The 'Paper Towns' Confederate Flag Reference Was Impressively Ahead Of The Curve
As Hannah Horvath once said on Girls, "I think I may be the voice of my generation. Or at least, the voice of a generation." In reality, though, there's no one voice for any generation, though millions of young fans find a lot of themselves in the work of John Green. The John Green canon of YA novels have become inspiration to some, life guides to others. And now the fan-demonium has reached the stage where any movie adaptation of one of his books is sure to court tons of interest, a respectable box office take, and new levels of stardom for its actors. And while many of the adventures in John Green's books feel almost magical, the elements of the real are what keeps readers reading. In an interesting cross-section of current events and film release schedules, a gag pulled straight from a Green novel seems especially relevant right now. Yes, I'm talking about the Confederate flag joke in Paper Towns .
In the book, which was published in 2008, there's a situation that causes Quentin and his friends to stop to buy a change of clothes, mid-road trip. Unfortunately, time is of the essence, so they forgo close inspection of their new t-shirts in favor of quickly getting back on the road. Without realizing it, they've bought a t-shirt printed with the Confederate flag for Radar, who is black. Quentin and Ben crack up, but Radar takes it in stride: "I hope I get pulled over...I'd like to see how the cop responds to a black man wearing a Confederate t-shirt over a black dress."
Thankfully, the funny sequence made its way into the movie, Towns director Jake Schreier told Vulture. (Even though an alternate version without it was filmed.) And though the scene was written several years ago, it's interesting that the movie is being released in a time where the meaning of that flag is being more widely debated than maybe ever before. In the Vulture interview, Schreier stressed the social commentary behind the joke.
"What this joke is about is saying that this flag is unacceptable and racist...I think the only thing we would have done differently is we would have have been harsher about it...You're allowed to say 'f*ck' once. [in a PG-13 movie] We never said it. And I wish we had said that at that point. I wish we would have said, 'F*ck that.'"
The best part about this moment in both the movie and in the book is that the t-shirt also features the slogan "Heritage, not hate." It's that astounding lack of cultural and historical awareness that the boys are primarily laughing at — that failed attempt to erase the bloody stigma behind that symbol. When Green wrote the book in 2008 and for decades and decades before, this is what many people felt about the fact that this flag still showed up in convenience stores and on front lawns and hanging from government flagpoles. It's ridiculous, so in the book and the movie, it's treated as being ridiculous.
No single artist is perfect, and John Green has admitted to errors in judgement in the past. But here, he expressed very clearly a strong opinion that many of his young readers share, and it's commendable that those responsible for the Towns adaptation believed just as much in making it known.