Saturday, March 12, 2016

Flag Frenzy

Let's talk about the flag, shall we?  Yes, the American one.  The ol' red, white, and blue.

I know people, some very good friends, who get all riled up when they see damage or "disrespect" being done to the American flag.

And I have to admit:  I don't get it.

I don't understand.  It's a piece of fabric (well, several pieces, sewn together).  It is an object.  Maybe a story will help here:

My grade school flew a U.S. flag and a state flag outside on its flag pole everyday.  Once you reached 7th or 8th grade (can't remember which), it was the students' job to go each morning, unfold the flags, clip them to the flag pole, and hoist 'em up.  Don't ask me whose job it was to take the flags back down; I don't know, but it wasn't us.  And while it was impressed upon us in some way to NEVER drop the flags, to be careful when unfolding them and hanging them, it was never explained why.  
And I was terrified.  I hated doing that fucking job.  Was I going to be arrested if the flag touched the ground?  There's a proper way of folding and unfolding, you say?!?  Well, I'm fucked.  It was a very stressful job, and the adults in our lives just seemed to assume we knew the importance of it and the consequences (if any) of doing it incorrectly.
So now XX years later, I still don't get it.  Objects only have the importance you give them.  A symbol is just an object on which you have placed a meaning, and few symbols are truly what one could call "universal."

I don't have any plans to go around burning or tearing up flags; I also don't have any plans to smash chalices, tear down crucifixes, burn books, or melt menorahs for scrap metal.  But they are still things.  If the image of the American flag is so important, why don't people go to pieces over shirts, jackets, and hats with the same image?  What happens if your American flag shirt gets a stain on it?  What if your American flag jacket (probably made in Taiwan, by the way) touches the ground?  How is that not the same?

Okay, another story:
When I (briefly) taught an Acting 101 class for a college, the "classroom" we were assigned was called "the Chapel."  The space was used for many things, including some religious things, but of multiple religions.  As such, there was a large table ("altar"), some slightly fancy chairs nearby, music stands, candlesticks, a cross on a wall, and a Star of David elsewhere.  There were also regular office chairs, others tables, some sofas,  a piano, bookshelves, a desk, and restrooms.
Occasionally, my students and I would have to move the large table and fancy chairs and tall candlesticks out of the way in order to use the playing space. And they would hesitate.  Some students outright refused to move them; others would shy away from the furniture during acting exercises intended to get people to use all of the furniture and architecture in the space.  One student actually complained to the Dean that what we were doing was sacrilegious, but that's another rant story for another time.   
I would tell the kids, "It is a table.  It is a chair.  You can touch it.  You can move it."  The objects were not magical.  Moving them around was neither disrespectful nor hurtful to the furniture; touching them would not hurt the person doing the touching.  They are things, and treating them as such does not mean you're treating them like garbage; you simply aren't imbuing them with supposed magical properties.
So again, I repeat:  I don't get it.  I don't see the big deal.  And if it is a "big deal," why is the same principal not applied equally?

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