In Framing the South, what does Graham’s comments mean regarding the similarities between Griffith & other film directors whose "historical facsimiles" have influenced pop culture?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think that Graham's primary point is that the acceptance of a simplistic view that Hollywood gives regarding institutional racism in the South has contributed to an inability to effectively assess it.  Graham's critique of the Hollywood depiction of the South is one in which institutional issues like racism and systemic discrimination are not assessed in the frame of reference that enables critical social analysis.  Rather, these large- scale problems are viewed in an individual context, somehow as if sole individuals perpetrate and thus can stop racism.  For Graham, pop culture's embrace of this simplistic view of Southern reality prevents any real scrutiny and analysis of it.  Graham argues that this was driven by the media's fundamental desire to reduce a complex problem into simplicities:

As the television screen became the battleground of a new civil war, the issue of 'permissible' (i.e., bankable) southern and racial imagery obsessed Madison Avenue.  ….  With the politically loaded Deep South now off bounds, the region came to be represented by a character well known to movie and radio audiences: the harmless hillbilly.

The capitulation of the "historical facsimile" to become a simplistic and individual idea is seen in works like Griffith's and Zemceckis.  It has come to define the way in which the South is seen through the lens of pop culture.  There is no profound and complex analysis of social and material reality offered.  Rather, it seeks to reduce the South to what Kirby would call the easiest of mass- media stereotypes about the South, reducing the complexity of the issues in the South to "clichés of racists, graceful landed gentry, poverty, homespun rural values, stock-car racers and moonshiners."   I think that Graham would concur with such an assessment and viewing Griffith and Zemeckis would be examples of this.  Griffith lauds the attempts of Southerners who are committed to restoring their world through "law and order" techniques, rather than offer an analysis of both the challenges and need for reconstruction.  The world is reduced to the "heroic" efforts of the individual and the system escapes all responsibility.  In Zemeckis' rendering, Forrest is the sole agent of history.  He singlehandldly represents the solution for Southern racism, without the analysis of the social institutions that permit it.  Apparently, discrimination in the south can be deferred with a healthy discussion of "shrimpin'."  In both depictions, Graham argues that in removing the social analysis, there is a loss of constructive criticism on the institutions that perpetrated and benefited from how the South is viewed.

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