13 Jul 2015

Nerd’s Eye View: ‘Dukes of Haphazard’ or ‘A generalee bad idea’?

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From 2006 until 2011, I worked for John Schneider, better known to children of the ’80s as Bo Duke on “The Dukes of Hazzard.” I met John in Starkville several years ago while he was promoting a film, and our interests kind of clicked. Over the next five years, I spent a lot of time working for his film distribution and production companies, in addition to accompanying him to public appearances around the Southeast.

In that time, I drove the General Lee many, many times. In fact, it was an original General Lee, “Bo’s General Lee,” as John called it. He had gotten it after the show ended in 1985 and it even was used in a couple of the made-for-TV “Dukes” movies that CBS aired in 1997 and 2000.

It was a neat little side job that took me to lots of places I’d never been by that point in my life, including Los Angles and New York City for stints, but it was all about John, and more specifically, that orange car I drove everywhere.

When you think of iconic television vehicles, a number of transports come to mind: “The A-Team” van, KITT from “Knight Rider,” “The Beverly Hillbillies” jalopy and the 1960’s Batmobile, just to name a few.

But the General Lee always seems to stand out for a lot of people, myself included. I’ve gone to conventions with hundreds of replicas of the orange machine lined up for miles, and stood in even longer lines getting people ready to meet John and have their own memorabilia from the show, emblazoned with the General, autographed personally. And I saw some weird stuff. Anything you can imagine that was made in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s had those cousins and that car on it, from bubble gum to TV trays, alarm clocks to toothpaste. And people hold on to those items.

Another relic being held onto after all these years (no, I’m not talking about Coy and Vance) is the Confederate flag which, in my humble opinion, should have been taken down from several state capitols, including South Carolina and Mississippi, many years ago. That piece of fabric doesn’t represent my ideals anymore than I represented the show driving that car around. And there were several times I felt awkward driving it when pulling up alongside other cars in traffic. That flag has always had a bad reputation for attracting the wrong kind of attention, and putting it on top of an already-attention-grabbing vehicle doesn’t help matters when you’re on the Atlanta highway. I speak from experience.

But while I am for the flag being removed left and right, from online retailers to Bree Newsome’s climb up the flagpole, I’m not sure pulling “Dukes” off the air and the shelves was the place to make a heroic stand in the court of public opinion.

While I’m not excusing the appearance, that television show and vehicle are from a different time. And while it might not be from 1885 – and hopefully we’re not all as backwards thinking as many were back then – I think canceling syndication of the series and halting production of collectibles based around it is just as backwards as pretending like these intolerances never occurred in the first place.

Oddly enough, Warner Brothers, who owns “Dukes” puts a disclaimer in front of their more, shall we say, “classic” cartoons that reads as follows: “The cartoons you are about to see are products of their time. They may depict some of the ethnic and racial prejudices that were commonplace in American society. These depictions were wrong then, and are wrong today. While the following does not represent the Warner Bros. view of today’s society, these cartoons are being presented as they were originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed.”

As Waylon told us, the boys “wouldn’t change if they could.” As a white male, my feelings on the flag are about as inconsequential as any scheme Boss Hogg came up with to subdue the titular cousins, but it looks like the mountain, nor the law were to blame in finally catching the Duke boys. Time just caught up with their shenanigans.

“Coming up next on TV Land, ‘Hogan’s Heroes.’”

W. DEREK RUSSELL is the Daily Journal’s arts and entertainment reporter. Connect with him on Twitter at @wderekrussell, through email at derek.russell@journalinc.com or by phone at (662) 678-1580.