L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 306, February 13, 2005
Duke, Where's My Car?
Special to TLE
I have to admit the upcoming Dukes of Hazzard movie has a strong supporting cast. Seann William Scott and Johnny Knoxville will play the good old boys, Bo and Luke Duke. Willie Nelson will play Uncle Jesse. Burt Reynolds is the surprisingyet promisingchoice for Boss Hogg. And, finally, Jessica Simpson will step off the set of her made-for-TV marriage and into some short shorts as the Pride of Hazzard County, Daisy Duke. Granted, most movies based on old shows pack as much punch as Newfound Glory singing Celine Dionbut, so far, this one's looking pretty good.
Everything rests on its real star's rooftop, though. And, by "real star," I of course mean the Duke boys' orange Dodge Chargerthe General Lee. Oh, it'll be there, all right. And no doubt it'll soar through the air as our folk heroes outrun the law and save the family farm from the land-grabbing Hogg. But that's a given. The make-or-break question here is this: Will the General Lee sport a Confederate flag on its rooftop? Or will it receive a politically correct, postmodern paint job?
Well, based on some of the photos I've seen, it appears that the flag is still there.
The truth is, I was prepared to boycott this movie. Or rebel against it. When I first heard they were bringing Bo and Luke to the big screen, I heard they were planning to leave the flag offwhich, to me, defeats everything the characters stand for. In fact, the Dukes of Hazzard aren't the Dukes of Hazzard without it. They're just a couple of cousins in a beat-up old car. And where's the fun in that? Fortunately, though, the Wall Street Journal reports that Warner Bros. will keep the flag after all. While this comes with a caveat (Bo and Luke will acknowledge the flag's less-than-favorable reputation), I can think of at least three reasons why the studio made the right move.
First of all, yes, many people interpret the Confederate flag as a slice of nostalgia for America's slave-trading past. However, the past is like Vegas; what happens there stays there forever and ever, amen. Today, the flag is more divisive than it was when the Dukes first hit the air. Our sensibility is different. I understand that. But the Confederacy was a thing of the past by the time the show started in 1979. It's a thing of the past in 2005, too. Just because we're more sensitive now doesn't mean Southern secession happened in the last 20 years. So if folks in the North can tell folks in the South, "The war is over," then I say: Exactly. Get over it. Let 'em paint the car.
Second, believe it or not, there are folks in this world who don't see the rebel flag as a symbol of racism. It's true. And they're easy to spot, these people. Yeah. They're the ones who wear rebel flags who insist they're not racists. Why is it everyone questions their motives? For some, this flag is a symbol of Southern heritage. For others, it's a fashion statement. Not everyone believes the Civil War was waged to "free the slaves." This doesn't mean slavery was right. But it doesn't mean the war was right, either. Look, I'm not saying the flag hasn't been used as a racist symbol, or that it isn't embraced by some racists. But not everyone who wears or flies it does so for racist reasons. Where's the logic in prejudging prejudice? Why assume the worst?
Finally, if you're going to rip the rebel flag off the General Lee, you might as well slap down Old Glory and call it the General Grant instead. This is my main reason for thinking Warner Bros. did the right thing. Taking the flag off the General Lee is like taking Mount Rushmore out of textbooks. It's like blurring out the gray soldiers in "Gods and Generals" (or adding colors to any of Ted Turner's other favorite films).
The General Lee is a genuine piece of modern Americana. The Dukes of Hazzard weren't anti-abolitionists; they were "good old boys, never meanin' no harm." Their bootlegging, backwoods country lifestyletheir love for dust-ups and fast-drivin' funis the stuff of American legend. Boss Hogg is Big Business, you see. But the bad kind of Big Business. A monopolist. An exploiter of eminent domain. He's the East India Tea Co. to Sheriff Rosco's paternalistic King George. Bo and Luke Duke are revolutionaries. They're freedom fighters. They're everything we've ever been taught to admire about America. The mountain might get 'em, but the law never will. And as for Daisywell, she's just fun to look at.
That's why there needs to be a Confederate flag in this movie. Without it, the General Lee is occupied territory. It suggests the Duke boys are submissivethat before they've so much as fought the law, the law has won. And if that's the case, why see the movie at all?
So three cheers to Warner Bros. for making the right decision. Now let's just hope the picture doesn't suck.