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The Duke Boys Can Ride Again

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Opinions expressed by Bill Crittenden are not official policies or positions of The Crittenden Automotive Library. You can read more about the Library's goals, mission, policies, and operations on the About Us page. Dodge Charger Topics:  General Lee

The Duke Boys Can Ride Again

Bill Crittenden
July 4, 2015

General Lee carPhoto by "Valder137," used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.
The Confederate flag has been in the crosshairs since Dylann Roof made the flag's use and meaning a front-page issue and efforts to take it down have gained momentum across the South.

Warner Bros. seems to have preempted controversy by pulling licensing of the General Lee car because of the Confederate flag featured prominently on the roof. TV Land has pulled reruns of the show and Bubba Watson says he may paint over the flag on his example of the actual car.

First off, let me say that it's not the fault of TV Land or Warner Bros. that the show's casual use of a controversial symbol finally bit the show in the ass. Racism isn't always assumed of people flying the flag, as it's more often ignorance of its history and meaning that trick people into thinking it's a symbol of "states' rights" or the heritage of the American South.

If your favorite classic show just got taken off of television, blame the doofus who thought it was a bright idea to glorify a side that fought for slavery in a war that killed over half a million people when trying to design a car that represented the South and rebellion against authority. Even after the war, how were the show's creators not aware of the KKK's use of the flag, its history as a Dixiecrat symbol, or its promotion as a symbol of "the South" rebelling against the federal government by people fighting for segregation?

As society progresses and attitudes change, we're sometimes ashamed of how casually we treated topics in past entertainment. Blackface is no longer acceptable in entertainment. 1949's "Donald's Happy Birthday" honestly depicts a bit of parental discipline from the past that would be considered child abuse today. Animal House made light of sleeping with an unconscious woman, an act most recognize as rape and not funny today.

None of these films are being eradicated from the historic record. All of these are still available for those who wish to see them. Dukes of Hazzard is still available on DVD, and even if DVD production is discontinued the secondary market will still have plenty of copies for years to come.

I left off a previous article on the topic wondering if this controversy is truly the end of the General Lee and the Duke boys or if this "end of the road" will turn out to be a metaphor for the show's many high-flying car jumps: it only looked like the road's run out until the car miraculously lands safely on the other side of the river.

Perhaps there is a way...

As fans have been reiterating the point that they weren't watching the show for the Confederate flag, it should be possible for a studio to reboot the series without the General Lee (let's be honest, the name's part of the problem, too).

Little in Hollywood is completely original these days, anyway. Most movies are adaptations of books, remakes of classics, or otherwise borrowed from comic books, fairy tales, or real life. Most television programs follow a formula that's been previously established by some other program before, just with new characters and one or two added twists to make it original enough.

Police brutality and corruption are in the news a lot lately, while many of us have also been concerned with the fortunes and misfortunes of Iraq war veterans who are reintegrating to civilian life since the end of that conflict. A returning veteran who fought for his country coming back to face a corrupt sheriff? Yeah, that sounds like just the kind of television show that Americans could connect with right now.

The Duke boys have a lot of life left to them, if only they had a better car.

So here's a few things I came up with, just to show how there's so much rich history to pull from for inspiration without resorting to the worst parts of our history...

As both a nod to the Dukes of Hazzard's past and a rebuke of anti-American Confederate symbolism, I'd stick to Civil War history for the car's inspiration. But if you're going to honor a Union war hero, it might look a little out of place in Georgia, where one of our more shameful episodes of the war (Sherman's March) cut a path of completely unnecessary destruction through civilian countryside. Maybe the show could still be country, just not southern. There's plenty of "good ol' boys" in our rural northern counties.

Personally, I'm a fan of the state of Wisconsin, full of good, humble, hard-working people, a place known for beer and football and meat and cheese and beautiful hilly rural country named for a combined heritage of German and Native American. Wisconsin also has a great history with stock car racing, the home of the country's oldest continually operating racetrack (Milwaukee Mile, 1903), the home of NASCAR champions Alan Kulwicki and Matt Kenseth and truck series champs Ted Musgrave and Travis Kvapil, as well as local heroes Dick Trickle, Dave Marcis, Rich Bickle, Paul Menard, the Sauter family, the Wimmer brothers, and my personal childhood racing hero Joe Shear.

So I started researching Wisconsin's history in the Civil War, and I found something really awesome.

Wisconsin's 8th Volunteer Infantry Regiment was one of several Wisconsin units that fought in the Civil War. Unlike other Wisconsin regiments that were assigned to more western areas, the 8th fought with the main army under General Grant at Vicksburg. Their mascot was a bald eagle named Old Abe, named for the President, and Old Abe lives on as a famous American symbol you have definitely seen even if you didn't know its name. First off, Old Abe was the eagle that used to be a part of the Case tractor & equipment company logo. But the other use is far more famous.

The army's 101st division was formed for a very short time at the very end of the first World War and reformed as a Reserve division in Milwaukee in 1921. They adopted Old Abe as a symbol of the division in honor of Wisconsin's volunteers, and the rest, as they say, is history: the famed "Screaming Eagle" of the 101st Airborne Division is, in fact, a depiction of Wisconsin's Old Abe.

So one idea is to displace the already fictional Hazzard County to rural Wisconsin. General Lee would become "Old Abe," a modern orange Dodge Challenger (mostly because I don't want to see any more '69 Chargers wrecked in production) with an American flag across the roof and a 101st Airborne bumper sticker. Luke Duke's history could easily be moved from the Marines to the 101st Airborne to make the reason for the car's name obvious. Joe Shear was known later in his career for driving orange cars with a number 36 painted on the side in an old-timey style, a cool-looking replacement for the simple 01 that gives the car the kind of real-world local connection the original show's creators were aiming for when they thought it was a good idea to paint a Confederate flag atop a car just because the show was set in Georgia.

Or, in a more traditional style, the show could still be set in Georgia, as making Luke a member of the 101st Airborne would give him a connection to the Old Abe name no matter where he lived. Of course Georgia's got more than enough of its own stock car history, being one of the places the sport originated as well as being home to my teenage years' favorite racer: Bill Elliott (perhaps just changing the 01 to 09 would be a nice nod to Awesome Bill).

In any case, these are just a few idea to show of how the Duke boys could be brought back to life without the baggage of the Confederate symbolism that is tarnishing the memory of the original show. This is just what I came up with using a smartphone for an hour, to make the point of what's possible, so I imagine Hollywood could come up with something even better if they put real effort into it.

If the characters are really more important than the car, the Duke boys can definitely ride again some day.

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