The Confederate flag is a garbage flag that represents garbage ideas. But in an effort to purge the world of those garbage ideas, some companies are too quick to pull out the banhammer. Here’s one recent example: Apple has begun banning some games that feature the Confederate flag–even if that game is about the American Civil War.
Just to get the usual caveats out of the way, this isn’t “censorship” in the legal sense of the word. Private companies can choose to sell or not sell whatever products they like. Amazon, eBay, Walmart, Etsy, and other retailers have all decided that they will no longer sell products that feature the Confederate flag. And Apple doesn’t have to sell any games that it finds objectionable. But Apple’s decision is a worrying precedent for those of us concerned with how history is taught and interpreted in this country. Getting rid of the Confederate flag in art is a ridiculously unnecessary move.
I whole-heartedly support the decision of states like Alabama and South Carolina, where they’re taking down the Confederate flags that fly outside their government buildings. But those flags represented a state-sanctioned endorsement of everything the Confederacy stood for: Slavery, oppression, and yes, fucking treason. Getting rid of the Confederate flag in the context of some proud display at a state capitol building has been long overdue.
But selling art and historical materials are clearly different from an official endorsement of a hateful symbol. Historical items featuring Confederate imagery on eBay or a video game that depicts the American Civil War on Apple’s App Store must be understood in a different context when it comes to private citizens.
It’s really as simple as the difference between the country’s endorsement of a bad idea and Joe Blow’s bad idea down the street. South Carolina probably shouldn’t have a pair of Truck Nutz hanging from its capitol building. But I fully support my neighbour’s right to have them on his Toyota Corolla.
Apple controls an enormous amount of the media that runs through our internet pipes everyday. At the risk of playing Slippery Slope Roulette, what might Apple ban next? Podcasts that discuss American Civil War history? TV shows about the Alamo? And what about another obvious example: World War II media. Sure, the counterpoint might be that there aren’t weekend warriors proudly dressing up as Nazi soldiers to re-enact the Battle of Stalingrad. But even if they were, you can’t eliminate poisonous ideas by banning art. Personally I prefer to fight bad speech with more speech.
I own books and magazines with terribly offensive material. Most of those offensive books and magazines have come from eBay, where I’ve been collecting anything to do with past visions of the future for nearly a decade. I have 1920s technology magazines that have racist cartoons inside. And 1930s radio magazines with racist covers. I’m sure there’s even a representation or two of the Confederate flag in some of them. And don’t even get me started on the rampant sexism. But I own these things to understand another era, not to celebrate everything that they represent.
The long and the short of it is that history is horrendous. We’re moving forward as a society when we reject the racist symbols of our past, as the Confederate flag so clearly is. But instituting a blanket ban on certain symbols and flags in books, magazines and video games doesn’t help anybody.
The Confederate flag may be garbage, but we can’t start to pretend like it’s garbage that never existed.
Photo: Confederate flags via the Associated Press