REWRITING HISTORY

 

I’ll begin with a disclaimer: I haven’t seen best picture Oscar nominee, Lincoln. Fortunately, for this column, that doesn’t matter. Maureen Dowd, op ed writer for The New York Times, that bastion of liberal pap, is joining what is rapidly developing into, if not, a tsunami, at least a growing chorus calling for Steven Spielberg to correct, at least to its critics, an important error in the film. It seems that the film falsely portrays two Connecticut reps voting against the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment. The film’s screenwriter, in response, doesn’t deny the inaccuracy but maintains that the film is, after all, just a movie. Or in other words, since it’s fiction, any inaccuracies don’t matter. As a writer of fiction (and I’m not referring to this column ), I find that explanation from a fellow writer a betrayal of proper writing etiquette and principles. Even a writer of fiction knows that credibility is at the heart of writing good fiction, whether a novel or screenplay. And any seasoned writer knows that violating this principle will not only lead to embarrassment for the writer but a flood of critics who are ready to pounce on the slightest inaccuracy. And this is as it should be, since the writer owes it to his or her readers to hold up his end of the contract which is to allow the suspension of belief, sometimes even stretching belief, while not shortchanging readers with lapses in credibility so grotesque they remind the reader that what they’re reading is fiction. It is very often a fine line, this adherence to credibility in fiction, but as any good writer will tell you, an important line. Having properly criticized a screen writer whose explanation was even worse, as he said he included the inaccuracy to make a political point (stressing the closeness of the vote) by intentionally distorting history, that might put an end to the inquiry. Unfortunately, there is a larger issue here, as well, since Spielberg has made it known that he will gleefully release the film for showing at middle and high schools who request a viewing. At a time when a large numbers of our young people can’t identify even one of our “founding fathers,” and have at best a tenuous grasp of our nation’s history, it is more important than ever that we not only teach history but as has been the norm in the past, teach it accurately and completely. While the motivation of Dowd and other liberal critics of the film undoubtedly lies in their chagrin that the inaccuracy they complain of suggests that Northerners from a current “Blue State” would have voted against ending slavery, they are right to complain and Spielberg should heed their calls to re-edit the film before it is released on DVD or to our schools. And I would suggest that screenwriter Tony Kushner go back to writing school. He obviously missed some of the fundamentals in writing credible fiction. 

 

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