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I came across this little tidbit in today’s NYT’s Media and Advertising Section. Apparently, American Heritage’s special issue on Abraham Lincoln includes an advertisement for the Bradford Exchange’s Civil War ring, which features a Confederate flag. I’m not quite sure what the editor finds so troubling about this or why it was necessary to include commentary from James McPherson and Eric Foner.

“It’s a little uncomfortable,” Edwin S. Grosvenor, the magazine’s editor in chief, said in a telephone interview.

Mr. Grosvenor said he became aware of the advertisement, placed by the Bradford Exchange collectibles company, just before the magazine’s deadline and that he had to walk a fine line between generating revenue and maintaining editorial tone.

Perhaps it’s been a slow week in this particular department as a cursory glance of history magazines, especially Civil War, reveal a wide range of advertisements for Confederate-inspired products, from bras and bikinis to beer mugs, and bed sheets. The article alludes to, but never explores, the apparent conflict between a magazine devoted to Lincoln an an ad for Confederate schlock. Unfortunately, the opportunity to comment on the reasons for the pervasiveness of Confederate imagery, or the popularity of the Lost Cause was missed, even though both McPherson and Foner are qualified to discuss it. Instead, the two draw the reader’s attention to the controversial nature of the Confederate flag, while McPherson suggests that he would have spoken out had he known about this particular advertisement. Does McPherson really not know that most of the articles he has published in the pages of popular Civil War magazines are littered with such advertisements? That’s is a truly remarkable comment.

Anyway, stock is limited, so order now.

19 responses... add one

First off, love the blog.

But isn’t the larger point here that advertisements for Confederate schlock may be a little too prevalent in Civil War magazines–enough so that it casts doubt on the legitimacy on some of the (very good) scholarship contained therein? Look, I understand how magazines make money, and I understand what kind of business is apt to buy space in CWT Illustrated. But might the editors of these publications not do themselves a favor if they chose to limit this kind of thing?

Richard, — Of course it sells. That goes without saying. As you know I am interested in why certain things sell, while others don’t.

cmorgan, — I tend to think that most readers are able to distinguish the schlock from the content of the articles. At least I am able to do so. In the end, Civil War magazines must be concerned with the bottom-line, and the way to do that is through advertisements. The Confederacy sells. As to why it sells is a more interesting question. I plan on exploring this issue with my Civil War Memory class. Toward the end of the semester we will survey the advertisements to gauge how the war is remembered in our popular culture. Thanks for the comment.

“why certain things sell, while others don’t”

As you state, because there’s a market for the product. There’s a market due to the passion and emotion and interest in the Confederacy by many Southerners – and some Northerners. Another aspect that is often overlooked (though very obvious), is the fact that the vast majority of the battles were fought in the South. This is part of that connection that is absent in the North.

As much as you tend to disagree, its sometimes very difficult for those with no emotional connection to understand this.

Richard, — You make some excellent points as to why memory of the war is more prevalent in certain parts of the country. However, I do believe that there is much more that needs to be included in an explanation that purports to explain the content of our memory and the way it has changed since the end of the war. I’ve maintained that southerners do not and have never shared a monolithic view of their region and history.

While I may not have a connection to the Civil War that is rooted in some “direct” familial relationship, I am quite emotional/passionate about American history. Finally, it seems obvious to me that regional affiliation is neither a necessary or sufficient condition for some kind of emotional attachment – however defined.

An anecdotal illustration:

Several years ago, the USPS offered some type of “commemorative Civil War” stamp collection or something like that. I recall going into my local post office in the Shenandoah Valley and seeing a postcard size display and rack of both Generals Lee and Grant. The display was a marketing piece, if I recall correctly. Every time I visited, I wanted to pick up the Lee piece, but there were never any in the rack.

Half jokingly, I asked the postmaster one day, “Hey, what’s the story here? Why is Grant the only one ever available, are you afraid to put the Lee piece out?”

He replied with a smile: “Actually, I can’t keep the Lee ones in stock. As soon as I display them, they’re gone within a few hours, seems very few people are interested in General Grant.”

Kevin,

You said…

“Finally, it seems obvious to me that regional affiliation is neither a necessary or sufficient condition for some kind of emotional attachment – however defined.”

I can relate to that comment. In myself, I have a curious emotional attachment to New England through its colonial history, but I have no familial ties to NE whatsoever.

Robert

“Finally, it seems obvious to me that regional affiliation is neither a necessary or sufficient condition for some kind of emotional attachment – however defined.”

Perhaps, but it is nonetheless prevalent as demonstrated, in part, by these types of ads.

Does this mean I should send your ring back?

Richard,

You wrote…

“There’s a market due to the passion and emotion and interest in the Confederacy by many Southerners – and some Northerners.”

Whether a person is from the South, North, East, West or countries outside the country, people buy Confederate symbology stuff for a diverse number of reasons. There are people who buy and yet have no Confederate ancestral ties; there are people who buy with Confederate ancestral ties; there are people who buy just because they see the symbology as representative of the South; there are people who are neither descendants of Confederates or Southern but buy because the symbology (for better or worse) is representative of something in which they believe (again, remember, I said for better or worse); there are people who are Southern and buy for those same reasons; there are people who just buy because they relate or want to relate to a symbol of rebellion; and the list can go on and on. I also believe that Confederate symbology sells because it stands in contrast to the norm. In being different or displaying something different from the norm, some people just get their kicks.

On the other hand, I’m also aware of people descended from Union soldiers who are just as passionate about their ancestry, but quite discriminant in what they buy in relation to that connection.

No offense, but I’ve never anywhere seen a sustained market for Union Civil War garb. I mean, it’s not a general cultural/social trait of Northerners to wear their Civil War memories on their sleeves, hats, bikinis, underwear, bumper stickers, etc. It can’t even be gauche if it’s not a trend. – TL

“I mean, it’s not a general cultural/social trait of Northerners to wear their Civil War memories on their sleeves. . .”

Aha, you’ve stumbled into the crux of the whole discussion. Why is that?

I’ve already noted my opinion. Kevin seems to be tripping over the obvious.

Richard, — I’m not sure what you think I am “tripping over.” Nothing I’ve said seems to be controversial or even that interesting.

Please send the ring along as it will make for a wonderful piece of show n tell in the classroom.

“Aha, you’ve stumbled into the crux of the whole discussion. Why is that?”

Actually, I don’t think it is as obvious as you seem to think. Look at the many reasons why Confederate symbology is used for expression.

Can a side-by-side comparison be made with symbology of the Civil War Union? I don’t think it’s possible considering the scope of expression is much more limited and focused.

“I mean, it’s not a general cultural/social trait of Northerners to wear their Civil War memories on their sleeves. . .”

Frankly, its easier to look back and play “blank slate” with the Confederacy since it was so short lived. Anybody can project their interpretation of what it might have been (though these interpretations almost always leave out the obvious point of an explicitely slaveholding republic), and inevitably the Confederacy emerges as an idealized bastion of morality and small government. Same thing with Lee, who, according to popular imagery, was the most pious human-being who ever lived. Whereas Grant was just a general who murdered his troups in frontal assaults and is labeled a butcher, Lee did they same thing at Gettysburg and is labeled a hero.

Confederate symbols have become, like the Che photograph, catch-all images of generic “rebellion” for most. While some southerners (though not all, of course) continue to display an almost pathological denial of the Confederacy’s explicitly white-supremacist foundations, others simply think its cool to find out that their ancestor(s) played a role, for better or worse, in such a pivotal historical event, and want to know more. It all comes down to personalized memories and how different people need to remember the past in different ways in order to function in the present.

Jarrett:

You come close to hitting the nail on the head though I don’t agree with “people need to remember the past in different ways in order to function in the present.”

There’s a number of other reasons for the romanticism that is associated with the Confederacy (many already noted by others) – rooting for the “underdog”, rebellion, (as you noted) and the fact that a bunch of rag-tag plow boys took on a vastly outnumbered and better equipped army and came close to beating them, at least in theory.

Add all this to the ancestral connection and emotional connection to the land (“sense of place”) and you have the formula for this “general cultural/social trait.”

Richard, — Often times this is, in fact, the case. It seems to me that we can see this in the way that each of us continually reinterprets our own personal histories. For any number of reasons as we accumulate experiences we come to reinterpret moments from our past. Sometimes this involves adding to our understanding of what a particular event occurred or why we made a specific decision and sometimes it involves ignoring (either intentionally or unintentionally) other aspects of our narrative. It is no stretch to suggest that such a process also plays out within our broader collective narratives.

As for your list of factors that explain the romanticism of the Confederacy I would suggest that you’ve only scratched the surface. There is an incredible amount that has been written on this topic by historians and others who are interested in how and why certain myths flourish.

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