Hey there, Park Journey readers!
This past weekend I made my first trip to Six Flags Over Texas since 2009. The park has recently received a barrage of mixed publicity for removing the Confederate flag from the front of the park, instead opting to fly six American flags.
In this opinion piece, I will give a brief recap of the move that Six Flags made, and share my thoughts on their decision. All photos were taken on August 26th and 27th, 2017.
In Case You're Just Joining Us...
Six Flags Over Texas is the original park in the Six Flags chain. The park was originally named after the six nations that has governed Texas during the state's history- Spain, France, Mexico, The Republic of Texas, The Confederate States of America, and, of course, The United States of America. It's worth noting that Six Flags was flying the Confederate State Flags, not the battle flag which is often closer associated with white supremacists.
As Six Flags grew into a national brand, these flags were replaced by simple primary color flags. Usually Six Flags is represented by a series of flags in multiple colors- yellow, green, orange, purple, light blue, and dark blue. However, the original Six Flags Over Texas continued to fly the original flags at the front entrance of their park.
In recent years, Confederate symbols have become an increasingly polarizing subject. In the wake of the violence in Charlottesville, Six Flags began to come under fire for flying a Confederate flag over the entrance to its original park. In response, Six Flags chose to fly six American flags outside its park- a move that would appear to most as a unifying response to a politically divisive topic.
For the sake of this article- I would like to shed a bit of light on my background. I was raised in North Florida (very politically diverse, heavy Southern Influence), went to school in Clemson, SC (2016 College Football National Champions- oh, and also in a very conservative region), moved to Central Florida (swing area), and now live in San Francisco (very liberal). So, for clarity- I have lived my life in areas that have been on both extremes of the political spectrum, and have spent the majority of my life in areas that have significant Southern heritage.
So, without further ado..
"Six Flags is Erasing History"
First of all- if you rely on a corporate theme park for your history lessons- well... yikes.
However, for argument's sake...
Just outside the front gate of Six Flags Over Texas is a marker prominently placed in the middle of the pathways that gives a full history of the park's meaning. Every single park visitor passes this on their way in. The same plaza hosts a plaque of the six original flags.
Included in the inscription is the following:
For four years, 1861-1865, The Stars and Bars of the Confederated States of America flew over Texas. 90,000 Texans served The South. The state supplied large amounts of cotton, food, and other goods at the end of the Civil War. Old Glory, with its Stars and Stripes, again was raised. Some other flags have flown somewhat briefly over other parts of Texas, but the six national banners shown here are those of enduring history. The exhibits associated with the six flags over Texas make vivid the colorful history of the Lone Star State
Now, I know reading is hard, and that many people prefer to learn history based on what is being flown above a toll plaza, but...
It doesn't look like history is erased to me.
"They Shouldn't Even Call it Six Flags Anymore"
When will theme park fans learn? Spoiler alert- Six Flags is a business, not a museum.
Shout-out to all the people who are upset that Disney's California Adventure has added non-California themed attractions, or that Epcot now features things that, *gasp*, are non-educational.
At the end of the day, it's the responsibility of a company's leadership to grow their business, not to stick to arbitrary theming guidelines that were set decades ago. If everyone is so upset about Six Flags changing out two sets of flags poles- where was the outrage when Six Flags started pumping the park full of DC Comics attractions? Seriously, when was the last time this park has put in anything related to its original theme? But raising six American flags is where we draw the line? Sure, ok...
Which brings me to my main point...
Six Flags is a National Brand.
Sure- people may not take issue with the confederate flag in Texas. Unfortunately- Six Flags does not have the luxury of operating in a bubble. In the face of a snowballing national news story- Six Flags had to consider that it also relies on markets such as LA, San Francisco, New York, DC, and Boston- areas that have an extremely strong aversion to Confederate symbolism. While the Confederate flag was not flying at these parks- the threat of national attention could very easily impact brand reputation in these markets.
A lot of people have said that they wish Six Flags would have "stood up" for themselves or "fought to educate people" on the subject. Funny, that's exactly what people said about SeaWorld when they faced political controversy. SeaWorld chose to fight that battle, and they keep inching closer and closer to total collapse as a result. Here's the bottom line - getting involved in politics is not good business in the leisure industry. The whole reason people go to theme parks is to escape every day life, not to engage in divisive politics.
The irony here is that the majority of support for Confederate symbolism comes from the right- the same side that preaches ad nauseam about free market capitalism. Well- guess what- Capitalism just took down the Confederate flag. Grow up, snowflake, it's called business.
So, to conclude...