America, Where Did You Go?

Memphis based Orpheum Theatre, whose stated mission is to “entertain, educate, and enlighten,” will no longer show the classic film, theater officials announced Friday.

“The Orpheum cannot show a film that is insensitive to a large segment of its local population,” Brett Batterson, president of the Orpheum Theatre Group, said in a statement.

Gone With the Wind is a classic American movie based on the magnificent, painstakingly researched novel of the same name. Repressing Gone With the Wind is not an attack on racism and white supremacy. It’s an attack on history and — if not worse — on the idea of romantic literature itself.

Totalitarian regimes cannot stand anything that they think makes their opponents look good. Gone With the Wind was not written and produced to make anything or anyone look good (or bad). It was not a political statement. It was an expression of literature and romantic drama. Something is deeply wrong with people who seek to repress it on political or social grounds. Something is even more wrong with a population of people who shrug their shoulders, turn the other way and simply say, “What can you do?”

San Francisco city leaders were exultant Saturday after the controversial Patriot Prayer group was forced to shut down a planned demonstration due to threats of violence.

Mayor Lee labeled the right-wing protests as violent in advance, telling a rally Friday: “[T]hey have a message that we don’t believe in — a message of hate. … That message can easily translate into violence.”

Think about what the mayor is not just implying, but actually saying: “I don’t like what you’re about to say. Even if you don’t preach violence, your message can easily be translated into violence. How do I know that? Because I don’t like your message. I’m the mayor, and therefore you may not speak or assemble. End of story.”

I know it’s San Francisco. But even San Francisco used to be America. This is not America. This is a city setting the table for totalitarianism.

A growing number of Americans appear to feel they’re entitled not to feel offended. Such a notion is based on a political fallacy. The political fallacy is a false belief you’re entitled to live in a society where nobody who disagrees with you is allowed to speak. That is not America, and that is not a free country. The deeper psychological fallacy is challenged by the astute comments of Lisa Feldman Barrett, a researcher on emotions at Northeastern University, who recently published an essay in The New York Times which stated:

Offensiveness is not bad for your body and brain. Your nervous system evolved to withstand periodic bouts of stress, such as fleeing from a tiger, taking a punch or encountering an odious idea in a university lecture. Entertaining someone else’s distasteful perspective can be educational. … When you’re forced to engage a position you strongly disagree with, you learn something about the other perspective as well as your own. The process feels unpleasant, but it’s a good kind of stress — temporary and not harmful to your body — and you reap the longer-term benefits of learning.

Attacks on Confederate statues, Gone With the Wind, and President Trump share one theme in common: intolerance of dissension. It’s not merely the content of the ideas or persons being attacked; it’s the very idea of being exposed to opposing or dissenting opinion at all. Even when that opinion is not even opinion, as in the case of a novel, a movie or the work of historical art expressed in a statue, it’s no longer safe. Not if it offends the ruling elites.

Totalitarian mindsets gaining ascendancy today insist: “If you paint, sculpt, compose or create something that offends me, then I’m morally and politically entitled to have it destroyed.” This is fascism, at its core. This is not America.

I can hardly believe I’m living in an America that shows such a mindset sweeping into the mainstream.

Where did you go, America?


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