Friday, January 8, 2010

Flag Fridays: An Alternative Rating of the Flags of the World

A couple of years ago, a university philosopher from New Zealand named Josh Parsons put reviews of the world’s flags on his website. This has become a very well-known piece of flag criticism, as such things go. In fact, as far as I can tell Parsons is the ONLY person to have published a comprehensive critique of the world’s flags. (We have, to be sure, done some flag criticism in the past on this blog, but we’ve never tried to be either comprehensive or methodical).

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


Elizabeth said...

Post away - my interest will not flag. I may flag individual posts for further review and research, but unless something you say raises a red flag, I'll only add positive comments.

Yankee in England said...

May I suggest each week that you let us know what the following weeks flag will be so we can be ready to "discuss". Maybe just "next week all the fun that the Argentinian flag has to offer" kind of thing.

Michael5000 said...

@Elizabeth: Ya big goof.

@Yankee: Why, what a lovely idea! We'll start next week with Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Andorra, Angola, and Antigua & Barbuda.

Aviatrix said...

Josh Parsons' version makes me laugh hard, so I look forward to yours.

chuckdaddy said...

Flag Friday? So... unambitious of you. Why not a whole flag blog?

UnwiseOwl said...

Please please please do this. Someone needs to set this Mr. Parsons in his place. While I admire his efforts, I think he puts too much focus on the flags as art, rather than as icons of their country. A flag is supposed to actually represent something, but all of his high ratings were for generic (even boring) flags.

Voron X said...

It is great that you did this. I can't believe what a beef Parsons has agains blue-white black! Poor Estonia and Botswana! I've been thinking of doing something like this, too, as I have specific ideas about seals on flags and their appropriate use. (Spain & Peru, etc = win, Moldova and Paraguay, etc = fail)

btw, the link on Flag Friday II above is broken and only directs to this page.