Modia Minotaur

Trawling the airwaves to spare you the agony!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Bagging the Flag

What a ridiculous, shrill, misinformed and ideological furore has broken out regarding the decision by organisers of the Big Day Out music festival to discourage the wearing of the Australian flag at their events. The only voice of reason amongst all others, scurrying for their safe positions and their Political-Correctness-Gone-Mads, has been the Democrats who, quite rightly, point out that those who really do care about the flag should be most upset about the fact that wearing it can now be interpreted as a potential act of racism or ultra-nationalism - `gang colours', as it was described by BDO organiser Ken West.

Firstly, let me point out that I spent the vast majority of my Australia Days at the Big Day Out during the 1990s, and never once did I see an Australian flag on obvious display. Not saying that's a good thing, not saying that's a bad thing. Just saying. I should add, however, that it was not until after the Cronulla riots that concert attendees found it so crucial to exhibit their patriotic fervour.

Flags have been misused and misappropriated many, many times. The ultra-nationalist skinhead movement adopted the Union Jack as their emblem, to the point that the wearing of clothing with the flag on it was banned in many British schools during the 1980s, at the height of the movement. Even the symbol of the swastika remains contentious. Before its use by the Nazis, it was primarily an Eastern symbol of good luck. Such was the power of the transformation of this symbol that debates continue today on what should be accepted as its `right' meaning; what it should or should not symbolise - even in the past few weeks.

One of the saddest misuses of a flag, as far as I'm concerned, is the appropriation of the Eureka Flag by Australian far-right white supremacists. Though some issues fought for in the Eureka stockade did involve race, they were small considerations amongsts a much nobler aim, and foregrounding the former at the expense of the latter is like suggesting the Bible is an anti-homosexual treatise with a few bits about social justice thrown in. It's also a little known fact that outrage following a case of racial and religious vilification - the wrongful arrest of two Armenian miners who worked with local members of the Catholic Church - was one of the incidents that helped spur the rebellion, whose importance in Australian democracy and the formation of the national principles of `mateship and a fair go' that are so often, and so somnambulently, mouthed by those who appear to know little about either trait, is almost without parallel. It is a flag, I should add, that was designed by a Canadian. Someone who `flew here, not grew here'.

Australian flags remain in the windows of many, many houses and apartments in Cronulla. These flags weren't there when I was growing up in the area. I don't think these people are simply exhibiting that they like being Australian. Do you?

Please don't mistake me for a flag nut - the sooner the whole thing's redesigned to reflect the fact that we're no longer an outpost of Old Blighty, the better. I am aware that people who fought in wars are passionate about the idea of `fighting under the Australian flag', and I respect that. What I can't stand is the hypocrisy. Those who do profess to taking flags extremely seriously - those who hold up flag burning as a genuine outrage - who, in America, send flags that are no longer in flying condition back to the White House where they are destroyed and buried in special military ceremonies - are also the ones quite happy to stick this symbol into the top of their hamburgers, fly them off their car's aerials, or wear them as capes to sporting matches.

Well, I'm Australian too, and I've never felt the need to advertise the fact to the world (sometimes, quite the opposite). I applaud the organisers of the Big Day Out for attempting to wrest back the flag from those who propose to misuse it. Maybe, if such people realised national character is not defined by who is or isn't let in the country and, once in, who is excluded from its life because of their race or religion, I wouldn't be so ashamed every time I saw one.

13 Comments:

At 12:49 am, Anonymous slim said...

Well spoken. A sensible and sober analysis of this issue.

I'm as patriotic as any in this great country, and my father was a soldier in WWII, but I am now uncomfortable with the way in which the flag has been hijacked by narrow political interests.

In my mind, flag waving is now firmly associated with the white anglo saxon protestant view of multiculturalism and its presumption of cultural, ideological and historical superiority which has come to the fore under Howard's rule.

I heard on radio today that flag popularity has increased in the last eleven years. Funny that.

One person reported that last year, a fellow was walking the length of an admission queue to the Big Day Out requesting everyone to kiss the flag. The fellow became nasty and assaulted him when he refused. Real Aussie values, eh?

 
At 12:52 pm, Anonymous Milltown Pete said...

Well said, Minotaur. The Flag has not been "re-adopted" by an altruistic majority, it has been hijacked by a fanatical few, who do not have the courage or the ability to contribute anything more to their country than to strut around as self-appointed custodians of its most obvious symbol.
How accurately these people reflect Dr Johnson's famous observation:
"Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel"

 
At 1:04 pm, Blogger Damian said...

I agree with this assessment, too. (Sorry! Not very lively!)

Actually, even my mother, who I expected to react much as John Howard did, said that it was all a big noise over nothing and if ratbags were going to use the flag to stir up trouble then it was a good idea.

What I am wondering about this flag business more generally is about the wearing of the flag as a cape. Doesn't it drag along the ground and get dirty? Especially at an outdoor rock gig.

When I was the kid who carried the flag out and raised it, then folded it away again after school, touching the ground was a big no-no. I thought some of the patriots would be cranky about that.

 
At 4:56 pm, Blogger arleeshar said...

I went to America for a youth conference as a teenager and one of my abiding memories is a boy getting extremely aggressive when our bus drove past a factory that was flying a dirty and ragged american flag. He proclaimed that the sight made him angry and sad, and that it was the ultimate insult to patriotism. When I suggested that this was probably a bit full-on, most of the bus jumped down my throat (about 75% of the attendees were American). In the end myself, three other Australians, six Germans and some Canadians were the only people who weren't hysterically expounding the virtues of flag worship (then the bus broke down in the middle of Harlem and the conversation petered out when the locals started attacking said bus with pieces of brick).

I thought this wasn't something that Australians would ever get that excited about, but then again, this was ten years ago and I was a fairly stereotypically dark and depressed teenager.

 
At 5:29 pm, Blogger TimT said...

Except that it's not wresting the flag away from racism. It's specifically associating the flag as a cause of racism. The assumption seems to be that if you take away the flag, the racism and the violence will cease to be a problem, which is ridiculous. The racists will just carry on with what they're doing.

The wise thing to do would be to make sure security is adequate to find those people who do make trouble.

And it's pointless, too: the Australian flag can be just hidden away in your pocket. It's almost as easy to hide away as, say, some marijuana. And we all know how common that is at those events...

 
At 10:06 am, Blogger Minotaur said...

Damian - this is exactly what puzzles me. Since when is wearing a flag like a cape a sign of respect, especially amongst the sorts of people who hold up flag burning as such a dire crime? There's such a confrontational, exclusionary nature to it somehow -`I know what this flag should mean because I'm an authentic Aussie. Therefore, I'm the only one in a position to abuse it.'

Unfortunately, as Timt points out, the explicit ban at the Big Day Out ended up as a case of accidental reverse psychology. I think the organisers might have misjudged the sort of audience they now attract - it's not the sort of thing they would have even had to mention previously. When I was a weird angry left-wing teenager, the sort of kids who would have worn Australian flag capes on Australia Day (if such a thing happened back then, which it didn't) were the same kids who would throw fruit at me at school, for attending something as weird, angry and left-wing as the Big Day Out.

The best time to observe American flag worship at its most extreme was living in New York after September 11th. To not have a flag in your window was to risk serious accusations of sedition (don't forget, this is a time when a country singer could put out a song called `It's A Flag, Not A Rag' and get away with it). A local TV station prevented its presenters from wearing flag badges because they had a policy of not allowing them to wear partisan symbolism of any sort, and the furore was astounding.

As Milltown Pete says, patriotism of that sort is really a form of refuge - a way of excusing and avoiding enquiry into deficiencies of the national character. A great way of miring a country in complacency and self-importance.

 
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