As we wrestle with our own demons and angels here in South Carolina, let’s pause a moment to look away, look away, look away toward Tinsel Town and ponder this puzzling situation:
When Ben Affleck volunteered to be featured on the PBS genealogy program “Finding Your Roots” last year, he was hoping to find “the roots of his family’s interest in social justice.”
Researchers did turn up plenty for the actor-cum-activist to be pleased about: a mother who was a member of the Freedom Riders, an ancestor who fought in the Revolutionary War.
But they also found Benjamin Cole, a great-great-great grandparent on his mother’s side. Cole was a sheriff in Chatham County, Ga., in the 1850s and ’60s, according to historical documents uncovered by Family History Insider. And he was the “trustee” of seven slaves.
An attempt to cover up that unwanted detail has led PBS to suspend the show, citing Affleck’s “improper influence” on programming…
OK, it looks like the Ben Affleck we all respected for making “Argo” has disappeared, and been replaced by the old Ben Affleck whom everyone made fun of. To paraphrase “Good Will Hunting,” judging by this, our boy is wicked dumb.
This is Hollywood narcissism carried out to the Nth power, the ultimate example of movie star shallowness: He actually expected to be able to congratulate himself with a family tree full of people who held only 21st-century-approved ideas, and led perfect, ideologically correct lives.
Where does this kind of thinking come from? If he volunteered for this self-stroking show (I’ve seen a few minutes of it a couple of times, and come away wondering why anyone but the celebrity himself would care about some celebrity’s great-grandparents), why would he not want his actual ancestry to be revealed? What would be the point?
Folks, I had at least five great-great grandfathers who fought for the Confederacy. One of them owned slaves — possibly others as well, but I only know about this one. Whatever he was like as an individual — and I have no way of really knowing — there is no question that he was of the class that brought us the Civil War. He was a member of the South Carolina General Assembly both before and after the war.
Over the years, I’ve heard all these SCV types, in the midst of their making excuses for the flag, say that their ancestors didn’t own slaves, so don’t blame them. Sometimes I want to say to them, Well, my ancestors did, so why don’t you just hush up and let those of us with standing in this matter try to address the problem?
But I don’t, of course, for fear that that would sound, you know, kinda like I’m looking down on these folks for being from the slaveless classes. Which is more than a little uncool on a number of levels… It’s bad enough that I catch myself looking down on them for being so WRONG. As the Pope says, Who am I to judge?
Here’s the thing: I am in no way complicit in anything that people I never even knew did. You have to be pretty confused to think otherwise. But let’s just say that knowing my ancestry makes the horrendous sin of starting the bloodiest war in our history and committing treason against the nation I love just a bit more real to me.
Are we not put on this Earth to recognize and correct the sins and mistakes of our forebears? Aren’t we supposed to learn from the past, not just bow down to it?
Apparently not, if you’re Ben Affleck.
Why does his silliness bother me? Because he’s doing exactly what these people who defend the flag say that those of us who want it down are doing: Trying to erase the past, to deny it. When applied to those of us who’ve been working to get the flag down all these years, that’s absurd.
But then, some movie star has to go and act exactly the way the neo-Confederates claim the rest of us are acting.
So needless to say, I’m more than a little disgusted…