Thursday, September 12, 2013

Frankly, Scarlett . . . Rhett deserves a better woman!

Revisting a Classic . . . 

You know how it is, you grew up with a classic. You look back and sigh, and wonder why they just don't make movies like that one any longer.  Well, sometimes, that's a good thing. Believe me. Sometimes, you can't go back to the good old days, not without coming away disappointed.

If any of you grew up in the seventies and early eighties, you remember an annual event that happened every February.
The movie "Gone With the Wind" would be featured on network TV.  It was a sweeping saga of war, love, scheming and survival.
The movie had it all: A lovely, southern belle heroine with backbone made of steel, a dreadfully handsome hero with a past. A loyal best friend, an old plantation house, sweeping ballrooms, exquisite gowns, and the grittiness of war in the 19th century.

As a teen, and a young adult, I looked forward to the annual week long miniseries portrayal of Gone With the Wind.

Scarlett O'Hara won the hearts of millions. She was sassy, bold, and without scruples at times. She had guts. She'd do things that made the old ladies scorn her, like dance with Rhett Butler at an annual ball, even though she was officially in mourning and wearing widow's weeds.

A Worthy Heroine?

I liked Scarlett. I loved Scarlett. I thought she was the femme fatale extraordinaire. I think it was the way she flew in the face of convention, did as she pleased, and the world be damned. That was admirable, to a point. Few heroines in movies of the period had the steel balls she had. Most women in the 1930's, as that was when the movie version was made, were still trapped in traditional roles, dependent on men, required to be subservient in their relationships with men, and expected to fit into society in the traditional good girl, good wife and mother sense. Scarlett was the anthithesis of this. She was her own woman. As a feminist in the 70's and 80's myself, when our only cultural icons for TV were Mary Tyler Moore and the like, Scarlett stood out as a woman who took charge of her world and didn't whine to men. Mary Tyler Moore did a lot of whining to Lou Grant in her TV show, as I recall.

Scarlett wasn't a whining female dependent on the men in her life. I think that is why she resonated so much with women of the mid to late 20th century. She was scheming, sure, but it was all for the good of the family, and her beloved plantation, Tara. She married her sister's beau, to save the plantation. Her sister hated her for it.

She pined after Ashley Wilkes, even though the man was in love with her best friend. She secretly loved him, and even when Melanine found out, as Ashley's wife, she forgave Scarlett. I never liked Mellie. I thought she was a bit of a wimp. That was then, as a teen and a young woman. As an older woman, I can understand Mellie giving Scarlett her blessing and not harboring a grudge as she lay dying. Perhaps Mellie wanted her man to be well taken care of after she died, so she figured since Scarlett loved him so much, she'd take good care of him.

So, having gone full circle, from loving Scarlett as a teen and despising Melanie, I am now wondering what I ever saw in Scarlett to begin with as a heroine. What did we all see in her? A sparkle of popularity? The flashiness of the top cheerleader, the barbie doll who gets everything she wants?

Three Cheers for Melanie!

I think about this today, and I really don't like Scarlett at all. She was a n absolute Bitch! No one's friend, as she proved time and time again. With Scarlett as your friend, or sister, you didn't need an enemy.  She didn't care that she hurt others, as long as she managed to get want she wanted, be it Ashley, Rhett, or to save Tara from the carpet baggers. Really, would you rather be friends with Scarlett, or Melanie?  Today, I'd prefer Melanie as a romance heroine. She was a true friend to Scarlett. She defended Scarlett when others critcized her. Scarlett didn't deserve her kindness. Melanie had guts, too. She was elegant, beautiful, and she had a conscience. Melanie went through the same war as Scarlett, but she came out of the horror with grace and aplomb. She is an example of Grace under Fire, of rising above the pettiness of Some People.

Not so with Scarlett. As Rhett once said of Scarlett during one of her escapades after she apologized: "You're not sorry. You're like the thief who isn't sorry he stole something, he's just sorry he got caught!"  Right on, Rhett.

And then, there's Rhett . . . . 

 Rhett Butler is a different story. He was the gambler, the ladies man, the river pirate, the blockade runner, and yet, he was gallant to a fault. He didn't double cross Scarlett. She was his lady, once they married, and he stayed true to her. He even tried to gain some social capital and respect after they had a child, for his daughter's sake, to fit into the strict confines of Victorian society. I still love Rhett today. The thought of of Clark Gable as Rhett, flashing that impish grin with those adorable dimples, with a dark lock of hair hanging defiantly over his brow still makes me weak at the knees.  Rhett was the typical hero we like to read about in modern romances, A flawed hero, with vices and perhaps a dark past, but gallant, honorable, and ultimately redeemable. He had a heart of gold. He didn't judge the people around him. He looked past their moral flaws and saw the real person. We see this with the prostitute, Belle, whom Scarlett despised because of her social standing but Rhett defended in the face of Scarlett's criticism by saying Belle had the biggest, kindest heart of any woman he knew.

Rhett had his issues. He was the consumate alpha male romance hero, a womanizing rake, a take charge sort of man. He was a hero worthy of the iconic status he holds today in our American Culture. He had a bad boy persona, but he was also very charming, and he would walk on hot coals for the woman he loved. He rescued Scarlett several times during the war, even though it was inconvenient and she was a selfish pain in the backside.  He didn't leave her at the road, alone with union soldiers swarming the area. I remember that iconic scene of the pair of them hiding under the bridge, trying to keep their horse quiet. The city was burning in the background and the soldiers were traisping across the bridge above them searching for renegages like Rhett.  It's a stunning visual, potent with emotion for the viewer. Rhett and Scarlett, hiding under the bridge, shivering togther in the wet and cold as the city burns around them, as the soldiers march across above them. Rhett and Scarlett,  lovers who seem to be perfect for each other, who seem to complete each other, and yet they are torn apart by so many issues.

Don't let it end this way, please . . . .

It's a very potent love story, and yet, one that ends in tragedy, so Gone with the Wind is not a true  romance by today's standards. In traditional romance tropes, it is essential that the hero and heroine have a happily ever after ending, or a HEA as we call it in romance writer circles. Scarlett botched things so badly with Rhett, that at the end of the movie he's packing his bags and leaving her. Well, she deserved it. As a teen and young woman, I always hated that scene. I wanted him to turn around, come back, give Scarlett another chance. All of us did, right?

Today, I'm glad he left. As a grown man, he had enough sense to get out of a bad relationship.  Oh, yes, we all remember the 1990's miniseries "Scarlett" where a certain well known romance author tried to give Scarlett a conscience and make Rhett and Scarlett end up together after exhausting difficulties. It might have been a way to redeem Scarlett for a new generation, but the original Scarlett O'Hara created by Margaret Mitchell, was in my opinon, unredeemable in the original novel.

And that's my revised opinion on these classic lovers who have captivated the world, at least in movie form, for over 90 years. Scarlett may have won hearts for standing up for herself at a time when women were not allowed to do so, but by today's standards, she's a pretty unlikeable heroine for a romance story. The herione must be someone we either wish to be or would want as a friend.She can't be heartless, cold, calculating, as Scarlett was, not toward the people who matter in her life. Rhett stands the test of time, enduring as a romance hero, but Scarlett, not so much as a lovable heroine.

  Frankly, Scarlett, Rhett Butler deserves a better woman than you . . . 

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