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.
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.
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.