Saturday, July 4, 2015

More Hazzards Than One Can Handle

A month ago I was in Charleston, and I thought it one of the best places I've been to.  The people were friendly, I felt safe walking at night, and by God the she crab soup and chicken & dumplings were divine.  I carry warm and happy memories of my time there, from walking up and down The Market to visiting Fort Sumter.

While there, I looked for souvenirs for various coworkers and family, and I knew I had to get something for my best friend/brother Gabe.  Gabe is pretty much a redneck at heart, Hispanic heritage notwithstanding.  Our mutual friend Kris calls him a 'brown Cracker', which is a pretty apt description.  I looked around and found these very amusing shotglasses that I thought would be perfect for him.  There was one caveat: they had the Confederate flag on them.  After some thought, I opted to get him a Red Solo Cup shotglass for a variety of reasons.  One, I thought he'd like that.  Two, I don't know what he thought of the Confederate flag.  Three, I wasn't at ease with buying something that for many people, understandably, is identified with slavery and segregation. 

I felt great sadness and horror when I learned about the mass murder at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church (which in all likelihood I passed on my endless walking tours or whenever I would inevitably get lost in Charleston).  I felt sadness not just for the victims, but for their alleged killer, because he had bought into a whole pack of lies that brought about this horror.

I think this would be a good time to point out a few things.  I support removing the Confederate flag from the South Carolina state capital grounds (actually, from all government buildings).  I oppose requiring private citizens from removing said flags from their homes.  I support removing the Confederate flag even from war memorials.  I oppose restricting or banning the sale of the flags.

I normally wouldn't wade into these waters, but recent events have made me reevaluate my silence.  In particular, it is the reaction connected to The Dukes of Hazzard and various related merchandising.  Warner Brothers announced that it would no longer license replicas of the show's signature car, The General Lee, with the Confederate flag on the roof.  More recently, TV Land has dropped The Dukes of Hazzard from their rotation, again because the vehicle features a Confederate flag.  To put the coda on this rush, golfer Bubba Watson, who owns a General Lee, has decided to paint the American flag on the top of the car over the Confederate flag.

First, a few points.  Watson as the car's owner can do anything he wants to it.  If he wants, he can replace the car horn which plays the first few notes of Dixie with Yankee Doodle Dandy.  He can paint it blue and call it The General Grant (or Sherman).  However, the question is, 'why?'  The show has been off the air for thirty years.  I grew up watching Dukes of Hazzard and never once was there any suggestion that the Duke cousins, or Uncle Jesse, or even Boss Hogg and Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane were Klan members.  There was never any suggestion on Dukes of Hazzard that the use of the Confederate flag was designed, intended, or even implied to be a sign of white power.

Second, it is really a question of context, which Americans, in their headlong rush, apparently can't seem to understand.  Anyone who's seen Dukes of Hazzard knows you can't take any of it seriously.  It's all rather innocuous, meant for laughs.  If one looks at it more closely, you'll see that some of the Southern characters are held up to constant ridicule (particularly the not-so-dynamic duo of Boss Hogg and Sheriff Coltrane).  Nothing on Dukes of Hazzard was created to be offensive, and that includes the General Lee.  It really was all good-natured fun from two good ol' boys never meaning no harm.

Context is the most important aspect when judging anything.  The killer used the Confederate flag in a particular context (to symbolize white power, racism, and murder).  Dukes of Hazzard used the Confederate flag in another particular context (an acknowledgement of the region they're in).  More importantly, Dukes of Hazzard NEVER used the Confederate flag to denote any evil intent or racism or violence against anyone.  To suggest or think otherwise is flat-out idiocy.

I speak only for myself, but in all the years that I watched Dukes of Hazzard, I never got any idea that any of the characters wanted to kill anyone because of their race.  I didn't become a racist, I didn't want to set crosses on fire or do anything against anyone. 

If we as a society cannot tell the difference between the actions of an evil man and a silly television comedy that has been off the air for thirty years, then we as a society cannot function. 

I understand why the Confederate flag is offensive to so many people.  My own discomfort with it made me ultimately decide to not purchase items with the Stars and Bars on it.  However, that was MY choice.  It was not made for me.  This is what Warner Brothers and TV Land do not understand.  By deciding not to license more General Lees with the Confederate flag, Warners has made the choice for me.  Moreover, they are attempting to rewrite history.  On the show, the car has a Confederate flag.  You can sell a new item, call it the General Lee, but if it doesn't have the Stars and Bars on it, it isn't the General Lee.

Similarly, TV Land, home of such shows as Impastor (about a gambling addict slacker who, while on the run, poses as a small-town gay pastor, leading me to wonder what churches the TV Land executives go to), can't claim to know television.  Where once TV Land's exclusive domain was in merely rebroadcasting old television shows like Dobie Gillis and Get Smart, now it's not only decided to give us their own programming, but decided that I can't watch something that they had broadcast for several years merely due to the potential to offend someone.  That offended person, for his/her part, is unaware that this show is a.) a comedy not to be taken seriously in any circumstance and b.) does not attach his/her meaning to the Stars and Bars that they do.

What can I say?  Leave the Duke Boys alone.  The Dukes of Hazzard should not be removed from broadcast merely because of the Confederate flag on the General Lee.  The merchandising should continue to include the Confederate flag on the General Lee itself (other merchandising, I leave that up to the manufacturer's discretion).  When I see The Dukes of Hazzard, I don't see a call for a race war.  I see a funny action-comedy that spoofs itself, that shouldn't offend anyone (at least with some intelligence), and which has to be understood in the time and place it came from.  My old English teacher, Mrs. Dominguez, always said that we cannot apply today's standards to yesterday's actions. 

Something to think about.

Does this mean we won't be allowed to go to a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert anymore?  

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