Brendan O’Neill

Isis aren’t the only ones guilty of censoring the past

Isis aren't the only ones guilty of censoring the past
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Aside from reports about terrorism, war and the Vatican cosying up to Naomi Klein, few news stories this year have upset me as much as the ones about TV Land cancelling re-runs of The Dukes of Hazzard.

TV Land, an American cable channel, announced this week that it will stop showing the oh-so-1980s TV show about the Duke boys and their sheriff-dodging antics in the state of Georgia, because the car they drove — a 1969 Dodge Charger — had the Confederate flag painted on its roof.

And following Confederate fan Dylann Roof’s massacre of nine black worshippers at a church in South Carolina, the Confederate flag has become object non grata, verboten, a symbol of evil whose existence we mustn’t tolerate. Thus The Dukes of Hazzard, like commissars who pissed off Stalin and found themselves airbrushed from official photographs, must be cleansed from history, shoved in the memory hole.

This upsets me for two reasons. First, because I loved The Dukes of Hazzard when I was a kid. I had the t-shirt. And the car (a toy version, of course). I adored the show’s raucousness, where every week the Duke cousins, Bo and Luke, with their other cousin Daisy, would find ever-more ridiculous ways to dodge the attentions of County Commissioner Boss Hogg, a fat, cigar-chomping bent official and the best TV baddie ever — fact. These moonshine-smuggling cousins, famously forbidden from crossing county lines, and hellbent on foiling Hogg’s dastardly plans, were heroes to a generation of kids. Funny, rebellious, not afraid to fire their trusty car over rivers or through walls, and super-keen to stick one in the eye of the authorities — what wasn’t to love?

That today’s kids might be prevented from watching re-runs of such classic TV fare, and will have to make do with sappy soaps like Hollyoaks with their awareness-raising storylines, is really quite sad.

The second reason I’m miffed by TV Land’s memory-holing of Dukes is because it shows how out of control the Orwellian desire to rewrite the past has become. It speaks to the intolerance of the 21st century.

In recent years I’ve read with alarm reports about the publication of new 'nigger'-free versions of Huckleberry Finn. In 2011 NewSouth Books excised all 219 mentions of the n-word from its edition of Twain’s text. I’ve shaken my head as I’ve heard about Turner Broadcasting’s decision to edit cigarettes and cigars out of 1,700 old Hanna Barbera cartoons. I winced when I heard that an image of Jackson Pollock with a fag hanging from his mouth was airbrushed before being used on a commemorative stamp in the US. I’ve raised my eyes at reports that Tintin in the Congo, published in 1930, has been withdrawn from some libraries on the grounds that it’s racist.

But the hiding-away of The Dukes of Hazzard feels even worse than those earlier outbursts of history-rewriting craziness. For now, even stuff from the Eighties, even culture from my own childhood, is falling victim to the authoritarian impulse to airbrush inconvenient facts from the past, to force the past to conform to the ideals of the present. Nothing is safe, not even a joyous, throwaway TV show, from the ravenous desire to cleanse the cultural sphere of 'problematic' images - 'problematic' being the PC version of what Muslims call 'haram' - and cover everything from images of smoking to pictures of slim women in bikinis to anything else that 21st-century moaners find offensive.

The war on Dukes is part of the bigger hysteria that followed the massacre in South Carolina. Amazon, Walmart and eBay have promised to stop selling anything that has the Confederate flag on it, whether it’s belt buckles or cowboy hats. Warner Bros says it will no longer sell the toy version of the Dukes car. My toy, one of my favourite childhood items, effectively banned. Reader, I could cry.

'He who controls the past controls the future,' says Big Brother in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Once, it was tyrants, like Stalin, who sought to reshape the past in order to make their rule in the present seem legitimate. Now, it is mainly liberals — or what we should rightly call illiberal liberals — who feel an urge to cleanse from history racist words, sexist images, images of unhealthy practices, or old Civil War flags. Those liberal voices that demanded the banning, essentially, of the Confederate following Roof’s massacre seemed blissfully unaware of how much they sounded like far-right folk who call for a ban on the Koran following Islamic terror attacks. In both cases, the kneejerk response to horrific events is to demand censorship, in the hope that it will pacify the masses, dampen the ugly passions of what right-wingers view as the untrustworthy Muslim community and what liberals look upon as the dumb, violent rednecks of the American South.

We balk at images of Isis destroying the monuments of the past, which they consider foul, upsetting to their super-Islamist sensibilities. But tell me — aside from the fact that we use petitions rather than an imam’s diktats to demand the airbrushing of past images, and that we use photoshop rather than hammers to obliterate old things that offend our 21st-century sensibilities, what is the difference between Isis's destruction of a 2,000-year-old statue and the current culture war against the wonderful, heroic Dukes of Hazzard?