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Causes Won, Lost, and Forgotten: How…

Causes Won, Lost, and Forgotten: How Hollywood and Popular Art Shape What…

by Gary W. Gallagher

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Wanna know how Hollywood messes up your mind? Read this compelling, yet disturbing book, but take your blood pressure pill beforehand.

The problem is the book says it like it is. ( )
  echaika | Jan 11, 2010 |
The book collects two separate studies of American Civil War films and paintings which served as the basis for a lecture series. Gallagher notes that movies are the main medium for shaping the image of popular history. Movies push books and make or break historical persons (everybody is aware of the 20th Maine and Joshua L. Chamberlain while nobody knows the 137th NY defending the extreme Union right at Gettysburg). Shelby Foote sold only 15,000 sets of his classic three volume history between 1974 and 1990 - and 100,000 in the six months of 1990 after PBS aired the Civil War documentary. Compared to movie audiences and the total US population, these numbers are still shockingly small. No wonder that National Park Service Rangers can assume little residual knowledge about the Civil War among the general visitors.

In the first and larger part (three out of four chapters), Gary W. Gallagher offers an amusing discussion of the major civil war films. The first chapter presents four interpretations (the lost cause, the union, emancipation and reconciliation). It is unfortunate that Gallagher's selection of films is arbitrary (including and excluding films at whim). A little methodical rigor in sampling might have strengthened his observations. As it is, classics such as Buster Keaton's "The General" and many Westerns fail to be included in the discussion, having previously dismissed the popular "North and South" and other TV series (such as the unmentioned "The Blue and the Gray").

The second chapter is devoted to the Confederate, the third to the Federal viewpoint. The Confederate viewpoint is firmly in the hand of the Lost Cause, but on shaky territory, steadily losing ground from the the klan fanpic "The Birth of a Nation" to "Gone with the Wind". From "Shenandoah" on, Confederate soldiers are seldom portrayed in a positive way, the recent Southern cable productions "Gettysburg" and "God and Generals" excepted (with its notorious depiction of slavery) with a strong reconciliation whiff. Gallagher also fails to include other Confederate-friendly cable productions such as "CSS Hunley". Gallagher obviously wants to avoid the political minefield of Republican white suburbia (which he meets again in his final chapter on Confederate art).

On the Union side, Gallagher wonders why so few Civil War movies present the historically correct devotion to the Union cause. Alas, Hollywood's business is money not education. A sharp Union focus automatically casts a large part of the country as unpatriotic villains which is bad for business. The American viewpoint is better served by Hollywood fighting Nazis, brown and yellow people. This reveals another flaw of Gallagher's analysis. The Civil War films can only properly be assessed in the context of all war movie genres (internal vs. external validation), esp. the popular WWII and Vietnam topics. "Glory" is the classic modern emancipation film, while most modern films depict the historically rather well-behaving Union army through a Vietnam lens as marauders. The demand for modern gender and race models further constrains a historically correct depiction. Most films feature at least a reconciliation vignette, thus Gallagher concludes that the Union cause is the true loser in Civil War films.

The final chapter is based on a quantitative analysis of the paintings and sculpture advertised in the major Civil War periodicals. These range from historical depiction in the mood of 19th century realism (Washington crossing the Delaware) to purest kitsch of Christian Confederates. Gallagher's students' analysis reveals an overwhelming demand for Confederate topics (especially Lee and Jackson). On the Union side, only the Irish brigade carries sales potential. The Lost Cause is alive among the small number of Civil War art and stamp collectors. In an interesting connection, Gallagher shows that movies create stars such as Chamberlain and Longstreet. Unfortunately, Gallagher included only aggregated numbers. It would have been interesting to analyze whether the Christian Confederates is a recent phenomenon concurrent with the Evangelical wave or a constant. According to my recollection, I would postulate a significant increase during the Bush years. I can not recall seeing any praying Confederates in the late 80s and early 90s.

Overall, the book offers an entertaining and stimulating discussion of Civil War films and paintings but lacks the rigor to pass as a sociological study of a sub-culture. Interested readers should also explore Confederates in the Attic. ( )
  jcbrunner | Feb 28, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0807832065, Hardcover)

More than 60,000 books have been published on the Civil War. Most Americans, though, get their ideas about the war—why it was fought, what was won, what was lost—not from books but from movies, television, and other popular media. In an engaging and accessible survey, renowned Civil War historian Gary Gallagher guides readers through the stories told in recent film and art, showing how they have both reflected and influenced the political, social, and racial currents of their times. Too often these popular portrayals overlook many of the very ideas that motivated the generation that fought the war. The most influential perspective for the Civil War generation, says Gallagher, is almost entirely absent from the Civil War stories being told today.

Gallagher argues that popular understandings of the war have been shaped by four traditions that arose in the nineteenth century and continue to the present: the Lost Cause, in which Confederates are seen as having waged an admirable struggle against hopeless odds; the Union Cause, which frames the war as an effort to maintain a viable republic in the face of secessionist actions; the Emancipation Cause, in which the war is viewed as a struggle to liberate 4 million slaves and eliminate a cancerous influence on American society; and the Reconciliation Cause, which represents attempts by northern and southern whites to extol "American" virtues and mute the role of African Americans.

Gallagher traces an arc of cinematic interpretation from one once dominated by the Lost Cause to one now celebrating Emancipation and, to a lesser degree, Reconciliation. In contrast, the market for art among contemporary Civil War enthusiasts reflects an overwhelming Lost Cause bent. Neither film nor art provides sympathetic representations of the Union Cause, which, Gallagher argues, carried the most weight in the Civil War era.

This lively investigation into what popular entertainment teaches us and what it reflects about us will prompt readers to consider how we form opinions on current matters of debate, such as the use of the military, the freedom of dissent, and the flying of the Confederate flag.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:22 -0400)

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Describes how the depiction of the Civil War in motion pictures and works of art distorts the reality of the war, often emphasizing how the South fought for an admirable but hopeless cause and minimizing the Union effort to hold the republic together.… (more)

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