Sunday, June 14, 2020

Yes, John Schneider (Bo Duke), The Dukes of Hazzard *Is* a Racist TV Show

Note: This essay is in response to John Schneider,
who posted this video:

I used to watch The Dukes of Hazzard, John. What’s funny is I didn’t know that you and I are just about the same age. I’m just two years younger.

I grew up in Fort Collins, Colorado, which was, according to the census of the time (I’m referencing 1979 – 1985, when Dukes ran), more than ninety percent white. I grew up in a very racist household, in a very racist neighborhood—Country Club Estates. I grew up completely insulated; and I grew up a racist myself. If you weren’t white, I used pretty much every derogatory term I could think of when I referenced your race.

I’m telling you this because I want you to know a little of my background; because I too was very racist, and I didn’t think anything was wrong about it. In fact, I considered myself not to be racist, because I didn’t feel I was personally oppressing or harming anyone by my casual and toxic use of language.

 I grew up with every privilege being white in that part of the country conferred to me, and I didn’t think twice about it. I watched The Dukes of Hazzard with that insularity and ignorance complete; and no one—not my parents, not my teachers, not my friends thought to correct me. Why would they? They were all white, too.

Truth be told, I wasn’t much of a fan of the show, John, though I did watch it a lot. It was car chases and silliness, nothing more. Oh, and making sure Daisy Duke wore ever shorter and tighter short-shorts with ever wider midriffs. That must’ve been real fun for Catherine Bach, having to get progressively more nude every episode, but I digress. I was no older than 23 at the time, and as I recall, I didn’t mind too much. More of that insularity and ignorance, I suppose, not to mention hormones.

It’s that insularity and ignorance I wish to puncture with respect to your followers and with respect to you, John. You don’t see the show as racist in any way, because at no time were you playing a character who, for example, went and beat blacks or lynched them or burned down their churches. You and Tom Wopat’s basic week-to-week scripts went something like this:

a)      Begin an episode peacefully, just doin’ your Dukes thing;

b)      Get into some sort of altercation with Boss Hogg or Rosco P. Coltrane;

c)      Flee from the sheriff or some other baddies in long car chase sequences;

d)     Flash a little Daisy;

e)      Flash more Daisy;

f)       Flash even more Daisy;

g)      Episode resolution

The show was a successful and obvious spin-off from Smokey and the Bandit; it was the studio blatantly attempting to cash in. Ronald Reagan was president, unfortunately, and the country was busy contracting into a neoliberal hate-state of Me Firstism, “greed is good,” hating Russians (so ironic) and big hair ballads. In other words, insulated and ignorant.

I can understand why there is such a huge desire to romanticize the time. It’s comforting to be insulated; it’s comforting to be ignorant. But if you would, John, I’d like to walk you through a thought experiment to help you get over yourself.

Here it is:

Picture if you will a TV show that aired in Germany from 1979 through 1985, and was called The Gestapos of Niederosterreich. We’ve got the two main characters, brothers Carl and Ulrich Gestapo. Their car, a Volkswagen named the General Rommel, has a huge swastika painted on its roof. Carl and Ulrich whip around the beautiful Austrian countryside, causing problems for the sheriff, Boss Eichmann, and his constable, Rudy W. Sness. There are lots of silly chase scenes; but there is also the Gestapo’s hot blonde sister, Eva Gestapo, who dresses in increasingly short dresses as she dances panty-less at festivals.

Now Carl and Ulrich don’t go around hunting down Jews or throwing them in ovens, no! This is good, clean, family fun, as I’ve read many of your commenters say of Dukes. There is no social commentary of any kind, in fact; the entire show is just a weekly bit of escapist fun. When the General Rommel makes a jump of some kind, a little of Wagner’s Parsifal sounds triumphantly out. It’s all just good, clean, wholesome fun. The Gestapo boys defeat the incompetent and bumbling Boss Eichmann every week; Constable Rudy W. Sness pinches his face and does a little temper tantrum jig, and the credits roll. Come back next week, y’hear?

How could that possibly be considered racist?

So I need to confront you now, John, because you know The Dukes of Hazzard was indeed racist. You know it was. I’ve just drawn you a near-perfect (if not actually perfect) parallel which you must admit from the off is grotesquely racist. Right? C’mon, John. Admit I’m right.

We could change the characters’ names all the live-long day. But the instant you plaster a Nazi flag on the Volkswagen is the instant that show becomes, and stays, racist. The Nazi flag will always and forever be a symbol of atrocity, genocide, and racism; and so will the Confederate flag. It’s time to rip the insulation away. It’s time to own up to your ignorance. Please.

The show’s name even references the Klu Klux Klan, John! Seriously!

You said you could handle the comments. I can see why. They are all supportive, shallow, and basically meaningless, with a lot of “TRUMP 2020!” thrown in for good measure. But that should alert you right there. Donald Trump is a racist. Donald Trump is a fascist. Donald Trump is a white supremacist. Facts, all.

What does that make you? You do, after all, support him and hopes he gets “re-elected” (quoted because he didn’t win legitimately in 2016, and has pledged to cheat in November).

I wish you well, I truly do, and I hope that someday you can see reason. It has been a long and painful road for me coming to grips with my own racism, a journey I don’t think I’ll ever complete. But that is the road I’m walking. And though I still stumble sometimes, I know that is the moral, decent, un-insulated, and un-ignorant road to walk. I’d love it if you join me.

Best of luck.

Shawn Montaigne