rebelunionnaziflag

The Southern Hazzard of the Rebel Yell

In the wake of the horrific and senseless murders in Charleston, SC last week, national debate has sprung up once again about a flag.  The Civil War era Confederate Flag.  Not unlike the German Third Reich’s Nazi flag, for many, seeing the South’s Rebel Stars & Bars conjures up equally horrific memories of the vile treatment of scores of innocent human lives.  I get it.  Perhaps there are those that would seek to re-redefine the symbol of the swastika with the pre-Nazi factoid, that due to its original use as an ancient decorative symbol in eastern cultures, we shouldn’t allow the Nazis to commandeer such a worldly historical symbol.  Those that may make that argument will lose.  We will never be able to bring back those ancient glory days of when seeing a swastika was pleasing to the eye.  Unless you are a nazi sympathizer, Hitler & Co. have ruined the swastika or any incarnation or variation of it forever.  You can’t “un-see” the horrors its appearance summons, so to speak.

To many, the Battle Flag holds the same sad memories of murder, enslavement, and loss of human dignity.  However, because some Southerners (white or black) are simply proud of being from Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina or any other of the former confederate states, they like the image and feel proud to display it as prideful modern day Southerners.  This does not immediately qualify them as a racist.  Sadly, some opportunists use the flag as a political weapon to paint broad strokes on those who fly it to cause divisiveness for their own benefit.  If you make such judgements you are part of the problem, not the solution and not a very intelligent person. Outside of the personal use, if you ask me, the flag does not deserve to fly above any State building of these United States of America for the same reason we would never fly the Union Flag (or Union Jack) above a government building.  All y’all lost the war. ‘Merica!

I imagine most would agree that the mere sight of ordinary Americans choosing to fly, wear or otherwise display the Union Jack shouldn’t be construed to mean that they are Loyalists who wish to hand over our nations sovereignty back the English crown.   After all, that flag represented tyranny of such proportions that a huge revolutionary war broke out.  The same assumption should be afforded the woman driving a pickup truck down a Tennessee back road with a southern pride Rebel Flag bumper sticker slapped on.  Assuming that she wants to own black people as slaves based on that sticker is absurd.

But since I can’t, nor do I want to, control how people think and act, the prevailing assumption seems to be headed in the direction that if someone is walking around with a Confederate patch on their motorcycle jacket, they must be a racist.  For that’s exactly what all of us presume (and usually rightly so) should we spot a man with the Nazi swastika tattooed on his neck.  So then what do I, and those of us who grew up in the 70s and 80s do when stashed in our dresser drawers are some now highly valuable memorabilia such as vinyl records, posters, photographs and sought after vintage T-shirts? Shirts that today’s teenagers and college students are paying good money to wear. We open up these drawers and some of us find among the Star Wars shirts, concert tees and Alf sweaters, the rebel flag staring back at us because we were big fans of a family TV show or a rock n’ roll band.

the-dukes-of-hazzard-4fcd808ba70d1I grew up in Los Angeles, not the south, and The Dukes of Hazzard was my number one favorite television series growing up in the eighties and I certainly was no anomaly.  I caught the show every week, watched re-runs,  and I  cheered my friggin’ head off when Bo and Luke Duke returned to Hazzard County after being written off the show because of a contract dispute with the network.  Yet, now I wonder, if I put on my old t-shirt with the Duke boys’ signature orange Dodge Charger, the General Lee complete with the confederate flag painted on the roof,  would turn heads and be shamed in public at some point?

Would the same also happen if I threw on practically any vintage Lynard Skynard shirt? The iconic rock band embraced the flag as its quasi logo. Draping it behind them while performing countless shows across the country. Their live 1987 album is a shot of the crowd with someone waving a a giant Confederate flag.

What would happen if I was stuck in traffic in my car and started singing along to Billy Idol’s 1983 hit song, “Rebel Yell?” After all, a rebel yell is the war cry of Confederate soldiers. They would yell during charges into battle to intimidate the Union soldiers.  It’s not an original tactic by any means and most likely just a carry over from witnessing similar battle cries of the American Indians or, for some, from their own Scottish heritage. None the less, the term was coined due to the Civil War and about 120 years later found it’s way into mainstream music. Interestingly, in researching the lyrics to song, of particular note is the following verse:

She don’t like slavery
She wont sit and beg
But when you tied her open
She’s near to being
What set you free
Brought you to me, babe
What set you free

Based on the rest of song, one may argue it’s just a bit of poetic license from the English singer to use the word slavery in a song titled “Rebel Yell”.  Or perhaps shall I be the first to declare Billy Idol a racist?  Who am I kidding, this is the internet, he’s probably already been wrongly labeled as such long before today for much less.  But no worries, he’s apparently in good company as someone has unearthed this Clinton/Gore ’92 campaign button using the, yup you guessed, Old Shameful herself.

You can claim I’m just spouting hyperbole all you want, and we’ll see how this shakes out.

14851With this flag debate in full stride, I am not so much concerned about whether or not Southerners feel offended by the flag’s proper removal from government buildings and public property – the war is over, you lost, get over it. (Besides, if Southerners and white folk of today in general shouldn’t be held responsible for the sins of slavery of our forbearers – and they shouldn’t – then why they hell are you holding onto this flag as if it means everything to you?) What concerns me is how the rhetoric has ballooned to such an intensity that someday, some 14 year old kid will find his dad’s awesome vintage Lynyrd Skynyrd t-shirt, put it on and take a ride on the Expo line all the way to the beach in Santa Monica pumping “Freebird” through his earbuds and be shamed for it, or worse.

Then again, I do see teenagers, and older people who should know better, on the same rail ways wearing t-shirts with the face of a known homophobic, racist mass-murderer and I am pretty sure they don’t get harassed for it. Perhaps all of this is much ado about nothing.

Don’t let it distract you, it’s just another squirrel.

[Disagree? Have a different perspective? Don’t be afraid to comment, this is still America and free speech and difference of opinion are encouraged, sound off below!]

Matt Edwards

Matt Edwards is a filmmaker in his native Los Angeles. He is an alumnus of the 2011 Taliesin Nexus Filmmakers Workshop, a 2014 Liberty Lab Fellow and the current editor of SCC. Matt is also host of the The Rear View film podcast. Follow @TRVpodcast and @mattchrised on Twitter.

  • Beverlee

    Just a thought… Since “white folk” are held responsible for slavery (white privilege, white guilt, hate crimes legislation, etc) perhaps that is why southerners hold onto that flag.