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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

One Tall Voice: Symbol hijacking: Give us back our symbols!

Published: March 20, 2009
Section: Opinions

Today I would like to pick up an article I began a few years ago but never had the courage to finish. At the time it seemed like this topic was too controversial, but here I will present this subject in a more courteous and toned-down fashion. It seems like certain groups in our society have hijacked images and words to call their own. Certain communities have hogged these icons for themselves and I would like to comment on the unjustness of this action.

The first group that I want to discuss is the gay community. I will present this segment in a farcical manner, both because I don’t take the issue too seriously and because it is funny in nature. Let me come right out and state the obvious: the gay community has stolen the rainbow! Yes, by making this the symbol of their movement, gays have taken this icon all for themselves. Now people (as some communities do in South America) can’t display the rainbow lest they possibly be associated with the gay cause. In addition, phrases that have previously used the word “rainbow” have a certain connotation now that this icon has been claimed by the gay community. The phrases “rainbow package” and the “rainbow room” now have weird undertones due to the attachments the word “rainbow” has with the gay community (or perhaps this is just me in which case, I guess the previous point is moot).

In addition, the gay community has hijacked certain words as well. I called an idea that someone had the other day “queer,” and was severely scolded. I suggest that that individual look up the word in a dictionary because I was assuredly using the proper definition of the term. In addition, the word “gay” has also been hogged by these individuals. Now people cannot use this most versatile of adjectives, and the Flintstone’s theme song just doesn’t sound proper anymore. I want these words back. I want to utilize these phrases without fear of repercussion. I think it unfair that one community can hog these words and symbols, as it adds connotations and assumptions to their use by other individuals.

The other more serious subtopic that I would like to discuss involves symbols attached to the Confederate States of America. This is where I think I may run into some controversy, but, seriously, I don’t see why. I am a southern historian, and love analyzing the history of the South. I would like to have a small Confederate flag on my desk, so that I may display my interest in southern history. Is this so bad? Is it my fault that some crazy skinheads or southern rednecks took the symbol for their own horrific purposes? I simply believe that someone can cherish heritage, not hatred, that one can use this symbol if it is abundantly clear that it is not intended to cause any pain or harm.

Along the same line of reasoning, I also think it is unfortunate that people who are identified with bad causes are also seen as evil themselves. General Erwin Rommel, for instance, was a fantastic commander that showed civility and courtesy to those whom he fought. Although he served the Third Reich, he was known to have disobeyed Hitler’s inhumane orders and showed other signs of morality as well. In fact, although Hitler ordered him to instantly kill Jewish POWs, Rommel refused to obey this unjust order. He was also involved with the plot to kill Hitler, featured in the hit Tom Cruise movie “Valkerie.” Yet, it is taboo to admire this individual, to deem him worthy of praise for his admirable qualities. This is a true fallacy, for an individual typically should not have his image irrevocably tarnished simply because he was associated with a certain cause.

This fact is also true with General Robert E. Lee. This man was a true American, and one of the greatest generals our nation has ever known. Yet I often receive criticism by relating that this individual is one of my personal heroes. Sure he fought for the Confederacy and by extension the institution of slavery. But that does not mean that I cannot admire him for his charisma and civility. Especially with this latter example, I would like to remember that he did some good things for our country, and could even be considered a role model for some. It is unfair that such a small segment of his illustrious life should blemish his place in history.

Overall, it is unjust that certain symbols have been hijacked by various groups to promote their messages of hate and bigotry. And by withering in fear at the sight of these icons, we are letting the bigots win by acknowledging their ability to instill terror and frustration. In addition, it is foolish that various words in the English language must be reconsidered due to the gay community, and it is unfair that they should have a monopoly on the rainbow. Finally, figures have been connected to various evil causes and this may have unfairly marred their images. We should judge them for characteristics other than these associations, as these bad affiliations constituted only a small part of their lives. I just hope that people don’t accept on face the superficial significance of a symbol or person. Rationally think it out, and I hope you will see the folly of this course of action.