Cancel the Retreat–We’ve Been Pushed Enough


Nick Adams as Johnny Yuma


Howard Dean parasitizing the Yuma character.

What have the ban of Confederate flag and the promotion of gay marriage in common?  Under the surface… everything.

Believe me, there is no intended irony in my publishing this piece around July 4.  It just works out that way.  All holidays once dedicated to individual freedom, responsible self-determination, and other ideals of our quondam republic partake of the same bitter undertones.

To the present matter.  A few posts back, I talked myself into the following renunciation of the Confederate flag:

I’m convinced that most of our older neighbors of slave descent (for that matter, all of us had enslaved ancestors if you go far enough back) know good and well that the Confederacy didn’t mount resistance against the Union simply to keep some big-ass plantation running.  The younger ones, however, are lost to any such nuanced understanding of the nation’s history—and therein lies the best argument for surrendering the flag as a public symbol: not that it ever represented a vigorous pro-slavery agenda to those who died under it, but that it now represents the failure of our educational system to characterize the past truthfully.  We can’t undo that failure on this battlefield.  Whether an anemic, polling-addicted, ever-retreating Republican Party will eventually find an element of our cultural heritage that it’s willing to defend from slander is highly dubious.  If, therefore, I say now that it’s time to furl the flag, it certainly isn’t in order to elect more slimy gastropods like Lindsey Graham and John Boehner.  It’s simply to admit that we have more recent history being just as grotesquely caricatured whose salvaging is more urgent.

I was wrong to retreat.  Why?  Because in writing about the SCOTUS decision that tyrannically promulgates gay marriage, I realized that I was living through the “flag issue” all over again.

First of all, let me revisit a few major points.  The Stars and Bars does not represent slavery unless you decide personally to insist that it does—and even then, of course, the representation is something you’ve cooked up on a whim.  Lincoln himself well knew that support for slavery existed on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line. “We are in civil war,” he scrawled to one correspondent. “In such cases there always is a main question; but in this case that question is a perplexing compound—Union and Slavery. It thus becomes a question not of two sides merely, but of at least four sides, even among those who are for the Union….” Slavery of some sort remained legal in several Union states even after the Emancipation Proclamation. The hypocrisy of “our greatest president” in playing these four corners against each other to halve the nation is not difficult to discern.

And again, most Southerners owned no slaves, the vast majority of those who did owned very few, some slaveholders were actually black themselves, some slaves fought for the Confederacy, most slave ships sailed from Northern ports for Northern proprietors, the whole slave issue was an unfortunate kind of cipher indicating bitterly opposed positions in a tariff battle… etc., etc.

Historically, then, the facile equation that the Confederate flag stands for slavery is comic-book fodder.  Rhetorically, the urging of that equation upon ignorant masses is immensely cynical and unprincipled.

And I reiterate, as well, a special note of disappointment in conservative commentators like Derek Hunter, whose easy identification of flag with bigoted, stupid rednecks itself models the sniffing Northern bigotry that I have observed among the American intelligentsia all my life.

In fact, I confess that I had a cheap edition of the Stars and Bars hanging in my bedroom as a boy.  To me, it was a response precisely to this kind of snooty, smirking dismissal.  “Yeah, I’m stupid.  Yeah, I’m backward.  You’re so smart, you’re so deserving.  Tell you what, Yankee: just pass me by.  Just step over me, and be careful you don’t dirty your patent-leather shoes.  Just leave us alone.  Go light some more weed on your radiance.”

Truth to tell, most of my tormenters were separated from me by socio-economic rather than geographic boundaries: a very snobby private school was the Bull Run where I skirmished daily. But in my young adolescent mind, the “Yankee” moniker as portrayed by my grandmother seemed to fit just fine; and indeed, the historical North/South friction owed much of its volatility to a “have/have not” distinction.

Those of you who are old enough will admit that this “leave me alone” semiotic was the flag’s dominant message in mid-century—and I doubt that it meant something very different a century earlier.  But in the early 1960s, at least, before the “opt out” mood had reached tidal force, Nick Adams’s Johnny Yuma character in The Rebel was almost a cult figure, like James Dean’s “rebel without a cause”.  The series was too edgy for television of the day and folded after a couple of seasons, yet it gave voice to a restless spirit in the country.  For good measure, Country Music legend Johnny Cash sang the overture.  I was a small boy at the time, but I can still recall the two lines, “He was panther-quick and leather-tough / And he figured that he’d been pushed enough.”  That hits the nail on the head: the flag spoke for those of us who “figured that we’d been pushed enough.”

(Some celluloid addict is sure to remark the irony of Nick’s suicide being vaguely tied to homosexuality as my scribble proceeds. If so, then his “rebellion” was hardly mine! Well, I mourn for such young men; but are they unhappy because they’re “closet gays”, or do they imagine themselves gay because heterosexual adventures on our cutthroat dating scene have emotionally eviscerated them?)

I don’t really care whether or not the Derek Hunters of the world regard in disdainful amusement undistinguished, softspoken white people with no back-door key the to Ivy Leagues who get pushed around in professional circles.  The great virtue of such people is that they want nothing from any Derek Hunter—or from anyone at all.  They want to be left alone.

In the Seventies and Eighties, the pop-cultural image that equaled—and perhaps surpassed—the flag as a bearer of this message appeared on many a tractor-trailer’s wheel flap: Yosemite Sam, six-shooters drawn, declaring, “Back off!”

That a few degraded specimens who fought under the Confederate flag (and most plantation-owners sent proxies to do their fighting) did not, in fact, grow their own food and would not, in fact, leave black slaves (or indentured white servants) alone somewhat muddies the issue, I admit.  But the flag does NOT have a recent pop-cultural history of symbolizing the tyranny of these elite overlords. On the contrary. The dominance of the “maverick” option is reflected in the symbol’s appropriation by the Clinton/Gore campaign, and even the Howard Dean campaign.  Dean’s photo above shows him sporting Johnny Yuma’s scattergun, as if prepared to blast a whole in the wall of decorum.  I really wish that my conservative friends (and who needs enemies with such friendship?) wouldn’t run around taunting, “See?  See?  Clinton and Gore were racists, too!”  No, excuse me; they were all three scoundrels precisely because they belied the flag’s promise of rugged self-sufficiency.  Clinton’s “inter-dependent” foreign policy started us well along the road toward twenty-first century serfdom that our eighteen-trillion-dollar debt is paving.

So should the flag be struck because demagogues have persuaded ignoramuses that it means just one thing—the wrong thing, an evil thing?  Should resistance to gay marriage be scrapped just because a nation full of emotional cripples supposes such unions to be “pro-love”?  It’s funny how many self-styled conservatives (e.g., S.E. Cupp) who burned the old battle flag were leaping in joy when the SCOTUS removed the “homophobe” albatross from their coterie’s collective neck. Flag=slavery; gay marriage=love and tolerance. Now, why was it, again, that I wasn’t allowed to argue that the flag represents independence? Was it the same reason that I can’t make a case against gay marriage? Exactly who are these people that get to determine the proper value of things and events in my life? “That’s not freedom, it’s evil! No, and that over there isn’t evil, it’s freedom! You dumb cluck! Just sit down, shut up, and stop embarrassing your betters.” We used to call them Yankees.

Just a passing thought… but how many black churches do you suppose will eagerly embrace the opportunity to perform gay weddings? I’m sure they won’t feel put upon—as they were, say, by having the remnants of the thirteen Confederate stars in their state flag.

Every time I dare to crtiicize the gay lifestyle from now on, I will apparently expose myself to harassment that may involve severe financial hardship and even physical danger—just as if I were to hang the flag in my window.  I can’t even request that simple questions be answered: I can’t even register honest dissent.  It’s tasteless. It’s backward. “Why can’t two people ‘love’ each other without having sex?” I’d like to query.  “Doesn’t sexual satisfaction actually compromise the quality of loving friendship with the most obvious sort of self-interest unless it is implicitly redirected to ends beyond the carnal act?  Don’t heterosexuals usually ruin a friendship when they stir in recreational sex? Yet what end that transcends the blunt act can there be, if not the possibility (or perhaps the commemoration) of having children? If that’s removed, isn’t ‘relieving oneself’ on a friend rather an unfriendly thing to do? Male/female sex always smacks of domination, so the feminists tell us; but at least it’s following natural corridors. Doesn’t anal sex between a man and a woman signal domination even more strongly to the poor, face-down ‘receptacle’—and between two men, therefore, wouldn’t it do so a fortiori? Isn’t sexual pleasure, if one must satisfy it, accessible by alternate means—and doesn’t the neurological rigging of the anus imply that such recourse as it offers isn’t the most natural or humane of these alternatives?”

Sorry for the unavoidable crudity: but it’s a crude subject, isn’t it? And to be denied the freedom of examining certain acts because of their offensive crudity when the Supreme Court has just required us to sanctify the same acts because of their loving tenderness would indeed be bizarre. Well, that’s just about where we are.

I require enlightenment about why these crudest of behaviors do not convey the off-track, mutilated emotions that I cannot help projecting upon them. Homophobic? If you ask me to eat manure and I refuse, am I coprophobic? If you ask me to dig into my chest with a sword and I waver, am I phasganophobic? How about giving an honest question an honest answer?

But no. Not in our world—not any longer. You can’t point out that the flag didn’t signify slavery historically—and you can’t point out, either, that the exit shared by male and female is not biologically intended for entry, as well, like the exclusively female front door.  You can’t talk simple facts, historical or biological.  Someone will respond in a high lather of indignation, “Well, the flag means that TO ME!  I have a right to say what it means to me—and you disrespect me if you don’t scrap it because of that meaning.”  Someone else will fume, “Well, I happen to like anal sex, okay?  I know there are other ways to get the same result—but I happen to like back doors, okay?  They really turn me on.  That’s who I am, and you’d better respect that!”

There’s no practical end to this lunacy—and neither rationality nor common decency will slow down the runaway train any time soon.  Reruns of The Rebel will have to be pulled, of course, and showings of The Outlaw Josey Wales must be stopped: their heroes fought for an unspeakable evil at one time. Their theme songs must likewise never be played, because—through association—they celebrate the horrors of slavery and racism. Every recording that Johnny Cash ever made might as well be trashed, as well; anyone who knows that he sang the theme for The Rebel will forever be tormented by racist Furies when hearing him sing “Folsom Prison Blues”.

That’s only the beginning. A school where I used to work labels its sports teams “the Crusaders”… ouch! And of course “Redskins” will have to go: our Fuhrer is squeezing the franchise’s persecution (and probably prosecution) into his busy agenda as I write. Any team which references Native Americans, tilting knights, gun-toting cowboys, or medieval marauders in horned helmets must be purged in the interest of rearing our young children without prejudicial or violent inclinations. Sorry, Yosemite Sam: but your sixguns will also have to be replaced by bottle-dispensers of healthy snacks. Film classics like Mogambo that represent big-game hunting must be sought and destroyed. Fifties comedies like How to Marry a Millionaire that represent women as angling for husbands must be purged. Both book and film versions of Moby Dick must be suppressed. Logos that feature a human figure in repose under a sombrero must be eradicated. Any allusion to the Japanese body type as small is an open invitation to a lawsuit.

Hamburgers must be banned because someone will be offended on behalf of cows.  Clothing must become optional because some nudist will feel constrained by arbitrary rules.  Every store will have to employ a Spanish-speaker because some certain customer doesn’t want to speak English, language of the oppressor.  Soccer matches must be suspended because the balls are assembled in Third World sweatshops.  Wind chimes must be taken off the market because their presence makes some certain deaf person feel marginalized.

The cages are all open now, and every animal in the zoo is bolting for the highway.

So… I reconsider my retreat.  Might as well start pushing back here and now.  I have my beliefs, and you have yours.  If your want to maul or caricature mine, do so on your own land, and stay off my dirt.  Leave me alone, and I’ll leave you alone.  Don’t tell my kid in school that he can’t hold to what I taught him.  If you feel compelled to resist my views, then just let me school my own children, and stop stealing my money to school yours.  Leave me alone.  Back off.

I figure that I’ve been pushed enough.


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