and yoga have made it a challenge to find the perfect period performer. Add the unforgiving nature of high-definition video on which more movies are made and seen and the emergence of visually savvy audiences, and you often have a recipe for historical dissonance.
Hey, I’ve got a terrible complexion, crowded lower teeth, and no muscle tone whatsoever. I could make a killing as an extra.
Now, here’s the sort of thing that’s perfect for stirring up debate in the historical blogosphere:
A new bill proposed in the Georgia legislature would prohibit local governments from hiding or removing statues of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee or other Confederate army heroes indefinitely.…
Rep. Tommy Benton, R-Jefferson, introduced the proposal at the request of the Sons of the American Revolution and the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
The bill, if passed, would require that monuments be kept in a prominent place. It would also make it illegal to “deface, defile, or abuse contemptuously” any memorial dedicated to the Confederate army.
“We’re not saying they can’t move them,” Benton said. “We’re just saying they can’t just put them in a field somewhere.”
You can read the proposed bill yourself by clicking here. It’s pretty short, so go ahead and give it a look.
Of course, I’m in favor of throwing the book at anybody who mutilates or damages historic monuments and markers, but I would assume Georgia already has vandalism laws to cover that sort of thing. As for the bill’s more novel provisions to stop such monuments from being “relocated, removed, concealed, obscured, or altered,” I’m not sure what to think.
My inclination in disputes over older monuments is usually to let them be and keep them in good condition, since they have intrinsic historic value. But I’m not sure it’s a good idea to have a state law prohibiting local government agencies from moving monuments except in cases of construction projects, since the bill (if I understand it correctly) makes no distinction among monuments “dedicated to a historical entity” based on their age or significance.
What do you guys think?
For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been teaching a section of the introductory course on Abraham Lincoln which all freshmen at Lincoln Memorial University are required to take. On the first day, I asked the students to write down five things they think of when they hear Lincoln’s name. I didn’t require correct answers, and I told them not to consult any books or other sources. I was just curious to see what comes to the mind of the average American eighteen-year-old when Lincoln is mentioned.
The most common responses by far involved some aspect of the assassination, with all but five of the students mentioning Lincoln’s murder. About one-third of them referred to the fact he was shot in a theater, and one-fifth mentioned John Wilkes Booth by name. One of them mentioned Booth’s close proximity to Lincoln at the 1864 inauguration.
Lincoln’s height was the second most common thing that came up, followed pretty closely by references to the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln’s opposition to slavery, and his “Honest Abe” moniker. One-quarter of the students mentioned the fact that he was the Sixteenth President of the United States, and the same number mentioned his iconic stovepipe hat. One-sixth of them referred to Lincoln’s whiskers, his Kentucky background, his appearance on American currency, his “railsplitter” nickname, or his association with the Civil War.
The early deaths of several of Lincoln’s relatives was mentioned twice. So was the Thirteenth Amendment, the date of his birth, his election to the presidency, and the association of his name with LMU.
Only two incorrect statements appeared in the responses. One student claimed that Lincoln was “stern and serious,” perhaps confusing his appearance in formal portraits with his actual demeanor. Another wrote that Lincoln got into hot water with his dad for chopping down a cherry tree, but I half suspect that this answer was an intentional joke rather than an honest mistake.
The following references each appeared once:
- Member of the Whig Party
- He dressed badly
- Born in a log cabin
- Was a Republican
- His wife shopped a lot
- Carried letters in his hat
- A public speaker
- Had many enemies
- Was a great leader
- Loved reading books
- Had “defined” facial features
- Had disturbing dreams
- Mentioned the names of attending doctors at his deathbed
- Gettysburg Address
- Wrote about giant bones at Niagara Falls
- Grew up poor
Only one student mentioned the Gettysburg Address, which came as a surprise to me. Also surprising was the reference to Lincoln’s short meditation on Niagara Falls, one of his more obscure written works. In addition, I expected to see more references to his humble origins and log cabin birth, since that’s been such an important aspect of the Lincoln cultural phenomenon over the years. In fact, of the five major aspects of “Lincolnian memory” identified by historian Merrill Peterson (the savior of the Union, the great emancipator, the man of the people, the first American, and the self-made man), only the notion of Lincoln as emancipator was prominent in the students’ responses.
Finally, three students mentioned the recent “vampire hunter” meme. I leave it to you to decide whether that number is alarmingly high or reassuringly low.
- International audiences for Spielberg’s Lincoln will see a slightly different opening sequence to provide context for viewers who might not be as familiar with American history. Maybe some additional background would’ve been a good idea for American moviegoers, too; Black Hawk Down and Argo both needed historical prologues even though the events in question happened during the lifetimes of many of the people watching the films.
- Readers of ScreenCrush selected Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter as the worst movie of 2012, indirectly proving the continuing viability of democracy as the best available form of government.
- Saving Lincoln, the upcoming film about Ward Hill Lamon, made HuffPo.
- That high-pitched, ecstatic shrieking sound you heard? That was me: We now have a trailer for the twentieth anniversary 3D re-release of Jurassic Park and an official release date for JP4.
They’re not at all the ones I would’ve picked, but that’s part of the fun of reading these lists, right?
…If I ever meet an editorial writer who’s capable of discussing sectionalism in modern American politics without invoking the Civil War, I’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Seriously, guys, find some original metaphors. How about Federalists vs. Republicans, just to try something new?
If I ever meet an editorial writer who’s capable of discussing sectionalism in modern American politics without invoking the Civil War, I’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Check out the latest post in Gordon Belt’s series on the memory of John Sevier, in which he examines the work of James R. Gilmore, the nineteenth-century writer who did for Sevier what Parson Weems did for George Washington.
At long last, we arrive at the most pressing issue yet regarding Spielberg’s Lincoln: Is there too much cussin’ in it?
The Hollywood Reporter asked David Barton for his take:
“The historical record is clear that Lincoln definitely did not tolerate profanity around him,” Barton says. “There are records of him confronting military generals if he heard about them cursing. Furthermore, the F-word used by [W.N.] Bilbo was virtually nonexistent in that day and it definitely would not have been used around Lincoln. If Lincoln had heard it, it is certain that he would instantly have delivered a severe rebuke.”
Barton is overstating his case, as he often does. Lincoln didn’t make a habit of swearing, but he did break out the curse words occasionally, especially when his temper got the better of him. Check out Chapter Seven in Michael Burlingame’s The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln, which discusses some of these episodes. And as we’ve noted before, he wasn’t above telling an off-color joke.
What about those records of Lincoln confronting generals who cursed? Barton doesn’t specify which records he’s talking about, but in an article at his organization’s website he says Lincoln “personally confronted one of his own generals when he learned of his profanity and then urged the general to use his authority to combat that vice.” His source is Arthur Brooks Lapsley’s The Writings of Abraham Lincoln, which briefly mentions the incident without naming any names or providing specific details. Off the top of my head, I don’t know what incident this is. In any case, I don’t really think we can use this story to draw any broad conclusions about Lincoln’s level of toleration for profanity. It wouldn’t be unusual for a commander-in-chief to rebuke an officer who used vulgar language in his presence in the nineteenth century.
As for the f-word being “virtually nonexistent” during the Civil War, while the term wasn’t as common or endowed with so many varied meanings as it is now, it wasn’t unknown. It was rare to see the f-word in print, of course, although even during the Victorian era it appeared in pornographic stories.
Barton notes that officers and enlisted men in the Union forces were subject to courts-martial for using profanity, and that’s certainly true. Yet to judge by their own accounts, soldiers in that war—like soldiers in other times and places—swore profusely. “There is so much swearing in this place it would set anyone against that if from no other motive but disgust at hearing it,” wrote one Northern soldier about life in camp. Another noted that “Drinking, Swearing, & Gambling is carried on among Officers and men from the highest to the lowest.” The same thing was true of the Continental Army, where cursing was officially discouraged but widely practiced.
So if you ask me, here’s the bottom line: While Abraham Lincoln didn’t curse much, and while profanity wasn’t as ubiquitous in his day as it is in ours, there’s nothing particularly inaccurate about the movie’s language.
None of this really matters in the grand scheme of things, but I think it’s interesting that moviegoers are surprised at the notion that nineteenth-century Americans had an arsenal of vulgarities at their disposal and the moxie to use them. I think it’s because they look so stern and dignified in those old paintings and photos. We’re so used to seeing them in gilt frames and on marble pedestals that encountering them in any other way can be a jolt.