We here at Retropolis (motto: “The past, rediscovered”) don’t ordinarily take detours into the realm of parody. However, in the past 24 hours, a phenomenon has exploded online — one that, ironically, may be useful for future historians who must sift through the ashes of our dumpster fires and try to distill what it was like to live in these times.
It began, apparently, with a fake rumor: Far-right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones declared over the weekend — without evidence — that Democrats were planning to launch an actual civil war on July 4 to unseat President Trump.
Even for Jones, it was a far-fetched claim. Most people ignored it or made sarcastic jokes online about having to drop their barbecue plans at the last minute.
For a Twitter user named Amanda Blount, however, Jones’s latest rant was just the inspiration needed for the viral hashtag of the summer.
“My Dear John, The war isn’t going as planned,” Blount tweeted Monday night. “Our supply trucks are limited. I’m out of wine and sunscreen. The enemy burned all the books and there is no place to recharge my Kindle. The only music is an old CD of Justin Bieber. – All is lost.”
Blount appended it with the #secondcivilwarletters. A meme was born.
Soon, people were replying to Blount’s tweet with “second Civil War letters” of their own, describing faux-apocalyptic scenes of war-torn golf courses and iPhone batteries running perilously low. Like Blount, many of the letter-writers were self-proclaimed members of “the resistance,” those who stand in staunch opposition to Trump and his policies.
Like actual letters from the Civil War, such as this 1861 note penned by Sullivan Ballou to his beloved wife, Sarah, the #secondcivilwarletters bear the same doleful tone. And like the reading of Ballou’s letter in Ken Burns’s famous documentary, one can almost imagine a lone violinist playing the beginning of Jay Ungar’s “Ashokan Farewell” in the background as the tweets scroll by — which is how we recommend best experiencing the sampling of #secondcivilwarletters below:
However lighthearted, the #secondcivilwarletters do carry an extra layer of poignancy given a recent Cards Against Humanity poll that found about one-third of U.S. voters said they believed a second civil war would take place in the next decade. But it’s not the first time the Civil War has been parodied — or, more specifically, that the Civil War as told through Burns’s epic documentary series has been parodied.
During last year’s protests in Charlottesville, a college student named Allen Armentrout donned a Confederate uniform to defend what he said was his family’s heritage, and was met with a woman who flipped him off with both of her middle fingers.
Twitter users promptly set a photograph of their standoff to the aforementioned “Ashokan Farewell” and gave it the Ken Burns treatment.
“Dearest Martha . . . we are low on Hot Pockets and not a Taco Bell in sight,” the narrator says. “Edmund is trying to keep our spirits up with tales of his hot girlfriend who lives in Canada. If I should fall on the field of battle, tell my dearest mother that I loved her and that she mustn’t look at my browser history…”
When asked about the viral parody letters, a spokesman for Burns said the filmmaker was unavailable to comment. A short while later, however, Burns’s account tweeted a reference to the hashtag. (At press time, his response was contained to a single, unthreaded installment.)
“god help us and then some,” Burns said, with a link to his documentary — about “the real civil war.”