Johann Hari: No wonder 'Gone With The Wind' has failed

Share
Related Topics

Lordly lordy lord Miss Scarlett, this musical be one biiiiiig turkey! The Gone With The Wind musical in London – a thrilling experiment in singalong slavery and whoopin' white supremacy – is closing after six weeks. I sensed something was wrong when I settled into my seat and realised I was opposite a large sign saying "Negroes For Sale", with a group of black audience members sitting uncomfortably below. We watched – open-mouthed and gaping – for three-and-a-half hours as the Confederacy tap-danced and jazz-handed its way to defeat.

Yet there is something sweetly appropriate about the shuttering of this musical at the very moment when the world watches the closing acts of America's eight-year Scarlett O'Hara Presidency. Gone With the Wind is the demon twin of that other iconic Hollywood movie, Casablanca. Both are love stories about a couple that meet and dance and part during a war, but at their core they represent the two great clashing poles of the American personality: idealism, and narcissism.

Casablanca is the America the world loves. We all know its love story – the greatest ever told, for my money. In a Paris that is waiting for the Nazi hordes to invade, Rick and Ilsa lock eyes. They have both been resisting the foaming black tide – Rick by running guns for the republicans in Spain, and Ilsa by travelling underground with her husband until he was carted off to a concentration camp.

They waltz awhile, but as the Nazis march on the city, Ilsa hears that her husband is alive after all, and flees. Rick ends up drunk and disillusioned in Casablanca, running a bar. Then one day, of all the gin-joints in all the towns in all the world, Ilsa and her husband walk into Rick's Bar – where she needs his help.

But the great thing about Casablanca is not, ultimately, this romance. No: it is the fact that the characters decide that there is something more important than their own emotions.

"Ilsa, I'm no good at being noble," Rick says, "but it doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world."

They choose to part, making a sacrifice for the greater moral cause. There have been glorious moments when America did exactly the same: the abolition of slavery, the Second World War, the Marshall Plan. The world gaped and muttered: "Here's lookin' at you, kid."

Gone With The Wind is the opposite. Here is another war, and another love story. But this time, the heroes' cause is the Confederate side in the American Civil War – and the movie takes this vast and epic battle and shrinks it to a squalid little story that is about nothing but itself. Scarlett O'Hara is a spoiled white girl living on a Georgia plantation, obsessed with herself and a few fickle romances.

As the Civil War breaks out, she meets Rhett Butler, a smug mercenary fighting to save slavery because it's the side that pays him best. She decides she wants him. Scarlett becomes hardened – she watches Atlanta burn, and her Poppa go crazy – and inches closer and closer to having Rhett.

At every turn, the lovers show no awareness – none – of the larger, repellent cause they are working for. At one point Scarlett curses: "War, war, war – that's all I hear about!"

Well, fiddle-de-dee. Rhett is only in it for the money, while Scarlett doesn't seem to wonder even for a moment if her pet blacks would prefer to be free with a Yankee victory. ("Mammy – fetch me some water! Fast!") If Casablanca's greatest moments are about sacrifice, Gone With the Wind's are simply narcissistic whines – "I'll never be hungry again!"

George Bush has governed in the Deep Southern spirit of Scarlett, telling Americans incessantly it's all about them. For him, every cause can be solved with more self-indulgence: his first and only injunction to Americans after 11 September was to go shopping. He even watched inert and unhelping as a major American city became gone with the wind. The solidarity of Rick and Ilsa has been replaced by the mercenary smarm of Rhett Butler, fighting for a share of the spoils.

But in the current Presidential campaign, there are faint and gentle stirrings of "As Time Goes By", and the other America we miss so much. To figure out which side you're on in this election, you can ask yourself – would you would rather be singing La Marseillaise with the émigrés in Rick's Bar, or gossiping with the clucking white girls on Tara? Would you would rather smuggle visas for Rick, or run guns for Rhett? But I beg you: whatever you decide, do not set your answer to music.

j.hari@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: the strange case of the errant royal pronoun

Guy Keleny
Flowers and candles are placed at the site where a refrigerated truck with decomposing bodies was found by an Austrian motorway  

EU migrant crisis: The 71 people found dead in a lorry should have reached sanctuary

Charlotte Mcdonald-Gibson
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future