Thursday, July 09, 2015

Are the Dukes’ days numbered?

How you reckon them Duke boys are gonna get out of this one?
Well, them Duke boys have got themselves in a real heap o’trouble this time. How do you reckon they’re gonna get outta this one? They’re just spending their days the only way they know how, but that’s just a little bit more than Hollywood will allow.

“The Dukes of Hazzard,” long ago a staple of family television viewing, is now collateral damage in the culture war, and it’s all on account of that Confederate battle flag on the top of the series’ iconic 1969 Dodge Charger, the General Lee. After all, why react when you can overreact?

First, the consumer division of Warner Bros., which owns the series, said it would no longer license merchandise emblazoned with the Confederate flag, which means no more General Lee models and toys. Then TV Land abruptly dropped reruns of “The Dukes of Hazzard” from its schedule, drawing the ire of one of the show’s stars, John Schneider.

We should have seen it coming. Although it appears in a recent commercial, the General Lee is shot entirely from low angles, so the spot where the flag should be is never visible.

This all comes as the Confederate flag in particular and reminders of the Confederacy in general are becoming as endangered as photos of Leon Trotsky in Stalinist Russia.

Even NASCAR, once a uniquely Southern sport, has turned on the battle flag, going so far as to ask spectators not to fly the Confederate flag at NASCAR races and offering to accept used Confederate flags in trade for the Stars and Stripes.

That went over about as well as you might expect. At Daytona, for the first race after NASCAR boss Brian France told fans to leave their Confederate flags at home, the infield was full of pickups and RVs decked out in Confederate colors. Tell some Southerners they can’t fly the battle flag and they might do it just to show you they darn well can — even if they might not do it otherwise.

Whenever the issue of the Confederate flag is raised, we go around in circles with the same old arguments about what the flag means. Is it a symbol of heritage, as its defenders say, or a symbol of hate, as just about everyone else says? If only it were that simple.

The problem with symbols is they don’t mean anything in and of themselves. They mean different things to different people at different times. The battle flag is no exception. If someone tells you the Confederate flag means heritage, he’s right. If someone else tells you it means hate, he’s right, too. And heritage and hate don’t even begin to exhaust all the possibilities.

That brings us back to “The Dukes of Hazzard.” Running for seven seasons from 1979 to 1985, the series came at the tail end of a period when the South embraced the romance of the outlaw. Movies such as “Smokey and the Bandit” and “White Lightning” turned bootleggers and moonshiners into heroes. A lesser-known entry in the cycle is 1975’s “Moonrunners.”

“Moonrunners” became the basis for “The Dukes of Hazzard,” which toned down the lawbreaking for family viewing, but just the same was an outgrowth of the outlaw South, which pitted honest outlaws just out to make an honest, if illegal, living against the same corrupt authority figures who in real life were the villains of the civil rights era.

Confederate flags atop Southern state capitols are a relic of 1960s Southern intransigence on civil rights. But the Confederate flag atop the General Lee is a symbol of something else — opposition to corrupt politicians who use the law to keep honest folks down, regardless of their race.

The Confederate flag is as complicated as the South itself. The South likes to think of itself as the Bandit, but it keeps voting for Sheriff Buford T. Justice. And while we Southerners love the backwoods glamour of bootleggers and moonshiners, Southern prisons — just as Northern ones — are filled with pot dealers, a disproportionate number of them black.

Maybe the period when the Confederate flag was an outlaw symbol was a brief window, one that has since closed. So, maybe we can’t do “The Dukes of Hazzard” today; even the movie version was 10 years ago. But that doesn’t seem like a good reason to consign the reruns to the memory hole.

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