Flags have been in the news a lot lately. South Carolina removed the Confederate flag from its Statehouse and one Missouri county threatened to lower the flags at their courthouse for one full year to mourn the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage.
I'm in awe of the emotions a simple flag can evoke. On the surface, it's a piece of cloth with pretty colors and designs.
We have flags for everything - nations, states, cities, sports teams, schools, micronations - you can even make your own flag with advice on how to do it. Keep it simple with 2-3 basic colors and skip the lettering.
Yet, we each imbue flags with so much more.
That's the thing with flags. They're often judged on their aesthetics, but their power lies in how well their design captures the culture, religion, politics, and history of a place and its people. Yet, how can a flag unite a group around a single identity when people are unique and cultures change? Can a well-designed flag absorb and reflect the ideology of all? For a moment, thing about what our American Flag means to you.
The Confederate flag may be a watershed moment. It's a good example of how a culture changes over time, with the old crashing into the new, and how a flag becomes a lightning rod for the conflict. Will the removal of the flag that has long represented what it means to be from the South signal the South to be a more inclusive place? Right now, emotions are high as South Carolina struggles with who they want to be. Time will tell.
Today, we talk about flags. If you want to read before the show, check out the website of the North American Vexillological Association. It's filled with lots of good stuff.
- Mike Pesca is the host of the Slate daily podcast The Gist and a frequent contributor to NPR
- Alexandra Petrie is a columnist for the Washington Post and the author of A Field Guide to Awkward Silences
- Scot Guenter is a laureate of the International Federation of the Vexillological Association and professor of American Studies at San Jose State University. He’s the author of The American Flag 1777-1924: Cultural Shifts from Creation to Codification and the founder of “Raven: A Journal of Vexillology
Chion Wolf contributed to this show, which originally aired on July 22, 2015.