Gone With the Wind

Sometimes it’s hard being a history teacher in Utah, especially if you are a Mormon who did not grow up in Utah being a history teacher in Utah.
I grew up in the Church, as did both sides of my family for generations back. My dad decided to join the Marine Corps, which meant my entire life was moving every few years. I have lived in numerous different states with numerous different subcultures influencing me and my friends. I’ve lived in Utah 5 years now and I’m still receiving culture shock sometimes.
Mostly, I grew up in Virginia. And learned about the Civil War with a slightly southern perspective. (I lived in northern Virginia–Stafford County–and they realize that the north won and that was right to have happened. However, Virginians are stubborn people throughout history and have a lot of state pride.) So, as I taught U.S. History this year, I decided to take a more Confederate side to the Civil War as Utah is, for the most part, conservative Republicans and will always teach the North’s perspective.
Again, just to clarify–I wanted to show the South’s perspective…I do not agree with them, nor wish they had won, but as a historian, I find it interesting to view things from not the pervading point of view.
My students learned about the bumbling, self-doubting generals of the North, and I loved seeing their reactions after I told them that each were either fired or quit due to a failure in battle. Whereas, the South had 7 out of 8 of the military schools in the US at the time as well as numerous good military tacticians from the Mexican-American War. My students had previously also studied the fundamental differences of the North and the South: religions, philosophy on freedom, politics, society, and economy. They realized that not all plantation owners were evil, no; that for the most part, slavery was a necessary evil. We had watched a few documentaries and a few scenes from Gettysburg. We looked at the disturbing photographs from the Battle of Antietam. 
Now, here’s the thing I don’t like about the Nebo district: school gets out Friday, May 24. Grades are due by Mon, May 20.  When students know this, especially middle school students, how does the administration as well as parents possibly expect us to keep them willing to learn and do academic activities? To make it worse, that Monday yearbooks are being passed out, Tuesday are award assemblies, Wednesday the whole school is going to Lagoon, Thursday is an arts assembly, and Friday they get out at 11:15.
So, I make do. I decide to show Gone With the Wind next week. It’s a long movie, it’s from the Southern perspective, and it has to do with what we’re learning, so it would solidify the southern perspective in their minds.
Now, I thought it was PG, so I knew I’d have to get parent permission according to district policy (again, culture shock that you have to get permission for a PG movie). I also wanted parents to be aware that they would be watching a movie all next week. But, I didn’t realize that it is actually rated G. Most parents have already signed the permission slip and some are even excited to have their kids watch this classic. But, I got a surprising email from one parent who was surprised and disturbed that I would even consider showing this movie to my 8th grade class. She sent me a review on it she found:
The film centers around the Civil War-torn South and includes severalk scenes of war-related violence, such as wounded soldiers dying, and Scarlett O’Hara shooting a Union deserter. The sexuality isn’t as overt as in contemporary movies, but it’s still pervasive, as Scarlett is clearly a bold, sexually attractive woman who manipulates men with her looks. Additionally, there are several kisses (a few very passionate ones), a scene that implies a husband has forced his wife to go to bed with him, and even the inclusion of a minor character who is a good-hearted “lady of the night.” The alcohol and cigar use is also frequent, although mostly because there are so many parties in the movie. Parents should be aware that the depiction of African Americans is problematic and stereotypical — the slaves seem to actually enjoy their lot and are either superficial and ignorant or fussy and smothering. It may concern some parents that the Confederate South is portrayed as having been a place of gentility and charm.

I have seen Gone with the Wind numerous, numerous times. It was made in 1940, so I know that sexuality and violence isn’t really portrayed…why would Hollywood risk that? All it is harmless innuendos and a loud noise of a “gun” with an over-exaggerated, “I’m dead!” death scene. This mom said it was too violent and sensual for her son and she didn’t want him seeing those terrible racial stereotypes. Now, I understand that she may not have seen the movie, nor have grown up in the South, so that is where her ignorance comes from. But even with the “racial stereotyping”, the sad but hard truth is, that is actually what the South was like during the Civil War. I found this review and I absolutely loved it because it explains the whole part as to why I am even bothering to show Gone With the Wind:
If the central drama of “Gone With the Wind” is the rise and fall of a sexual adventuress, the counterpoint is a slanted but passionate view of the Old South. Unlike most historical epics, “GWTW” has a genuine sweep, a convincing feel for the passage of time. It shows the South before, during and after the war, all seen through Scarlett’s eyes. And Scarlett is a Southerner. So was Margaret Mitchell. The movie signals its values in the printed narration that opens the film, in language that seems astonishing in its bland, unquestioned assumptions:
“There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields called the Old South. Here in this pretty world, Gallantry took its last bow. Here was the last ever to be seen of Knights and their Ladies Fair, of Master and of Slave. Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered, a Civilization gone with the wind.”
Yes, with the capital letters and all. One does not have to ask if the Slaves saw it the same way. The movie sidesteps the inconvenient fact that plantation gentility was purchased with the sweat of slaves (there is more sympathy for Scarlett getting calluses on her pretty little hands than for all the crimes of slavery). But to its major African-American characters it does at least grant humanity and complexity. Hattie McDaniel, as Mammy, is the most sensible and clear-sighted person in the entire story (she won one of the film’s eight Oscars), and although Butterfly McQueen, as Prissy, will always be associated with the line “I don’t know nothin’ about birthin’ babies,” the character as a whole is engaging and subtly subversive.
Remember that when “GWTW” was made, segregation was still the law in the South and the reality in the North. That the Ku Klux Klan was written out of one scene for fear of giving offense to elected officials who belonged to it. The movie comes from a world with values and assumptions fundamentally different from our own–and yet, of course, so does all great classic fiction, starting with Homer and Shakespeare. A politically correct “GWTW” would not be worth making, and might largely be a lie.
The boy of this mother came up to me and was very embarrassed about the fact that he isn’t going to be allowed to watch Gone With the Wind next week. He told me that he hasn’t been able to watch any PG or above in the past 3 years! Culture shock! And I always considered myself a Molly-Mormon! 5 years, and I am still being blown away at how some kids are raised here in Utah. 
Teaching friends, mother friends, Utah residents…what do you think about this? (Also, don’t forget about the Giveaway here!)

Tayler is a work at home mom. She does free lance articles and dabbles in graphic design and virtual assisting for bloggers. She spent 3 years as a history and English teacher. Her passions are her husband, two children, history, reading, nature, and her Savior, Jesus Christ.

  • that is just crazy… i watched this movie in school too. and we didnt even have permission slips. that is just crazy. some parents. they should just homeschool their students

    • I grew up in VA. We had to have parent permission in middle school for PG-13, but we just have to remember the ultra-conservative culture of some Mormon areas in Utah. And since, I didn't grow up in Utah, it still surprises me.

  • Honestly? Sometimes I worry about the generation growing up right now. I feel like they're being smothered by overly-cautious parents. No, I don't have kids, so yes, it's very easy for me to sit and judge when I don't really know what's it's like to raise a child with all the crap that goes on today. But, there's a very fine line between keeping kids safe, and not letting them learn and grow on their own. A middle school kid who isn't allowed to watch anything but G movies? That might be crossing that line just a little.

    • I was a little shocked by it, but growing up, I wasn't allowed to watch a few shows on like Cartoon Network or Nickalodeon (spelling?) but it's just a different culture.

  • I came here from your "rant" post and just had to chime in….albeit a year or so late. I actually have a few friends (and my husband) who weren't allowed to watch Gone with the Wind until they were 17/out of the house!!! I personally saw it first at 11 or so and fell in love with it–the Antebellum and Civil War Era South absolutely fascinates me!

  • It surprises me! It's PG from the Golden Age of Hollywood! How could it be inappropriate?