July 03, 2015

This week in moral panic

Ever since Dylann Storm Roof allegedly killed nine people in a black church in Charleston on June 17, the United States has been in the grip of mass hysteria. Somehow, the court of public opinion has tried and convicted not merely Roof, but also the Confederate flag, as morally culpable for the shootings, and ever since, everyone has been piling on the bandwagon.

First came the calls to remove Confederate flags from the flagpoles of Southern state capitols. Then, retailers such as Amazon and the Apple App Store banned paraphernalia displaying the flag—the latter going so far as to (temporarily) ban even Civil war-themed computer games. Then, the retro-themed TV Land network halted all broadcasts of The Dukes of Hazzard. Of course, Bo and Luke never did or said anything slightly racist in seven years on the air, though I'm sure the Flag of Evil on their car must have tried more than once to tempt them into a lynching, or something.

And now, golfer Bubba Watson is getting on the bandwagon. He owns LEE 1, one of the original three General Lee cars used for shooting Dukes. He paid $110,000 for it in 2012. Yesterday, he announced on Twitter:

Congratulations, Mr. Watson. I haven't awarded one of these in quite a while, but for a) ignoring the context of the way the Confederate flag is used, and b) converting a valuable and sought-after collectible vehicle into a cheap used car, you are hereby awarded the DIM BULB du jour. Wear it with pride.

In light of racially motivated crimes like the massacre in Charleston, of course it is completely appropriate to start a conversation about the meaning of symbols and their power, for good or ill, to convey a message. However, arbitrarily banning all Confederate flags from public view is not that conversation. Instead, it is emotionalism. Corporations and celebrities are climbing on the bandwagon because they want to be seen as someone who Cares. In their moral panic, they stampede over even the context of the flag and ignore that a Civil War re-enactment (of which a Civil War video game is the electronic equivalent) is precisely the appropriate place for a Confederate flag, or that the General Lee without it is just another old Dodge Charger. They fail to see that with or without the Confederate flag, Dylann Roof would still have committed his crimes. Flag-banning is an empty gesture that saves people from examining the true root of his atrocity: the evil that runs through every person's heart.

Instead, we get an emotional response instead of a rational one. Robert E. Lee's body lies a-mouldering in the grave, but hysteria is marching on.