Given Hollywood’s current anti-war, anti-military, anti-thinking stances, I suppose it was only a matter of time before it came for Davey Crockett. But who would have imagined it was Disney that would lead the charge against the legend?
What would Walt say?
Monday’s Los Angeles Times carried a front-page story on “The Alamo,” Disney’s in-production blockbuster scheduled for release this Christmas. The key paragraphs:
“‘We’re making sure all viewpoints are expressed,’ said Disney Studios Chairman Richard Cook. ‘You have to stay away from the stereotypes and not make broad judgments of any group.'”
“This time Crockett, played by Billy Bob Thorton, is depicted as a frightened wanderer struggling to match his larger-than-life reputation for exploits that never occurred …”
“‘It would be really hard to do something rah-rah jingoistic, patriotic,’ [director John Lee] Hancock said in an interview. A sometimes ‘messy and confusing’ portrait of the motivations behind the conflict, he insisted, ‘is much better that the white-vs.-brown version, which by the way, is completely inaccurate.'”
“One of the thornier issues in the various scripts produced so far has been Crockett’s death, a subject of controversy since it occurred in 1836. Persistent lore, bitterly disputed by the famous Tennessean’s fans, held that Crockett, rather than fighting to death, was executed after begging for his life.”
In 1995, a North Carolina State professor, James Crisp, made an argument that an eyewitness account, written in prison by a Lt. Col. Jose Enrique de la Pena, was authentic and that the account had Crockett executed on Gen. Santa Ana’s orders. Others dispute that, and brand the prison diary a forgery. This is the stuff of academic history, and the predictable arguments will rage forever. And into such conversations between scholars, agenda-driven directors are free to dive.
Director Hancock is free to choose between accounts, of course, but the choice he makes is a statement not about what happened at the Alamo, but about what he and Disney thinks America in 2003 ought to think about the Alamo, and about the virtues or sins of the men who defended it. This early report from the Times is not promising.
The desire to wreck the outline of history that serves the idea that America, for all its flaws, was honorably conceived and built is powerful among those who find profit in affecting disaffection. Pop singer Paula Cole just let rip with an anti-Bush song that includes the hilarious line “what about us folks who live hand to mouth …” This is the sort of pose that passes for thought in modern entertainment circles, and it is a far cry from Jimmy Stewart marching off to join the Air Force, which he did even before Pearl Harbor was bombed – before, in other words, the threat had been made so clear as to be impossible to ignore. (Stewart entered as a private and rose to the rank of colonel during the war, earning the Air Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Croix de Guerre and 7 battle stars.)
The anti-Bush crowd argues that it isn’t anti-American, just anti-war or anti-W. They casually repeat the blood libel that “it is all about the oil,” and they are patient with a brutal dictator that has murdered hundreds of thousands. To indulge such fantasies is to ignore the entire history of our country, and to attribute to their fellow citizens the worst sort of evil. This is not easily done against the backdrop of American anti-imperialism and genuine idealism, the record of withdrawal from Iraq in 1991 or of reconstruction of Germany and Japan. In order to construct a picture of present-day American malevolence, it is necessary to deconstruct the understanding of the American past that makes such claims absurd.
So the project to redefine America moves backward even as it moves forward. There is no conspiracy, of course, only a mindset rooted in thin education and a desire for attention. There is no blueprint, only a shared attitude that finds thrill in Oliver Stone’s fevers and inspiration in Susan Sarandon’s rants.
A couple of years ago, during one of the last meals I shared with Col. Bill Barber, retired from the United States Marine Corps, and a Medal of Honor recipient for his heroism at the Chosin Reservoir, I had a glimpse of the real deal’s view of the posers. Disney’s “Pearl Harbor” had just been released, and I asked the colonel if he had seen it. “I knew Jimmy Doolittle,” he said, “and I am not going to see any movie that has Jimmy Doolittle played by Alec Baldwin.”
The colonel didn’t elaborate, nor did he need to. When Hollywood celebrates the genuine courage and sacrifice of the military that secured for it the freedom within which artistic license flourishes, the public responds. See: “Saving Private Ryan,” and “The Patriot.” When the politics of the left creep in, the public stays home. When Disney’s “The Alamo” appears in December, the box office will once again reflect the political choices currently being made. You have to wonder if the shareholders are watching.