You can fill in the blank with whatever adjective you want to describe a complete lack of critical thought.
I posted earlier in the week about how I feel about the posting of the Confederate battle flag in public. I also stated I cannot change what people decide to do on private property. I am still enough of a Lockean thinker (both his political theories and educational theories) to know your private property is where you have a right to pursue your ultimate happiness. If that includes ringing the perimeter with as many ANV flags as you can find, more power to you. The place for the flag in public, however, in my opinion, is a museum and/or classroom with proper historical interpretation and/or examining it within the proper historical context.
Businesses make decisions on products to market based on economic research and keeping up with the pulse of its entire customer base. Do I believe they are totally forthcoming with the results of that research? No. Are they hypocritical with the products they choose to keep marketing while pulling others? Yes. Are there other outlets for Confederate regalia if one desires it? Yes.
There are at least three other issues arising from the debate over Confederate iconography, a term Kevin Levin over at Civil War Memory uses for the Confederate flag and statues and artwork of Confederate leaders and influencers: the vandalism of Confederate memorials; the “banning” of Gone with the Wind (hereafter, GWTW); and calls to remove Confederate memorials from public.
First, media outlets are reporting the John C. Calhoun memorial in Charleston has been vandalized. As a 19th century senator from South Carolina and as Andrew Jackson’s vice-president, Calhoun championed the cause of slavery, states’ rights and nullification leading to the idea that secession as an option later held by many Southern political leaders in the antebellum era. Other Confederate memorials have also been defaced. Whether or not you agree with what is being memorialized, defacing public property is illegal. OK, I get it: civil disobedience. No one is really hurt by the action, it makes a statement and the costs for cleaning them are relatively low. But much like burning an American flag, when you deface something that people place value (either historical, artistic or heritage), this actually devalues any point you might make on the topic at hand. It’s the nonverbal equivalent of shouting. No one listens when you shout. They hear, but fail to process and understand, the message, even losing desire to do either.
As for GWTW, why that particular film? D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation is way more controversial and racist. The gap in the historical interpretation of the two films is huge. Oh, wait, it’s because people still watch and enjoy GWTW and not Griffith’s film. Folks still read Margaret Mitchell’s novel and like it. So, now we resort to censorship? Some might argue banning the flag is censorship. No one, however, is saying, at least in what I have read, seen and heard, you can’t fly the the Confederate battle flag at all, only that it should not be flown in public spaces. I have added “without adequate interpretation”. Back to films and novels: there is a wide gambit of historical interpretation in Civil War novels and films. If one is banned, should all be banned? Should we still study them for their historical value and in looking at how interpretations change over time? Is there any value in comparing them? I believe we should study the flag in its various historical contexts, then and now, and the same should apply to films and novels. Huckleberry Finn and Uncle Tom’s Cabin have long been targets for the same reason, but we still have them. We will still have GWTW and the flag, even in public in some form.
As for Confederate memorials, those tell us more about the person or groups who put the memorial there than what is being memorialized. What, at various times in history, has been important to remember and why? I believe leaving these memorials right where they are and allowing for expanded interpretation and memorializing is the answer. Moving a chunk of marble to a museum not only takes up valuable space for additional interpretive displays, the landscape context of the memorial is often as important as the memorial itself, Stone Mountain in Georgia being the largest example.
In the end, I’m happy that context and interpretation are being applied to history and memory, but I am saddened by the insane turn it has taken. Reactionary responses often lead to that. I sincerely hope the debate takes a more amiable, structured and constructive turn.