This week, everyone was buzzing about TV Land pulling reruns of the CBS show ‘Dukes of Hazzard,’ allegedly because of the confederate flag on the roof of the General Lee. The move has inspired histrionics from former stars of the show, with Ben “Cooter” Jones declaring it the equivalent of a Nazi book-burning and Jon “Bo Duke” Schneider whining that the Duke family is being pegged as racist.
But no one — not even the TV Land execs — is actually setting fire to the master tapes, and no one has actually called the show’s characters racist. In a classic example of Beltway wisdom, Justin William Moyer of the Washington Post accidentally provides a clue to what the true confederate problem is with this classic program:
In a 2001 documentary about the making of “The Dukes of Hazzard,” show creator Gy Waldron said the Confederate flag that appears on a car featured on the show — like the Good Ol’ Boys themselves — was never meanin’ no harm.
“Painting the Confederate flag on the roof of the car was done very innocently,” Waldron said, “because in the ’50s and ’60s it was very common to find Confederate flags painted on cars. There was never a political statement to be made by it. It was just part of the tradition. And once we had put it in there I saw no reason to bow to any pressure groups. We’re not making any statement regarding slavery or post-slavery or integration or anything like that.”
Get that? The confederate flag had been almost completely absent from popular culture until the era of Civil Rights and desegregation, when it emerged as the symbol of latent white supremacy, but to the show’s creator being quoted in 2001, that very-racist reemergence was all just an “innocent tradition.” Having watched the show many times in my youth, I don’t recall a lot of black people ever being on camera, either. Given the factual demographics of the South, how is it possible that the small southern town where Bo and Luke lives is as completely devoid of black people as one of those ‘Sundown Towns’ of the Jim Crow era? The answer, of course, is that in 1979 and 2001 Waldron was merely expressing the casual, almost-guileless racism which has characterized most television production in general, not just on the roof of the General Lee: if you just pretend there are no black people, then you’re not racist. See how that works?
It’s not just the cast making this noise, either. Plenty of people seem to think some cultural watershed is at hand, and that the TV Land decision bodes ill for freedom. At The Daily Beast, Tim Teeman uses the word “ban” ten times to complain about TV Land pulling reruns, even though he’s completely in favor of removing the confederate flag from public spaces. On the right side of the political aisle, opinions have gotten downright ridiculous, with former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen blaming “white liberals” in northeastern urban centers for the “creeping miasma of political correctness” which he sees behind the decision of TV Land executives to “ban” the show — which, again, is not what they actually did. But has anyone seen Color of Change, the organization which led the boycott of Glenn Beck on Fox News, say or do anything like that for ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’? Did the NAACP issue a call for the show to be dropped? Can anyone find a single example of “white liberals” organizing to pressure TV Land? Of course not, because these things never happened, and such a campaign has never, ever existed at any time.
The collector who owns the real General Lee, pro golfer Bubba Watson, has said he will remove the confederate flag from its roof, but that’s not because anyone made him do it. And because it’s his property, he has the right to do whatever he wants with it. Likewise, TV Land’s decision is their right to make, and it has nothing to do with censorship but everything to do with demonstrating sensitivity to an event.
Consider the experience of Dave Barry: the former Miami Herald columnist’s first novel Big Trouble, a comedy involving an airport, terrorists, and a suitcase nuclear bomb, was produced with a huge budget, an all-star cast, and weeks of media marketing, but by horrible coincidence was scheduled to hit theater screens on the 14th of September, 2001. Disney not only pulled the film release, and all of the ads from television, immediately after the terrorist attacks that week, but when they did eventually release it the following year, ‘Big Trouble’ received such a low-key opening that it never even came close to breaking even. Was Dave Barry a victim of censorship and liberal bias? Or was Disney merely exercising their rights as a corporate entity to avoid controversy altogether? Maybe you think the company was lame, or wrong, but it’s not your decision to make. Likewise, it’s not up to actors where, when, or under what circumstances their performances get to see the light of day. As long as we live in a capitalist system, that is not how things will ever work.
I doubt the Duke boys are forever gone from television altogether, even with the General Lee bearing the confederate flag. In fact, their populist message of working class uprising against the 1% — as represented by Boss Hogg, who dresses like a plantation owner — is really quite subversive, and resonates nicely with the current rise of liberal politicians like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Furthermore, the capitalist system is too unoriginal to leave the show alone forever. Proof of that is readily available in the 2005 big screen version starring Johnny Knoxville, who coincidentally had a part in ‘Big Trouble.’ In all probability, we will see a whole new ‘Dukes of Hazzard’ come along soon enough, but this time there simply won’t be a flag on the roof of the car…and there will be black people living in Hazzard County. When that happens, Fox News pundits can complain about it for completely different reasons.