Tag Archives: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

What do American college freshmen think of when someone mentions Lincoln? (An unscientific survey)

Cross-posted at the blog of the Abraham Lincoln Institute for the Study of Leadership and Public Policy

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.

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Movie items of interest

  • 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.

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Once bitten, twice shy

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is out on DVD now, and my mom has been determined to see it, for reasons unfathomable to me. The day before yesterday she went to the local rental place, and every copy was checked out. Every single one.

She went back again yesterday, and still had no luck.

On her way home from work today she tried for the third time, and there was one copy available. She snagged it and carried it around while looking over the other new releases, and while she was in the store she overheard two different people ask the clerk if there were any extra copies of AL:VH in the back.

Maybe it’ll be one of those movies that die an ignominious death in theaters only to enjoy cult status in the home video market.

By the way, Mom didn’t like it.

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Sometimes a vampire is just a vampire

Is it a parable about social justice?

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is traditional progressive storytelling. It uses an axe-swinging superhero, Abe Lincoln, to retell the Left’s primary mythos – a parasitic few live off the misery of the people.

An attempt to grapple with dark chapters in our nation’s history?

The idea of America as a nation secretly created and controlled by vampires actually builds on a long history of popular “subversion myths” in which Freemasons, communists, or other conspiracies have secretly taken control of an otherwise good nation and threaten its social order. Like vampire stories, subversion myths frame good and evil in clear, unwavering terms. As nocturnal creatures who attack unseen, the vampires of folklore represent one of the oldest forms of subversion myth.

A “White Guilt Fantasy“?

When Abraham starts in on his vampire-hunting career, the movie still takes time to drop plot cookies that illuminate how awesome and pro-abolition he is, and how this fact makes him beloved by all good people. Such as the moment when Mary Todd, his future wife, gets all interested in him after he says something vaguely anti-slavery. Or the time when he and the black boy from the first act (Will Johnson) end up in jail for fisticuffs against some men who are determined to cart Will away as a slave.

And here I thought it was just a gimmick.

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Pass the garlic

No doubt you’ve all been waiting breathlessly for me to review Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.  Wait no more.  The short version: I went out of the theater feeling like the Calvinist who fell down the stairs, just glad it was over.

On a much more positive note, you’ll have to excuse me for a moment.  I need to go jump up and down while shrieking with girlish delight.

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Mary Elizabeth Winstead on Mary Todd Lincoln

You can read her remarks about playing Lincoln’s wife here.  She seems to have done more historical research than you’d expect for a vampire movie.  This is going to be a strange film.

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Not even on her best day

…did Mary Todd Lincoln look half as attractive as actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead.  And yet Winstead will play that role in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

Here’s Mary Elizabeth Winstead:

Here’s Mary Todd Lincoln:

And that’s a young Mary Todd Lincoln.

Of course, it doesn’t take a hideous actress to play a convincing MTL; Marjorie Weaver was a hottie, but still managed to make a convincing Mary Todd in John Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln back in 1939.  Mary Tyler Moore played an older Mary opposite Sam Waterston’s Lincoln, and she was quite the looker, too.

But this new one is a stretch.  There isn’t enough latex in Hollywood to make Winstead as visually unappealing as MTL was by the 1860’s.  My suggestion would be to cast a separate Mary to play her in the later stages of life. 

I suggest Wayne Knight in drag.  He could don a hoop skirt and then have a re-match with a venomous dinosaur on the White House grounds.  That’s a movie I’d pay to see.

(The pics of both Marys are from Wikimedia Commons.)

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