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Random Thoughts About Old Movies

I sometimes watch Turner Classic Movies just to see the old films they show without the annoyance of commercials. I’ve experienced many films I’d probably never see anywhere else, including the Great Dictator, a very amusing yet very important film that made some points that no one wanted to hear at the time it came out.

Old movies spark some interesting throughts.
Film Reels

Sometimes it’s interesting to look back on those old movies and see how far we’ve come. There is a lot of blatant sexism and racism in some of those films, which was just a regular thing at the time but is no longer accepted today. If someone tried to put something like that on the screen today, they would be immediately rejected and criticized.


Should we censor these old films? No, not for a second. They should be shown unedited in their entirety for all to discuss and analyze. There is that old adage that those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it. The same thing can be said about censorship.


If we go around censoring and destroying anything that represents old racism or sexism, we’re never going to be aware of what was going on in the past, and we could end up repeating it in the future. I don’t have a problem with people removing the statues of Southern Civil War figures from public parks and other places. That being said, I think those statues should be placed in a museum or interpretive garden, with the appropriate signage explaining their stance and why we don’t agree with it today.


Despite what my dad used to say, the Civil War was about slavery. All those economic arguments and states’ rights bullshit were directly linked to the institution of slavery. In general, it was a bunch of guys stuck in the rut of their ways who didn’t want to actually think of another way to do their business. They had become so steeped in the practice of using slaves that they couldn’t think of doing it with some other method. Economy… built around slaves. States’ rights… to own people.


We need to remember this somehow. We need to remember the lessons that were learned by studying the Civil War and the point of view of those stubborn and (let’s face it) cowardly Southerners. They were so stuck in the holes that they dug for themselves that they were willing to betray their country to keep the status quo. There were no heroes here, only traitors.


Speaking of things I don’t think should be censored, there’s Nazism. I don’t agree with Germany’s need to completely erase any mention of the word, much less a discussion of the concept. Though this is coming from an outside point of view. I cannot imagine being the country that created the Nazis and how I would deal with it after the fact.


But there is censorship of Nazi stuff here in the United States, too. Social media networks like YouTube have algorithms that will demonetize or erase any mention of a Nazi, even historical videos that are trying to educate people about how bad it was. You hardly ever hear mention of the Holocaust in school, at least the schools I went to. It wasn’t until the tenth grade when two survivors of Auschwitz came to our school to talk about their experiences that I ever heard the word mentioned.


I’m not saying Nazis should be glorified. Studying the atrocities committed by this political party should be front and center, as should the stories of their rise to power. Unfortunately, groups like the Nazi party will always be around, but if we are aware of their existence, then we can stop them before this ever happens again.


But when we talk about World War II, we don’t talk about Nazis and the Holocaust. We don’t talk about Japanese interment camps in the United States, and we don’t talk about the effects of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. No, we talk about some big battle dates that we’re supposed to memorize and answer on a standardized test.


This does not capture the true horrors of World War II. It doesn’t capture the horrors of war at all. Those are cleaned up and censored for fear of traumatizing our children. Or is it something else? Is the idea of the young public seeing parallels a problem for some lawmakers? Those same lawmakers who can’t teach, yet make laws about teaching.


I say, let the children know the truth. Let them see the horrors of World War II. Let them see the horrors of the Civil War. Let them see the horrors of war in general.


No, I’m not saying we should be showing kindergarteners films of concentration camp survivors and describing gas chambers to them. However, those same kindergarteners need to understand that war is not some glorious thing that features important Americans, and our older kids should not think war consists of nothing but dates to memorize or video game strategies.


Hiroshima and the Diary of Anne Frank should be read much younger than they are. Don’t save them for high school and college, release them to our middle school students. Books like Number the Stars should be read and explained to elementary school students. By the time they reach fifth grade, they should be able to tell you what a war actually is and what it means.


Waiting until high school and college for these lessons is not going to make much difference in the world as a whole. Most of these students have already come to their own conclusions about the way things are, and there isn’t going to be much difference in their opinions by this time. Teach a second or third grader, however, and the lesson may just stick through the teenaged rebellion.


We also need to stop glorifying war in the media. I can remember the coverage of the first Gulf War (and the fact that I have to write “first” is very sad) on CNN. Millions of Americans tuned into the daily broadcasts, which showed live footage of things going on in the Middle East. It was a major circus, and it was set up like the episodes of a TV show.


The fact of the matter was that we saw a lot of light shows of missiles in the sky and video game-like images of night vision cameras, but the true horrors of the Gulf War were not discussed. There was, for example, the Iraqi soldiers raiding a Kuwaiti hospital and literally throwing out the premature babies to die. Or the way they pulled Kuwaiti women out of their homes and raped them in the street. No, we got laser shows and game presentations.


Note the difference in media coverage from what was going on during the Vietnam War. People would sit down to their family dinner in the evening and see an eighteen-year-old kid get his leg blown off, a young man shot in the head as blood pulsed from his shattered skull, or a monk setting himself on fire.


People were horrified by these images, and it sparked their disgust in the war. Widespread protests led to a rapid drop in the popularity of the war. Public opinion shifted dramatically to the negative and the politicians who supported the war soon lost their own popularity. Wisely, Nixon chose to end the war altogether, mainly because of public opinion.


Do I think we should show such bloody violence on network news? Yes, absolutely! We don’t get any of that today. We just get a few brief words and then the news moves onto fashion or some other trivial thing that no one with a conscience cares about. And what do we have? A bunch of docile, cud-chewing citizens who simply don’t understand enough about war to even protest it.


Show us the horrors of the war in Ukraine and Palestine. We need to see what’s really going on, not just what is approved by the censors. I don’t want to live in the world of Fahrenheit 451 or Equilibrium. I don’t want my emotions controlled or my information erased. I want everyone to know what war really is and be horrified by it.


This is the same reason I want to see those old movies uncut and unchanged. We need to see Song of the South in its entirety. We need to watch Mickey Rooney’s impression of a Japanese man in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. We need to watch the blatant sexism in an Alfred Hitchcock movie or an old James Bond flick. These need to be seen, discussed, and learned from. Because if we don’t teach our kids these things now, who will?


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