Jul 8, 2015

Star-Spangled Bannings

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Last week, retro cable network TV Land announced  it will no longer broadcast reruns of The Dukes of Hazzard. If you're a child of the 70s and 80s like myself, there's a good chance you grew up watching the program, along with a bunch of other crap like The Love Boat and Fantasy Island and Trapper John, M.D. (Dr. Gonzo...le sigh).


From the time I could read (thanks, Sesame Street!) I pored through the TV guide in the newspaper every Sunday, meticulously mapping out my week of viewing. At one point, my obsession with Brady Bunch reruns became enough of a time-suck that for a while my parents instituted a 30 minute daily limit.

Fortunately for me, they never managed to enforce that limit. The only TV rule that actually held up over time was my father’s list of shows I was unequivocally forbidden to watch. There were three that I can remember: Three’s Company, Dallas, and The Dukes of Hazzard.

I remember lusting over this TV
Guide cover in line with my mom
at the A&P.

The Three’s Company ban was of course due to the consistently sexual nature of the show. Even as a young kid I could get that.

It wasn't until several years after they revealed who shot J.R. (something I had to learn from my classmates the day after the episode aired, the memory of which fills me with bile-inducing resentment to this day), that I came to understand Dallas was an amalgamation of almost everything my dad found wrong with the 80s--greed, U.S. dependence on oil, women with eating disorders, wine coolers, blow, and things in general that smacked of the word “Reaganomics”--hence it's verboten status in his home. 



But the Dukes? What was there not to like? They were cute, friendly, seemingly well-intentioned good ol’ boys? The song even said so!




Just'a good ol' boys                
Never meanin' no harm.
Beats all you never saw
Been in trouble with the law
Since the day they was born

In 1979, Tiger Beat listed stats on  
John Snyder (AKA Bo Duke).
Because an informed stalker
knows her victim's inseam.

Staightnin' the curves
Flatnin the hills
Someday the mountain might get 'em
But the law never will


Makin' their way
The only way they know how        
That's just a little bit more
Than the law will allow.


Makin' their way
The only way they know how
That's just a little bit more

Than the law will allow.

I'm a good ol' boy

You know my momma loves me  

But she don't understand

They keep a showin my hands and not my face on TV

                   

OH YEAH

Sometimes, if my father was feeling especially generous and lenient, he would let me watch the opening credits to the show, probably because that Waylon Jennings tune was so damn catchy and my dad loves a good guitar riff. This meant 30 seconds of joy and enticement until that final OH YEAH, at which point my dad would flip off the TV with an overtly animated, sadistically vengeful click.

The grown woman in me now looks back on that moment as the childhood equivalent to coitus-interruptus.



Of course, today I realize there was so much not to like about that show, not the least of which was that Confederate flag emblazoned upon the hood of the signature 1969 Dodge Charger, AKA The General Lee. I know now had father let me watch the program, the ideologue in him would have likely felt compelled explain to me what it meant. He would have probably wanted me to understand  who Robert E. Lee was in history (i.e., a racist, slavery-loving cunt), and what that big X the roof of that car really symbolized (i.e., everything the racist, slavery-loving cunt stood for). And I don't think he would have had a problem doing that, even though I know at that age I was too young to understand the depth of the issue.
 
The General Lee. Current owner Bubba Watson said last week he will
be painting over its trademark Confederate flag.  Photo via Yahoo.


I think the more difficult issue for my father would have been trying to explain why these "Good Ol' Boys" were nationally revered as television heroes, if their own hero (General Robert E. Lee) was such a cunt.


I believe it was Socrates who first asked the question, Can a man be a hero if the hero of that man is a cunt?

That's really the conversation we need to be having.

Why do people want to fly the flag so badly? Why do people take criticism of the flag so personally, particularly when slavery is mentioned in that criticism? When Neil Young wrote Southern Man as a condemnation of slavery, why did Lynyrd Skynyrd feel compelled to give a rebuttal to that condemnation with Sweet Home Alabama? By the way, d
id you know that Governor George Wallace, the notorious segregationist, made  Lynyrd Skynyrd's members honorary colonels in the Alabama Militia after hearing the song's line "In Birmingham they love the governor", which referred to him? George Wallace! That cunt!

But back to my own childhood experience with banning.


My resentment over our household Dukes of Hazzard ban bubbled inside of me week after redneck cousin-fucking week that I had to hear about each episode's awesomeness from my friends at school. I didn't even know why I wanted to watch it so badly, but I did. My preteen, Esprit-wearing soul yearned for Bo and Luke and Daisy Duke, and even a little bit for Boss Hogg and Enos (even though I couldn't say his name without thinking "Penos" and giggling uncontrollably).

One day, while shopping at the infamous New England overstock emporium Spag's, I spotted a small, pull-back car replica of the General Lee hanging on the rack, as my mother and I breezed past the toy aisle. It was a Wrist Racer, a trendy new toy that was pretty much just a car attached to
The Spag-tacular discount emporium that was Spag's. R.I.P.
Photo credit: Greener Pasture.
a watchband.



I snatched the car off the rack and held it up to my mother, who was on a quest for something random (Spag's sold random shit)like  galoshes
or rugs or sleeping bags and didn't want to be distracted.

"Can I get it?" I asked.

I pointed to the Spag's bargain price tag. She glanced at the tiny car in my hand and went back to her shopping list. I'm sure she didn't even notice the cuntfederate flag on the roof, let alone process that it was Dukes merchandise.

"Fine," she replied. "Now let's move quickly, it's getting late. I don't want to sit in traffic on Route 9."

And just like that, a little bit of Hazzard County was mine.



It wasn't till I took U.S. history in high school that I began to understand why that X on the roof of that car maybe wasn't so cool, and in fact, that maybe actually HEY THAT SHIT WAS HELLA FUCKED UP.


Lynyrd Skynyrd began phasing out their use of the Dixie flag in 2012, but when
comes to history and hate, some things leave an more indelible mark.
Photo credit: Lord of the Barflies.
Around the same time in high school, my boyfriend and I were riding in a friend's car listening to a Lynyrd Skynyrd cassette, when he turned to me with a look of deep concern.

"You know they're racists, right?"

"Who?"

"Lynyrd Skynyrd. Great band, but totally racist Southern guys. They fly the Confederate flag at their shows."

I wrestled with that.

Really? So every time we engaged in heavy petting to the emo twang of Free Bird, I had been perpetuating oppression and hate? Was holding up a lighter at a Skynyrd show actually a precursor to a cross-burning? I was filled with shame, along with the overwhelming anxiety that, despite my disgust over this newfound information, I still might not be able to control my "Ooh-oohs" were I to accidentally hear That Smell sometime in the future.

Skynyrd might be a bunch of inbred racists, but me? I was a cunt.  But in 2012, I was relieved to find my cunt status somewhat mitigated by Lynyrd Skynyrd's decision to stop flying the Confederate flag. The band told CNN:


"The KKK and skinheads kinda kidnapped the Dixie or Southern flag from its tradition and the heritage of the soliders."


Um, hello? What was the "tradition and heritage" those soldiers were fighting for? Last I checked it was slavery, something that came way before the KKK and skinheads, but which arguably paved the way for both groups. Not that it matters in this case, because Lynyrd Skynyrd eventually went back on their word not to use the flag. That same year, the band told this to Radio's Brian Ives:

"Johnny still puts the Dixie flag around his microphone for Sweet Home Alabama, and we put a whole flag over the piano. We don't want to hurt anybody's feelings. But we're still so proud to be Southern and to fly the Dixie flag."


Cunt Status: REINSTATED.


Here's the thing. I was delighted to hear the news this week that the South Carolina Senate approved a bill to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the Statehouse.The Confederate flag has no place in this country except in textbooks and historical museums. But I also know that in this country we have an overwhelming capacity for denial when it comes to things concerning race and our checkered past in that regard. Just as many believe we became a post-racial society once the nation elected a Black man president [insert LOL here], I fear that same contingent will view any legislation banning the Dixie flag as another proverbial nail in the coffin when it comes to talking about our history of racial divide, particularly in the Southern U.S.

And that, I'm afraid, will lead to apathy


 
 


Apathy--the silent killer. We see it already in the disproportionate coverage of this flag issue compared to the little-to-no coverage of the eight or more burnings of Southern, predominantly Black churches since the Charleston shooting (at least three of these fires have been directly linked to arson, yet authorities refuse to acknowledge them as possible hate crimes). We see it in the media's ambivalence to refer to the Charleston massacre as a hate crime, or to gunman Dylann Roof as a terrorist.  We hear it in a similar dispassionate response from legislators--in what John Stewart so eloquently termed "the nuanced language of lack of effort".

But the flag! They are moving to take it down. There's the progress! There is the effort!

Really? Or is it more of a gesture, another media-driven distraction (like  the distraction "transracial" Rachel Dolezal was until the Charleston story broke)? Is this true progress, or are we patting ourselves on the back for removing a symbol, while ignoring the manifestation of the very thing it symbolizes?



There’s also the sad economic reality that, by banning this flag on a retail level, we’re actually increasing its valueThe New York Times recently reported that, as retailers pull the flag from their shelves, hordes of inbred consumers have been running out to buy Confederate paraphernalia wherever they can find it. For instance, this used Dukes of Hazzard Confederate flag thermos (in visibly poor condition) is currently going for $99 on EBay.


For the sake of comparison, note that this completely awesome Garfield thermos circa the same year (1978), is listed on EBay for just $7.




That's just fucking wrong.

Also wrong is that now Ben Jones (who played the mentally deficient Cooter [insert more immature giggling here] on The Dukes of Hazzard) is rolling in the dough. Why? Because he announced publicly that he will not be removing any Dixie flags from the merchandise he sells on his once-dormant, now-booming website, Cooter's Place--even despite Warner Brother's recent decision to stop selling toy General Lees with Confederate flags. Here is the message currently displayed on the Cooter's Place web page:

"1st of all, Thank All of you for your orders. Please forgive us for the delay, but we have been overwhelmed with online orders and have hired extra staff in order to meet the demand. Everyone 
Congressman Cooter. This is why we can't
have nice things. Photo via Facebook.
placing orders can expect a 10 to 14 day delay on their orders. We're sorry for the inconvenience, but assure you that your order has been received and is being processed."



Yep. It's Christmas in July in Hazzard County.

Oh, and if you think all this is generally irrelevant to the political scope of our country, remember that Ben Jones, AKA Cooter from Hazzard County, was previously elected by the 4th District of Georgia to the United States Congress, where he served two terms. He continues to be a repeat guest and political analyst on the Fox News Channel and other media outlets.

#Murrikah

In the end, we can burn every Confederate flag on earth, but that won't change the sentiments of the people who continue to cherish it and the shameful history it represents. In fact, banning will likely incite and embolden them--it already has.

We can ban television shows. We can ban flags. But we cannot ban the threads of ignorance and hatred that weave together the tapestry of our country's history. That tapestry does not unravel just because we no longer fly it on a flagpole.

We are not done talking about race in this country. Regardless of this ugly flag's fate, we need to continue to talk about why the flag was and is so heinous, about what it represents and how its legacy continues to impact our society in profound ways. That starts with our children. We must teach them history--not just the good, but the bad and the ugly as well.

Remember when my dad (who, I should add, was a wonderful, loving, compassionate father--HI DAD!) banned The Dukes of Hazzard when I was in elementary school? Well I didn't truly appreciate his reasoning until I was in high school. To his credit, my dad saved me millions of innocent brain cells with the ban, but his actions didn't enlighten me--they only pissed me off and engorged my already-throbbing
Dukes of Hazzard boner.

Not that I'm comparing prohibiting a 7 year old from watching an insipid television program to taking the Dixie flag away from a bunch of ignorant troglodytes...



Or am I?



Anyway, the real victory will be not when we succeed in banning the Confederate flag, but rather when it does not need to be banned--because nobody wants to fly it anymore.

Until then, flag or no flag, we remain a Cuntfederacy of Dunces.




Were they secretly gay? We may never know now. Also, Wopat? Schneider?
Rumor has it that the real reason Boss Hogg hated them is because
they were
secretly

JEWS.


 
 
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