Icons, flags and the Hazzards of intellectual property toxicity

Many people who had not previously heard of the Dukes of Hazzard TV series (1979 to 1985) are now discovering it via the substantial media coverage attending the decision by Viacom subsidiary TV Land to pull the plug on a current re-run on US screens following the tragic Charleston church massacre (see eg "Dukes of Hazzard pulled from TV screens amid Confederate flag row", here).  The trigger for withdrawing the series was the circulation of photographs of the perpetrator of the massacre, self-confessed racist Dylann Roof, burning the United States' Stars and Stripes flag and posing with the Confederate flag -- the rallying icon of the secessionist Southern States.  

Readers unfamiliar with the Dukes of Hazzard may not understand what this series has to do with all of this: the answer is that the car featured in it, a 1969 Dodge Charger named General Lee after the commander of the Confederate Army Robert E. Lee (left), has a Confederate flag on its roof. The Confederate flag is increasingly being regarded as more than an historical milestone in the United States' long march from a society based on slavery and segregation to one that seeks to reflect the aspirations of that country's Constitution. Some people clearly now see it as a badge of current political thought, of a return to the days of white supremacy, though survey results suggest that more people associate with "Southern pride", which seems to this outsider to be an ill-defined and not specifically offensive concept.  TV Land is not the only business to be anxious about the flag's message, it seems: the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) has not banned the flag, but has asked fans to stop flying it.

This Kat has been trying to avoid drawing too many comparisons between the swift responses to the use of the flag when a minority of people find it offensive and the determination of the Washington Redskins National Football League team to hang on to its Redskins brand, notwithstanding the plain evidence that it is offensive to many people, to the point at which the Obama Administration is prepared to prevent the team's return to the Washington DC area.

Merpel wonders about this: what if Dylann Roof had not been shown together with a Confederate flag but with some other potent modern icon? Suppose he was clad head to toe in Lonsdale clothing, or if in each photograph he was shown with a gun in one hand and a bottle of Stella Artois in the other? Would consumer actions have been the same, calling for a ban or some sort of punishment on the brand, or do consumers condemn the wrongdoer but forgive the brand?

The Purrberry: no laughing matter ...
The question is not as silly as it may sound: the Lonsdale brand, on account of its consumers, was in the past linked with far-right politics (see eg here and here), and Stella Artois with wife-beating. Other brands have also been tarnished by association with those who favoured them, such as Doc Marten boots with British skinheads and Burberry by chavs. The Confederate flag is not a brand in the commercial sense, since it is a political symbol rather than a business one -- but both flags and brands attract loyalties and generate passions that are often irrational and difficult, if not impossible, to suppress.

In the real world, there are several options. One can drop the brand or flag entirely; one can swiftly withdraw it and then reintroduce it when the time is right, one can change it for another or one can retain it in its entirety but change its essential message. However, not every option is open for every goodwill- (or illwill-)bearing icon, as the owners of the Washington Redskins and the users of the Confederate flag will soon find out if they do not already know.

Dodge Chargers here 
Charge Dodgers here
Icons, flags and the Hazzards of intellectual property toxicity Icons, flags and the Hazzards of intellectual property toxicity Reviewed by Jeremy on Thursday, July 02, 2015 Rating: 5


  1. I do wonder what the "loyal" sons of East Belfast will make of all this especially as the "marching season" gets underway ...

  2. I don't know how many people are unfamiliar with the Dukes of Hazzard. That as may be, the program was a satire on Southern State red necks, with corrupt sherriffs, illegal distillation of 'moonshine' and a lot of 'cutting to the chase'. the program wasn't racist, but was rather sexist, with Daisy cast as the scantily clad waitress who ditracted the police. I don't remember any blacks in the series, but Cooter who ran the garage may have had mixed blood. Not airing this is a little like not airing Blazing Saddles. the Union flag decorating the car was not a Swastika. None of the characters were Klansmen.

    One can ban Oliver Twist and the Merchant of Venice as being anti-Semitic. I think open discussion is more appropriate. Maybe we should ban Superman due to the possibility that people will put their y-fronts on over their trousers and jump out of windows trying to fly?

  3. Well, there's a few significant differences between the use of the confederate flag and Stella Artois/Lonsdale, the main one being that neither of the latter brands have ever been used as the primary focal symbol of one side in a war....A war which for better or worse has had it's causes over-simplified to a single primary issue.

    As a 'brand', the flag has had 150 years to build up reputation and, for want of a better phrase, 'goodwill'. All the other brands you mention are somewhat Johnny-come-lately in comparison.

    There are significant portions of the population of the US who will instantly associate it with a certain background and mindset. Plus which, the other brands have far smaller potential consumer bases or sub-sets within the population, far more competitors within those bases, and are generally seen as politically or issue neutral whether or not they are worn or consumed by a certain 'type' (Docs, for example, were worn by individuals across the political spectrum from far-right to far-left, as well as those within cultural youth tribes who couldn't have cared less).

    A better comparison would have been if Dylann Roof were to have stood in front of a hammer-and-sickle flag, or an inverted pentagram.

  4. As always, Tom Lehrer got it right all those years ago:


  5. Galloper, as a son of Ardoyne, I guess I'm surprised - I've never seen a Confederate battle flag at an Orange parade. But then, the "Dr." in Ian Paisley's name came from Bob Jones University in South Carolina, and Bob Jones Sr. hated blacks as much as "Dr." Paisley hated the Catholic Church, so I guess there was a connection.

    Something like 40% of George Washington's Continental Army was made up of what the Americans call "Scotch-Irish", northerners from James I's Plantation who had moved on to the New World.


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