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Real patriots don't parade around with flags on their rumps

June 9, 2002 12:58 am

THERE IS PATRIOTISM, and
then there is what we have
going on around us these days.

It's fine if you want to have a flag of some sort on your car. But decals, bumper stickers, and Old Glory waving from the radio antenna? Well, let's just say I'm a proponent of moderation in such things.

Am I, with my flagless Toyota, less American or less patriotic, than the guy next to me with the Stars and Stripes plastered all over his Honda? He may think so, but I don't care what he thinks. It may be important to him that I know he is patriotic, but I'm not sure why.

Isn't it a bit unsettling when an American flag sticker is sharing bumper space with, say, a Washington Redskins sticker? They wouldn't seem to garner the same level of importance or respect.

The flag binge doesn't end with cars, of course. Since we're right in between Memorial Day and Independence Day--the two most patriotic holidays of the year--not to mention Flag Day coming up this Friday, the fervor may be at its peak. It probably doesn't help that during the warmer months, people are wearing their most casual and expressive clothing, and living life in conveniently disposable fashion.

The grand old flag is suffering from an overdose of overexposure in the wake of Sept. 11. The issue here is whether the American right to free expression legitimizes such uses of the flag, or whether they cross the line into bad taste at best, and desecration at worst.

I'm not too bothered by a T-shirt with an American flag on it, but they've got patriotic panties at Kohl's, for example, and flag socks and sandals, even beach towels that let you lie around on the flag. There are U.S. flag dish towels for those who want to feel patriotic in the kitchen. They've also got a bucket
of American flag torches, so you can burn the flag even if the last thing you'd ever do is burn the flag.

Lots of stores have American flag paper plates and cups, and they come in both a waving flag and a flat flag--your choice for the convenience of disposable patriotism. And no American table should be without patriotic paper napkins so you can wipe your greasy American fried chicken face on the flag.

You can't get much more American than Sears, and Sears is celebrating an American Summer. It had been my understanding that the seasons were actually global events; however, I must be mistaken. In any event, you'll find plenty of items in patriotic patterns there.

Not to be outdone, JCPenney is single-handedly drying up the red-and-blue ink market with its circulars. And not only can you buy a teeny-weeny flag bikini there, you can also get flag flip-flops to go with it.

Of course at Wal-Mart, if they sell it you can get it in red, white, and blue, especially if what you want is plastic.

Not a store in the land seems to understand that to commercialize the flag is to trivialize it.

But this is simply the way Americans do things. They don't go halfway. Their antidote to the worst-ever terrorist attack on America is the biggest-ever display of patriotism, even if it commercializes the heck out of the most cherished and recognized of American symbols.

To ask Americans at large to abstain from abusing the flag is like asking young Americans to abstain from sex, or asking any American to abstain from driving too fast, or lusting for the newest, biggest, and best of everything.

Asking Americans to limit themselves to tasteful displays
of the flag is like asking them to watch only tasteful television
programs. It's just not going to happen.

If Americans are as patriotic as they appear to be, why is it that so few of them vote? I'd be curious to know what percentage of people displaying the flag on their clothes or cars actually voted in the last election. It may well be lower than the percentage of voters who turned out in the last election.

That's because elections aren't fads, they're a part of the nation's democratic foundation. For many Americans, though, the flag has become a fad since Sept. 11, one that will fade like that tattered one on the antenna.

What do the flag experts have
to say about all of this?

"You shouldn't take a flag motif and put it anywhere you might sit or stand on it," said David White, executive director of the National Flag Foundation in Pennsylvania. Do you think he means beach towels and collapsible chairs? He adds that using the flag to advertise is also a no-no, as is displaying it on anything disposable.

I guess that would include advertisements for those American flag paper plates.





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