More than 33 years since the show premiered on CBS-TV on Friday nights, Warner Bros. has issued a new and terribly insulting attack on the South, a region and a culture which Hollywood has trashed for decades. Some unnamed genius at the company feels that the flag is ‘offensive to some’ and therefore it has no business on a classic TV comedy about a bunch of good ol’ boys and girls in the Southern mountains. This is a new level of “P.C.” idiocy. I don’t know about you, but I am tired of being insulted by morons…It will make kids unhappy and confused. To me, they’re destroying innocence. They’re not responding to people who watch the show, they’re responding to those who don’t follow it. It’s insulting to my culture and my work…The flag is a part of the almost perfect design of that car, which has been voted the most popular car in the history of film and television. That’s not going to go away. It’s an idiotic decision.
This is not the United States of America. This is the United States of GetOverIt. The trick is changing “it.” One day, kale recommenders are being told to “get over it”; another day, kale holdouts are being told the same thing. One day – say, in 2005 – people who like this new texting feature are told to “get over it.” On some later day, people who won’t text are told the same thing. Maybe that’s just part of our character as a young, restless country – Tom Petty may have sung that he was “born to rebel,” but most of us were born ADD.
Somehow, we got to Get Over It with the Confederate flag. And you can’t understand how amazing that is from reading or watching mainstream (including Fox) news. Most people I know haven’t really heard from the pro-Stars-and-Bars crowd. If you’re one of them, you will be stunned by reading this article and comment thread. THERE’S your morning cup of ignorance right there.
You, dear reader, are special. You are willing to read a thousand words about politics, or perhaps just read a crazy person’s rant. Most of your fellow Americans part company with you in this regard. They do not want to read about politics or any other subject for very long. Their reaction to any particular opinion or political event can be summarized as: Get Over It.
In the 21st century, this tendency has been exacerbated and amplified by the internet, where “Get Over It” has become the pithiest statement on many a chat board. One early internet adopter was moveon.org, a site so named because it wanted the country to “move on” (pretty much the same as “get over it”) from Bill Clinton’s lying about infidelity. Later, moveon.org flipped the script but kept the name, asking the country to move on from any number of George Bush’s policies. If you were to scour the millions of hours of TV shows released in the 20th-century, I doubt you’d find any character saying “I’m so over it,” but by 2008 this became both a mantra and a joke, with characters being “so over” one thing before they were “so over” its exact opposite. In 2008, for the first time, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia had this to say about Bush v. Gore: “Get over it!” The same year, oddly enough, America elected its first African-American President. And for many a person on many a reddit thread (or its like), this fact was deployed as a five word rebuke any time someone said that America is still racist: “Black President. Get over it.”
So does one get over history, or get over modern problems emanating from history? Get over it like moveon, or get over it like Scalia? As either of them could have paraphrased for you, it depends on what the meaning of the word “it” is.
The last time the Confederate flag was debated on the national level was about 16 years ago, when Presidential candidates fielded questions about it and the South Carolina statehouse removed it from their dome, hoisting it to an unlowerable top of a flagpole at the capitol’s entrance. As such placements go, this was probably just slightly more controversial than where to put the Rocky statue at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Because South Carolina appeared to have then compromised, “Get Over It” has been on the side of the Confederate flag supporters throughout this century…until last month.
Imagine an episode of The Good Wife or Law and Order: SVU beginning with a young white racist man shooting the life out of several people in an African-American church. So far, not hard to imagine (they start episodes with that sort of sensationalism all the time). Now, imagine that the episode ended with a successful nationwide call to remove Confederate flags from every respectable establishment, including government offices and major retailers.
Impossible. A month ago, any screenwriter who turned in that draft would have been laughed out of the room. Get over it, they might have told him. (Sadly, it’s usually a “him.”)
If the Confederate flag really does come down all over the South, two years from now people will blame a trend of “political correctness” augured by Obama’s presidency, but the truth is a little more complicated than that. How “Get Over It” flipped in the case of the Confederate Flag is a story of many other “Get Over It”s. Gun control and institutional racism are two of them. Repeatedly during the Obama administration, after (respectively) mass shootings and revelations of police brutality, liberals protested that America needs to “get over” such horrors with new legislation, while conservatives claimed that liberals need to “get over” their complaints. A third “Get Over It” is the definition of “terrorism” itself, a favorite bugbear of conservatives, who lambasted Obama in the last election cycle for not being quick enough to call things by that name. As a term, “terrorism” is less about amount of lives lost (or every mass shooting would qualify) and more about perceived threats to our “way of life” (e.g. Benghazi and the Boston Marathon, which together did not cost half as many lives as Sandy Hook)…but you know, get over it, don’t re-fight how we fight the war on terror. And then there was the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, which never quite permeated American culture, despite well-attended battle re-enactments, weekly New York Times articles (the “Disunion” feature) by prominent historians, and a surprisingly popular Steven Spielberg movie about the passage of the 13th amendment. These created a drip-drip-drip sense that America needed to either remember or get over the Civil War, but what did that mean, exactly?
Enter Dylann Roof and Ta-Nehisi Coates. Ta-Neh…what? Yes, the brilliant, not-yet-40 writer for The Atlantic played a key and under-heralded role here. The day of Roof’s unspeakable massacre, Coates’ headline blared across the Atlantic’s homepage: “Take Down the Confederate Flag – Now.” As we approach the one-year anniversary of Robin Williams’ death, I’m reminded of his humanistic delivery of one of his best lines in a movie: “No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.” Coates’ clarion call was quickly adopted by much of the mainstream media, including many nominally non-partisan outlets (e.g., USA Today), partly because of the context of other “Get Over It”s: Coates, a liberal black man, wasn’t asking to re-define terror or racism, wasn’t asking to re-litigate the Second Amendment. By the standards of an unignorable story like nine blacks massacred in a church, a debate over the Confederate flag was almost welcome, almost a relief.
As the national conversation heated up (people ask for “national conversations” on everything from endangered birds to abolishing pennies, and never get them), I heard conservatives kvetch about opportunism and “not letting a crisis go to waste.” But the Confederate flag debate was enabled precisely because of all the previous crises that did go to waste – the Aurora massacre, Trayvon Martin, et cetera. The crowd that says “get over it” regarding the persistence of American racism simply had to shut up for just a second, leaving it badly positioned to say “get over it” regarding the supposedly benign Confederate flag. (Not that a few didn’t assume the bad position; read this link again.)
Sure, there was something opportunistic about it, if you also think there was something opportunistic about the Titanic sinking leading to lifeboat and wireless regulations (instead of just firing the people involved). As with those regulations, the Stars and Bars debate didn’t come out of nowhere, the way that, say, the Sony hack raised issues no one had yet dreamed about. Coates’ article was both timely and an over-familiar lament about how the Stars and Bars had not in fact been used during the 19th century to commemorate Southern pride, but instead used almost exclusively in the 20th century during times of racial animus. Sure, it’s only a symbol of secession and slavery, but like Robin Williams said, ideas have power, as Charleston has shown us, from Fort Sumter to Walter Scott.
If we count the founding of our union in 1789 with the ratification of the Constitution (in many ways, that’s fair), parts of the Confederacy have been flying that flag for twice as much time as they existed without it. That’s a little bit like boldly displaying a tattoo about your breakup for twice as long as you were in the relationship (paging Southerner Johnny Depp). After 150 years, yeah, it’s time to Get Over It.
So what’s the next thing we have to get over? Well, just ask your liberal and conservative friends. But they probably won’t be able to predict what we will get over anymore than Dylann Roof thought his gunplay would lead to the demise of the Stars and Bars. Getting over it is funny that way. One day it’s impossible, and the next day it’s inevitable. Just like the original United States of GetOverIt.