Lessons from the Confederate Brand
There is a great deal of positive momentum coming out of Charleston, some of it towards the decreasing viability of the Confederate flag as a symbol. If we considered it as a ‘brand,’ we’d say that its mass appeal had been eroding for generations and it has slowly become an emblem with a passionate niche appeal. Sort of like Tang, once billed as the beverage of astronauts and now the fetishized object of desire for people with their own fall out shelters. Just like Tang’s role in pop culture, the vision for the flag now gaining traction is that it ‘belongs in a museum.’
Amazon, Sears, Walmart and Ebay have all weighed in by announcing decisions to no longer sell the flag, albeit while some continue to sell swastika merchandise. Huh? To be fair, in a consumer society such as ours, the debate must quickly move to the marketplace in order to validate a movement.
Having just seen Inside Out, the new Pixar film that illustrates the role of emotions on memory, experience and personality, I know what happens when Joy chalks a ring around Sadness and commands her not to step beyond that boundary. Thus, I wonder if by drawing a ring around the Confederate flag we run the risk of attempting to repress and contain the societal evil for which it stands, rather than deal with the far more complex root causes of the festering fury it somehow allows to be unleashed.
Let’s not draw our line in the sand at the Confederate flag: Let’s figure out what enables a 21-year-old high school drop out to get money from his parents for his 21st birthday to buy a gun and reload it five times, firing into a Bible study group. Let’s figure out why his friends heard his tirades and thought it was okay to ignore the racially-based hate mongering.
If we make the flag the issue, then we can happily ban it and congratulate ourselves on being ‘better than’ those who did not. We get our own moment of moral supremacy. Don’t get me wrong: I’m happy to see it gone from government buildings, license plates and anywhere else its presence indicates cultural acceptance and vitality. But if we don’t deal with the underlying appeal of that symbol to generations of white Americans, we’ll do what Tang has done: Repackage and reduce the calorie count for a more youthful appeal. In this case, we’ll see the flag of white Rhodesia take its place, swastika-related paraphernalia proliferate and prices for Confederate flags escalate on the various ghettoized, rabbit warrens of white supremacy still cheerfully doing business.