Friday, July 21, 2017

Confederate: The Show We Do Not Need

David Benioff; D.B Weiss (Credit: AP/Vince Bucci)

If there was any doubt that we are not living in a post racial world, surely the election of that orange shit stain should have made it clear to all the doubters by now.  In a world in which many have even dropped the pretense of using coded language to attack Black people, for some ungodly reason, HBO has decided that what we need is a show called Confederate, whose premise is to question what would have happened if the south had won the civil war.  From the imagination of the creators of Game of Thrones, we will be treated to a program in which African-Americans are still slaves.

Understandably, the announcement about Confederate created quite a backlash. Certainly, HBO needs to fill in the gaping hole that Game of Thrones is going to leave but why fill that in with a White supremacists wet dream?  If Confederate is going to aptly depict slavery, it will most certainly come with scenes of absolute brutality and rape, rising to a level of torture porn and broken Black bodies for the sake of entertainment.  It’s bad enough that we have been subjected to the deaths of Philando Castille, Eric Garner, and Alton Sterling on repeat. Thanks to our 24 hour news cycle when African-Americans are murdered by the cops it’s all that seems to be reported on for days on end. In our hyper connected world, social media adds to the trauma with videos automatically playing on Facebook. Black death is now appropriate for the consumption of the masses.  It is absolutely important to recognise the brutality of these deaths yet it’s clear that the very frequency and availability of the footage is already leaving far too many people desensitized to the pain and suffering. Is it any wonder that David Benioff and D.B. Weiss feel emboldened enough to pitch a series about Black suffering?

HBO absolutely could have gone another way if it wanted to share a slave narrative, especially given the fan outcry when Underground was canceled by WGN when the network was purchased by the hyper conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group. Certainly, Underground didn't have the audience that Game of Thrones does but it did feature a narrative of Black empowerment.  Rather than focusing solely on Black suffering, Underground showed the courageousness of those who chose to follow ol’ Moses and liberate themselves. Underground fits quite better with Black Lives Matter, and the push to tear down civil war statues. Is it any wonder that Black liberation suddenly doesn’t have a place on television?

Even as Black people are trying to disassemble hallmarks of the former confederacy, White supremacy seems quite determined to not only celebrate it as though it represents a golden era but to return us to it. We don’t need Confederate to tell us how bad slavery was, there are plenty of first hand account slave narratives still in existence.  We don’t need Confederate to create some fantasy about African-American suffering because the extra judicial slaughter of Black men and women, combined with the housing crises which targeted Black people regardless of credit,  the cancelling of television shows with large casts of colour, the prison industrial complex and the lack of generational wealth all tell the story for anyone who has common sense enough to connect the dots.  This isn’t about education, this about subjugation. This is about reminding Black people that we are still very much viewed as second class citizens despite, the vast accomplishments in the face of white oppression.

If HBO truly wanted to make an alternate fantasy show about the civil war how about creating a history in which the U.S. government didn’t abandon the freed slaves and cut short reconstruction? How about a show about the freed slaves being armed to fight and trained by the military to fight back against the KKK?  How about an alternate history in which African-Americans finally got their fucking 40 acres and a goddamn mule? How about a fantasy in which planters who not only owned slaves but were fucking traitors to the union actually got the justice they deserved, rather than having it all swept under the rug? Yeah, I know, not possible, because presenting all of this just might point out the various ways in which White supremacy has robbed, brutalised and oppressed African-Americans, even as it signals a need for reparations and justice. There’s a debt that needs to be paid, and rubbing salt in the wounds by producing Confederate is absolutely a backward step. Unfortunately, that’s all we seem to be seeing these days - backward steps, even as African-Americans are told that racism no longer exists and hey, there’s been a black president and Oprah is a millionaire.

There’s another distinctly disturbing element here that has to be challenged - the idea that this show is a dystopia. It’d be nice to think that when most people heard “the Confederacy won the war and slavery continued” there would be a universal gasp of horror at the whole disgusting concept. But this ignores just how romanticised the antebellum south has become. Even spending a little time in Urban Fantasy will find you no shortage of Southern Gentleman Confederate soldier vampires. There is an extreme romanticism to almost the point of fetishism of the whole Gone With the Wind hoop-skirt aesthetic. People pay to visit, party and even get married in plantations. Plantation figures are sports mascots. There’s a band - an all white band - called Lady Antebellum.

And this is before we see the horrifying number of people, north and south of the Mason-Dixie line who will slap the Confederate battle flag on everything and anything. Look at recent controversies - RECENT - about removing Confederate statues or the fact that Stone Mountain doesn’t just exist but is celebrated and a tourist destination. This is like Germany deciding to have a big monument to Hitler which attracts flocks of tourists.

Which is why comparing Confederate to A Man in a High Castle is so flawed - because while there are way way way more neo-nazis than we’d ever be comfortable with, Hitler and his vile cohort have never received the level of widespread romanticism and nostalgia. If you say “the south will rise again” and plaster a Confederate flag on your pick-up in Georgia or Texas you’re not going to cause a lot of ripples. If you flew a Swastika and said “heil Hitler” in Germany, you’d be arrested. There’s a stark difference in how these two horrific regimes are regarded and remembered.

We call this a dystopian - but for far too many people, this would be a sweet dream come true.

And who is going to be the focus of this show? Because I can nearly guarantee we’re going to see a lot more prominent white people on this show than the Black people whose torture and suffering will form a backdrop to this whole mess. Oh and you can almost guarantee that the designated “good” white people will exclaim just how awful slavery is (just as the aforementioned confederate vampires never ever ever agreed with slavery, oh in the name of sweet tea and mint juleps, never!) - because there’s nothing quite like reducing the suffering of Black people to shallow virtue signalling.

All of this wretchedness is going to come from the creators of Game of Thrones. There’s absolutely no way anyone could make this hot mess of a concept work, and I can’t see a reason why anyone should try - but way near the top of the list of people who shouldn’t go near the concept are these two. Game of Thrones, in its 6 season run, has shown a complete inability to handle race and a truly disturbing love of rape and torture.