Ignorance is bliss, Forrest Gump the simple man with the perfect perspective

The remembering and re-remembering of historical events is a fluid and progressive process. How these memories are created, altered, transformed, or conversely, at the farther end of this memory spectrum, erased or forgotten can occur in a number of ways. I believe that the vehicle of motion picture or the Hollywood feature film, through the representation of historical events can allow for an investigation into the historical memories of Americans in the later stages of the 20th Century. The 1994 motion picture Forrest Gump is a prime example of how the history portrayed within a film can provide an insight into the popular American historical memories of the 1960s.

The premise of the film Forrest Gump is to recreate a predominately conservative and positive memory of contemporary American post war history. This is achieved through the recreation of events that portray a version of American history that allows the viewer to re-remember events through the manipulation and the omission of certain aspects of American history. This notion of manipulation and omission of events can be described as the representation of history. The attempt by the director to recreate a positive sense of untarnished nationhood that is linked to the retelling of history is supported by Peter N. Chumo II (1995)

“Forrest Gump is not to be constructed as realism; rather, it is fantasy in which national tensions and conflicts are transcended… a reassuring fantasy of a man who, in an almost mythic way transcends our divisions and heals the scars of the past”.

This recreation of a positive conservative vision of the 1960s is made possible through the clever use of Gump’s rather apparent physical and mental disabilities and the representation of race and gender throughout the film. Gump’s perceived lack of mental perception and his inability to comprehend his surroundings is a crucial element in the film’s ability to involve his character in re-enactments of historical events.

“Model Spectator”

Gump is portrayed as slow-witted, simple, white southern male from Alabama. The selection of Forrest Gump as a simple, slow-witted man gives Forrest a degree of naivety and ignorance that distances his character from displaying a perceived opinion on the political, social or racial under tones that are represented in the film. Forrest’s limited ability to “see things as they are” (Moller, 2011) allow him to adopt a depoliticized stance so the film doesn’t reflect on specific circumstances, developments and results of historical events, but instead constructs an image of nation that can exist apart from, or float free from, the historical traumas of the 1960s and 1970s(Burgone, 2011).

Gender – The evil liberal counterculture

In the process of re-remebering histories of gender within the 1960s Jenny (lead female character) is representative of the destructive influences of the counterculture, and the generational/political rebellion of the 1960s. Gump is seen as her counter point as he is representative of a conservative’s version of traditional values within a white masculine society with the American virtues of honesty, tolerance, decency, goodness and loyalty.

Zemeckis (1995) “Jenny symbolises drugs, sex and rock ‘n’ roll, whereas Forrest is orientated towards Mom, God and apple pie”.

Race – Bubba and the Black Panther party 

The negative and minimal role of African-Americans within the film is also shaped to remove a large factor of past race issue that had taken place in American history during that period. The main representation of African-Americans within the film, is the almost background role of Bubba, the innocent shrimp obsessed black southern male.

The representation of the black panthers within the film is one of a radical and aggressive nature that infers a negative stereotype towards African-Americans. However, the events that are omitted from the film in regards to race are of greater significance as these omissions displays the removal of racial tension from the films representation of American history. The assassination of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Junior are two notable omissions from the film. Other notable exclusion from the film that exhibit examples of racism or the progression or involvement of black resistance include, the Freedom Summers, voting registration drives, the Birmingham bus boycotts, the March of Washington and the Watts riots.

In Conclusion 

The analysis of the film Forrest Gump has revealed an interesting insight into late 20th century American memories of the 1960s. The historical reconstruction, re-representation and reconceptualising of historical events have illustrated how a new version of events can be championed within cultural or popular memory. The film displays through the perceived accepting and supporting of this revised understanding of events, it is possible to suggest there is a new historical memory of the 1960s that exists free from any historical turmoil that may trouble this new ideal national narrative. This new shaping of popular memory suggests that a degree of a willingness to accept a manipulated ideal of selected historical events, the American public could be perceived as taking on a Forrest Gump approach to historical understanding. An acceptance that, naively, innocently and passively re-remembers a culturally and nation-friendly version of American history.

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7 comments on “Ignorance is bliss, Forrest Gump the simple man with the perfect perspective

  1. hilliarh says:

    A sincerely excellent post, with impressive insight into a film which will definitely prompt me to watch it again if only to consider these themes. Particularly interesting is the point of the simplicity of Gump that distances him from the tense racial and political overtones so present within the film – as well as the continuance of this point onward to the character of Bubba. I enjoyed the argument that through a revised and removed reunderstanding of the past that new historical memory can exist free from the contextual turmoil of the time. Another point to be admired is the categorization of the post with themes of race and gender; as these themes make it easy to read and understand the support for the argument as well as provide touchstones which the reader can turn to while viewing the text. I really like the characterisation of this form of remembering as ‘naive and friendly’. Great job!

  2. ctinworth says:

    I find this to be a very creative and relatable perspective on the remembering and re-remembering of historical events. In focusing on gender and race, as well as your use of Forrest Gump, I feel it allows the audience to connect closely with your underlying message which to me translates as something like: the challenges faced in retelling American history with ‘popular memory’ or ‘nation-friendly’ versions, opposed to a more “truthful” one (with historical turmoil). In defence of the directors and writers, I would imagine their goal was to create a popular motion picture, as a result what they likely considered ‘negative’ histories toward American nationalism, like your example of omitting the assassination of Martin Luther King, may have ruined the naive tone of character Forrest Gump.

    In considering the ‘ignorance is bliss’ I want to draw attention to the brief mention of Apple Computers in the film. In creating a ‘nation friendly’ history that reconstructs the remembrance of great times, and in this case the film refers to the initial financial success of Apple, or as Forrest Gump naively puts it: “Lieutenant Dan got me invested in some kind of fruit company. So then I got a call from him, saying we don’t have to worry about money no more. And I said, that’s good! One less thing” [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SNa4EMUWnAc]. Although not in reference to the histories of the 1960’s as your work focuses on, I find this scene highlights Apple in its early prime, because during the release of this film Apple was close to bankruptcy. So in a way its manipulating the remembrance of Apple history to transcend their 90’s deficiency into positive memory.

    I’d be interested in knowing what drew you to this topic? Was it the film Forrest Gump that drove the topic, or was it your interested in the challenges faced with remembrance and re-remembrance of historical events? Or even something else.

    I also found it to be a well written and structured post, which were appropriately accommodated by figures.

    • stubba12 says:

      Hi Chris,
      Thanks for the comments. I was drawn to this topic due to my interest in both the film Forrest Gump and the concept of remembering and re-remembering of historical events. I did a unit with Nick Irving last semester which addressed the concept of historical memory and I found it extremely interesting.

  3. evanvallis says:

    A very interesting post. I really liked how you used Forrest Gump to illuminate the challenges in representing ‘truthful’ depictions of America’s historical narrative and historical processes such as race and gender. Being one of my favorite films, I found it interesting that Forrest Gump was deliberately depicted as an ignorant/naive character to represent historical conventions and events in a way that ensured America’s conventional ‘popular’ history was maintained.

    Additionally, I found the notion of race and how African-Americans are represented in the film particularly interesting as it reminded me of how Indigenous people were represented during the majority of the 20th century in Australia. Aborigines, like African-Americans, were racially subverted and represented similarly to how African-Americans are represented in Forrest Gump.

    Instead of attempting to construct a predominantly positive image of American post-war history, do you ever wonder what would have been the effect of the film if it subverted ‘popular’ history and attempted to represent a more ‘truthful’ history? What do you think would have been the effect of the film if it included events like the struggle for African-American rights or the assassination of Martin Luther King? Do you think this would have challenged popular American history and effectively questioned America’s post-war historical narrative? Do you think the film would have been as popular as it was?

    I think you did a great job in detailing an interesting insight into how memory and film can be used and manipulated to represent ‘popular’ historical narratives and processes such as gender and race. Well done!

  4. danmcgowan123 says:

    I was really looking forward to this post after listening to your presentation in class. I think you have done an excellent job in analysing this film. Also your blog post was formatted and set out very well, making it easy to read and understand.

    I found it interesting when you discussed the events that were omitted from the film. I think this is a really important point when analysing historical events through a medium such as films. It raises the question of what other events or issues did they not include? How much are they manipulating their audience to take on this “Forrest Gump approach to understanding history?”

    Did your essay contain other themes that you were not able to include in your blog post?

  5. stubba12 says:

    Hi Dan,
    Thanks for your comments. There was an element of my paper that is not mentioned in my blog which is separate from the main themes and that is the political, social and cultural climate present within the US at the time of the films release in 1994. This section of the paper explores the use of the film and it’s conservative version of American history and the ways in which certain conservative political movements utilized the film in their political campaign rhetoric.

  6. nicolajblack says:

    Hi,

    I definitely agree with you on the historical reconstruction concept – the film shows so many re-representations and reconceptualisations of historical events – it’s almost like the film is saying ‘This is how we remember how that happened, right?’ It’s very passive, and it’s also very problematic as you’ve pointed out – it’s selective memory – and I think choosing Forrest Gump was perfect for this research because it really does take a whole lot of American historical events and say ‘this is how we’re remembering it’.

    Really enjoyed the post – will have to watch the rest of the movie!

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