Department of English

Fall 2004 Edition

Corruption of Patriotism?

Stephanie Barth
Expository 1010 Runner-up

Approximately eight hundred and eight days have passed since the tragedies of September 11, 2001. In general, our lives have resumed: most of us fear little when boarding a plane, the thought of sight-seeing in Washington D.C. no longer evokes fear of “what ifs,” and practically no one would pass up a trip to New York City for any reason. Neighbors are back to “friendly fire,” arguing about who will mow the grass in between the yards, most hotel and convention center welcome signs have relinquished the “God Bless America” exclamation, and replaced it with a simple “Welcome to Hometown USA,”and a sky painted with airplane vapor trails is the norm once more (see Appendix figure 1).

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Figure 1

The world of today, October 20, 2004, remains separate from the era that existed but a few years ago. We are a society altered by memories of tragedy. The events that recently remodeled our nation remain scorched in the minds of those greatest affected by it. This is a principal reason why flag imagery is so prevalent today. Just between my dorm and the English building, there are two American flags placed prominently outside of residences. It would be difficult to miss a billboard splashed with a tri-color, patriotic background. Such illustrations present a question of intent in flag placement. The first anecdote involves that of people or families who choose to display the American flag in front of their residences. Do these flags on lawns or hanging from windows symbolize a representation of patriotism? The theoretical billboard may be a tactic for broadcasting a love of nation to the people driving down I-15, but who is to say it’s not a clever ploy to bring customers into a business? Immediately post 9-11, it seemed that consumers all dashed out to Ace Hardware to pick-up a free American flag window cling to paste to the back of their Hondas. Those same once-cherished window clings, now cracked and peeling from three years of sun, bring justification to a dispute over commercialization: not in America, but of America. In analysis of three years past, one may argue that the days of complimentary US Flag lapel pins (now $7.50 at capitalshoppingmall.com) have led way to a dynasty of advertising glory at the price of one of our national treasures (see Appendix figure 2).

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Figure 2

Images of, and representing the American flag, are so frequent in the United States today that it’s often difficult to decipher why the certain objects are painted red, white, and blue, and what their representation means to the creator. Below are a few examples of such flag depictions:

Images of flags
Figures 3-19, Refer to Appendix for website listings

To some, the majority of these pictures depict the flag in a manner that shows value and support for the United States (consider the second to last image). Some would contend that many of these images are disrespectful towards the U.S. nation. Some may call items, such as images two, five, seven and similar examples, exploitations of the flag. Some of these photos, no matter whom the audience may be, suggest thoughts of anti-American sentiment (fourth image, first line) or even satirize the flag (see the fourth image of the second line).

I believe the majority of US flags and their representation in today’s society are intended to show patriotism and induce similar feelings from those who view or purchase such merchandise. Various items and images appear to miss the mark though. Amy Liu of the Los Angeles Times wrote “You Will Fly the Flag, and You Will Like It” after a local realtor inundated every house in her neighborhood with flags that she felt stood for, “the presumption, the imposition of sentiment and worse, the corruption of patriotism” (Liu). She countered the realtor in her column, with, “let’s face it, the real motivational message is this: May the spirit of patriotism inspired by this flag move you so profoundly that you’ll call me at the following number, let me sell your house, and advance my sales ranking to the platinum circle” (Liu).

Some critics claim imperialism towards prominent music figures such as Toby Keith, the singer/song writer of the Country Music Academy acclaimed “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue”. Critics say that his lyrics demonstrate contempt toward the flag by noting it in an improper manner, the repetition of, “brought to you courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue”, and juxtaposing it with non-traditional ideals, “we’ll put a boot in your ass, it’s the American way” (Keith). The lyrics of the song, written in heartfelt respect and admiration, represent much more loyalty and esteem for our country than most any physical representation on mass-produced manufactured goods (see Appendix figures 20,21).

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Figures 20, 21

But who is to say when some businesses or people have gone too far? Many cite US Code Title 4, Chapter 1, Section 3 as a reference that President Bush and multiple others are breaking a law that forbids the use of the American flag for promotional use. Even if there was a law against using the flag in a marketable manner, the current thirty-seven cent stamp, created by the United States Postal Service and sanctioned by the US government, and comparable products would not be illegal. The flags depicted on either presidential candidate’s website would not be illegal either (see Appendix figures 22,23). Neither flag shows exactly fifty stars, and many representations of flags, used by both current presidential candidates and politicians in the past, lack thirteen stripes (Blomquist). Even the subtle patriotic design of a gum wrapper thrown by political activists in a parade reminds most people of the flag of our country. This is a minimalist way to support the message of devotion to the USA.

image7 image8
Figures 23, 24

If indeed there were an incident or series of incidents that began to devalue the American flag, one reporter credits the highly praised basketball “Dream Team” for this erosion. Dave Kindred, a reporter for Sporting News, attributes a main decentralization of the flag to “jerks” such as Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley who stood atop the gold medal stand in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics with the American flag draped over their shoulders. It’s not so much the act that’s outrageous, but it’s the fact that these men were allegedly covering a competitor shoe brand with the flag. Kindred reports, "‘Loyal,’ was Jordan's key word of explanation for transforming his nation's flag into an accessory to his greed. Loyal not to the United States, not to the idea of Olympic competition. Loyal to a sneaker company” (Kindred 80).

A Japanese immigrant from one of my high school classes frequently wore a shirt similar to this one (see figure 5). He sported the “Proud to be an American” design with honor and gratification. The shirt was saggy on his small frame, bore a few food stains, and a hole was beginning in the neckline. Nevertheless, he wore that shirt at least once weekly. This is a demonstration of patriotism, not because of the shirt, which many would mark as a commercialization of the flag, but rather because of the manner which he wore it in. On the contrary, a few years ago on the fourth of July, a local retailer sold cellophane-esc “flags” on toothpick-size dowels with the words “MADE IN CHINA” emblazoned to either side of the icon. Each flag was one dollar. This retailer would have a struggle defending any patriotism in such an act. The meaning portrayed by products such as this model, whether intentional or not, remains: production is sheerly for profit.

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Figure 22

We must scrutinize for ourselves the endemic depictions of the US flag in today’s society. Some seem to be making a living marketing our flag, others seem to be making a living by attempting to protect it: most rest somewhere between. Either way, its likeness is ubiquitous, and any interpretation will evoke a patriotic spirit in me.


Appendix

Figure 1 - www.pcrepairandupgrades.com
Figure 2 - capitalshoppingmall.com
Figure 3 - www.b98fm.com/timages/ page/flag_car.jpg
Figure 4 - www.abitmark.com/souvenir/ images/jpg/us_flag.jpg
Figure 5 - members.aol.com/ mpweisz/acw/us-flag.JPG
Figure 6 - americanpatriot.com
Figure 7 - www.robsherman.com
Figure 8 - www.celebratemaryland.com
Figure 9 - gifts.uget.us
Figure 10 - www.costafloraldesign.com
Figure 11 - www.prizes1.com
Figure 12 - web.infoave.net/~dmhensley/ navy/posters/your2.jpg
Figure 13 - www.supergolfgifts.com
Figure 14 - webpub.allegheny.edu
Figure 15 - cache.boston.com
Figure 16 - whatpriceglory.com
Figure 17 - www.cviog.uga.edu/Projects/ gainfo/flagring.jpg
Figure 18 - jsoda.blogfodder.net
Figure 19 - www.savesucash.com
Figure 20 - www.coastguitars.com
Figure 21 - www.pnc3.org/images/usflag37.jpg
Figure 22 - www.crafts-gifts.com/t-shirts/us-flag.jpg
Figure 23 - www.georgewbush.com
Figure 24 - www.johnkerry.com

Works Cited

Blomquist, Dave. “The American Flag.” Skippy Dot Com. 15 March, 2004. 14 Oct. 2004 <http://www.skippy.net/blog/2004/03/15/the-american-flag/>.

Keith, Toby. “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue (Angry American).” Unleashed. Perf. Toby Keith. Prod. James Stroud, Toby Keith. DreamWorks Records, 2003.

Kindred, Dave. “Team USA: Selfishness personified.” Sporting News Sept. 6, 2004: pg. 80. 15 Oct. 2004 <http://web31.epnet.com >.

Liu, Amy. “You Will Fly the Flag and You Will Like It.” Los Angeles Times 13 Sept. 2002. 18 Oct. 2004 <http://www.commondreams.org/views02/0913-04.htm>.

United States Code Title 4, Chapter 1, Section 3. Office of the Law Revision Counsel, U.S. House of Representatives.17 Oct. 2004 < http://uscode.house.gov/uscode-cgi/fastweb.exe?getdoc+uscview+t01t04+10393+7++>.