Monday, July 06, 2015

Where the harm was never meant

So TV Land has yanked Dukes of Hazzard reruns due to the Confederate flag on the General Lee.

I hate the Confederate flag and everything it stands for, and pretty much always have. I didn’t at first, as the show was my first-ever exposure to the flag, and it was on most of my favorite toys of the time. But once I realized the flag represented something other than a design flourish on a cool car — and that the “something” in question was half the nation spilling a whole nation’s blood in an attempt to secede over slavery — I still enjoyed the show but didn’t condone the flag (much like you might love a relative even if they hold some views you wish they didn’t). After all, it’s not as if the show was about the flag, right? The banner was there, but none of the baggage that went with it was apparent in the characters or the plot lines. Really, Hazzard was an idealized microcosm of the South, a place that flag defenders could point to as what the Confederate flag really stands for. Unfortunately, real life is a tad different, and the history of the banner that many real-life Southern counties continue to fly can’t be swept under the rug quite as cleanly.

My immediate thought upon hearing the news of the cancellation was, “I hope someone gets to work on digitally erasing that flag so we can have Dukes back.” But wouldn’t that play into the hands of people who accuse us of erasing history? There’s a difference between “erasing history” and evolving against the public display of the nation’s most shameful symbol. That distinction could get muddier if we took the Photoshop tool to the show.

On the other hand, it seems wrong to call for the flag’s removal from the public square, yet turn a blind eye to the reruns. On the other other hand, removing Dukes from the airwaves hardly seems on par with removing the flag from the South Carolina statehouse grounds.

I’m trying to control for personal nostalgia here. I have loved Dukes as long as I’ve been alive. And ever since the mass shooting in Charleston, I’ve seen many people express love for the Confederate flag than can only be a function of nostalgia. Anytime I’ve seen that, I’ve rolled my eyes. Likewise, I realize that some who read this might similarly roll their eyes at me.

But unlike the Confederate flag, Dukes remains pretty much universally beloved. I don’t know anyone, regardless of race or political affiliation, who has any serious issue with the show. It’s been in heavy rotation in syndication since it ended and has spawned both a series of recent films and, even more recently, a series of AutoTrader ads featuring Bo and Luke. Unlike a lot of cultural touchstones of its era and even later, Dukes holds up as a solid, watchable show that at times extolled some impressively progressive values. That’s what makes its use of the flag all that more frustrating in retrospect.

I hate that the Dukes ever adorned that flag. Even more importantly, I hate that the hateful actions behind the banner were ever a thing. I can’t believe I have a mixed feeling on anything involving the Confederate flag, but there it is.

But let’s be clear — this is the only mixed feeling I have.

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