Friday, December 9, 2011

Flag Friday XXXVIII

Flag Friday is a periodic discussion of the world's national flags; the project is explained and indexed here.

These discussions are about graphic design, and perhaps about nationalism and national symbolism in general. They should not be taken as critical of the countries, ideals, cultures, or people that the flags represent.


Parsons: Parsons reviewed a short-lived flag that Tuvalu used in 1996 and 1997.  It got rid of the Union Jack, but that turned out to be an unpopular move; apparently the British flag is seen locally as symbolic of Tuvalu's own monarchy, which is very popular.  Here it is.

The 1996-97 flag shared the star layout with the current flag, though, so Parson's remarks on this subject bear repeating: "I didn't realize the horrible truth about their flag. Those stars aren't in a random arrangement at all... they're in the shape of the islands that make up the country. It's a map!" This and other factors landed it with one of Parsons' very lowest grades.

Michael5000: I don't have any problem with an abstract representation of a map, especially in the South Pacific, the Original Home of Abstract Cartographic Representation.  As patterns of irregularly placed stars go, I like that all the stars are the same size, shape, and orientation; this cuts down on the noise that is generated by Southern Cross flags like New Zealand's and Australia's.  The baby-blue field with the ubiquitous Union Jack does create a little built-in-boredom, though, and obviously whenever you've got eight stars floating around there's going to be a certain busyness business.  Let's give it:

Grade: C+


Parsons: With "graven images" and being "too busy," it "makes [him] nauseous" and gets a "D", 40/100.

Michael5000: The central device (a "Grey Crowned Crane"!) is too fussy and the six stripes of aggressive coloration create an awful lot of noise.  Points for distinctiveness: it's one of the most recognizable flags out there.  Points off for embarrassing the Grey Crowned Crane.

Grade: D+


Parsons: With "bad colours," it gets a "B-", 65/100.

Michael5000: It's impressive that a flag this simple could be so distinctive.  A very strong bicolor.

Grade: A

United Arab Emirates

Parsons: Without comment, it gets a "B", 74/100.

Michael5000:   I think I admitted a few Fridays back that I find the red/green/black/white variations of the Eastern Mediterranean a bit dull.  My loss, I'm sure.  But with the UAE, the color scheme combines with the lanky 2:1 ratio to make it look, to me, like somebody took a perfectly serviceable tricolor and then gave it a superfluous red margin on the poleward side.   It's just not the flag for me.

Grade: B-

United Kingdom

Parsons: It's "too busy" and gets a "B", 70/100.

Michael5000: Goofy as it often looks when embedded in somebody else's flag, and much as it has been commercialized by fans of groovy British institutions such as The Who, there is a jaunty individuality to the Union Jack that is hard not to like.  Plus, it's a little history lesson in the expansion of England's power over its Celtic hinterlands.

Note that the Welsh get completely screwed in this scheme, but they make up for the snub by having a flag of their own that is about as awesome as any other pictorial flag out there.

I would love to see the flag-waving at a Wales-Bhutan soccer match.  Or Quiddich.  Whatever.

Grade (for the Union Jack): A

United States

Parsons: "If one is good, fifty must be just right," quips Parsons.  With "too many stars" and being "too busy," it gets a "C+", 60/100.

Michael5000: I myself happen to be a citizen of the United States of America, and this makes it difficult to look at this particular flag objectively.  For one thing, it's the flag of my country, land that I love, yadda yadda yadda.  Run it up the flagpole to see if I salute, and you'll find I do.

But for another thing, it is a symbol that is routinely used within my country to browbeat people who do not agree with one or another point of view.  I've noticed that it is often invoked in support of stupid points of view, which makes sense, as better-reasoned ideas tend to fly on their own wings and do not need to get propped up by bogus assertions of nationalist identity.  Furthermore, if you spend enough time in the United States, you will eventually see a gigantic version of this flag being used in an effort to sell cars.

Conversely, you will find many of my paisanos who, when travelling abroad, will proudly eschew this flag and its associated national symbolism in favor of someone else's.  They do this either to avoid the horror of being recognized for who they are, or out of an unwillingness to be associated with the party in power combined with the condescending belief that foreigners can't comprehend that there will be differences of opinion within a large political entity.  I have little patience for this practice.  Then too, there are the nutters who think that burning the flag of their own country is a great way to "make a statement," and while I feel that the idea of making this a criminal offense is frankly mawkish, neither can I think of a more effective way someone could choose to discredit his or her own beliefs.

So, doing my best to steer around the complicated baggage, I find that I have a list of things I do not like about the American flag.  A substantial list, actually.  The first item on the list is conceptual: it is not a stable flag.  Although this hasn't been an issue in the last handful of decades, historically the number of stars has been in constant flux.  It's not a huge issue visually, but it kind of fights against the idea of an enduring symbol.  (I have read somewhere that the Heraldry Office, or whatever we have, has 51-star and 52-star and who knows how many other layouts all ready to go, just in case.  This amuses me.)

Then, there's the sheer number of stars.  Fifty!  It's really a bit absurd, and creates all sorts of algebraic star-placement issues that are revealed if you browse the history of U.S. flag star layout.  It's about as busy as you can get without slapping a national seal on there.  And while we're discussing busyness, I fear I must point out that there is a good reason that the word "triskaidecacolor" doesn't exist.  It's because thirteen stripes is way too many.  Friends, forgive me: the stripes of the U.S. flag bear more than a passing resemblance to circus pants.

And what kind of ratio is 10:19, anyway?

Grade: C


mrs.5000 said...

Despite the jaunty, thought-provoking analysis of the U.S. and U.K. flags, it's the two from Tuvalu that have been worriting at me. I'm not sure how to say this, but are their islands...migratory?

Eric said...

Excellent work, though I must disagree on the Uganda flag. I find it oddly appealing. It reminds me of 1970's minor league baseball teams.

dhkendall said...

Tuvalu: I'm wondering which flag *you're* reviewing? You mention the baby-blue field with the UJ, which is the current (and most-often used flag), but you also mention the stars are the same orientation (they aren't, five of them are "upside down", the white stars on the flag Parsons reviewed, though, are all the same orientation), and you mention "eight stars floating around", take a close look and you'll find Parson's flag has 8, while the current flag has 9. This is due to Tuvalu being an archipelago of 9 islands, but the name Tuvalu means "8 standing together", as only eight of the islands (until recently) were inhabited, the 1995 reflected the name, not the actual number of islands.

Uganda: I remember when I was a kid, I always referred to the animal in the middle as the "Uganda chicken" ...

UK: Personally, I've always agreed with Parsons on this flag, it's never grabbed me, and I've always wondered why I seem to be the only vexillologist to not love this flag. I also love the flags of the individual British countries a lot. (Oh, and Wales isn't represented because legally it's a principality and part of England.)

United States: Was waiting to see what you'd do to this one; ones own flag is always the hardest to review objectively, and you came through with flying colours! (Pun not really intended). (For the record, Parsons seems to be quite objective in the treatment of his own NZ flag, I'd have to be reminded that he is a Kiwi, as his NZ review is indistinguishable in tone from the others). And, btw, 10:19 is merely the ratio in use by the government, flags made for and used by the general public seldom use that ratio, and it doesn't really matter. Personally, I wouldn't even say the ratio of US flags is supposed to be 10:19 due to it not applying to every US flag.

Michael5000 said...

I stand chastised by dhkendell and implicitly by the Mrs. regarding Tuvalu; clearly I wasn't giving that review my proper attention. My sincere apologies to my Tuvaluvan readers.

Regarding the ratios: after looking at lots and lots of photos of lots and lots of flags, I'd say that what dh says about the U.S. flag seems to be pretty much true of almost all flags. No matter what ratios are specified, they tend to get cranked out in a general flag shape, and that flag shape tends to be 3:5. (There were some minor kerfuffles on this topic early in the series.) My guess is that all but the highest-grade flag manufacturers simply have their machinery set up to crank 'em out in rectangles.


Honestly, this batch of countries is a pretty good selection. They are some of the most vexilogicaly busy flags, but in a good way. I am in the camp that loves the UK flag for its implied history, and honestly don't mind the various ensigns being used for colonies. The US flag is busy but also in a historically correct way. At least the red white and blue are not eye-watering.

The other countries in this batch are crazy, but hard to forget, which honestly is a key component in a good flag.

The UAE is boring, but makes excellent use of the Pan Arab colors in a traditional way, so gotta give them points. Ukraine and Sweden are the only countries I can think of that use the great blue/yellow combo that well. Surprised there are not more countries with that combo?