South Park. “White People Renovating Houses,” Season 21, Episode 1. Directed by Trey Parker. Written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone.
I may be letting this site lie fallow while I’m distracted by other projects, but the apparently indefatigable Matthew C. Hulbert—author of numerous blogposts and the excellent, award-winning book, The Ghosts of Guerilla Memory: How Civil War Bushwhackers Became Gunslingers in the American West—is putting me to shame and keeping things going. South Park‘s season premiere inspired Matt to think about the current debate over Confederate symbols and the role of historians in that debate (for more on that, see his excellent post on Historista), and I’m happy to give him a platform as Civil War Pop‘s long overdue 42nd entry. Enjoy!
Well, it finally happened. Earlier today, the University of Mississippi Athletics Department got a jump on the college football season by banning “Dixie” from all athletic events. This is a story I’ve been following for years, as it was a major part of my chapter on memory in Battle Hymns. The controversy at Ole Miss is a perfect example of how difficult, even impossible, it is to separate Confederate symbols from their white supremacist legacy (the flag being the other prominent example). The song’s author, Daniel Decatur Emmett, never intended “Dixie” to be the anthem of a pro-slavery southern state, but Confederates imprinted that meaning on the song and white supremacists reinforced it for decades after, giving “Dixie” a permanent subtext odious to most people. The Civil War generation left their mark on numerous songs (the multiple lyrics and associations given to the melody for “John Brown’s Body” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” is the northern equivalent) and we can’t help but hear those songs the way they did. “Dixie” is no exception. For years, Ole Miss tried to dilute that context by pairing “Dixie” with “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” but these efforts ultimately failed, as audiences made the song’s pro-Confederate associations explicit by chanting “The South shall rise again” over the “Battle’s Hymn’s” “His truth is marching on.” Read More
As many of you know, my office is located in the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. Those of you who know me well also know I was once a great admirer of Robert E. Lee. One of the best aspects of working at ALPLM is its vast cohort of enthusiastic and knowledgeable volunteers. Last year, I was invited to do an educational program for them on Jefferson Davis. I jumped at the chance and the program had a large and engaged audience. I got invited back this year and was able to pick whatever Lincoln-related topic I wanted, so I went with Robert E. Lee. This is a very personal choice given how my perspective on Lee has changed over the years but, unbeknownst to me until a few days ago, it has also proven to be a controversial choice among the volunteers themselves and not in the way you might think. Apparently, many people around here are concerned about how Lee iconography is currently under assault in places like New Orleans and Charlottesville. Having written the talk two weeks ago, I’m now wondering how much I should tailor it to this new context and what that says about my own feelings about the man and his image. Read More
Update: McClanahan has written an additional response back at the Abbeville Institute. Given its tone, I think it’s pretty clear where this is heading, so I’ll happily give him the last word. Also, it looks like the Maryland legislature is going to let the issue lie until the next session, so we’ll see if it gets any legs next time around.
I was wondering if my article on “Maryland, My Maryland” that Time.com picked up would drum up some opposition from the neo-Confederate crowd, and it looks like this article by Brion McClanahan for The Abbeville Institute fits the bill (I’m unfamiliar with the institute, but the fact that it’s pushing a book titled, Emancipation Hell: The Tragedy Wrought by Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, tells me all I need to know). Besides McClanahan immediately casting doubt on his research skills by calling me “James McWhirter,” he speciously tries to undermine my argument that any state should have an official song as openly dissident as James Ryder Randall’s poem. I’m not going to dissect each of his points, but I’ll draw your attention to a few juicy bits. Read More
“Maryland, My Maryland.” Written by James Ryder Randall.
Release Date: April 1861.
Update: I just found out Time Magazine picked up the article! I’m absolutely thrilled! You can read it here.
Those of you paying attention probably noticed this post was supposed to be about WGN’s new show, Underground (I also said I wouldn’t be writing as much for awhile, but historians’ gonna historian). I still plan to write about the series (I’m 1 episode in, and it’s great. “Black Skinhead” FTW!) but the Maryland Senate’s recent decision to alter the words of its state song, “Maryland, My Maryland,” prompted me to write an editorial giving my thoughts on this long-awaited move. History News Network was kind enough to run the article. So follow this link, have a look, and let me know what you think. Read More
The Dukes of Hazzard, “Treasure of Hazzard,” Season 2, Episode 16. Directed by Hollingsworth Morse. Written by Gy Waldron, William Raynor, and Myles Wilder.
Release Date: January 25, 1980.
In the aftermath of the Charleston shooting, I (like everyone else) wrote a piece about the Confederate Battle Flag. In part, I argued there was a brief period in the mid-to-late 20th century when popular culture appropriated the flag as merely a symbol of rebellion and the South, ostensibly devoid of any white supremacist connotations. I highlighted The Dukes of Hazzard as one of the primary examples of this phenomenon. The show subsequently became a focal point of this ongoing debate when TV Land pulled it due to the prominent placement of the flag on the roof of the Duke brothers’ famous car, “The General Lee.” The show indirectly also made news when Ben Jones–who played Cooter and, until recently, served as the “Chief of Heritage Operations” for the Sons of Confederate Veterans–made himself one of the flag’s most vocal defenders. In the wake of these developments, I decided to watch an episode for the first time in 30 years to measure how much Civil War memory really influenced the show. The second season episode, “Treasure of Hazzard” seemed like a good place to start, since it’s apparently the only episode that directly uses the war as a plot point. Read More
Update: It looks like cooler heads may be prevailing and apparently Apple is working to restore some of its apps that use the flag “for educational or historical uses.” No news of Ultimate General: Gettysburg being restored as of yet. New of the game’s removal was surely responsible for the turnaround, as it went viral quickly and even Rolling Stone reported on it this morning. I’ll keep you posted as I hear more about it.
Update 2: Ultimate General: Gettysburg just announced on Facebook that it was able to negotiate with Apple and is now available again as an App, unchanged. Although Apple should never have pulled the game in the first place, I commend the company for recognizing the mistake and respecting Game-Labs’s artistic integrity.
Earlier today, Apple announced that it is no longer going to offer apps in its iOS store that feature the Confederate Battle Flag. I don’t know precisely how many apps this covers, but I do know that it includes Ultimate General: Gettysburg, which I reviewed on this site in February. According to the game’s developer Nick Thomadis, Apple will agree to restore the game if his company, Game-Labs, removes all Confederate flags. Thomadis refused and, although I support most of the efforts to remove Confederate iconography currently going on across the nation, I completely support Thomadis in this decision. Read More
In the wake of last week’s horrifying tragedy in Charleston, SC, there has been a long overdue widespread discussion about public displays of the Confederate Battle Flag. I’m reluctant to add to the conversation because it’s becoming cacophonous and I’m generally in line with those who believe that the flag, like the Confederacy it represents, is inseparable from its white supremacist origins (there have been an absolute flood of articles and think-pieces about the flag since the shooting, some of which are excellent, but I’ll just recommend Jon Coski’s wonderful book on the flag). Since then, South Carolina governor Nikki Haley has called for the removal of the flag in Columbia and, last night, Mississippi House speaker Philip Gunn requested a redesign of the state flag to eliminate the Confederate emblem. What truly shocked me, though, was Walmart and Ebay stating they will no longer carry any products that display the flag. With this development, the issue moved into the realm of popular culture and I thought I’d chime in on that score. Read More