Gone With The Wind - Why Women Don't Exist Part 2

Thoughts On: Gone With The Wind

The journey of the pernicious, self-indulgent and often sour Scarlett O'Hara from child to adult that accounts her struggle in the South during the American Civil War.

I love this film. Gone With The Wind is without a doubt one of my favourite films of all time. But, before getting into why I have to clarify the title of this post. If you are familiar with the blog, you'll know that the Virtue Series is a collection of essays on the films connected to my screenplay, Virtue's Ploy - which is not only available on the blog, but other places we'll get to in the end. In Virtue's Ploy there is not only references to Gone With The Wind, but also Villeneuve's Enemy. These references are made under themes of women and the protagonist's perception of them. If you want that detail further clarified check out the screenplay. Nonetheless, I only bring this up because this post is connected to another I did on Enemy a few months ago. So, if you like that film and want further details into all we'll talk about today, please check out...

On a final note, the post on Enemy is justified to be apart of the Virtue Series, but because I wrote it so long ago, the only links to it will be through this post, not the Virtue Series page. Ok, so whether you clicked that and came back or just jumped to here, let's get on with things...

The primary reason I can watch this 4 hour picture time and time again is simply down to the character of Scarlett O'Hara. I have this strange affinity for her presence in each scene, something we won't try to explain with a therapy session, but the mechanics of the story. The reason why this affinity is strange is quite obviously because Scarlett is not a very nice person. She is very much the anti-hero of this film. However, Scarlett isn't an anti-hero in the same way Batman or Deadpool is. These stark anti-heroes are clearly labeled as such because they do good things through unorthodox methodology. Batman, like Deadpool, is a vigilante, they both seek out their own form of justice. Unlike Batman, Deadpool is an awful lot more ruthless, killing bad guys with a smile. But, because there is an undeniable bad guy in the narratives of Batman and Deadpool and it is their goal to quash them, they are good guys by default. This earns them the status of hero. Their reluctance to accept this term and do things in a restrictive and dogmatically 'good' way, makes them anti-heroes. What Deadpool and Batman make clear about Scarlett O'Hara is that she's not really a reluctant do-gooder. She wants love, she wants money, she wants a good life and is willing to step over anyone to get to it. This, from a romantic's point of view, makes her an anti-hero as she fights against looming bad guys: dissatisfaction, discontent, disappointment, mundanity. But, from a more rational point of view, Scarlett stepping over everyone, using people she professes to love (Melanie) just to be close to the person she really yearns for (Ashley), is the bad guy. Scarlett acts, very much so, as if she is the bad guy of this narrative. What this implies about my 'strange affinity' for Scarlett is that its probably tantamount to my liking Alex from A Clockwork Orange, The Joker from The Dark Night or Patrick Bateman from American Psycho.

In my opinion, likeable bad guys and anti-heroes are basically the same thing. This is because to write likeable bad guys, you have to rationalise their goal of evil. For example, Patrick Bateman. His goal is to lash out at the world because he is so often ignored. (For a more in-depth analysis of American Psycho click here). Because his presented goal somewhat resonates, he's not a strict bad guy. The same can be said for The Joker. He wants chaos for chaos's sake and so decides to fuck with Batman in a perpetual game of destructive cat and mouse. All likeable bad guys are the anti-hero of their own narrative. Great bad guys are then just on the side of a narrative we're not seeing things from. In other words, The Dark Night from The Joker's point of view would be just as effective (though, with an alternate meaning) as it is from Batman's (presumably of course). This is exactly why likeable antagonists and anti-heroes are the same thing. Their only difference is in how we see them - as dictated by a narrative's perspective or lead character. Nonetheless, if Scarlett is less like the anti-heroes which are meant to defeat evil and is more like antagonists who are meant to defeat the good, why doesn't she fit in with The Joker, Patrick Bateman or Alex from A Clockwork Orange? The key differences between Scarlett and these clear bad guys who we happen to like is that we see her 'evil journey' from her perspective and under the guise of romance. This transforms the capacity by which we like her. We like The Joker because he appeals to a more darker side of our morality. Whilst Batman leans toward control and structure, he leans towards chaos and anarchy. Who is right, who is wrong? It really depends on the mood I'm in when you ask me. And this is why I can be emotionally manipulated to be on Batman or The Joker's side. However, Scarlett doesn't lean on a darker side of my morality like The Joker because of key themes such as romance making up her narrative. Sure, both characters are self-absorbed and destructive in a very childish way, but Scarlett is like this to essentially to poison the waters around her. The key distinction to be made between Patrick, The Joker, Alex and Scarlett is that the former three are nihilists with undertones of absolute destruction; they want to destroy the world and maybe themselves in the process - all for a good laugh and/or cry. Scarlett distinguishes herself from these bad guys because she means to poison her social atmosphere as to conserve her own social bubble. She wants to see other's suffer so she can be happy - and this is why her core incentive is to steal Ashley away. Scarlett, unlike The Joker, Patrick and Alex, doesn't want absolute destruction, she only wants to poison the waters around her whilst she swims untouched.

So, after comparing Scarlett to both anti-heroes and likeable antagonists, we can see that she's neither here nor there. She's got traits of an anti-hero in her being a romantic vigilante willing to do anything for love. However, there is no ultimate good, or external collective she's helping by doing this. Her self-absorbed nature makes her a little more like likable antagonists, but this is sullied by her lack of destructive will that lies at the core of many of these nihilistic, anarchistic, figures. Where does this leave Scarlett? Well, she's simply somewhere in between, a paradox; neither good, bad, kinda good or kinda bad, just... a bit of a asshole, but one we like nonetheless. Having established this, we come to the interesting question of why we still like her. Because her not being an anti-hero or likeable bad guy leaves us without any justification for this, it's only by asking why we like her that we can see the depths to her character.

At risk of being labelled sexist, I think the key reason why we like Scarlett and can't see her as someone tantamount to The Joker or Batman, is that she's a woman. Because of this, her goals are constructed upon different themes; ones of romance and love. If we look at the majority of the teens in the first act of Gone With The Wind. we see a bunch of 16+ year olds that want to mesh genitals. From the opening conversation between Scarlett and the ginger twins to Scarlett's first confrontation with Ashley, everything is about falling in love, getting married, such and so on. This is all anyone talks about - young, old, man or woman. However, this all changes when true physical conflict is injected into the film: the war. The men hoot and holler as they run to their horses and go join the cause whilst the women start worrying about who's coming back. The obvious commentary throughout the film on violence in the form of war is then that it's mainly for men. Scarlett always finds herself entangled in the mess, but as a clear outsider - and this is where the conflict comes from, where the drama in this iconic image derives:

In such a commentary, we see an essential designation of priority: men want to indulge chaos, women want to preserve whatever it is they have. Both do this in hope of one day reintroducing peace, but this difference in approach is key as it explains the dichotomy of human preservation. Our species needs men and women, more importantly, their differences. The war effort is a good example of this. The men fight to stop their way of life (yes, this is owning slaves and so on) from being changed. The women hang back to preserve this way of life as best as they can. We see this idea mimicked throughout traditional relationships between men and women and all it is, is the expression of our evolutionary roots as hunter-gatherers. Men go out to capture the deer whilst women take care of the settlement. This relationship between the two halves of our species has kept us thriving as it exploits a universal paradigm of yin and yang, defense and offensive. In the same way you can only win a basketball game by defending your own hoop as well as attacking the opposition's, species can only survive within the natural paradigm of competition in this world by defending themselves and their territory as well as consuming other organisms and their land.

What on Earth does this say about Scarlett O'Hara's character? Quite simply, this explains that the reason I've been unable to define her as an anti-hero is that I've been using male characters as defining bodies of the concept. The truth is that Batman is the hunter and Scarlett the gatherer in the realm of anti-heroes. To define the term all the better, I think it then makes sense to take away the divisive caveat of Batman serving the collective and Scarlett being more selfish. This is because both are anti-heroes in the respect that they are striving towards a goal a traditional hero would, but with unorthodox philosophies, and the only thing splitting them apart is that Batman is metaphorically going to hunt the deer whilst Scarlett maintains the village. Seeing both characters on equal, but varying, grounds we can now better explore why we like Scarlett.

In short, Scarlett's 'unorthodox philosophy' that drives her towards a traditional heroine's goal is that she is no bullshit woman. Like Deapool, who shoots the man who tried to kill him in the end of his narrative instead of putting him in prison, Scarlett knows how she feels and cannot be contorted by basic ideas of honour and 'doing the right thing'. Just like Deadpool can run out of fucks for Ajax, Scarlett holds very few for Melanie, Rhett and Ashley. What this says about us liking these characters links back to a darker side of our morality. A moral is, in short, a concept hijacked by stupid assholes. Those who use the term like, 'he is a moral man', and never imply that morals are incredibly subjective things. Morals are just the way you see right and wrong. No matter how many people try and put down rights and wrongs down in a book as some kind of moral dictionary, no one can introduce dogmatism to this concept. We decide in each passing moment what is morally right and wrong. We often think morals relate to others, but they don't. We only think of morals in terms of other people to save our asses from getting told off by them. By opening up the term 'morality' to a very subjective and fluid view of what is right and wrong for you only and in a specific moment, we can comprehend the idea of a darker side to morality. What falls under this shadow is often 'selfish' views of right and wrong. In other words, Scarlett sees love as something right in her world. She wants this morally good thing in her life in a completely self-absorbed fashion however. This then defines love to her not as being able to let someone go because that's what's right for them, but defines love as someone being there for her, doing what she wants, such and so on. Whilst this, on paper, is a fucked up view of love, it resonates. The evidence for this is the fact that Scarlett resonates. She is, on paper, fucked up. But, we like her nonetheless for the exact reasons outlined: we hold a darker, more selfish set of morals.

The true paradox of Scarlett's character is the that she can appeal to us on these terms. She holds selfish morals, ones that, in theory, don't give a shit about us, but we like her nonetheless. The whole reason why we hate bullies, evil geniuses and bad guys is that they hold selfish morals that do not consider us. We hate those how seem to hate us. We dislike or disregard those who dislike or disregard us. Why, if Scarlett's morals are tantamount to this, do we like her? Such is the paradox. But, it can be explained.

It is here where we delve into the true depths of why we like bad guys and anti-heroes from time to time. We are all inherently selfish. We see this in the concept of, 'we hate those how seem to hate us'. Very few of us are Gandhi (I doubt Gandhi was). Very few of us are truly pacifistic - especially in a social and emotional sense. Sure, people can appeal to the idea of not hitting someone back or not responding to their vitriol with equal malice. But, what kind of idiot actually loves those who hate them? This is hyperbolic bullshit. Don't love those how hate you, just ignore them - it gets you to a better place. Why? Because some people are assholes and will never change. No matter how much you love some people, they will always fuck up and try to hurt you; this is a simply truth in the world. Everyone recognises this in their core which is why we are all selfish. We do this to preserve ourselves. To love unconditionally is to commit suicide - emotionally and/or physically. With this selfishness comes an inherent self-centricity. If all we do is to preserve ourselves, is to survive, then we perceive the world from an irrevocably self-centric perspective. All we do and see is in relation to ourselves. This makes us selfish and ultimately (maybe rightly so) alone in this world. Before you start crying, this is not a bad thing; it's just the way things function. The upside to this futile disconnect is, representatively, movies. What Gone With The Wind says to us on a societal and existential level is that we can look at other assholes (from a distance) and see ourselves in them. We like Scarlett because she is a no bullshit woman and we wish we could be that too. Sure, we recognise that she'd probably brush us aside for her own personal gain, but what overrides this is a sense of connection, of vicarious experience. We watch Scarlett and she resonates with us because she lives the fantasy that the dark side of our morality wishes we would indulge more often. The same may be said for all anti-heroes or likeable antagonists. What makes Scarlett a special example (with me being a man) is that she implies that, whilst men and woman are different, they do have this connection. I like Scarlett as a female anti-hero - and such is the significance of the film to me. She appeals to this concept of me being alone, of women not existing in a philosophical sense, but still implies some intangible connection of selves that is emotionally and intellectually engaging, not to mention, entertaining.

The last note on Scarlett's character throughout the film is to story tellers. Scarlett O'Hara is a great character to study as she changes how one may see anti-heroes. What this does for her narrative is allow the construction of a unique cinematic experience and message. Gone With The Wind, through Scarlett, is all about perseverance and is a justification of fighting for what you want through a female anti-hero. This is what makes the picture unique and its narrative one people constantly return to. It's all down to the emotions by which this message is given; we're told of there always being another day, but from the mouth of an asshole - and we feel great hearing it. This is masterful story telling; the manipulation of emotion, character and story to put forth a point you've never experienced in such a capacity. This is the beauty of Gone With The Wind and is exactly why I love it. But, added to this, it is a great lesson in how to tell great stories with unconventional characters.

Lastly, to find out why this film is apart of the Virtue Series, check out Virtue's Ploy on the blog, or better still, pick it up from Amazon as an ebook for free if you're an American customer...

< Previous     post in the series     Next >

Previous post:

The Sword In The Stone - Cinematic Rules

Next post:

Rififi - Crime With Heart

More from me:


No comments: