Models and toys of the General Lee — the well-known '69 Dodge Charger that starred in and got all the good lines from the TV series The Dukes of Hazzard — will no longer feature a large Confederate flag on the roof. Tomy, who makes the models and toys, has declined to comment.
That's quite the opposite of Ben Jones, who played "Cooter" on the show, who has very much decided to comment in a strongly-worded statement. Cooter laments the loss of the flag, saying the car would no longer be the General Lee, and blaming the flag's demise on "P.C. Idiocy." Cooter goes on to deny that the flag has anything to do with racism, claiming "Hazzard County is a "hate-free" zone."
Ben Jones/Cooter clearly feels strongly and passionately about the flag as a symbol of a certain kind of Southern heritage. He says he's an Honorary Life member of the NAACP, and I'm willing to believe he's not a racist, and he genuinely doesn't equate that flag with racism. However, I grew up in the South, and I'm sad to say the vast majority of the times I encountered the Confederate flag it was being used to suggest pretty unpleasant, hateful things. Not all the time, but often enough that you can't really pretend the flag doesn't have that connotation to a vast number of people.
Symbols can get away from you. It's just how it is. If I get a reverse-Buddist-type swastika tattooed on my forehead, no amount of explaining to people is going to keep me from getting at the very least stinkeyes by the busload. That symbol just has way too much baggage associated with it. So I get why Tomy would shy away from it. It's not a free speech issue, it's about selling toys that don't remind large numbers of people of some truly miserable events in history. That's what the creepy face-meld trains from Thomas the Tank Engine are for.
Cooter can stick his own flags on his General Lee toys. In fact, there could be a booming aftermarket for stars-and-bars appliqués for those people that want them. It's also worth remembering this is the Dukes of Hazzard, not freaking Moby Dick we're talking about here.
Plus, the side that really matters on the General Lee was the bottom, anyway, since that's all you'd normally get to see of it as a result of Hazzard County's 75% ramp-and-jump road infrastructure.
They're not taking away all the Civil War-era associations of the car, either. It's still called the General Lee (though, tellingly, the car comes before the man in a Google search of "General Lee"), after all. Maybe they could come up with a new image on the roof of something that reflected the best of the South, and was free of unpleasant connotations about a dark era in American History.
I vote for some biscuits and gravy.
UPDATE: Warner Brothers is saying this may not actually happen. This is shaping up to be the biggest story of the decade, friends.