Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Fake but Accurate--1955

Yesterday was the 81st anniversary of the Scopes trial. American Heritage is running a 20 question quiz on the "trial of the century." What is amazing is not what you don't know--it's what you know that ain't true.
Q. So what you're saying is that Inherit the Wind, Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee's 1955 play based on the Scopes trial (which was made into a film in 1960), in which a defeated character based on Bryan breaks down and cries on the witness stand, is alternative history?

A. Exactly. The only difference is that if someone writes a play in which the South wins the Civil War, everyone knows it's fiction. With Inherit the Wind, all too many people seem to think it's fact.

Inherit the Wind has become an iconic movie in American culture. It tells the story of the 1925 Scopes "Monkey Trial" that repudiated creationism and freed educators across the land to freely teach Darwinian evolution.

Except that it didn't.

Scopes set out to break the law as a test case--and he lost. National figures tried to use the courts to circumvent the democratic process.

Inherit the Wind tells the story the way many people felt that it should be told. In this way it resembles the correlation between the Clinton White House and The West Wing.

The climactic scene in Inherit comes when Spencer Tracy puts Frederic March on the witness stand and poses a long string of meaningless conundrums. He finishes with a challenge about Joshua's Day--the day when the Bible says that God stopped the sun to let Joshua continue fighting a battle in daylight. He gets March to agree that the sun did not stop moving, but that the earth paused in it's rotation.

He then says that this would have caused oceans to splash out of their basins and mountains to crumble from their inertia.

Even as a child I thought that that was the lamest argument that I had ever heard. Surely a supreme being who created all things, and who can stop the Earth's 5.97 * 1024 kilograms and then restart it isn't going to be unaware of the conservation of momentum.

And yet Frederic March gobbles and gasps for a few minutes and the viewer feels sorry for him.

But that's not what happened. But in the eyes of those with the money, talent, and time to make this movie that is what should have happened.

You know, "Fake but accurate."

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