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Joking About Slavery at the Oscars


During the last night’s tedious Oscar telecast, host Seth McFarland was talking about portrayals of Abraham Lincoln in film. He first noted Daniel Day Lewis in Steven Speilburg’s Lincolnand then Raymond Massey in the 1940 film Abe Lincoln in Illinois. “Of course,” McFarland said, “the actor who really got into Lincoln’s head best was John Wilkes Booth.” The crowd gasped and groaned, to which McFarland smirked in reply: “I guess 150 years isn’t long enough to get over it yet.”

John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln because Lincoln ultimately implemented John Brown’s strategy: Arm the slaves to destroy slavery. John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln because Lincoln planned to give the vote to a section of African-Americans. There will never, in this year or any other, be any humor in any of that.

This is not some dusty old history. At the February 11 State of the Union address, a United States Senator brought as his special guest musician Ted Nugent, who openly proclaims that the South should have won the Civil War. Nugent has been embraced and defended by Texas Governor Rick Perry, who is a close friend of actor Russell Crowe, who appeared on stage at the Oscars this evening and whose band has often played at functions for Governor Perry.

This is not a case of white against black. At the Oscars, Daniel Day Lewis won as Best Actor for his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln in a film which has been well-received by tens of millions of Americans of all colors.

This is a case of the vast majority of decent Americans versus a relatively small group of powerful men and women who want to drag America back to the 19th century South when the majority of Southern whites, despite certain petty privileges (often not including the right to vote), were hurled into the ditch of the slave and sharecropping systems right on top of the blacks. Today the one per cent intends to push everyone there except themselves.

It was hardly a coincidence that Seth McFarland went on from his joke about killing Lincoln to make fun of the homeless and of people who speak Spanish.

Lee Ballinger, CounterPunch’s music columnist, is co-editor of Rock and Rap Confidential author of the forthcoming book Love and War: My First Thirty Years of Writing, interviewed Honkala for CounterPunch. He can be reached at:



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