Recent controversies in the United States about the removal of Confederate monuments and the march in Charlottesville brought some symbols of disputed heritage and southern pride into the international spotlight. One of the significant icons of those ideas is that of the Confederate battle flag; commonly, if erroneously, referred to as ‘the Confederate flag’. The flag’s history as a political symbol as well as as an emblem of ‘confederate chic’ and its presence in popular cultural contexts has been well recorded, but outside the United States the flag became a well-used symbol of ‘Elvis, the American South and individual rebellion’ through the European music scenes and to this day remains so.
Much of this presence can be traced to the 1970s rockabilly revival. The confederate battle flag fitted with the themes of rebellion embraced by the Rockabilly Rebs/Rebels. From Ray Campi’s bass with the flag painted on the back to Matchbox’s appearance on Top of the Pops playing Rockabilly Rebel with confederate uniform and the flag as part of the costume and set, the flag became a significant presence in the scene and was read as an identifier of rebelliousness and a celebration of Southern music. (This use of the flag was evident in other areas of popular culture at the time from Smokie and the Bandit to the internationally successful The Dukes of Hazzard television show).
The flag is still in evidence at some events, they can be seen hung in accommodation windows at weekend festivals and at times are paired with other flags which complicate analysis of the motivations of those displaying the flag. A Confederate flag shown beside a ‘Come and Take it’ flag connotes different things than one shows beside a flag memorialising British soldiers from the First World War. For some people the signifiers of the flag go no further than rebellion and rockabilly music; the geographic remove from the United States facilitates this position more that it would in the US.
Anecdotally, the last few years seem to have seen a lessening of the flag’s presence. The evocations of ‘the America and individual rebellion’ are present in other ways, western wear or Sun Records shirts for example. The recent events in North Carolina may hasten a move away from a 'neutral' or passive co-opting of the flag into this current, subcultural context.