Is 'Dukes of Hazzard' Really Racist?

The controversy and soul-searching surrounding TV Land's removal of Dukes of Hazzard reruns from its schedule has prompted concerns across social media along the lines of, "Is this going too far?" More than once, I have seen people question, "What's next?" with a list of other things that might be prone to "revisionism."

I figured this day would come, where we would look back on a beloved show from childhood and minimize the implications from the Confederate flag on their car. Because in many ways, it echoes what we hear Southerners say in their defense of the flag: This is what we grew up with, but it wasn't being used to advance racism or slavery at that time, it was more like a local flag. But because we grew up with it, it's sentimental, it's tradition, it reflects the pride of my people. (A lot of people grew up with segregation, too.)

That day turned out to be the massacre at the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., carried out coldly with expressed racist, terrorist objectives by a Confederate flag waver and selfie addict. The avowed white supremacy articulated at length by the shooter, plus his hopes for igniting a race war, kind of gave up the ghost on what that "Battle Flag" really meant and symbolized: actual battle. The arguments did not fly this time around that the Confederate flag and its cause were about "Northern aggressors" or economics, since so many of the writings from the Civil War are now just clicks away, and apparently nobody bothered to give any other reasons at that time besides slavery.

But what does this have to do with a 35-year-old TV show? Honestly, probably not much. I can almost see the meetings at CBS back in the day, "How do we make them look Southern?" "A banjo, some shots of moonshine jugs, overalls?" "What about a Confederate flag? Those folks in the South never got over the war." "Great idea! We can even call the car 'The General Lee'!"

And here is where the idea of any unintentional association starts to seem a little more like a boner for the South to rise again. Obviously, the car was the show. They went through like 80 cars doing the stunts for that show, because of course cars don't keep driving after jumping a river. Kids across America knew and thought General Lee was cool, not really knowing anything about who he was or that he sent thousands to their deaths to keep black people enslaved. The car could have had an American flag, a Spirit of '76 emblem, or some pin-up girl, it really would not have mattered to the rest of the show. The car did jumps, spin-outs, chases -- everyone can get behind a bright orange '69 Dodge Charger spitting out dirt from its roaring wheels, no matter their race, creed or ethnicity.

But if you were a Jew, and you saw this hit TV show with two guys in a stunt car with an SS symbol on it, named after Hitler or some other high-ranking Nazi, you might think to yourself, "Is that really necessary? Isn't this kind of like a commercial that makes the SS symbol, and thus what the Nazis were fighting for, kind of...glamorous?"

What is really prompting TV Land from pulling these reruns, like WalMart and Google no longer selling Confederate flags, is that nobody wants to be associated with it. It's bad for business, and this is a free market where consumer perception matters. So while it seems there are a lot of people online up in arms at the fact that this show is pulled, outraged that anyone should have to forsake/give up/sacrifice something they grew up with just because some people are offended, that is a mischaracterization. Imagine: choosing to act not because you have to, but because you choose not to offend others. Because maybe they have been insulted enough. That's what prompted Bubba Watson, the owner of the actual General Lee, to paint over the Confederate flag on the car with an American flag:

To be clear: No one is "banning" this show. There are no laws against Confederate flags in the works, though their days of flying over government property are numbered. Moreover, calling out one really old show for making Aryans look hunky is not an effort at revisionism, which seems to be a favorite allegation, or censoring or the beginning of "taking away" other old films or TV shows because of its dated mores. It's not going anywhere, and if it means so much, download all six seasons of Dukes of Hazzard from iTunes or get the full DVD set from Amazon. No one is banning anything, even the episodes where Tom Wopat and John Schneider left the show over contract disputes, only to be replaced with the Dukes' "cousins," who also happened to be a brunette and blonde, but they lasted like three episodes. No one is even trying to ban guns, which is what actually killed those people in Charleston who had welcomed a stranger into Bible study.

It does not reflect upon you for liking a show that was a car ad for a big-time racist symbol. That is what inheriting culture is like. But at some point, if you are aware that something offends others, it is probably worth reflecting: why? What is so upsetting about this symbol/name/appellation? Are people wrong for being offended? These are questions even big name comics should ask themselves, as success breeds contempt for negative feedback.

But now you know, and there's really no going backwards from knowing something, you proceed with the knowledge or you disregard it. Tragic circumstances have brought this country together again to reaffirm its commitment to equality and justice, and this has broadened awareness and empathy to the point where Confederate flags are being abandoned across America.

This show may now be swept out with the cultural tide that carried away beloved classics like D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation, the first feature film made in Hollywood, an heroic ode to the KKK which helped its ranks soar in the 1920s. The Duke boys can sail off with Amos and Andy, the hit radio show from the 1920's-50's where two white guys voiced poor Southern blacks as gullible saps. They can drift away with episodes of old dating shows where interracial couples were forbidden. It's not revisionism, it's just retirement.

And while it may seem antiquated for its misplaced Southern pride, let's take this opportunity to review what The Dukes of Hazzard was about. Here is the classic opening by Waylon Jennings, along with the lyrics.


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
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.
Just a good ol' boy
Wouldn't change if they could
Fightin' the system like
Two modern day Robin Hood's

To review: these protagonists are criminals, but that doesn't seem necessary to stress because Jennings makes this point over and over that they are habitual offenders. What we also know for sure, as Waylon repeatedly assures us, is that these are Good Ol Boys. They would never mean harm. Though Bo and Luke Duke seem to have a propensity for blowing up stuff, particularly with a bow and arrow, but then they are like Robin Hood, and so their crimes are part of the good they do. Unrepentant and beyond reform, they wouldn't change, nor would they know how. Yet since their local law enforcement and civic authority are corrupt and inept, they don't need to comply with the government and its burdensome regulation, they can continue to run their moonshine, since they are a family of bootleggers, manufacturing and selling unlicensed intoxicants, similar to Breaking Bad or True Detective.

All this, with a Dodge Charger Confederate Flag flying through the air as its money shot, and a profile might emerge of the types of people still so invested in this overly-narrated show. Devotees of Dukes of Hazzard are lamenting online, "They'll never make a show like this again." Yeah, that's the point.