Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Civil Wars in Tiger Stadium

Yesterday I decided to peruse through the latest edition of the LSU Reveille. Two major stories this semester concern (naturally) football games, and both reflect very sad cultural trends.

The first involves the withdrawal of a song known as "Tiger Rag" from the pregame marching-band program. Though officials claim they removed the song due to time constraints, fans suspect that it was actually because of the ridicule traditionally lobbed at the opposing side during the song. This ritual involves jeering and chants of "Assholes!" The song has been part of the LSU experience for at least three decades, according to the Reveille. The removal has prompted outrage from fans and band members alike:

"I don't think it's good to be calling the other team 'assholes,' but I agree with the tradition thing," Justin Bourg, mechanical engineering sophomore and trumpet player, said. "It's part of the tradition, it shouldn't be taken out."

This is bad for LSU, because how else are they going to show support for their school and disgust for their opponents? Riddle me that, Batman! But what really gets me is that Bourg can't decide between doing what's right, or keeping alive what even he sees as a bad tradition. Decisions, decisions!

The second issue has been brewing for a while, and involves the waving of purple-and-gold Confederate flags at games and tailgate parties. LSU Chancellor Sean O'Keefe has officially stated that, despite free-speech rights, fans should refrain from displaying the flag. Conversely, yesterday's letter to the editor encapsulated the pro-flag side nicely. Though the author claims his letter was unfairly butchered, I'm not sure I buy (or even understand) his correction.

Confederate flag and LSU are historically linked

As are a few other, ahem, peculiar things...

Ah, another fall semester at LSU, bringing with it lots of fall traditions such as Fall Fest, the Pajama Game, and of course the inevitable Confederate flag debate. Traditionally, this debate usually begins with a letter to The Reveille a short time after the first game and is usually kicked off by an upset student, though at least once in my previous six years at LSU it was started by a Reveille writer. However, this fall the chancellor decided to break tradition and start it off himself before the first game. In his broadcast e-mail, he urged people to respect others' beliefs and to not fly the purple-and-gold Confederate flag, while also reminding everyone else that U.S. Constitution keeps the University from banning the flag.

My purpose is to maybe reduce the amount of space used in The Reveille on the topic this semester,

So it's a letter writer's job to dictate what appears in the letter section of a newspaper?

...and to clear up one little sentence in the chancellor's e-mail, "This flag has no specific connection to LSU." I'm sorry chancellor, but I think any LSU history buff will tell you that's not true, as will a simple Googling of "origin of LSU Fighting Tigers" (which I suggest every reader do).

Nothing curbs debate quite like making a tenuous point and insisting that you have the final word!

The name Fighting Tigers has its origins in the Confederate Army. Starting with a New Orleans company nicknamed the Tiger Rifles, eventually all of the troops from Louisiana of Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia became known as Tigers. What's that mean? That's right; the LSU football team is named after a Civil War battalion. Now, since battalions fought under a battle flag, this gives LSU a direct connection to the Confederate battle flag.

If this is true, it's probably best to lie about it.

Oh, I should point out here that the flag commonly referred to as the Confederate flag is actually a Confederate battle flag and not the official flag of the Confederacy.

Oh well, that's okay then! Shucks. Here we are, being all uppity for nothin'!

Chancellor, there is your "specific connection." So, if the Civil War Tigers fought under this battle flag, what's so wrong with the LSU Tigers "fighting" under a purple-and-gold battle flag?

Well, that depends. Do you find it appropriate to equate your football team to a separatist army that divided the country and fought for the right to subjugate blacks?

I agree with the chancellor and urge others to not fly the flag while tailgating.

But isn't that a concession that the flag is offensive to others? If so, then that negates every other point you make.

However, I also want to remind those who are offended that it is possible for the person flying the flag to not see the same symbol as them. Last fall, those who were offended by the flag were urged to confront the flag's owner about it.

Yes, because I imagine that LSU's legendary fans would be wide open to that sort of thing, especially if it came from a minority, a liberal or an opposing fan. I have a hard enough time getting smokers to respect non-smoking areas, much less asking a Tiger fan to put away their sacred symbol! Not that I would anyway, because I believe in freedom of speech. But I agree with Chancellor O'Keefe that the flag is a divisive symbol in a forum that should promote school unity.

This fall I urge those offended when they walk by a flag to just walk on by. You can't assume the person flying the flag sees the flag the same way as you, and confronting them about their flag solely on this makes you just as prejudiced as you believe them to be.

Except that, in this case, one group is asking for the prejudicial allegations and the other is simply asking not to have offensive symbols waved in their face on their home turf.

This is of course unless they give you real reason, if they yell at you as you walk by or throw things at you, then by all means, confront them about it. Otherwise, you're the instigator if a fight breaks out.

David Perrin
Graduate Student

I'm a white guy who grew up in Louisiana and was raised on episodes of The Dukes of Hazzard. My dad was a Dallas-born country-music DJ and my mom is of Cajun blood. That said, I have zero emotional attachment to the Confederate Flag. It doesn't speak for my "heritage," nor do I have any particular affinity for anything it represents. To me, it represents the failure of backward ideas. And while some of today's wavers aren't truly racist, I still interpret the Rebel flag--as many do--as a symbol of implied supremacy. At best, the Stars and Bars represents a historic era that most Americans would rather not repeat.

Anyway, isn't a purple-and-gold Confederate flag tantamount to desecration? I mean, you wouldn't wave a purple-and-gold American flag, right? Wouldn't that piss off people if you did? "Hey, that's disrespectful and un-American!" (On second thought, never mind.)

Funny how the same people who complain about the desecration of the American flag are the ones who proudly wave the most anti-American flag of all, the Stars and Bars. And they think nothing of altering that flag--which they claim to love so much--for the sake of a football game. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised; after all, most hardcore flag-wavers let their American flags rip and fade on their cars as some kind of twisted tribute to American resolve. My advice: if you choose to express yourself through flying a flag, then at least respect its official protocol.

Both issues (the latter in particular) highlight the kinds of "traditions" that keep the rest of the nation from taking Louisiana and its southern neighbors seriously. Despite all of the country's misconceptions about us, it's still easy to point at issues like these as reasons why we don't deserve federal support. Who wants to give aid money to people who are still this divided on racial issues? You might argue that these localized issues make for shallow reasons; but it's the little things that count in the shallow sphere that is politics.

LSU is the most visible school in the state, and in many Americans' eyes epitomizes the Louisiana attitude as a whole. In that respect, the fervent Tiger fans are (and have always been) correct. So is this what we want people to think of us? I don't. And I certainly hope LSU can resolve both of these ultimately minor issues to show that the university can grow morally as well as physically. Maybe then, Congress will begin to see Louisiana as a worthwhile bet.

There are far more important battles to be fighting right now. And pretty much all of the time.


Pondering American said...

Interesting post. I must say I disagree with you a tad on the Confederate Flag issue. I however in the effort for common ground have proposed a compromise

jeffrey said...

The flag issue is stupid and it, frankly, bores me these days. If you fly that thing you are a pig. Plain and simple.

Meanwhile I am APPALLED at the decision to stop playing Tiger Rag. Drunken idiots participating in a grossly uncreative chant notwithstanding, Tiger Rag is part of the pantheon of historical Jazz music landmarks. I only hope this what the trumpet player quoted here is referring to as "the tradition thing". I wish that LSU would reconsider this decision. It would be a shame to discontinue the use of a uniquely Louisiana piece of music at LSU athletic events on account of the shouts of some drunken "assholes."

Ian McGibboney said...

Oh yeah, I can definitely understand the fury behind the omission of the song. I guess I should clarify that it's the chanting that I think is a "tradition" that has to go. Kind of like the "tradition" of the purple-and-gold confederate flag.

I just get the impression that some people are more pissed about the inability to yell "asshole" than the removal of the jazz classic.

jeffrey said...

This sadly may be what they mean by "tradition thing."

Nick said...

The way I understand the rebel flag thing, it started years back when a bunch of LSU students decided to aggitate Ole Miss. Ole Miss's symbol was always the rebel flag, being their name was the rebels. Therefore, the LSU guys decided to travel to Oxford flying the rebel flag, in LSU's colors. It certainly aggitated Ole Miss and caught on with some of the LSU crowd.

Me personally, I own a rebel flag beach towel and bandana. I look at is as being proud of a southern heritage that is deep in good food, hospitality, unique culture, and warm climates. Not every family in the South owned slaves. Meanwhile, I recall a rap group from Houston, which featured popular rappers like Lil' Flip, actually sporting the rebel flag on their CD cover. I wouldn't take them as people who hated blacks.

And, not that I want to sound like a Jesse Helms, "War of Northern Aggression" type, but the Civil War was not just about slavery. The North barely even had a leg to stand on in regards to treatment of blacks. Hell, General Grant had to hurry home soon after the war to free the slaves he owned.

Ian McGibboney said...

That's pretty funny. But if "taunting Ole Miss" is the origin of these flags, then it's especially funny how much effort some are putting into keeping the flags. "Ole Miss sucks! Eat that, Clemson!" Awesome. This is why I don't write fiction.

And yes, I understand the Civil War was a very nuanced conflict, that the Emancipation Proclamation only freed slaves in the South, etc. But to be fair, it isn't like Syracuse is coming down and rubbing in LSU's face that the Union won. Crowds flock to Tiger Stadium to see football games, not Civil War reenactments.

Shane said...

Alabama had a similar situation a few years ago when "Rammer Jammer Cheer" was banned by the school's admin because it was deemed disrespectful and rude to the opposing team. The students fought it and won (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_Alabama_traditions).

Maybe LSU's students should do the same.

As far as the flag goes; as a native Southerner and American, I've never understood why anyone would choose to "honor" a traitorous rebellion against their own country.