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Down with the flag

By Michael J. Smith on Friday September 8, 2006 05:34 PM

I was staring last night, in a strange, half-hypnotized way, at the image of unctuous, oleaginous, saponaceous "Dutch" Ruppersburger included in an earlier post (scroll down to the bottom, unless you've recently dined). Apart from the remarkable lardiness of Ruppersburger himself, it's a characteristic, highly conventionalized image of an American politician. Butterball is holding a pen, as if he is about to sign off on something really, really! good for you, John and Jane Citizen. And behind him, occupying at least as much image area as Criscoface himself, is the enormous, inevitable, de-rigueur American flag, its reds and blues Photoshopped into arterial blood and hard X-rays.

Since I started writing this blog, I've visited a number of Web sites that no sensible person would ever look at, except in the line of ineluctable duty. Web sites like Third Way's. Don't follow the link: I just want to show you their logo:

Here's one from the DLC (look carefully at the mountain; does this qualify as subliminal advertising?):

Bernie Sanders contributes this one (and boy, does he need a new designer):

Heeere's... Hillary!

Same motif, rendered in the pukey palette of Daily Kos:

You look at this stuff for a while and you start to think you see patterns. Is it significant, for example, that both Third Way's and Daily Kos' flag stream from right to left, rather than the canonical left to right?

If you're ever unfortunate enough to travel to Our Nation's Capital, one of the things that strikes you as soon you get off the train -- surely you weren't masochist enough to fly? -- is this same red-white-and-blue, stars-and-stripes motif slathered over everything in sight: the cocktail napkins, the strippers' G-strings, the Chamber of Commerce signage, the taxi drivers' turbans, you name it.

The fact is, I've gotten really sick of The Flag. What is it about this American flag worship? You can drive from one end of France to the other, and never see a tricolor waving in somebody's yard. In the little town where I grew up, down South, there was one guy who had a flagpole on his lawn, and he was considered quite eccentric. A spin through American suburbia nowadays will show you every other house impersonating a post office.

And that unspeakable little flag pin, invariably stuck in the lapel of every politician's sincere blue suit -- it makes me want to jump 'em and tear the thing out with my teeth. Doesn't anybody remember that it was Richard Nixon who started that fad? Doesn't that tell you something?

All this over-emphatic demonstrative patriotism seems highly suspect to me. I wonder if it doesn't conceal a deep ambivalence. French people, who are not lacking in national amour-propre, take patriotism for granted -- of course you're a patriot, mon ami; you're French, aren't you? What French person would not be, sacred name of a blue belly of a Ruppersburger?

But not us top-nation Amurricans. Hey buddy, nothing unpatriotic about me. No sir. I'm an even bigger chauvinist asshole than my next-door neighbor. My flagpole is ten feet higher and my flag is the size of Dutch Ruppersburger's bedspread.

I wonder whether, on some level, we don't resent the crushing burden of our top-nationhood, and, finding this a horrifying, unacceptable impulse, seek to convert it into its opposite with shrill, hysterical, suspiciously over-emphatic manifestations of Americolatry?

Anyway, let me get this back to the site's purpose. Call me a shallow, flighty aesthete, a butterfly-like creature excessively swayed by the semiotics of decorative trim, but for me, the way our Democrats feel they need to maintain flag parity with the Jingo Party demonstrates, as plainly as any more substantial metric can do, how thoroughly un-oppositional they are -- how completely committed they are to complete agreement with the Greater Evil on every important premise and theorem, and all but a few trivial lemmata.

Comments (7)

Yea, I'm sick of it.

Check out Thomas Friedman in his "central truth". He has found a new way to say "give it six more months".


"All this over-emphatic demonstrative patriotism seems highly suspect to me. I wonder if it doesn't conceal a deep ambivalence"

Anatol Lieven makes exactly that point in America Right or Wrong. Our hyper patriotism is a sign of insecurity. The French, every bit as certain of their superiority, are much too cool to make a point of it.

When the flags started sprouting all around me, right after 9-11, I felt a mood of self-pity as well -- wounded innocence.

js paine:

nice post nice thread

whole ensemble
of flag and me tangos
after 9/11
very intricate and full of many steps i neither can do or feel
even to
who bends who over
obviously it depends on the "me "

my own patriotism is not anything like

land love

a shrug and a " hey i am what i am "

and we are what we are (white trash)

popeye pugnacity makes few claims
on the fiends of the world

"don't push it pal "


EM Forster once said: "if I am asked to choose between my country and my friend, I hope I shall have the courage to choose my friend."

(I'm not sure about the word courage, but it was some such word as that.)


The Politics of War has a description of how imperialist America turned from respect-of-institutions being American Democracy to respect-of-flag being American Democracy.


Rowan -- Haven't read the book, tho' it looks interesting.

The thing about a flag is that historically it's a military emblem par excellence -- the thing troops carry to identify their unit and rally 'round. When the flag becomes the symbol of the state, what is being emphasized in that choice of symbol is the state's character as the monopolist of sanctioned violence.

I don't think the bunting has quite lost this meaning, either. There's usually something a little jut-jawed and pugnacious about waving the flag.

Oh, not always. The little kids with their 3x5" flags on a 7" stick at the Fourth of July parade are certainly innocent of wicked intent. But all those flags whipping themselves to string from newly-invented plastic window mounts on Lincoln Navigators after the Trade Center attacks -- that's a different matter. Those flags weren't saying "I love my country." There's never any need to say that --of course you love your country. Those SUV flags were saying something like this:

How dare you defy us? How dare you fight back against us? How dare you think your oil is, well, YOUR oil? You will pay. You will pay. You will acknowledge our lordship -- you will acknowledge MY lordship, the lordship of a man with a leased Navigator who's working like a fucking dog to keep it -- or we will kill you."

On a lighter note, I am happy to report that it's been at least two months since I've received any junkmail from Queen Hillarity's campaign(s). A good thing, too. I was running out of non-gender-specific obscenities to scrawl onto the campaign literature[sic] before stuffing it into the prepaid envelopes and sending it on.

Same with Bill and Howard.

All hail the power of the angry magic marker.

Progress marches on.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on Friday September 8, 2006 05:34 PM.

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