history

Flagging change

If I was an entrepreneur I would be thinking seriously about getting into the flag industry. From the passionate to the privileged, patriotic to political there is a growing movement toward marking territory along lines of separation in the present that flow into the past and future of which all happen now with real effects that can be felt in persecution, disavowal, and fear. There is a new flag on the block and it’s got nothing to do with NZ trying to decide how to resignify our place such that the rest of the world finally knows we are not the east island of Australia.

The Russians are all in a flap about family values and have decided they need to help people pick a side. This flag is meant to be a counter to the increasing profile of the rainbow one used as a visible representation of the invisibility of those falling outside heteronormativity. The idea of ‘straight pride’ being captured by a flag with a family on it reveals other invisibility. Clearly unless you have three ‘able bodied’ children of clear gender expression (based on clothing and marginal hair length differences) and two parents you are not a good model of heterosexuality. They might have gone with a simpler version that both mirrors and contrasts the rainbow. A simple black and white with no shades of grey, although they might want to refrain from using any symbols – been a bit of confusion with regard to black and white flags recently. Alternatively Russians themselves could fly all sorts of family flags without deviating from a man and woman being the parents. Mixed race couples, people with varying body shapes and functional uniqueness, and the obligatory alternative numbers of children that could make for a family unit – including 0.

South Carolina could consider adopting its state flag for public display, how many people know what it looks like? It’s one that might help cast off the shackles of mixed meaning because regardless of now the past lives and replays certain acts and scenes if given the chance under particular signs that have been etched in the fabric of time itself. We need to remember that rallying under a banner has been an effective propaganda technique for centuries and symbols can be turned from one meaning to another just ask any Hindu about the Svastika.

So to Russia with love – being heterosexual is not a crime in any country, you cannot be sent to jail, killed or denied basic human rights simply for being straight. Pride is only possible against a background of shame, the blood of those lost to hate crimes might make a good backdrop for your new flag – red…somehow I think that has other connotations.

Back to the drawing board.

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being device-ive

It has been a crazy couple of weeks, with flags going up coming down changing colour and misidentified. In the middle of this are some very serious and real dangers for people. Lives are most definitely at stake so to break the tension with humour might seem like an act of trivialising but CNN brought it to a whole new level when one of their reporters mistook a certain black and white flag with random symbols for an ISIS one.

I’m tempted to launch into a slippery slope of sex terrorism, loaded with rocket propelled explosions, but the sad thing is many people would view a flag with sex toys on it as a threat. So while they might seem poles apart the confederate, rainbow, ISIS, flags attempt to represent and define ideology, beliefs, values, power, oppression, control and resistance. They have history and meaning for groups to unite and define their doctrines of truth.

Flags are in fact so important we have already decided on one that will go on Mars should we land there. But I like Eddy Izzards take on flags and the entitlement they give to stake a claim and in doing so reveal the strange attachment humans have to bits of cloth that serve no practical purpose save to show the direction the wind is blowing. I might have found the answer however to what happens if you combine ISIS, southern USA and gay pride – My Little Ponies! Apple Jack is definitely talking with a Southern drawl and Rainbow Dash has the power to make a sonic rainboom.

That’s enough exploding of weapons of mass deconstruction.

Gun control just flag it

Guns have one purpose to shoot bullets. Those bullets are intended to kill something living. I grew up with guns, Dad was a hunter and his collection of rifles and shot guns never had any other meaning to me as a kid. When I spent a year in North Carolina in my late teens I had a bit of a reality check around the relationship between guns and bullets and how they are used. My first week of high school a student was shot outside a football game and this small town Kiwi kid suddenly had to grapple with the idea that people intentionally shoot people outside of war. When I heard a loud bang in Thames I just assumed it was a car back firing as it wasn’t uncommon. But back in Charlotte NC, I remember being pulled away from the window at my friends place when I went to see what kind of ‘car’ was having such a hard time. My education for a year introduced me to US history and US literature and other unintended experiences and learnings, such as how segregation still existed as a form of internalised practice. When we went to class all the ‘white’ students sat on one side of the class and all the ‘black’ students sat on the other and two rows of desks were left in the middle. This empty space spoke volumes, more than the rushed and superficial attempt to teach the history of the USA from ice age to current in one year. There were no discussions, or conversations about those awkward things like slavery just a pure memorising of facts and standardised tests of true false or multiple choice. I got a taste of the fear and mistrust that is born out of a history of colonisation that has been ‘white washed’ – at least that was my lasting impression. It certainly helped me to reflect more on our own history and whose voices are privileged in the documenting and accounting for the meaning of particular events.

Walking into a church and shooting 9 people could easily be made into an argument about gun control but perhaps the conversations that need to be had are about what fuels fear, supports it and gets in the way of seeing others as more ‘like us’ than different from us. Notions of purity and contamination, threat and danger generate the conditions for justifying extreme actions and sanctions.

I wonder if those two rows still sit empty at Myers Park High School? I wonder how many other ways rows of separation happen to segregate communities, those indirect yet quietly divisive modes of power. Kiwis might resonate more with the debate around the use of the confederate flag as a symbol of identity given our current musing on changing our national flag. That while not lethal in itself serves as an icon signifying particular values and beliefs belonging in another time. That in taking down unites people in other ways and enable a new story to emerge to be blown in the wind rather than blown away.

Fiction Friction

We have just ‘celebrated’ ANZAC day, and I did a lot of thinking and reflecting. I had mixed feelings all day, wondering about the meaning we have made, should make, or unmake from history. To challenge anything other than the media produced reverence is cultural blasphemy, as Australian sports presenter Scott McIntyre did and was promptly fired. A part of me understands this from the tightly woven narratives around sport and war. That aside, what frightens me more are the parallels with the themes George Orwell wrote about in 1984.

Orwells 1984 has been studied by many but few like to consider the realities of such a world, let alone that it might already be upon us. Dystopian worlds have become romanticised in teen literature and movies to a point where the harsh edges of power have been reworked into love, adventure and survival themes which are far easier to sell. So I want to take you through some of my favourite quotes because the date will come and go but what will we remember as 1915 and ‘1984’ mark real and imagined horror.

1: ‘Ignorance is strength’ – one of the 3 slogans, but my favourite because it allow for the other two to be made possible by ensuring people believe that ‘war is peace’ and ‘freedom is slavery’.

2: “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” – History is a selective lens that focuses attention on certain details while overlooking or blocking out others. It means we continually see a chosen perspective – one that serves particular interests. It is why I am very interested in agnotology as a field of inquiry (funny how it always comes up underlined for spell checking – clearly a word that needs more promoting…unless the ministry of truth get hold of it).

3: “Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.” – I see this happening through the media propaganda machine and the use of fear.

4: “So long as they (the Proles) continued to work and breed, their other activities were without importance….Heavy physical work, the care of home and children, petty quarrels with neighbors, films, football, beer and above all, gambling filled up the horizon of their minds. To keep them in control was not difficult.” – So let me check what is on the news and tv…sport, sport, weather, sport, game shows, reality tv…looking quite accurate George.

5: “Until they became conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious.” – I see flickers of consciousness at times but I also see it being extinguished. Consciousness without action maintains the status quo. Rebelling need not look like public protest, it can be a quiet internal realisation.

6: “Orthodoxy means not thinking–not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.” – I think we have a form of secular fundamentalism setting in. With forms of cultural doctrine that are unquestionable, and evangelical public figures use fear and suspicion to cast shame on those who do not agree with the prescribed truth. Persecution is swift and exile follows – again, say the wrong thing on twitter and you are a gonner. The thought police will get you.

7: “The choice for mankind lies between freedom and happiness and for the great bulk of mankind, happiness is better.” – Yes ignorance is bliss after all. The problem at the moment is no-one is quite sure what freedom is. We have set the bar so low, that any meeting of basic needs is now seen as a luxury. If we are outraged and horrified, saddened or affected by event’s – its only until the bachelor comes on, or the rugby starts.

Others have spoken on similar themes and a healthy mature society should be able to ask questions and revisit what we believe to be ‘true’. Being right is not the same as truth. One suggests a single event the other provides for alternative viewpoints and information to be considered.

Lest we forget what we have chosen to remember.