The Enduring Power of the Lost Cause

Here's something interesting form A.O. Scott's review of John Carter:


That would be John Carter himself (Taylor Kitsch), a Confederate veteran with a knack for mortal combat and a gloomy aversion to same. But the fight finds him, first in a box canyon on loan from a John Ford picture and then -- nonspoiler alert! -- on Mars. The red planet resembles the Old West both geologically (a lot of dusty red rocks) and thematically. 

A Civil War rages between two factions of Red Men, though it is actually the green, four-armed humanoids known as Tharks who serve the traditional western function of Indians, Noble Savages trying to fight back against a technologically superior foe. The war between the city-states of Helium and Zodanga is more like something out of "Star Trek," but with elements of the sword-and-sandals epics of the 1950s, what with the togas and the armor, the pillars and the pageantry and the ripely histrionic dialogue.

A quick disclosure--bad-ass writer and friend of the room Michael Chabon co-wrote the script (though of course not the source material, penned before his time).

With that said, it's worth noting how a myth can penetrate a national imagination. It even reaches into the science fiction. Once you understand how thoroughly The Lost Cause version of history was accepted by the larger country--and even actual historians--none of this surprising.

What we now need is new stories, and new narratives, that not only refuse to revel in historical escapism, but also resist the lure of blaxploitation. People like James McPherson and Benjamin Quarles have gifted us with a new history. What we need now, is a new mythology.

You can't beat this thing by simply citing facts. You need a root-work. You need a deep cleaning.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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