Sunday, May 07, 2006

Capture The Flag (a diatribe)

You may be aware that the World Cup - in association with those staunch advocates of sporting endeavour McDonalds and Gillette razors (other non-sport related sponsors are available) - is fast approaching. Anticipation is building, favourites are being discussed, bloggers shamelessly write related posts (ahem). There’s a zeitgeist swelling.

And tied in to all this, in recent weeks I’ve noticed the re-emergence of something which irritates me deeply, seeping into my core. It’s something which two years ago, during the European Championships, initially bemused me but with increased and prolonged exposure made me boil with rage. It’s the flags flying from cars.

This of course needs some clarification. It’s not the flying of the flag of St. George that’s getting to me. No, it’s not that at all. It’s the flying of perfectly good St George’s flags which have been rendered pointless by the needless addition of a single word: England.

Think about it, you people flying these idiotic things, what is the point of a flag? Surely, it’s a symbolic display of your nationality/region/standpoint/intentions/etc. which allows you to immediately signal or display to someone all of the above with all the specifics neatly accounted for with a mere glance. It means you don’t have to have a big placard with ‘I am from….’ written on it. The flag tells people that for you as a matter of course.

As soon as you go adding needless text to a flag, it becomes something else, something less striking. It loses its immediate symbolic power, having to fall back on the written word when really it should be relying solely on the influence of the image.

If you are going to be so proud as to go to the trouble of displaying a flag, to then deface it in such a moronic way, disregarding traditions and sensibilities, is a ridiculous act of the most sublime nature.

Irritating and wrong. Stop it.

Round these parts I see plenty of Polish, Brazilian and Portuguese flags flying too, and it hasn’t been deemed necessary for any of these flags to suddenly need to idiotically state the name of the country it represents. So why, England fans, do you choose to fly such flags?

Let's see. Maybe it’s to avoid people mistaking it for the Ulster flag? I think there’s little risk of that, not round here. And anyway, those England fans who could recognise the Ulster flag will probably also therefore be capable of spotting the whole lack of the Crown, the Star of David and the Red Hand of Ulster the flag of St. George has got going on.

Admittedly, football is somewhat unique when it comes to flag flying. Football fans the world over have a tradition of adding text to their national flag, in particular the name of which specific club they follow the rest of the time. Doing so allows people uniting under one flag to still retain some identity and loyalty to a specific club or region, and if you’ve travelled to deepest Bulgaria, it at the very least gives the chance for the wife watching back home on the TV in Lyme Regis, Lancaster or Ludlow to see that you got there safely. So this sort of flag doctoring makes sense to me (or, at least, the majority of it does…). But merely saying "England" on the English fucking flag is stating the obvious in the extreme.

Now, there are plenty of other flags which have writing on them, and do so legitimately as part of the flag design. On the whole though, these are slogans or such like. Yes, it’s a little untidy and contradicts the whole purpose a bit; it complicates matters and makes closer inspection necessary, when really all you want is a flag which, wordlessly, says "Hey you! It’s us!"*. But the sentiment behind it is just about understandable, even if the effect is rather tacky. This naffness often goes hand in hand with uninspiring uniform flag design. It’s certainly a hallmark of British colonies: consider The Falklands, The British Virgin Islands, The Caymen Islands. But like I said, for all their failings, at least these are little mottos.

To merely put the name of your country on it is truly the signature of the thick. I can only think of Guam who actually commit the whole "name of the country on the flag for real" crime, and their flag is, quite frankly, shit.

But anyway, at least these flags have writing on them to start with. The damage has been done, and denizens of such countries or regions have to make the best of a bad job. But taking a perfectly fine flag, and perverting it with text so inane it could be inspired by a 3-year-old? (no offence, 3-year-old readers) Gaaaaah!

Those frontrunners of patriotic drop-of-a-hat-national-flag-waving-even-when-no-one-is-necessarily-looking, the Americans, have got it right**. Across the pond, The National Flag Foundation has offered guidelines to help avoid Flag Etiquette faux pas of the sort I’m talking about for over 120 years, with Congress officially adopting their code in 1942. With regard to any written word featuring on the flag they have the following to say:

"...The flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature. (U.S. Code, Title 4, Chapter 1, Section 8(g))..."

See that? It says "never". Not "sometimes". Not "except in World Cup years (and for the European Championships/regional equivalent too if you really must)". What they are saying is "Here’s your flag, we already finished it for you, we are happy with it and it doesn’t need anything added to it. The thought and time of greater minds than yours have gone into it, so leave it alone. No, seriously."

Bloody right.

I don’t want to have a go at people wanting to display the flag of St. George. Even if I do think the ‘off-the-car’ jobbies are a bit cringe-worthy and how it’s a little contrived the way they only make an appearance once every 2 years when Beckham and Co. are put into summer action, I think there should be a place for the flag in English society. I appreciate the English are one of the few nations who feel obliged to guiltily wring their hands when it comes to displaying patriotism – perhaps due to the often undignified manner those who do choose to conduct themselves in – and on the one hand I’m a little glad it’s like that. But I can also see that as a nation the English are almost forced to miss out on something which is essentially a birthright for everyone else, and good luck to those who are legitimately reclaiming that right.

So, fair English people driving in your cars, by all means fly the flag this summer. Hell, fly the flag all year round if you really must. But please make sure it is your flag, and not some foolishly nonsensical tacky travesty of a rag.


Josh Parsons reviews and grades national flags here

* Of course, there are a number of Arabic and East Asian nations who display writing on their flags. I will offer up the defence though that in such cultures calligraphy is held in a higher regard than in other parts of the world, and personally I find the role it has on the Saudi flag, for example, to be rather effective.

**Alas, on a more regional level they don’t always do themselves proud. To name but a couple, shame on you Fort Worth, TX, and shame on you too South Dakota. And The U.S. Virgin Islands? What the hell is wrong with you? I mean, initials? Could you be any less cultured about the whole thing?


reno said...

Hello !

greetings from Belgium !



Huw said...

Greetings Reno! I am sure the country which gave us Eddy Merckx, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Stella Artois and the Smurfs would never stoop to writing their name on their flag.

Huw said...

I've just realised England's first World Cup opponents Paraguay do the whole 'name officially on the flag' thing too. There's no significance to this, I just wanted to get it in before someone else did.

Curly said...

I enjoyed every second of this post!

Unlike you, Huw, I'm a little less patient with the stupid flappy flags.

*I'd just written an essay length comment here, but I've deleted it and am going to now write a post about it instead, cheers Huw!*

Curly said...

Ps. When Jon Parsons reviews Dominica's flag:-

"Do not put a picture of a parrot on your flag"

This made me giggle uncontrollably.

Dancinfairy said...

I cannot stand those stupid clip on flags they have for cars.

You know - the ones every reader on The Sun have. Particually on white vans. They make me boil with rage.

I say fly the flag but not off your car you moron.

Cleavers said...

In England - no excuse

Abroad - maybe. I know, I know, it's against my instincts as well. But the English flag is so much less well known than the Union Jack that I get sick of explaining what it is all the time.

Having said that, my St George's flag is well and truly word free and will be proudly draped from my front window for all to see and be confused.

Jona said...

I've never paid enough attention to notice, but I bet I'll see them everywhere now!

And I beat you with the *s (I couldn't decide if asterix had es, or s in the plural, so went with the * ;o))

Chris said...

Some fine musing/ranting Huw. Just to be clear though, it is the text on the flags that has got you so wound up? Not the degenerate tosspots that are actually putting them on their cars? I am totally in agreement with the whole text on the flag issue (the font is so dementedly rubbish), however it is the people who clip them to their cars (or worse still have them emblazoned on Topman t-shirts or boxer shorts) that send me into highbrow fits of rage. Okay, so I am the middle class football fan from The Fast Show (Pringle anyone?) I admit it. I must not be so bourgeoisie and smug... I must not be so bourgeoisie and smug... I must not be so bourgeoisie and smug... I must not be so bourgeoisie and smug... etc..

Huw said...

Well, yes, obviously most of the flag flyers are wankers, but I think they are perfectly entitled to make that clear if they want to. It's the wankerishness combined with the blissful ignorance of how they are contradicting their own wankerish patriotism by defacing their flag which gets to me.

Andre Veloux said...

Well yes I know where you are coming from, but usually they don't have England written on them, its fairly harmless isn't it (tho moronic). Its things like "Oldham", or "LUFC" or "Hull City", now they are the flags of the real nutters.

becca said...

today a retard with a driving license in an ugly car nearly backed into me at a petrol station. Perhaps if she didn't have not one but TWO F*CKING STUPID FLAGS sticking out of her car (each with the word "ENGLAND" inscribed across the centre)and a massive scarf pinned to her back windsceen (again emblazoned with this country's fair name) she would have seen where she was going...... or perhaps her parents should have been neutered at birth, wankers.
AAAAAAAAAARRGH.... *head explodes*

Yay the world cup, when everyone believes that they are the only choice for England manager and feel that they have the right to bore the arse off people with talk of diamond formations and rooney's stupid toe. if they stop showing neighbours for the 2 weeks of world cup joy, i'm moving to the moon!

becca xxxxxx

ps: birthday partay on saturday, see if sam and ed fancy it! (the party that it)

Huw said...

Becca - I hate to break this to you, but the World Cup lasts a month....

Chris Cope said...

Agreed -- places that have flags with the name on are lame.

Matt said...

Nice post, Huw. The local news here ran a story about how a council told one of its residents that flying an English flag with the word "England" on it actually needed planning permission. An ordinary England flag doesn't, but anything added to the flag does.

Naturally, this was the endless concern of East Yorkshireans and Lincolnshire folk for many days (or so the BBC told us) but we never did hear if the council let him off because of the fuss he created. People are so fickle like that.

I don't know what it is about England. I'm a big football fan, but I just can't bring myself to support my home nation. Perhaps it's the strange behaviour that it brings out in the people of this land that makes me not want to associate myself with them. And the flag waving and adoring on cars for one month every two years is a symptom of that.

becca said...


it's not really a MONTH is it? is it at the same time as wimbledon?

Huw said...

Matt - Good and perfectly reasonable work by your local council. I wonder if it can extent to automobiles....

Becca - The FIFA World Cup: 9th of June to the 9th of July.

The Championships, Wimbledon: 26th of June till the 9th of July.

Neighbours doesn't stand a chance.

Me Over Here said...

Here we have those people that feel the need to clip the "Go Spurs Go" flags to their car windows (they are our basketball team that, yes, has won a few championships, but whatever). What gets me is the fact that they still keep the damn thing clipped to their window when it is completely tattered and stripped by the wind. It's unrecognizable except for the silver and black colors. Completely tacky. Idiots, the lot of them.

OldHorsetailSnake said...

Kindly tell me: What IS the name of your country? England or Great Britain? British Isles?

Is England just England and Great Britain is England and Scotland and Wales and Ireland and Bumfuck?

Is there a flag for Great Britain?

Monica said...

Good find with the USA flag protocol. Many a night did my dad make me properly fold The Flag.

Huw said...

The name of this country is The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, which consists of four nations (nation being a disputable term perhaps) - occupying most of the British Isles (the leftover bit being the Republic of Ireland) - consisting of England, Scotland and Wales on the island of Britain, and Northern Ireland on the island of Ireland. So, the U.K. and Great Britain are used interchangeably, but they can - if you are a pedant - mean different things.

Each of the nations of the island of Britain has it's own flag:

Y Ddraig Goch (the Red Dragon) for Wales.
The Saltire/Saint Andrew's Cross for Scotland (said to be the oldest national flag in the world)
The Cross of Saint George for England (note the lack of 'England' written anywhere on it).

Northern Ireland has sort of been without an officially sanctioned flag for some time now, due to all the political and religious divisions there. Its last official flag - which ceased to be 'official' in 1972 - was the Ulster Banner/Ulster Flag.

The four nations come together under the flag of The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, known as The Union Flag, or, more popularly, "the Union Jack".

The Union Flag incorporates the English and Scottish flags, together with - confusingly - the red diagonal lines of the Saint Patrick's Cross, a relatively short-lived flag which represented the whole of the island of Ireland for a time before the Republic of Ireland gained sovereignty in 1919/22 (and also lives on in the inspiration for the state flags of Florida and Alabama).

Y Ddraig Goch doesn't feature on The Union Flag due to the political status of Wales and because the flag was officially recognised long after the Union Flag had come into existence, and quite frankly, how could you?!

Dear God, I'm a flag nerd.

(p.s. I am willing to be stood corrected on any of the above, more learned readers).

Huw said...

Oh, and Hoss? Bumfuck gained independence in 1776.

We don't like to talk about them.

OldHorsetailSnake said...

Thanks, Huw, very much for the educated response (and the giggle at the end). I am now officially pedanted.

Anonymous said...

Chavs, why not put two Engurlurnd flags on your car and look twice the retard. No doubt any reading this will do that because they are reet hard, as they say around here.

Gareth said...

The local Stockwell Portuguese community seem to need to have Portugal emblazoned on their flags unfortunately but the Angolans seem to do ok without.

Younghusband said...

Check out my classroom to see how I display my flags-