Now, I certainly respect Parsons’ pioneering efforts in vexilocriticism. But should he really get the last word in flag aesthetics? I say, flag aesthetic theory can only be advanced through an exchange of ideas and opinions in a free marketplace! Moreover, I disagree with Parsons on many points, and have a hankering to shoot my mouth off about it! Therefore, I am nominating and electing myself the Gene Siskal to his flaggy Roger Ebert, and commencing my own analysis of the flags of the world.
1. Grades. For ease of comparison, I will use Parson’s system (q.v.) of letter grades, which runs basically like so:
A = Excellent; Inspired
B = High Quality Flag with only minor concerns
C = Satisfactory Flag
D = Problematic Flag
F = National Embarassment
2. Criteria. Parsons lays out a number of general principles of good flag design. Let us consider these one by one.
Rule 1: Do not write the name of your country on your flag.
I am generally sympathetic with this point. The whole purpose of a flag is to present a graphic image of a place, and if you have to (to take an example from the gallery of horrors that are the U.S. State flags) actually write “Oregon” on your banner, you have clearly committed a vexology fail.Rule 2: Do not put a map of your country on your flag.
In principle, I see no problem with cartographic flags. A map is, after all, a graphic representation, and is therefore not inherently out of place on a symbolic representation. I will also concede, though, that maps are often a dodgy design element in actual practice. We’ll have to take this one on a case-by-case basis.Rule 2a: Do not put a picture of anything on your flag.
I generally agree with this rule. At anything but the broadest level of abstraction, pictures are too detailed to be immediately recognizable, and thus counter-flaggy. Too, one feels that a flag ought to be something that could be put together by the local Betsy-Ross figure out of, literally, whole cloth. A fussy image that requires custom-printed fabric is vaguely undemocratic, and sacrifices the clean, bold aesthetic of solid blocks of color.Rule 3: Do not use a tricolour unless you are in Europe.
I disagree wholeheartedly with Parsons on this point. Tricolors are the very epitome of classic flag design, simple, bold, and immediately identifiable. European countries use them for the reason that they have strong use value, and triumphed over all other possible national signifiers through a historical process of evolution. To tell the younger countries of the world that they can’t use this design because it’s already been done is essentially to tell them that their flags shouldn’t look like flags. (Parsons particularly singles out “that red yellow green thing” of many African countries, which is a bit unsporting in that it ignores both the symbolic importance of those colors and the process by which many African countries gained their independence.)
In my own critiques, I will certainly applaud successful attempts at innovation in flag design. However, I also approve of the enduring appeal of simple blocks of color, and am unlikely to give any tricolor a grade below a “B” unless there is a singular problem of color choice.Schedule: Flags will be reviewed in alphabetical order, six at a time, on “Flag Fridays,” a day selected for euphony and euphony alone. The first batch will come next week. Unless these prove to be especially popular posts – which frankly I have a hard time imagining – I’ll try to throw in something with more universal appeal to tide you over the weekend. You know, like boring postcards or something.
L&T M5K Flag Fridays Index:
Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Andorra, Angola, Antigua & Barbuda
Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahamas
Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belgium, Belize
Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia
Bosnia, Botswana, Brazil
Brunei, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burma, Burundi
The L&TM5K Awards for Flag Merit
Thoughts on the Flag(s) of Angola
Flag Colors of the World
Thoughts on U.S. State Flags
The Wednesday Quiz II:1
Canadian and Australian Flags Quiz
The Monday Quiz IL
Other Flaggy Thoughts:
What is Written on the National Flags