General Lee

What a whirlwind these past few weeks have been! There is a shift in long-standing traditions and with those shifts come growing pains for those uncomfortable with change. While some change is clearly meaningful to wide swaths of our citizens there are other gestures that are intended to be meaningful that come off as just plain silly to me. What I love about this country is our ability to say things, express ourselves, even when our opinions are not popular and with that comes a need to be tolerant of the rights others have to do the same.

Since I was a kid, I could think of nothing more wasteful than burning a book. Ideas that you oppose exist whether you are exposed to them or not. It seems misguided to assume that destroying those ideas in the written form will somehow make them go away. Growing up across the street from a library I read many things from a young age. No book or its contents ever made me do something out of character, though information (both that I agreed and disagreed with) allowed me to articulate my perspective and grasp the concepts embraced by those I opposed. After book burning, I thought the banning of books was nearly as ignorant of an idea. I can think of no greater way to encourage reading than to add a title to a banned book list. It’s an irony that people who choose to live in a free country wish to exercise authority over what is accessible to other citizens. I believe the same is true for things that are heard and seen.

I’ll admit it struck a nerve to hear a television network opting to no longer show reruns of The Dukes of Hazzard. I’m entirely unclear how eliminating the rebroadcasting of a situation-comedy (canceled over thirty years ago) makes anyone feel safer or in some manner improves our world. I imagine it has men approaching forty calling their mother’s to ask “Where is my General Lee, you know that orange car from the Dukes of Hazzard I had as a kid? I think it might be worth something.” So if the objective was to inflate the value of vintage ’80s toys or increase calls home to mother, than I would say “success”! If the goal was somehow intended to decrease racial strife or make amends for things that happened long before any of us were born, I would say that it was a “fail”.

If you think I am on a wild rant, go check my hypotheses over on Ebay where I just spotted an Ertl (size of a Hot Wheels or Matchbox 1/64 scale) from 1981 that still has the $1.29 sticker from Shopko on it. With ten hours left on the auction it’s currently going for $112.50. There was one available for $9.00 that appears to have only spent a few seasons in a sandbox. So I guess this foolishness is good for the economy, though I suspect that was an unintended consequence.

It’s somewhat ironic that  nobody ever wanted the show off the air because of issues like the Duke boys driving too fast or  being on probation for transporting moonshine. I’ve never heard anyone object to the corrupt county commissioner Boss Hogg unfairly portraying local officials. Even the theme song alluded to Robin Hood, a character who is both criminal and cheered for it. Seems like bad role modeling to me. I guess for the past thirty-five years people simply understood that those were fictional characters, in a fictional Georgia county, participating in fictional activities. Kind of like the rest of TV shows.

I grasp that it would be poorly received to propose a new television show that prominently displayed the rebel flag on a main character, because lets face it that is what the General Lee was in the show a character as much a Bo, Luke and Daisy were. I don’t however believe that we can hold literature, music, film, theater or even television shows of the past to any standards other than those that existed at the time of their creation. We shudder when we see art and historical monuments in other parts of the world destroyed by factions claiming victory but somehow there is a righteousness in our own young country in attempting to white-wash who we are and where we come from. What next, do we make changes to headstones, portraits or other artifacts that include symbols that are no longer in favor?

Part of freedom is the freedom to change channels. If you don’t want your kids watching some show about dope smoking teens and the supernatural, you can turn it off. I think we are moving in a regrettable direction if just because you don’t want a program viewed in your home, I can’t watch it in mine. I would have gotten away with watching Scooby Doo, if it weren’t for those meddling grown-ups!

Most everything on television is offensive to someone, so we best be tolerant before every network buckles to the demands of a noisy minority who threaten boycotts and lets be honest never watched what they are objecting to in the first place. When did it become fashionable to be so overly offended by inanimate objects or creations of the past? How do these people feel about current song lyrics that use words deemed offensive for the majority of the population to even utter and glorify topics that get participants in those activities put in jail or kicked off of the professional athletic team they were on? It doesn’t seem that current issues are ones they wish to address. It is just easier to attack the past and demand the elimination of something that is not personally a sacrifice.

To be totally honest, I have not watched an episode of Dukes of Hazzard since they originally aired. I only watched them then because the little boy I babysat for was obsessed with it, mostly the Waylan Jennings theme song and the General Lee. If he still had all of his Dukes related toys, he could make a small fortune in online auctions this week. It was a formula show, like most of the era where each week the story arc was pretty much the same as the previous episode. Despite having not watched it for many years I could likely predict what is going to happen next as Hogg tries some new scam and the Duke boys wrap the show with a good over evil triumph after jumping over some hill, gulch or water hazard in the General Lee. Not deep, not educational but also not political or racist as I recall.

This attempt to battle actual divisive issues that exist by attacking non-issues is tantamount to The Boy Who Cried Wolf. When a real issue is addressed that is important it may be lost in the noise of the faux issues and deemed trivial. I sense people are already experiencing “feigned outrage fatigue”.

While we don’t frequently hear the use of the word “honky” anymore, there are no petitions asking that The Jeffersons and Sanford and Son not be shown because of the offensive language.  Richard Pryor and Chevy Chase did the SNL sketch Racist Word Association Interview forty years ago. Though it was accepted as funny at the time recent events would have one thinking that perhaps SNL should be pulled from the air for their portrayal of; blacks, whites, Native Americans, Muslims, Jews, Christians, flight attendants, cheerleaders, youth, elderly, drunk, foreigners, aliens, land sharks and people from France. I would suggest rather that it reflects our history and our humor and how one helps us tolerate the other.

Our greatest common denominator is humor. You don’t need to even share the same language to share laughter with another human being. To take ourselves too seriously and waste energy by focusing it on humorless pursuits and symbolic gestures that ultimately serve no purpose long term is exhausting and fruitless. While TVLand opting to not broadcast the show has people talking, my final thought regarding Luke and Bo Duke is that they were simply “Just’a good ol’ boys. Never meanin’ no harm.”

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