Monday, July 4, 2011

What the Flag Isn’t

I hesitated to write this because it just seemed too much the beating of a long-dead horse. Then I asked myself, can the horse really be pronounced dead if no one can identify the body? If what made the horse what it was still resonates in the minds and hearts of all who knew it? If the horse’s voice can still be heard to whinny from beyond, a plea unanswered, a conundrum unresolved, the one thing the horse always wanted in the whole wide world of ever still ungiven?

In short, and English, is there such a thing as saying something too often, if people still don't fucking get it?

And the conclusion I came to is that no, as often as this has been said, it apparently hasn’t been said enough:

There are things you just really shouldn’t do with the flag.

Now, before I go any further, let me clarify something. I will never say “YOU CAN’T DO THAT WITH OUR FLAG!!!” because the painfully beautiful thing is, what that flag represents actually means that my respect for it equates to my support of other people’s rights to be disrespectful of it. So if you are someone who knowingly, intentionally and habitually disrespects the flag, this post is not directed at you, because you are a complete douchewit and I do not waste my time and genius on people like you. It does no good and just makes me feel tired, sad, and slightly clammy.

Rather, this post is directed at people who disrespect the flag not only without seeming to realize it, but while thinking they are actually doing something that shows their support of our country and troops.

Last year, I wrote a poem for an issue of a magazine that was being compiled as a tribute to the men and women of the U.S. military, and I wanted some photos to accompany the poem. My mother has a beautifully photogenic garden in a quiet neighborhood, so shooting with it as the background seemed not only ideal for what we wanted and a good excuse to spend a morning with my parents but also, with Dad being a former Navy guy, I knew having the flag displayed properly would be guaranteed.

Mom & Me & Dad, post-shoot

Flash forward the time it took to get my copies of the magazine, and frankly I wished I could have removed all traces of myself from it right then and there. My parents, my father in particular, were equally stunned at what was being presented as a tribute to our military; photos showing the flag being used as a shawl, as a tablecloth, as a wall covering, and in one instance spread out on the ground with someone sitting in the middle of it.

I’d like to say I don’t get it, but the truth is I’m old and I know a lot of what I learned in school isn’t being taught any longer. And it saddens me that something I was taught in the first grade has been so completely forgotten, the most basic tenets of flag code, like you don’t let the flag touch the ground. Seriously. This was drilled into our heads so often that as a child I thought our flag was protected by some sort of invisible electro-chemical-magnetic field that would cause it to explode if it ever made contact with asphalt. I can still remember when my elementary school got a new flag, and I was too terrified to ask what had happened to the old one. I just assumed it had gone up and taken the janitor with it.

They don’t instill irrational fear in kids like they used to. I blame the video games. But I digress.

The point is, just having a flag somewhere in your photo doesn’t make it a patriotic photo. If your use of the flag is a breach of flag code, not only is it not honoring our country and military, it can actually be downright offensive to the men and women who, as a part of the training they undergo to pledge their lives in defense of yours, learn and know that flag code almost as surely as they know their own names.

The flag is not an article of clothing. It is not a backdrop, it is not a window covering and it is most certainly not a throw rug or a beach blanket. Please keep that in mind next time you’re planning a photo shoot designed to showcase your love and respect for your country.



  1. In my time here (South Texas) I've seen too many flag shorts and other uses that fit in with the above mentioned, ironically the bible belt has a real bad habit as to what you shouldn't do with a flag...

  2. You know, while flag-printed clothing does at times annoy me and is, strictly speaking, contrary to the flag code, I have to let it go when i see it because otherwise I'd just go crazy. But when people use AN ACTUAL FLAG and talk about how patriotic they are while they're wearing it and nothing else or, my personal favorite, SITTING OR STANDING ON IT? That, I can't just let that go.