Tina K. Russell

July 4, 2008

Happy Fifth of July

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Tina Russell @ 11:55 pm

(The title reflects the fact that I wrote this after midnight, July 5th. But, WordPress doesn’t recognize Daylight Savings Time yet, blagh. So, according to the timestamp, I wrote this with five minutes to go in Independence Day proper. Whatever.)

I suppose I should write something about the Independence Day that just went by. I don’t know… I find it a little hard to celebrate our independence from the British, given that, I mean, I don’t exactly remember what it was like to live under King George’s despotic regime of tea taxes and powdered wigs. (Say what you want about King George–and I do believe he was a dick–he was the last thing keeping the plague of the white man from spreading from coast to coast, destroying everything in his path, leaving nothing but reservations and casinos left over.) But… hmmm.

I’ve mentioned here before that I do genuinely love my country. We’ve go at a certain… plucky, ostentatious, lovable character to us. We’re the home of Hollywood, chrissakes. I think that character is part of why people like us. We’re bold, we take risks… we do some really stupid things, but hopefully, in the end, we’ll come out on top (if on points).

I sound pretty tepid, don’t I? I suppose it’s because people often use the American flag as one of war, of “the bombs bursting in air,” of Pax Americus, of USA über alles, of “these colors don’t run,” and that bothers me. (For instance, did you know that the proper way to retire a flag is to burn it, solemnly? Also, it’s not that a flag should never touch the ground, it’s that it shouldn’t be displayed touching the ground, nor should it be displayed dirty. Anyway…) Then again, PR experts say that liberals in the sixties should never have let conservative warmongers monopolize the imagery of the flag, that we should have fought for it rather than rejected it, affirming–rightly–that the American character does not include foreign invasions.

Perhaps, then, we should fight for the flag, show it proud, display it as a symbol of peace, and of liberty… honor those who fell in the wars of America’s founding as people who died so that we could live in peace and freedom, not so that we could send more of our sons and daughters into ceaseless and senseless fighting. But… with all the fighting over the imagery of the flag, in politics (the flag pin was blown out of all sensible proportions, but the pundits needed a story in that lull between primaries and siezed on whatever they could find), it seems like America’s just been drenched in a horrific cult of the flag, that we’ve focused so much on the Stars and Stripes that we’ve forgotten what it stands for. That’s sad.

When I was a kid, I remember visiting a library that had an exhibit on the US flag, and I was offended when I saw that one of the storied rules of its etiquette was that it “dips to no one.” What, does that mean that the flag is better than anyone, better than a human being? What I learned later, though, is that it was the opposite, a rebellion against English social strata that had kings called “we” and “you” with peasants stuck using “I” and “thee.” (Us Quakers had a long tradition of using “thee” for everyone, for this reason. Remember, Pennsylvania was one of the founding colonies, and its founder in turn was someone who wouldn’t take off his hat for King Charles.) I read that the US Olympic contingent refused to dip its flag before the Royal Box at the London 1908 Games, saying “this flag dips to no earthly king,” and that made me fall in love with my country all over again. It’s a bit strange.

So, I’m stuck. I’m sitting the fence. …Or, the pole. (The pole? Hmmm… speaking of stripper names, how does “Young Glory” sound? Maybe “Stars and Strings?”)

I suppose the solution is to remember that the flag represents us, the people, who are ruled by no earthly king.

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