Great piece in the Chicago Sun-Times by Neil Steinberg about Chicago’s Catholic Cardinal George lamenting that his bigoted stance on everything gay may ultimately lead people to call him a bigot. (Hey, it’s a step up from “pedophile enabler,” so maybe the Catholic leadership should count its blessings.)
It got me thinking of something I read the other day about the movie, Lincoln. Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune notes that the film’s director, Steven Spielberg, changed the names of bigoted southern Senators who were defending slavery at the time.
A vote against the 13th Amendment was so presumptively ignorant, even during the Civil War era, that Spielberg rewrote the public record for the dramatic roll-call scene in his movie. “If you go through the names that we call out on the vote, you’re not going to find a lot of those names that conform to history,” he said in an interview with CBS last year. “And that was in deference to the families.”
Families that, even many generations after the fact, would be mortified to be associated in any way with the rude prejudices of their ancestors.
It was a peculiar decision on Spielberg’s part given his claims to otherwise painstaking accuracy and given that he did identify certain prominent congressional opponents of the 13th Amendment by name.
I’m surprised he didn’t rename the Nazis, Spazis, in Shindler’s List, in order to spare any ancestors’ feelings.
A few problems. First off, I’m not a big fan of rewriting history in these historical docu-dramas. A lot of people are going to watch these movies, and they deserve to get the facts, as best as literarily possible, rather than outright lies. Second, unless Spielberg made up all the pseudonymous family names out of thin air – Senator Xeiglkleksle of South Carolina, for example – then some family is going to have its name mentioned in the film. Spielberg would rather have his audiences question whether their innocent neighbor’s family was racist because he chose to associated innocent names, rather than guilty ones, with history’s most virulent racists.
When does the statute of limitations on evil run out? How many years after the Holocaust are we supposed to change the names of Nazi leaders in order to protect their ancestors? (And tell a descendant of slaves that the Holocaust was different. I dare you.) But putting the Holocaust aside, since it gets people so prickly, should we protect Joe McCarthy’s ancestors by purging the history books? And why stop there – what about those poor southern Senators who just happened to be some of the biggest bigots in American history – when is it time to change their names in the history books too?
As a gay man, one of the things that keeps me going is knowing that history will judge bigots like the Catholic and Mormon leadership, along with America’s religious right hate groups, as harshly as they judge the southern bigots who continue to defend racism to this day. It bothers me, more than a little, that we’re supposed to forgive and forget the lessons of history, lest they make someone uncomfortable.
You worry, in your letters, not about the families you would blithely squelch, but about your own feelings, the risk that devout Catholics will be seen as “the equivalent of bigots” after gay marriage becomes completely accepted — which it certainly will.
Well, yeah, that’s the drawback of being a bigot, no matter how you gild it in theology. But worry not — look at the church’s stance on females. While society long ago let them be doctors and lawyers and, yes, even clergy, the church refuses to follow suit. Yet it lives with the anti-women stigma just fine. It’ll be no different with gays, and the church’s position will be just one more antiquated cruelty the world will tolerate. You’ll hardly notice.
It’s a great piece, do read the entire thing.
And if you feel like reading Cardinal George’s hateful screed against gay marriage, it’s here. Steinberg already notes in his piece the weirdness of George claiming that marriage comes from nature. But I especially like the parts of George’s letter where he recommends gays go get therapy to cure them, and this part, which is as weird as it is inscrutable:
Yeah right. The world is going to end because we let gay couples settle down and marry. Funny how just a few years ago people like Cardinal George, and the Mormons, and the religious right, couldn’t stop complaining about our promiscuity – and how it was going to be the downfall of mankind. Now it’s our desire to find monogamy. Go figure.
And isn’t that the hardest part of spending years wrapping your hate in lies. After a while your lies become awfully inconsistent, and the only thing you’re left with is hate.