Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Battle Flag Battles

Let me lay out some ground rules for this article: 
1). Acknowledging what is true and logically consistent on both sides of an argument is not the same as the Fallacy of the Middle. 
2). The Civil War was about both States’ Rights and Slavery – specifically, whether States could secede in order to protect the right to own slaves. 
3). The Confederate flag is contentious because it is symbolic of both Southern history and culture, and of the slavery and discrimination that exists in Southern history and culture. 
Northerner: This cannon is racist!
Southerner: This cannon violates State's Rights! 
These ground rules established, I would like to talk about the preservation of game history, the preservation of history through games, and Apple’s ban on apps and games that use the Confederate flag in the wake of a series of racially motivated terrorist attacks. 
The ban was initially put into place without explanation, but Apple later gave the following criteria for which apps did and did not get removed: 
“We have removed apps from the App Store that use the Confederate flag in offensive or mean-spirited ways, which is in violation of our guidelines. We are not removing apps that display the Confederate flag for educational or historical uses.” 
 I find this horse's unrealistic proportions offensive.
So far, so good. The “Southern Pride (Rebel Flag) Wallpaper” app got the ax, presumably because a Dixie-themed wallpaper is inherently offensive and/or mean spirited. But many games were also removed, such as Ultimate General: Gettysburg and other games that were clearly using the flag in a historical context. 
While Apple is working with game developers to reinstate these games and Apple may have pursued a “remove first and ask questions later” policy for logistical reasons, it does appear as though games were singled out. Apple has not treated books or albums that use the Confederate flag on their covers or in their contents in the same manner as video games.  
Civil War: 1862 is no more inherently racist than Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Legend, and Civil War: 1862 at least has the excuse of using the Confederate battle flag in a historical context. Whether or not you agree with Apple’s ban, it does illustrate how video games are of less perceived artistic value than Truck Drivin’ Man. 
White cups and coffee, Lord yea
It's all that he needs
And he's all right by me
Truck drivin' man 
The conservation of game history is a hot-button topic right now, with companies actively fighting efforts to preserve online games whose servers have been shut down. And while Civil War strategy games are not my cup of tea, it is a bit disturbing that Apple feels that it is free to erase video games from the record while taking the time to assess the actual contents of books and music.  
The issue is not that potentially offensive items were pulled in the wake of a national tragedy. The issue is not even the stated criteria for which items would be pulled. The issue is that these criteria were not evenly applied. 
Apple is of course not the only company to pull Confederate-themed merchandize lately – Wal-Mart and Amazon have also made similar decisions. And while I applaud these retailers for passing on a chance to capitalize on Controversy Bucks, one must wonder how much actual good this is doing. 
After all, I can get on Amazon right now and have copies of White Supremacist literature such as The Turner Diaries, White Girls Bleed a Lot, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Victoria delivered to my Kindle instantly. What is more offensive, books that actively support the overthrow of the United States government and the organized extermination of all non-whites or Confederate boxer shorts? A book that contains detailed instructions on carrying out racially-motivated terrorist attacks or a "Southern Girl" t-shirt decorated with the stars and bars? 
"As the mulatto looked up with surprise and annoyance at the large White man suddenly blocking his path, Oscar raised his pistol and shot his victim between the eyes. The mulatto fell back heavily against the vehicle without uttering a sound, then sprawled into the gutter." - Hunter
Let me be clear: this is not a Freedom of Speech issue. Apple, Wal-Mart, and Amazon are free to decide whether or not to sell Civil War-themed products. I can still go out and hang a Confederate flag on my personal property any time I want (not that I will). There are still any number of merchants willing to sell me any number of products to celebrate Southern Culture. Heck, there are even a few that will sell me products that actively support slavery. 
You can buy this on Amazon right now. 
But while I can appreciate companies deciding not to profit off of a national tragedy, there is also something to be said for not erasing history. State capitols are not an appropriate place for Confederate flags to fly, but Civil War video games are. The only reason to exclude the Rebel flag is if we're going to replace it with, say, the more historically accurate battle flags used by particular Confederate regiments. 
Which yeah, actually, that sounds pretty good. 


  1. Ok, I've got to ask, how is "White Girl Bleeds a Lot" a white supremacist literature?

    1. Man, this is an old article. Which should answer your question.