confederate chic

by (l)a autora

When I stepped into the Abasto for the first time last week, I was brought up short by one of the things I least expected to see in an Argentine shopping mall. Not that I have that mental list particularly well thought out, of course, but “Confederate flag” has to be pretty high in any case. This Confederate flag was the logo of a clothing store with the name “John L. Cook.” Confusion abounded. I stood outside the display case for a solid minute just staring. The rebel flag was plastered on backpacks, on badges, on notebooks (notebooks labeled, in a degree of spectacular irony, “PEACE”). The clothes were nothing out of the ordinary, that increasingly common vintage-rustic-American chic aesthetic.

I thought about going in and interrogating the employees, but a) I was on my way to see a film at the BAFICI and b) the store’s name gave me the vague idea that it might not be an Argentine brand. A visit to their site confirmed that it was, in fact, argentino as all get-out, founded in 1975. Which makes the massive Confederate flag that greets you when you load the page even more inexplicable. I tried searching around to see if there was any explanation for the logo, with no luck. One site noted, apparently unironically, that John L. Cook was a “rebellious” brand.  To make matters even more confusing, there was a general John Cook who fought in the Civil War, but for the Union, in the Western Theater.

Let’s be clear, there are flags and then there are flags. The “Heritage not Hate” fight has been raging in the South for much longer than John L. Cook’s been around. For my part, I can’t justify reproducing the flag out of a historical context — I have relatives who fought on both sides of the Civil War, and I find it extremely hard to swallow that people flying the rebel stripes from the back of their pickups are celebrating the economic motives that drove the southern states to secede. Reproducing the same flag with no respect for the extraordinarily contentious and bloody connotations it’s always carried — well, I’ll just say that I can’t understand it. And if I see an Argentine teen with a rebel flag notebook, a long lecture will ensue.

What it boils down to is a bizarre, tone-deaf appropriation of a decidedly nonneutral piece of another nation’s history. Not a felony, certainly, but definitely not appropriate, either. Let’s try this. If grad school doesn’t work out, I think I’ll start a clothing line back in the States. We can call it something like “Juan Manuel” and use the Rosas flag as our logo. It’s cool and edgy and South American-looking, the kids will love it!

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