I’ve been a Southerner now for less than 3 years, short enough to still be considered a West Coast Weirdo to the locals, yet long enough for it to be a complete surprise to me that the Confederate Flag, aka the Stars and Bars, is now the representation of Nazi White Supremacy. I have yet to meet a white supremacist or a Nazi here, and there are far more African-Americans here than there were in San Francisco, including first generations thereof.
I am truly the cranky old lady here when I point out that in my childhood, the flag represented the South and the rebels of society. It was the age of the Dukes of Hazzard, hokey Burt Reynolds movies, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. As far as I remember, it represented rowdy rednecks, the kind which still do exist here, with their bold battle cry of “Hold my beer!” When I was sophisticated and urbane, they annoyed me; now that there is a great urban Selbstweltanshauung, the n’er-do-well insouciance of the Southern boy is rather endearing. The problem with the Southern boy is that he doesn’t care what those who consider themselves his betters think, and that’s a problem for those who want us all to think (and vote) in the same way.
But after being informed several times that the former Confederacy is now a hotbed of hatred and its symbol the signal of that, I found even Wikipedia has an article detailing the symbolism and use of the flag, together with results of polls on how people see it (and have seen it.) I’m just like WTF, the things we are supposed to be offended about are changing so fast, I can’t keep up. And frankly, I am sick and tired of always being expected to be offended.
It can’t have been so long ago that businesses could still post a sign saying “we have the right to refuse service.” Now those that hold to personal principles must be destroyed. In 2016, some anti-Trump activists goaded each other to create pink “pussy hats” to protest the election. One local business refused to sell pink yarn for that purpose. Never mind that if you wanted pink yarn to make a pussy hat in Franklin, Tennessee, you could readily find all the yarn for it at Hobby Lobby, or Wal-Mart, and if they ran out, you could get it online or in a neighboring town. You still had the right to knit your hat and wear it in public. But the social justice warriors of today could not let an independent yarn business owner exist with the incorrect opinion, and pursued her with figurative pitchforks of derision and false Yelp reviews.
Last year, the circus at our county fair was literally run out of town thanks to the power of the offended. I did not see the act, but according to the reports, the circus clown kissed the woman he pulled out of the audience against her will. There’s a script to that (or at least there used to be). Woman then slaps clown. Clown does a prattfall. Audience laughs. Clown bows to woman. The new script is that woman makes a face, someone gets offended on said woman’s behalf, calls it rape in complaining to the fair organizers, the fair organizers are shocked that something offensive occurred at our family-oriented fair, and the circus has to leave town in the middle of the night.
Likewise, the devout Christian baker in your town may not want to craft your triple penis bestiality cake. If you pay enough, someone will (just post your wish on Etsy, Craigslist, or the Airtasker app). But, hey, there’s more power and joy in making someone bend to your will than there is in having to pay for a complex custom-made cake, now isn’t there?
I love having ideas. I love being silly. I love joking around. But I can’t any more because I can’t even tell what innocently-meant symbol, song, or joke will trigger howls of protest. We were at a Paint Night in Nashville and the artist/teacher played “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster the People, until someone pointed out it had something to do with school shootings and the artist was mortified and stopped playing it immediately. We’d seen them perform that song at the Ryman earlier that year; now they don’t play it at all. Recreate the Ministry of Funny Walks skit to someone who doesn’t know Monty Python, and soon enough you’ll have someone shrieking in anger that it’s making fun of their cousin with cerebral palsy.
The problem is that there is great reward in being publicly offended, and all downside for expressing yourself. If you find something to be offended about, others will laud you and shame themselves for not having noticed the offence. It’s bonus points if you get the power of destroying someone or their innocent symbol by libeling it as something evil or mean.
I have become quieter and quieter, and I also have less people I feel comfortable being silly with. I want to be able to play freely, and not always fear the angriest person within the area finding something to make them mad. It’s a shitty world, and I wish someone would hold up free speech for the innocent, and not allow so much power to those who can find offense when there is none.
Great column! It’s hard to believe you used to live in California.
If you’ve ever seen the documentary, The Last Waltz, about the rock group, The Band, you’ve seen them hanging out talking about life on the road in room with a large confederate flag. And of course, they perform, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, (famously covered by Joan Baez), which has the lyric,
“Like my father before me, I’m a working man
And like my brother before me, I took a rebel stand
Well, he was just eighteen, proud and brave
But a yankee laid him in his grave
I swear by the blood below my feet
You can’t raise a Caine back up when he’s in defeat.
I don’t think they’d record that song today.