Saturday 8 August 2020

Vex(ill)atious in Mississippi

What makes a bad flag?
Vexillological meanderings, of which there is blobbomuch, up and down [with the Confederacy] the state of Mississippi. If I hadn't kept records [stars & bars 2015], I could believe that pulling down the Confederate flag forever, was an outcome of the Black Lives Matter actions in the Spring and Summer of this Plague Year. The flag that outsiders associate with the Confederacy is the one painted on the roof the the Dukes of Hazzard Dodge Charger [1979-1985]. But that's not the Stars and Bars. The Stars and Bars was the official flag of the Confederate States with 7 9 11 13 stars in the canton as the Rebs aspired to greater territorial hegemony. Not everyone liked that flag, many finding it derivative of the Union Flag and, crucially, easy to confuse the two on the battlefield.

In 1863, it was replaced by the "Stainless Banner" and that's where the star-spangled saltire first appeared, and only in the canton. Before the war was over, on 4th March 1865, yet another flag was adopted the "Blood Stained Banner" added a strip of red to the fly, lest the flag be mistaken for the white flag of surrender.  But it was too late, on 9th April Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court-house and that knocked the stuffing out of the Confederate cause. Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on the 14th April 1865 and the other armies of The South all signed in and disarmed through May and June. Stand Watie, of the Cherokee Nation, was the last Confederate General to surrender: on 23rd June 1865. That should have been the end of it.

But in April 1894, the recidivists of Mississippi, hankering for a fantasy of mint juleps, plantation belles and kindly black nannies adopted, as the state flag a pastiche of  red white and blue Confederate symbolism [L]. In 2001, an alternative replacing the saltired canton with 20 white stars on a blue ground, was decisively rejected in a referendum. The same year, the state of Georgia dumped its starry-saltire flag, leaving Mississippi the last hold out for The Old Ways. Given that 37% of the MS population are descended from people whose enslavement the Confederacy sought to continue forever, you may imagine that the flag and the 2001 referendum were . . . devisive.

There was some push-back to this dinosaurianism. The Stennis Flag was designed by the grand-daughter of a state senator as a distinctively Miss 'hospitality' flag that could be flown outside parks and shops to indicate that inclusion rather than division was to be found inside. Another solution for increasing footfall, not widely adopted was to try flying No Flag At All and just putting out a sign saying "Y'all are Welcome".  But the great thing about a well-designed flag is that it sends a message and gives the heart a flutter without explicit words. It works with pre-school children, and Japanese tourists, and all the people who have been failed by the state's education system to leave school functionally illiterate.

Anyway on 30th June 2020, in the hubbub of the George Floyd protests, the Governor  of Mississippi, Tate Reeves [R], signed into law an act unilaterally and immediately retiring the existing state flag. The legislature then, through the auspices of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History MDAH, appointed a Commission to discover a new state flag. They plan to put the new flag to referendum on 3rd November, assuming that is when polling stations will be open for the Presidential election. Their first decision was to crowd-source proposals for new flag design. The only stipulations being a) to include the phrase In God We Trust and exclude anything that looked like the old flag or any other aspect of Confederate baggage. WTF?! Putting any words on any flag breaks one of the Five rules for good flag design:
  • keep it simple; 
  • use meaningful symbolism; 
  • use two to three basic, high contrast colors; 
  • avoid lettering or seals; 
  • and be distinctive
and those words should have no place in a nation which affects to separate church and state. I could add two more suggestions
  • should be drawable by an averagely intelligent 8-10 year old resident
  • distinctively identifiable at 500 paces both in a stuff breeze and limp on the flagstaff. Don't want something that looks like the flag of cheese-eating surrender-monkeys, don't want something that looks like another state's flag.
Here's the TED talk where Roman Mars fingers atrocious flag design
Here's brief run through the 50 US state flags showing that a) many of them are blooming awful and b) indescribable by the citizenry. It's not doing its job if reasonably observant people can't describe their flag over the telephone or to a blind person. This is why tricolours work really well and fussy flags not so well. State seals [fussy] have no place on flags especially when 'supported' by people or livestock: they are automatically excluded by the 500 paces rule.

Cynical passive-aggressive me, I like a couple of more radical the Public submissions:
The red flag might remind you of the flag of Turkey [or Tunisia, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Libya, Malaysia, Mauretania which all nail Islam to their mast head]
but a crescent appears closer to home on the flag of South Carolina. The other one, which disputes which language the religious tag should be written in, and comes up with نثق في الله  [nathiq fi Allah] is really putting it to The Man. Or at least compelling the Flag Commission, and the legislature, to reflect on the sub-text of their stipulations and the meaning of flags in general.
via MeFi where some cogent, 
some waggish, comment.

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