The Civil War, the American War Film, and Cultural Memory
  • John Trafton


In 2011, the Oklahoma-based punk rock group Red City Radio released the album The Dangers of Standing Still, featuring the breakup song “I’m Well, You’re Poison.” The song evokes the Battle of Gettysburg to frame the singer’s feelings at the end of a failed relationship, an ill-fated last stand described as “my very own Gettysburg,” proclaiming that “this battlefield is stained with blood.” Here, in a different medium, we can see both a cultural and historical memory informing an aesthetic rendering of personal struggle: the experience of coming to grips with one’s sense of self in the face of heartbreak is equated with battlefield defeat, a repurposing of the pathos formulas inherent in both written and visual depictions of the Civil War. That the listener can identify the intensity of the singer’s emotional state through an evocation of a battle never experienced is a testimony to the residing power of this pathos formula in American culture.


Saving Private Cultural Memory Representational Mode Personal Struggle Opening Scene 
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© The Author 2016

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  • John Trafton

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