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July 13, 2006

Conferdate kitsch epidemic sweeps NJ town

I regret to inform you that Wildwood, New Jersey has been engulfed by an epidemic of Confederate kitsch.

The lunacy even impinges on innocent hermit crabs, as shown below.

Hermitcrabshell

Okay, I admit, I haven't lived in the U.S. all that long. When I first got to New York, I was freaked out because I thought all the Puerto Rican flag bumper stickers were some kind of oblique reference to the Stars and Bars. I remember coming home from my first walk in our new neighborhood and yelling at Thad for enticing me to this alien world full of Confederate iconography. That was four years ago, and I've learned a lot in the interim. To be honest, since I've been in New York, I've only seen Confederate flags tattooed on tourists, or on the bumpers of out-of-state cars.

So, I have to ask: Is this Confederate flag fetish confined to certain gift shops in Wildwood? Is it new to New Jersey?

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Comments

I currently live in NC, and the confederate flag is everywhere. I have seen it on bumper stickers, flags, tattoos, bikinis, and yes Hermit Crabs. I find it somewhat funny that these neo-southern people dawn the confederate flag, and it was not even the official flag of the south. The "confederate flag" that we see today was merly one of several "battle" flags that the confederates used.

My old stomping grounds extended from Sandy Hook to Point Pleasant, and I don't recall ever seeing what I like to call "the Traitors' Flag".

Lindsay, I am a graduate of Teurlings Catholic High School in Lafayette, La.

I won't say what year I graduated, but google (small g) them and find out what their mascot is. He wore a grey uniform....*

I fought to keep that mascot when I was a far younger, misguided soul.

(The funny part is that a prominent black politician's son did so right beside me. He was what you might call "Cravin", and Barack reminds me of him - steady, faithful, and calm. Anyone who lived in Lafayette or St. Landry Parish in the 1980s knows who I mean.)

When I fought to keep the mascot, I thought it was because we were keeping a piece of history alive.

I've since learned that history books do a very good job of that, and need no assistance from bumper stickers, flags, or album covers. Even better, those history books add what we college-educated types call "perspective" to the symbol.

When I fought to keep that mascot, it was out of a sense of wanting to belong to something - not necessarily something _good_, but something for the geeks, jocks, glams and shams to stick together on.

I've since learned that belonging is a state of mind, not a tactic for getting laid before graduation.

I was wrong and I can admit it. Why can't today's Confederate flag admirers?Lynard Skynard is still entertaining, but you don't have to identify with the pro-slave rebellion to get that message across.

I can't think of a single good reason to display the flag of the Confederate states anymore, except in a purely historical context - not bumper-sticker worthy. Not seashell worthy - and definitely not mascot worthy.

Teurlings Rebels, rest in peace - someday, I hope.

*OK, so the funny part is that we all had to drive through a predominantly African-American part of Lafayette to get to school - and even more wacky, we had many black students at Teurlings. Imagine a daily parade of Confederate flags through a black neighborhood without a blink on anyone's part, and you'll get some idea of how powerful the Reality Distortion Field in Louisiana - both political and social - can be.

This is why people make fun of New Jersey. Because we deserve it sometimes.

Good grief, this is disgusting.

Just a random bit of trivia that I'm still a little embarrassed about, my college teams were all called "The Clan." That was short for "The Clan Fraser", the metaphorical patrons of Simon Fraser University, but still... We sent our teams all over the world, most often to the U.S. I can only imagine how a team called "The Clan" was received. Probably the only reason it never got back to us was because we sucked so bad at American football and soccer.

When I lived in Philly, I used to make the annual trek "downa shore", and I don't recall seeing Confederate flags. But we went to staid, family friendly, alcohol free, Ocean City.

Wildwood is another world entirely. It attracts substantial contingents of stereotypically angry blue-collar white folks from Philly and South Jersey -- folks whose racial attitudes are largely in tune with those of the Stars 'n' Bars waving crowd. So I'm not really all that surprised.

It's also worth noting that Wildwood is actually south of the Mason-Dixon line, about parallel to Washington, D.C.

my grandfather (who had no connection to New Jersey, but i just read about Louisiana, so deal with it) was a career officer in the U.S. Navy; afterwards he made a point of always living within 20 miles of a military base with a VA hospital so he and his wife could get free medical care more or less immediately. To my knowledge he owned two pieces of art: a portrait of my grandmother and a "commemorative plaque" with a confederate flag and a big legend that read "General Lee surrendered, I never did."

These kinds of stickers are all over my neighborhood and I live in North Jersey.

http://rogouski.com/gallery/citystreet-2004/heritage_hate?full=1>http://rogouski.com/gallery/citystreet-2004/heritage_hate?full=1

A lot of this is just classic Jersey bad taste and stupidity. But some of it (and I'm thinking of the 'I have a dream' shirt) reflects the newly found willingness of people to be openly racist after 9/11.

Eh. Sleazy apparel is a Wildwood specialty, and always have been--this just reflects the mainstreaming of conservative sleaze.

And if it's all over the boardwalk this year (I didn't notice it, but I rarely shop for anything wearable on the boardwalk) it'll be gone in a summer or two. I mean, one year it's words on the back of girls' shorts, the next it's the stars 'n' bars. This too shall pass.

Back in May, my husband was in Cartersville, Georgia, on a business trip. He happened to go into some local dive with some people who worked for the business branch down there, and it featured hermit crab races, complete with shells adorned with that flag.
Of course I suppose it isn't too surprising, coming from the south.
When we were in South Carolina at the end of April for his family's reunion, we saw plenty of these flags flying in people's yards. Also not exactly a shock, although ya gotta wonder when the hell this shit will ever die out. How it got up in New Jersey, I do not know. Migrated rednecks?

Not surprisingly, here in the wilds of Kentucky the Confederate flag is everywhere.

Never mind that Kentucky was a border state, and not part of the Confederacy. What's more, this part of the state (the Appalachian foothills) was mostly pro-Union territory, made up almost exclusively of small farmers who didn't think very much of the slave-owning plantation owners in the flatter regions.

In fact, this is why my great^4 grandfather ended up in the area. He was a Union sympathizer who lived on the Confederate side of the Cumberland Gap, held at the time by the Confederacy. People who were on the run from the CSA often sought him out as a guide to get them over the mountains and around the gap into neutral Kentucky. The CSA eventually caught him, but he escaped while they were taking him to prison in Virginia. He found his way back, got his family, and made his own way into Kentucky, settling in what would eventually be Owsley County because he found its residents to be particularly Union-friendly. (Anyone who has been to Owsley County would find this really odd.)

A living, breathing, lifelong New Jerseyan here....

There's a saying about Pennsylvania that goes something like, "Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Alabama in the middle." There's a similar phenomenon in New Jersey. The northern part of the state consists in mostly wealthy New York suburbs, the northwestern ones being very wealthy and overwhelmingly white, the northeastern ones (one of which I'm from) having large African-American and Asian populations.

Southern NJ is divided between some awful gated communities like Princeton, Lawrenceville, and Livingston on one hand, and dregs of the earth New Jersey trash on the other. It's this last quarter of the state that gives NJ its bad national reputation, and which is responsible, believe it or not, for New Jersey having a high per capita rate of membership in white supremacist organizations. (N.B. Princeton was the Ivy League school of choice for southern aristocrats.)

So finding a confederate-flagged hermit crab on the Jersey Shore is unfortunately, I think, not surprising and not innocent.

Wow, that's very cool family history, J. I had a great (^N=?) grandfather who died at Gettysburg, but nobody alive today seems to know much about him.

Those conferdates are the worst. You're trying to decide where to go and then - bam - you have to confer. Totally throws the evening off stride.

The "I have a dream" rebel capital building: sadly, it's no longer just a shit-kicker's tobacco juice wet dream.

And, holy shit, the heritage thing! How is it that people identify themselves with nineteenth century dirt farmers weakened and demented by hookworm and malnutrition fighting for the wrong side of history and decency? I guess it’s a bit like celebrating your great, great grandfather who was a notorious drunk and criminal. Once you’re at a certain remove, perhaps it becomes “romantic”. I actually see this shit in the Pacific Northwest for Christ’s sake.

Unfortunately romantic, tribalist notions are all too easily translated into stupid, belligerent policies like the kind coming from the First Cracker in the White House.

Yeah, Puerto Rican Stars and Bars!
LOL.

Hmmm. I just vacationed in Wildwood Crest, the tidier, quieter, and more middle-class town just south of what is officially known as Wildwood-by-the-Sea. Didn't go near the boardwalk on this trip, though, so I can't speak to the Confederate stuff, but as Justin Slotman says, part of the appeal of the boards is the seedy honky-tonkiness of it...a seediness that, I might add, is gradually fading. Wildwood bottomed out about 20 years ago and is bouncing back in a big way, seven-figure construction going up all over the place.

The Confederate paraphernalia is awful, but we're talking about a boardwalk on which, a few years ago, there was an attraction where you could "shoot" an "Arab terrorist." Continental Op is spot-on about the sociology of the place.

But all that aside, I really just wanted to stick up for the Wildwoods, insofar as they have by far the best beaches on the Jersey Shore, as well as being the only free beaches left apart from Atlantic City. And a slew of funky, space-age motels from the 50s & 60s. You should check it out, Lindsay...beautiful, well-maintained beaches by day, and the Mid-Atlantic States' answer to Florida's "Redneck Riviera" by night. What more could you ask for?

Some of the classist comments here--ie the Wildwood crowd consists of ""stereotypically angry" blue-collar white folks""...is just not true.

Wildwood is not really my thing. But I don't think that the people who frequent it are any less decent or more angry than the people here, including me, that may have gone to college, or subscribe to the Economist, or do the blog thing.

This is surely not the first comment I've seen that looks down on the "blue collars" with disdain, but it's surely not helpful.

I knew people in upstate NY who had a confederate flag displayed above the couch in their living room. These guys were not racist as far as I could tell. They had black friends, who visited the house, and as far as I could see, they had no problem with the flag.

Why did these upstate NY guys like this flag? They thought it looked cool--it does. And they worshipped Lyrnrd Skynrd. Don't think it was a lot more than that.

Why do some people from the South display that flag still? For some, it is racism, and it wouldn't be honest to say otherwise.

But for many other Southerners, it is a way of asserting their sense of place--something far more real in the South than in any other part of the US. It is a way of honoring what was good about their past--you will get very spirited arguments about the Civil War not being about slavery at all. They don't think that their ancestors were a bunch of crazed bigots who fought the righteous Union Army in order to keep slavery alive. They think that their ancestors fought to preserve their homes from an invader.

Are they right? No, but neither are those who see the Stars and Bars as the equivalent to the Swastika. Its more complicated than that, as the South is more complicated than that.

I certainly don't see a lot of Confederate flags in New York, or in NJ either. There are some. They continue to recede into the past, albeit
very, very slowly.

"Wildwood is another world entirely. It attracts substantial contingents of stereotypically angry blue-collar white folks from Philly and South Jersey "

What I always found odd were the hordes of Quebecois. I went there almost every year as a kid (early '70s) and there were always hundreds of them.

"But all that aside, I really just wanted to stick up for the Wildwoods, insofar as they have by far the best beaches on the Jersey Shore, as well as being the only free beaches left apart from Atlantic City."


They used to have the best beaches in the country. They had well over 100 yards deep of beautiful beach for long, swimmable, stretches. At the height of the season, in mid-day you could always find a big empty patch of sand.

I prefer Cape May now. The beaches are not as big, but it is a nice little town.

Having grown up on the Jersey shore, I can say this. The majority of people who frequent the boardwalk, portions of which specialize in breaking new ground in tastelessness, are tourists from outside the area.

As you go further south, particularly beyond Long Beach Island, most of the tourists are from PA, DE, MD, and elsewhere. I grew up north of there (which attracts mostly New Yorkers and Northern Jersey folk) and still frequent the beaches to this day. I see confederate regalia occasionally, but nothing like the above. I wouldn't say, by any means, that this is some sort of fashion trend. Remember, this stuff is sold seasonally next to dirty novelty t-shirts and booty shorts with the word "sexy" written across the ass.

Boardwalk culture in NJ is a strange phenomena that you really need to experience firsthand. I tend to think that boardwalk stalls, which are tiny businesses only open for a few months, are somewhat at the mercy of whatever the big distributors of cheap shit are selling. I say this not to defendI the symbol, but a lot of people do not see themselves as endorsing the confederate cause when they buy a boogie board emblazoned with the confederate flag. I don't know why. There must be a word for this kind of cultural laziness. If it's any consolation, it will probably be gone by next summer.

There has always been a sizable black community there and there is a growing Latino community. For a long time it was, like Asbury or Atlantic City, a first-generation shore resort that fell on hard times. (Just a tiny digression, but Wildwood, in a bid to replicate Cape May’s Victorian-themed revival, has rezoned the whole area so most of the buildings near the beach need to comply with a do wop 50s theme. Dow wop gentrification.)

I wouldn't be so quick to evoke the inequality between, say, the Princeton area and the Trenton area. It's really no different than Newark and Essex Fells (or Livingston, which is erroneously identified as a South Jersey community above). NJ does have a huge inequality problem, but I doubt it's the prime cause of a Confederate fad. I think that nationally people are just forgetting (or don't care) what the symbol means.

That said, Southern NJ (southern Pine Barrens and the area along the DE Bay) is rural, sparsely populated, and dominated by a white working class. Its economy is largely dependent on casinos and agriculture. I don’t mean to sound like I am stereotyping, but if I do see the Confederate flag, it's almost always in this part of the state. It has a much closer affinity with rural DE and MD than, say, Hoboken or Summit.

If you do want an interesting history of race and class at the Jersey Shore, I highly recommend reading "4th of July, Asbury Park: A History of the Promised Land" by Daniel Wolff. Springsteen aside, Asbury Park has a fascinating history. From it's beginning as a puritanical religious resort, to the arrival of the New York aristocracy and a service economy staffed largely by blacks arriving from the south and immigrants, to its decline, to the race riots of 1970 and beyond.

Anyways, this post wound up being, as always, much longer than intended. I'll stop now.

Re: cultural laziness, notice that in one of the pictures the shirts that say "white boy" and "white girl" with the confederate flag are next to ones that have a picture of bob marley and say "one love."

But for many other Southerners, it is a way of asserting their sense of place--something far more real in the South than in any other part of the US. It is a way of honoring what was good about their past--you will get very spirited arguments about the Civil War not being about slavery at all.

I don't think it absolves the people who hang Confederate flags. I don't know that any German who doesn't vote for the NDP displays the swastika and explains to people that World War Two was about fighting communism or reversing the war blame clause of the Versailles Treaty. The Germans' denial of their shameful past, "We were only following orders," is the most wretched, acknowledging denial there is (compare Germany with Austria and Japan and you'll see a glaring difference).

"It is a way of honoring what was good about their past - you will get very spirited arguments about the Civil War not being about slavery at all."

Right, right. States' rights. The right of the people in some states to own and sell human beings. Gotcha.

Something wierd happen to the style sheet? The right side add page is overlapping the center article text now.

--States' rights. The right of the people in some states to own and sell human beings. Gotcha.--

I knew that was coming.

Again, some who fly the Stars and Bars do so because they are racist, and some who use the phrase "states rights" so so for that reason as well.

But, separate and apart from the issues of slavery or racism, there is a different sense of "place" in the South. I know a lot of people who are terribly proud to be from New York City, or one of its neighborhoods, but I have never met anyone who had a particular NY --state--identity.

But many I've known from the South are very conscious about their identity as someone from Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia. It takes a much greater prominence than any state identity we have up in the Northeast. And it's pretty much similar among blacks as it is in whites.

You see the Stars and Bars and see Neil Young's "bullwhips crackin'". But someone from Macon Georgia might see the same piece of cloth and think of his ancestors who fought bravely and well, thinking that they were saving their towns and states.

President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery, and I believe that he would have allowed slavery to continue forever if the South would agree not to secede.

This issue is far more complex than some would think. The Civil War was not the war to free the slaves, and the Stars and Bars was not a pro-slavery banner.

And one of my good buddies in the service was a black guy with a Stars and Bars Zippo lighter!

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