Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

Inherit The Wind

Inherit The Wind is a 50s play and movie that plays with  the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925 as a way of critiquing the McCarthy era. Now it looks like a prophecy of the rise of the Religious Right.

American history has this pattern that keeps repeating- like wallpaper.  The far Right reaches for power, stretches too far, falls on its face. 

Fascism is just too hateful and stupid to maintain itself in power. That's what history and Inherit The Wind teach. Let's hope  they're right.

So far so good, but then the doubts begin. 

The real trial  was a publicity stunt,  contrived by the city fathers to put Dayton Ohio on the map. Two celebrities-  famed public speaker, William Jennings Bryan and liberal trial lawyer, Clarence Darrow- were drafted in to debate Darwinism and Revealed Religion.  The defendant,  Scopes, volunteered to be prosecuted for teaching Evolution in the public schools and was never in any real danger of going to jail.  The play/movie jacks this up into a slugfest between progress and reaction. It presents Darrow as a wise old Obi Wan Kenobi and Bryan as an ignorant blowhard and booby.  It livens things up with preachers delivering their daughters over to damnation and citizens parading the streets with burning effigies- none of which happened. The real contest was fought out in a carnival atmosphere of great goodwill, with  Darrow the atheist recording afterwards that the citizens of fundamentalist Dayton had treated him with nothing but courtesy. These were gentler times in America.

William Jennings Bryan was a champion of the working man and an enemy of plutocracy and imperialism who took two runs at the Presidency. He was  cultured, educated, thoughtful- and on the side of right and reason more often than not.   The fictionalised Bryan proudly boasts of never having read Darwin; the real Bryan had read him and hated him for reasons which, however wrong-headed, do his heart  credit.  Briefly, he believed that Darwin led to Nietzsche which led to Nihilism which led to the Great War. He was a religious fundamentalist, but his fundamentalism was nuanced and not unintelligent. 

Inherit the Wind is a warning about the dangers of American fascism. Fine. But it plays fast and loose with the truth.  (Fellow lefties, we can do better than this!)  And the way it trashes the memory of a great (and good) American is shameful.  The more I think about this the more it makes me angry.
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