Even the cult favorite television show “The Dukes of Hazzard” is not immune to the growing consensus that the Confederate flag belongs in the past, not the present or the future.
Warner Brothers, the studio that owns the rights to franchise, confirmed to Vulture on Wednesday that they would no longer produce the classic version of the infamous General Lee — the main characters’ gravity-defying car, which features the Confederate flag on its roof — for clothing, model cars, lunch boxes, or any other commercial purpose.
“Warner Bros. Consumer Products has one licensee producing die-cast replicas and vehicle model kits featuring the General Lee with the confederate flag on its roof — as it was seen in the TV series,” a spokesman for the company said via email. “We have elected to cease the licensing of these product categories.”
In other words, the General Lee isn’t going away, but the flag on it is. As recently as 2012, Warner Bros. had refused to alter its “Dukes of Hazzard” products, despite public pressure to do so.
The decision by the media giant is the latest in a string of reversals from companies that had marketed materials featuring the stars and bars. Amazon, Walmart, eBay and Sears have all pledged to stop selling Confederate-themed items. And NASCAR, whose fans have been known to brandish the image, has also come out in favor for the removal of Confederate flags from statehouse grounds. Google also announced late Tuesday that it would block ads for products embellished with the symbol. These actions have all come in the wake of the tragic massacre of nine African-Americans during a Bible study session in Charleston, South Carolina last week.
The confessed killer, Dylann Storm Roof, had been photographed displaying the flag and also had an image of it on his car. Several political figures, including South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who had previously expressed indifference or support for allowing Confederate flags to hang in front of state buildings have now come out in favor of removing them. The South Carolina state legislature is currently weighing whether or not to banish the Confederate flag permanently.
However, some people associated with the 1978 to 1985 CBS series (which spawned a 2005 big screen adaptation as well) have defended the use of the stars and bars. For instance, Ben Jones, a former GOP Congressman and star of the show, argued on a June 20 episode of msnbc’s “Up with Steve Kornacki” that “70 million” Americans are descendants of the Confederacy and “many of us see it in a much different context.”
“It is not the flag that caused this act, we must make that clear,” Jones, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said.
Although “The Dukes of Hazzard” was often criticized for racist overtones — the General Lee’s horn played the Confederate theme “Dixie” — that didn’t stop Hollywood from retaining the star and bars for the 2005 movie version. That film tried to poke fun at its own cultural insensitivity with a scene where the Duke brothers (this time played by Johnny Knoxville and Sean William Scott), drive through a predominately black neighborhood in the car emblazoned with the Confederate flag. The studio characterized the scene as “tongue in cheek” at the time.
Some have argued that the franchise has helped to make the flag more palatable for mainstream audiences. In a column for The Atlantic, Megan Garber argued that the show ”solidified the idea that the flag could have — or at least could claim to have — an alternate meaning besides the original one of defiant racism.”
Meanwhile, as recently last year, the show’s original stars Tom Wopat and John Schneider, reprised their roles and took the General Lee for another spin in an ad for AutoTrader. Curiously, the company says they went out of their way not to show the signature flag.
“The whole point of the Dukes of Hazzard storyline was that the car is outdated in every way — and it needed replacing,” an AutoTrader spokesperson said in a statement to CNN Money when asked about the Confederate flag. “The characters have a clear need that AutoTrader can solve by helping them replace their old car that can’t keep up with changing times.”
“We purposefully did not show the Confederate flag in the commercials because it is not consistent with our values as a company,” they added.