D W Griffith deservedly has a bad rap as a racist. But I don’t think he was a bad man. I can’t remember who right now, but there was some southern Republican Congressman who admitted that he grew up thinking slavery wasn’t bad and that the slaves were mostly fine with it. And just look at all the happy slaves in 1939’s blockbuster Gone with the Wind. So I think that we are being a bit harsh on Mr. Griffith.
But I fully admit, I want to find a way to wash away his racist beliefs and the story of Birth of a Nation. But I don’t want to wash away the film itself, because it is one of the greatest achievements in any art form ever. I’m not talking Mona Lisa great; I’m talking Chauvet Cave paintings great. Regardless, the man did have a heart.
Here is a short film, What Shall We Do with Our Old? Yes, it is melodrama. But it was also very true of life in 1911 when the film was made. And it was true in 1912 and 1913 and 1914 and well past 1940 when the first Social Security checks went out. This is the kind of film that should be made:
Today, conservatives want to take us back to those days. Of course, they won’t admit it. They just want to take benefits away from the “wrong kind” of people—the kind of people who “abuse” the system. But even if there are lowlifes who are scamming the system, you absolutely cannot stop them from getting benefits without stopping worthy people from getting benefits. As it is, the programs to help the poor are riddled with red tape while the programs to help the rich are given away with a smile and a handshake.
And who are these people who want grandma to starve to death while grandpa sits in jail for stealing some bread? These are people who have huge amounts of money. But they are committed to a weird idea of Darwin’s theory where only the big and the smart survive. But that doesn’t even happen among lizards, much less humans who have only thrived because of their social instincts. Humans have been taking care of the sick and weak for tens of thousands of years. What conservatives think is “natural” is anything but.
Pete Peterson and his ilk are not just determined to destroy the social safety net. They are determined to destroy human civilization. They’ve bought into the thinking of people like Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman. In the social “Darwinian” world they want, we don’t end up with Mad Max. We end up with Planet of the Apes.
As confused as D W Griffith was about the history of America, the Pete Petersons is far more so. And far more dangerous too.