There’s something I’ve wanted to work on for about three years and hadn’t gotten around to it yet because of the research involved and because of the subject matter. I’ve hinted at it several times. The events this year with things like George Floyd being killed are related to it, and I see that if I had written it back then, it wouldn’t be as strong as it will be once I get a handle on it and take in these new events.
Jon Stewart was on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert last night and he made the statement that because COVID-19 took some of the distractions away from us, we have time to think about new things and “America suddenly stopped and smelled the racism”. We’re seeing it branch out and become more prominent under the Black Lives Matter movement.
- The music group Lady Antebellum decided they will just be called “Lady A” and worked out a deal with singer Lady A so they could both use the new name, even though they’re separate.
- The University of Virginia came up with a new sports logo and then I think they had to redesign it after someone pointed out that the reference to the university’s building layout was to keep slaves hidden from public view.
- The writers of Brooklyn Nine-Nine just threw away four scripts and will re-work the entire upcoming season.
- Confederate statues are coming down, and US military bases named for Confederate people may be renamed.
- Disney already added disclaimers to a few movies when they were sent to Disney+, and broadcaster Sky is doing the same with the animated and live actions versions of Disney’s The Jungle Book, Disney’s animated Dumbo, plus The Goonies, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and others.
I could name many more at this point, but the one I think is most potent is Quaker Oats’ decision to retire the Aunt Jemima brand because it’s a racial stereotype. On the surface, it’s a no-brainer. The suitability of it as a corporate image came up before and even after updating the image during it’s long history, maybe it wasn’t enough to justify using it any more. However, the families of the women who were the model for the image on the packaging are saying doing this is erasing a part of their family history.
Some episodes of 30 Rock aren’t going to be on streaming services any more because characters wore blackface of varying degrees. When Bill Lawrence received a suggestion to do the same for Scrubs and he said it was already in progress, people countered with asking if they couldn’t be edited so we don’t lose three entire episodes because of one bad thing in each of them.
The response to the decisions about Aunt Jemima and Scrubs show a critical difference being missed in the rush to remove these items. If you’re in a hurry to get rid of X, are you doing anything to offer a better replacement for it, or is saying “you have to get rid of it” the full extent of your involvement?
The actual saying is different, but you’ll more likely hear it as “Those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it.” Hiding something like as if it never happened addresses the immediate problem. Are any steps being taken that will help people in the future learn why the change was made that will show it’s more than just bowing to social pressure in a way that could be censoring history?
For the second time in 15 years, there’s discussions about whether The Dukes of Hazzard should still be shown because of the Confederate Flag on the car. The first time, John Schneider opposed it. This time, he’s asking because he honestly wants to know about it. Ben Jones, who played Cooter, points out the history of the flag traces back to St. Andrew, first disciple of Jesus and was crucified in a spread-eagle position. Jones has said about the show, “Suddenly, we’re persona non grata because we have that symbol there. That’s astonishingly narrow, given the demographics and our history.”
HBO decided to pull Gone with the Wind earlier this month. I didn’t include the fact that Scarlett threatened to beat one of her slaves when I mentioned it two years ago, but I did say how manipulative and vindictive she is. Until this year, it was acceptable to watch this movie without a second thought. HBO decided that adding an intro about the horrors of slavery to provide context was a better move than locking it away, so now we can still see it and have new information to help us understand it.
We’ve been here before, very recently with the Me Too movement. Back then, the feeling of “take away everything they did so they don’t get any more benefit” was very strong. It hit Kevin Spacey in particular. A film that was about to be released was delayed while every scene he was in was reshot and his character on House of Cards was killed off.
In between then and now, we had another example where the episode of The Simpsons called “Stark Raving Dad” was removed after the documentary about Michael Jackson was released. For this, the reason was given that while the showrunners are not in favor of book burning, The Simpsons is their book and they’re “allowed to take out a chapter”.
We want things gone but we need to provide enough information so that those who are living now and those in the future can learn from this part of our past. Simply getting rid of it isn’t the answer, and I can provide a concrete example of what you could call a reverse Godwin’s Law.
When Dwight D. Eisenhower was fighting in Europe during World War II, he saw how useful the German highway system was and when he became President of the U.S., he helped get the Interstate Highway System going to improve transportation for both civilians and the military. Some sections of the highways are long and straight so they can be used as runways.
Those German highways were originally called the Reichsautobahn. Others had proposed a highway system before and the Nazi party opposed those ideas. After the party comes to power, it’s suddenly a great idea, so great in fact that Adolph Hitler gets credit for coming up with it and they’re called die Straßen Adolf Hitlers (“Adolph Hitler’s roads”).
Adolph Hitler is pretty much universally considered a bad person. He was involved in the creation of the Reichsautobahn. The U.S. Interstate Highway System is based on that concept. Ergo, we have to start tearing up the Interstate highways because we can’t have them associated with Adolph Hitler. It’s only a tiny fraction of the highway system’s history, but Hitler bad so it has to go.
That’s an exaggerated example, but it does match the mentality of the “we have to get rid of X now” thinking we’re seeing too much of. Actually doing it would be massively expensive and require a completely different transportation system, setting us back economically for decades.
When it comes to current events like Black Lives Matter, what else can we do to help people learn about what’s happened before without taking the “get rid of it” path that too often involves censoring history?