Still with my American History theme, it was Memorial Day and the much vaunted Ridley-and-Tony-Scott brother’s History Channel docudrama Gettysburg was on tv. So how do you cram three days of fighting and more than 50,000 dead in one of the most bloody and revered battles of the Civil War into two hours of Prime Time entertainment for a nation that is in fact actually at war?
Viscerally, is how. Although there are plenty of facts and diagrams and talking head academics, the Scotts mostly go for blood, guts and CGI gore. This was the world’s first technological conflict, so we see rifle butts smash into skulls, grooved bullets rip into thighs, eardrums shatter from the loudness of canon-fire, tin cans whistle and explode overhead allowing tiny ball-bearings tear through tens of men – think Black Hawk Down with bayonets and no anesthetic. I get that they were trying to remind us of the brutality, the dehumanization of war. Except I’m not sure, in this video-game age, that this is not distracting, rather than thought-provoking. Anyway. For what it’s worth, it filmed in Cape Town, South Africa.
Incidentally, also, Ta-Nehisi Coates, the (highly highly recommended) blogger with The Atlantic who is currently undertaking a very nuanced and personal educational journey into the manifestation of American slavery, exposed me to something I really did not know: the origin of Memorial Day as an honoring of Union dead by the black community of Charleston. Astounding. Astounding also that it’s been largely forgotten.