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You have seen the news.  You know what is going on.  It is time to do what I have always dreaded.  I need to write about a subject which I always swore I never would write about: a festering thorn of toxicity which has been rankling in America’s underbelly ever since the storming of the Grand Mosque in Mecca. I am speaking of course about “The Dukes of Hazzard”

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What?? What in the hell?

Hopefully you have forgotten about this terrible TV show. Produced by CBS between 1979 and 1985, it featured the extended adventures of two work-shy yokels who drove around committing low-grade crimes in a vermilion Dodge Charger with the confederate battle flag painted on the top.  The authorities in the small Georgia town were weak, stupid and incredibly corrupt (we are talking about Georgia in the American south, not the nation on the Black Sea). The Duke Boys had kinfolk everywhere.  Hazzard County (which looked suspiciously like Nowheresville, California) was a warren of back roads and washed-out bridges.  Lessons and laughs were few, but canned country music and folksy narration were 100% guaranteed.

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I had never heard of this abominable thing until I was 7, but then my family moved from Cape Cod to the Ohio valley.  At recess when I wanted to play “Secret Agent” or “Johnny Quest”, my new friends informed me in no uncertain terms that the only game in town was “Dukes of Hazzard”. As the new kid I was forced to play Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane, a bumbling nitwit (and crooked cop) who said lots of things like “hoo diggety durnit!”

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“hoo diggety durnit! I’ll get them Duke boys good!”

The game was basically tag, with Sherrif Rosco always being “It” and chasing the popular Dukes.  If other kids decided to play, they got to be other characters as appropriate (the husky kid was Boss Hogg, cute girls were Daisy, other nerds were deputies, etc.).  Whenever Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane (i.e. me) caught the Dukes (i.e. the other kids) he was obliged for contractual reasons to let them go.  He could never win. And here was the problem: I never saw this awful show and I couldn’t understand the logic behind the policeman losing.  When I asked to watch “The Dukes of Hazzard” at home, I was told it was louche and not for children (an assessment of surprising acuity), so everything I knew about it was passed on in breathless narration from my new chums.  This was a problem because my questions had no reasonable answers.

“Why don’t the townsfolk vote out the crooked commissioner?” I would ask.  It was impossible, I was told.

“Why did the police always lose?” I wanted to know.  “Because they were crooked cops”.

“Why didn’t outside forces curtail the bad cops” I asked.  There was no answer. And on and on…

I did finally see this show as a teenager. Although I was more impressed with the good-hearted Daisy Duke than I would have imagined as a child, I found the rest of the thing to be an enormous let-down.  Each episode consisted of the sloppiest clichés hastily festooned with atrocious faux homespun moral lessons. It was patronizing in the worst ways and lazy to boot. And yet my childhood schoolmates had loved it so much! Apparently so did the nation: the show was the 2nd most-popular television show in America in 1981.

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The winsome Daisy Duke

And here is the real problem with “The Dukes of Hazzard”: it turns out that to all-too-many red-blooded, blue-collar, white Americans, this is the true national foundational story, and it is moral disaster! Here is a non-inclusive list of fundamental problems with this television program:

Environmental Degradation: The only thing anyone in Hazzard County does is drive around all day in 35 foot long muscle cars

Lack of viable economic productivity: the only economy in Hazzard County revolves around real-estate scams, roadhouse drinking/alcohol, and car culture

Union Busting: (the actors who played Bo and Luke Duke asked for more money and were replaced by appalling scabs for season 5 when rubber-faced pod people “Coy and Vance” Duke temporarily and inexplicably became the protagonists)

Failing infrastructure: Hazzard County is all dirt roads, dangerous washouts and fallen bridges

Institutional corruption: The President County Clerk of Hazzard County Boss Trump Hogg is a colossally crooked imbecile whose crooked schemes drive the plot…to nowhere

Incarceration: The Dukes could never escape Hazzard because they were on eternal probation for moonshinin’

Substance Abuse: aforementioned moonshinin’ (although the show towed the party line about the evil of other mood-altering substances)

Brutal and corrupt law enforcement: That sheriff!

Sexism: Daisy Duke is forced to wear hotpants and serve men all day

A failure to internalize the lessons of the Civil War: the meaning of that confederate flag (and other pro-southern references) were in no way abated by “very-special” episodes when the Dukes would rescue inner city orphans from human traffickers or whatever…

Over-reliance on automobiles & reckless driving: Hollywood definitely made speeding and unsafe driving look super cool. What could possibly go wrong?

Anti-authority: The boss was despicable…yet the heroes clearly had no good ideas about how to run anything or make anything work. Their idea of greatness was stunt driving!

Anti-intellectual: there were no books in Hazzard County

Now, obviously “The Dukes of Hazzards” was slapped together by cynical drug-addled Hollywood producers to appeal to their imagined versions of rural cretins. This post has been gently ribbing this hayseed extravaganza…except…

In the end, the Dukes of Hazzard wasn’t good clean fun.  It was nihilistic.  There was no way to get rid of the crooked leader or the bad cops.  The heroes were criminals (and dullards) who would have killed hosts of children and hapless pedestrians with their reckless driving.  Yet it was impossible to root for “the law”.  The show venerated rebellion against authority in a way which was not rebellious or useful.  It fostered a culture where nobody was right and there was no way to change the status quo. If you rub away the folksy Dixieland patina, the show was a classic 18th century farce where we are laughing at the weakness and depravity of humankind itself. Do you want to be the cruel, preening aristocrat or the harried underling who keeps bumbling into trouble? Well, nobody cares what you want: society’s strictures are set in stone.

My mom was right about this show: it fostered immoral ideas under the pretense of being family appropriate entertainment .   If you have read to this point in the article, you have probably noticed that the United States of America, the world’s wealthiest and most powerful nation, now seems disturbingly like a sadder & scarier version of “The Dukes of Hazzard”.  I believe we can get rid of our crooked leader and reform our crooked police. But how do we reform our crooked selves?  How can we make ourselves want things that are worth wanting? And how do we get rid of the show runners who keep playing this sort of thing just to make a buck? 

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Bullet train! Yes!

Usually I avoid quotidian political subjects, but I am excited about the newly released plans for high speed rail (which fit very well with my preferred vision of the future) and I was also angered by the kneejerk opposition to those plans.  It would be fun and elucidating to write about the many merits of high speed rail and the great opportunities which such a system presents.  Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the way that political discourse is conducted in America anymore, so I will bow to contemporary conventions and belittle its foes.

A pro-rail article from Yahoo news presented these disparaging words from a rail critic, “Only two rail corridors in the world – France’s Paris to Lyon line and Japan’s Tokyo to Osaka line – cover their costs, says Ken Button, director of the Center for Transportation Policy at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.”

Hmm, I actually don’t think anything in the transportation world covers its cost.  Ken Button, whose quote makes him sound profoundly ignorant of transportation realities (and whose name makes him sound like an off-brand toy) is just blithely assuming that roads, highways, car infrastructure, and even air infrastructure is all free.  In fact these things cost a great deal of money–and taxpayers foot the bill. Even “for-profit” airlines are heavily subsidized and supported by public money.  But it is money that taxpayers are willing to shell out, because we like having a civilization.

"All of this is completely free and appears by magic!" --Ken Button (cit. needed)

Sometimes, when I’m on the subway and lack an appropriate book, I read one of New York City’s tabloids. The editorial section usually features some suburban blowhard observing that since he doesn’t take the subway he doesn’t want his tax dollars paying for it–let the strap hangers pay for it themselves with greatly increased fares. This poor logic always bothers me.  An equally weak counter argument would run thus: I don’t drive, so why should my tax dollars pay for the roads?  (I could add that roads are filled with dangerous maniacs who love to carelessly mow down children, working people, and even one another.  Additionally cars increase our reliance on foreign oil suppliers and cause a variety of environmental problems.)

But it is wrong to dislike roads (and the automobiles on them).  Roads allow goods and services to move everywhere: they are the means by which emergency vehicles get around and food is delivered.  Outside the city, they are the only way to travel (except for ornithopter or pony).  But, here in the northeast corridor, they are also a mess.  So are airports for that matter.  If we want to move around freely in the future we will need new means of doing so (maybe we won’t want to travel—we might be busy shooting arrows at each other and fighting over canned food, however politicians would be wise not to make that a centerpiece of their vision for the future).  I’m sure the anti-subway driving enthusiast writing to the Daily News would find new worth for the subway if all 5 million riders decided to drive to work (particularly if it was on the day his heart gave out and he needed an ambulance).  Maybe he will even have some qualms about quashing public transportation when petrol shoots up a few more dollars (and growing instability in the middle East always makes that seem likely sooner rather than later).

Of course there are very valid concerns about the proposed high speed rail system: Amtrak is a mess (having been remade in the image of a pork barrel), and we don’t want to damage our extremely reliable freight rail service.  And the whole thing is going to cost far more money than it is being billed at (money we don’t have). But I imagine that money would be thrown out anyway (remember “cash for clunkers” which subsidized wealthy car buyers to purchase new Toyotas?) and at least we’ll have beautiful new bullet trains and an additional way for people to move around the country.  Additionally, such a system will be necessary when we inevitably move to a nuclear-powered world.  Either opponents of the new high speed rail plans should produce some long term plans of their own or they should just come straight out and proclaim they are friends of Middle Eastern despots and that they oppose technological progress and infrastructure growth.

Of course high speed rail is all a dream anyway--this is the most likely actual future.

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