American Elephants

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same by The Elephant's Child
February 12, 2008, 9:10 pm
Filed under: History, Humor, Pop Culture | Tags: , , ,

Winslow Homer

Like most Americans today, Civil War soldiers had a kind of love-hate relationship with the media, which in their case consisted of newspapers and illustrated weeklies like Harper’s, Frank Leslie’s and the Southern Illustrated News.  Soldiers often denounced the biases or inacuracies of these journals but could not stop reading them….Even more than the editorials or political news, soldiers read newspapers for war news, especially stories about their own units or accounts of battles in which they had fought.  But they were by no means uncritical readers — quite the contrary.  The notoriously exaggerated, distorted, partisan, romanticized, and in some cases fictionalized accounts of battles provoked increasing cynicism among soldiers. 

James M. McPherson, the great historian of the Civil War, is describing the military of 143 years ago, but as much as things change, some things stay the same.  He goes on to describe the drawings for the illustrated weeklies — the visuals that portrayed the battle descriptions in the newspapers.

Some of the woodcuts were superb, such as Winslow Homer’s drawings of life in camp, several of which became the basis for his earliest oil paintings.  But the depictions of combat by many of the illustrators, especially in the war’s early years, were so stylized and sentimentalized that soldiers ridiculed them.  Next to Homer, one of the best illustrators was Alfred Waud.  By the latter part of the war, Waud had learned how to draw realistic pictures of the chaotic, brutal, confusing reality of combat.  But earlier, for example, in a drawing of a Union charge at the battle of Fair Oaks, Waud depicted nearly five hundred men in a perfect line, every man running with the same leg forward, every bayonet leveled at the same angle and height.  When this issue of Harper’s Weekly reached camp, veterans of the battle howled with derision.  Cavalrymen alternately laughed and groaned at illustrations showing them riding straight at the enemy in perfect order at a gallop on fierce-looking horses while firing their carbines with one hand and waving their sabers with the other.

Not all members of the media today have much understanding of warfighting. The military has attempted to remedy that situation by embedding reporters with military units.  An understanding of history, however, would put a greater sense of balance in media reporting.  Some reading in history would benefit all of us who are too ready to condemn mistakes and attach blame.  Things are always far more complicated than they seem to non-participants and the terminally naive anti-war crowd.

The above quotations come from McPherson’s This Mighty Scourge, which I recommend heartily.  But consider also the Pulitzer prize winner, Battle Cry of Freedom, and Crossroads of Freedom.

There and Back Again? by Emerald City Elephant
February 2, 2008, 1:36 pm
Filed under: Pop Culture | Tags: , , , ,

Looks like I will have to rent Pan’s Labyrinth:

Guillermo del Toro has officially signed up to direct The Hobbit, according to reports leaking out from a film premiere in France. The Pan’s Labyrinth creator will oversee a double-bill of films based on JRR Tolkien’s fantasy adventure, which paved the way for The Lord of the Rings. Peter Jackson, director of the Oscar-winning Rings trilogy, will serve as executive producer. [read more]

I am not familiar with del Toro. Hopefully he won’t screw up as much as Peter Jackson did. Yes, there were things that Jackson did very well — but it may take years before I can reread the Lord of the Rings without picturing that insufferable wimp, Viggo Mortenson, as Aragorn, or Rivendell as a bad collector’s plate by Thomas Kincade, the “painter of light!” Ugh!

Nonetheless, I look forward to the Hobbit very much. As of now, it’s scheduled to come out in 2010. Now that the director has been signed, pre-production will begin right away.

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