Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Visit to the Bible Belt

Toot, toot! Last stop on the Seeking Your Questions for My Social Justice Film Class Discussion Express. If you haven't boarded yet, don't worry. I've saved a seat for you. And you can go back into the other train cars - my last four days' worth of posts are still here, ready to receive your thoughts about the issues raised by films.

This final film features a great American actor, Spencer Tracy. Now before you say, "FF! Why are you doing Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? We already dealt with racism," let me tell you that's not the movie. Nor is it Bad Day at Black Rock, (see this post for my film selection regarding racism against Japanese-Americans) or Fury (morality of mob violence). It's a courtroom drama. No, not Judgement at Nuremburg (geez, maybe I should have just made it the Spencer Tracy Social Justice Film Class - he sure covered a lot of ground).

Come with me on a trip to the Bible Belt, where we'll consider...

Inherit the Wind

Inherit the Wind (1960) portrays, in partly fictionalized form, the famous and dramatic courtroom "Monkey Trial" battle (in the sultry summer of 1925 in Dayton, Tennessee) between two famous lawyers (Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan) who volunteered to heatedly argue both sides of the case (over 12 days, including two weekends).

Its story centers around the issue of evolution vs. creationism, in the prosecution of 24 year-old Dayton High School mathematics teacher and sports coach - and substitute science teacher - John T. Scopes for violating state law (the 1925 Butler Act) by teaching the Darwin's theory of evolution in a state-funded school. The film's title was taken from the Biblical book of Proverbs 11:29: "He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind."

The film opens with the ominous singing of the old-time gospel song Give Me That Old Time Religion, while the camera moves past a statue of Blind Justice. A young, meek, but earnest southern high-school Biology teacher in the fictional town of "Heavenly" Hillsboro, Tennessee - Bertram T. Cates (Dick York) - has broken the state law against the teaching of the theory of evolution. Four solemn, stony-faced town officials march across town to the local high school where they place Cates under arrest - he is soon brought to trial in July of 1925. Two eminent lawyers volunteer their services to battle the issues in the "Bible Belt" community within a stifling hot courtroom. Cynical Baltimore Herald news reporter E. K. Hornbeck (Gene Kelly), whose paper has sponsored a defense attorney, is the only one in the town to welcome the celebrated, agnostic, libertarian Chicago attorney Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracy) upon his arrival: "Hello, Devil. Welcome to Hell."

excerpts from synopsis taken from http://www.filmsite.org/inhe.html

Here's a clip of Gene Kelly as the fictionalized H.L. Mencken character talking to the accused teacher played by Dick York (yes, the first, and some would say, finest Darrin Stephens of Bewitched). Warning: the video looks blotchy for the first 6 seconds. Persevere and watch.

If you're interested in reading more, I found a thoughtful discussion of the film here. Obviously, the evolution vs. creationism question is only the tip of a very large iceberg of science vs. religion debates. Speaking of icebergs, how 'bout that global warming one? One of these days, I'll tackle the wealth of material one can find when googling the words "global warming religious right." But not today.

Now please lend me your brains and comment, comment, comment!


Bee said...

My lovely friend,

I ADORE this project and wish that I wasn't so time-pressed and unimaginative at the moment. (And you are right about Sunday bloggers. Participation ALWAYS dips on a Sunday.)
How much time do we have before you put together your curriculum?

A quick word on creationism: Sarah Palin certainly brought this topic back out of the closet.

Fantastic Forrest said...

Sweet Bee,

The first class is on February 23rd. So fear not. You have time to procrastinate. I will probably post a last call for questions a few days beforehand. We'll see how many people operate best on a deadline.

And yes, She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named made this pretty darned timely, bless her little heart. I'm glad you reminded me of that. I just found some interesting comments at http://scienceandreligiontoday.blogspot.com/2008/08/sarah-palin-evolution-and-creationism.html

So you are free to go back to pressing sheets and making ladyfingers for a little while. But don't forget to return when some free time and your imagination kicks in. Smooches!

Jonathan Eisen said...

You know, you could link this to Feb 12 which is the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birthday and there are lots of worldwide celebrations and activities ...

Dave King said...

I saw In herit the Wind as a stage play. It blew my socks off then. Haven't seen the film, though.

Bee said...

Speaking of Darwin, there is a huge Darwin exhibit on at the Natural Science Museum in London right now. I hope to see it!

I just caught the tail-end of a very interesting program on evolution the other day on Radio 4 . . .
it is GOBSMACKING to me that there are people who think that their "faith" and a Bible story should trump (literally) mountains of geological evidence. One of the scientists in the program described our world as RADICALLY evolutionary. It isn't JUST that we evolve, but that we are evolving all the time. Constant change and adaptation.