Thursday, July 9, 2015
Fanning the Flag
One of my most distinctive memories of the Post-9/11 world was the abundance of U.S. flags everywhere. Living in Los Angeles, the car capital of the world, everybody seemed to have those suction cups holding flags flying from their car windows. I wondered what gas station was giving them out that I had somehow missed. The demonstration of patriotism also felt like code for whether you supported military action against Al Qaeda. It was obvious to me that I was one of the very few people who didn’t have an overt display, and it was uncomfortable…like going to a black tie event and wearing jeans. To mitigate that feeling and to better ‘blend in’ but still express my own authentic opinion on where the country was headed (war) I displayed a peace flag from my car window. The symbolism of the flag – whether it be the full stars and stripes or whether it be the peace sign – is visceral for most citizens. The current fight over the Confederate Flag proves the point.
Wikipedia informs that flags were used in wartime and have later become nationalistic symbols. The U.S. Civil War was fought from 1861 to 1865 and remains the deadlist conflict in American history with more than 750,000 deaths. Entire books have been written about the war and there have been movies and miniseries because the subject is vast. Simplifying it is perilous, but here goes: The division between the Union/Northern states and the Confederate/Southern states erupted into warfare because of issues of slavery and how slavery impacted industry and commerce.
After the North prevailed, the Confederate Flag remained in many southern states. Proponents argue that it is a symbol of Southern pride. Opponents insist that it represents racism. In South Carolina after years of debate and an all-night legislative session, the flag will soon be coming down.
“The Dukes of Hazzard” aired on Friday nights on CBS and was a cotton candy entertainment of good old boys, cars and their crazy adventures. Daisy, the leading woman was dressed in shorty-shorts and showed ample cleavage. The rich nemesis Boss Hogg was as two-dimensional as you could imagine and the lawman Sherriff Coltrane was inept, allowing our heroes the Duke brothers to save the day. It was not high concept, high art or any attempt to capture life in the south – it was escapist entertainment. The General Lee, a 1969 customized Dodge Charger, bore the confederate flag and is featured with the lead actors in a series of commercials for a car company today. The show ran for six years and has been in various forms of syndication ever since, spawning spinoffs, video games and follow-up movies. TV Land recently started airing the show but withdrew it in the wake of the confederate flag controversy.
Symbolism matters. The Nazi Party in 1930’s Germany effectively used symbolism in its war against its own people, especially Jews, the disabled and homosexuals. After the war the German Criminal Code section86a outlaws “use of symbols of unconstitutional organizations” – specifically Nazi symbolism.
At the June 29, 2015 gay pride parade in London: “CNN dedicated an entire six and a half minutes to covering, in a tenor of total seriousness and extreme gravity, what they said was an ISIS flag being waved at a gay pride parade, when in fact it was readily and painfully obvious that the 'ISIS flag' was in fact a joke flag covered with images of dildos and butt plugs."
Freedom does not equate being comfortable. Banning, subverting or hiding imagery and symbols that offend don’t take away their impact, it redirects it. Taking “The Dukes of Hazzard” off of the air won’t materially change the conversation of racism in the U.S. Outlawing Nazi propaganda in Germany didn’t eliminate the National Socialist agenda – it ran it underground where in 2011 many crimes were exposed by the group. CNN’s breathless coverage of an explicit joke mocking ISIS isn’t just a journalist embarrassment … it’s indicative that there is no tolerance for being offensive. Let’s fan the flags – let’s have passionate and breathless debates about these issues.