The US Flag in the 21st Century

31 October 2000

The Stankonia flag, by OutKast.
The Stankonia flag, by Outkast.

American hip hop duo Outkast release their fouth studio album, Stankonia.  The iconic album cover consists of Big Boi and André 3000 posing in front of a huge, black-and-white US flag with inverted stars: the funkified flag of Stankonia (which actually was manufactured and hung on the wall in their Atlanta studios).  (For more, see our blog posting Outkast’s Stankonia flag.)


11 September 2001

My daughter, who goes to Stuyvesant High School only blocks from the World Trade Center, thinks we should fly an American flag out our window. Definitely not, I say: The flag stands for jingoism and vengeance and war. She tells me I’m wrong–the flag means standing together and honoring the dead and saying no to terrorism. In a way we’re both right: The Stars and Stripes is the only available symbol right now. In New York City, it decorates taxicabs driven by Indians and Pakistanis, the impromptu memorials of candles and flowers that have sprung up in front of every firehouse, the chi-chi art galleries and boutiques of SoHo. It has to bear a wide range of meanings, from simple, dignified sorrow to the violent anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigotry that has already resulted in murder, vandalism and arson around the country and harassment on New York City streets and campuses. It seems impossible to explain to a 13-year-old, for whom the war in Vietnam might as well be the War of Jenkins’s Ear, the connection between waving the flag and bombing ordinary people half a world away back to the proverbial stone age. I tell her she can buy a flag with her own money and fly it out her bedroom window, because that’s hers, but the living room is off-limits.  (The opening of Put Out No Flags by Katha Pollitt.)

Following the shock of the 9/11 terrorist attacks the popularity of the flag surges and social pressure to display it builds.  Feminist critic Katha Pollitt captures the moment in her controversial essay “Put Out No Flags” published in The Nation a month following the attacks.


31 May 2002

The so-called First Navy Jack.  Flag scholar Peter Ansoff has demonstrated that it "was a 19th-century mistake based on an erroneous 1776 engraving".
The so-called First Navy Jack. Flag scholar Peter Ansoff has demonstrated that it “was a 19th-century mistake based on an erroneous 1776 engraving”.

The Navy directs its ships to substitute the so-called First Navy Jack for the US jack  “during the Global War on Terrorism“.  As of today, still no end in sight.


4 July 2007

Nukolz the dog received more press attention on 7/4/07 than the 50-star flag's surpassing any other version.  (Nukolz placed 2nd in the patriotism category in the annual Yankee Doodle Doggie Show in Anaheim Hills, CA.)
Nukolz the dog received more press attention on 7/4/07 than the 50-star flag’s surpassing any other version. (Nukolz placed 2nd in the patriotism category in the annual Yankee Doodle Doggie Show in Anaheim Hills, CA.)

Current 50-star flag surpasses the 48-star flag as the longest-used version of the flag.  No one notices.


4 July 2010

Golden Jubilee Flag, designed by Ed Mooney.
Golden Jubilee Flag, designed by Ed Mooney.  Peter Orenski created, manufactured, and sold his own version, in which 26 gold stars form the number 50 within a rectangular border of 24 white stars.

Current 50-star flag celebrates its Golden Jubilee 50th anniversary.  Again, no one notices, but vexillologist  Peter Orenski notices that no one notices in his paper Unpledged Allegiance: Golden Jubilee of the 50-Star flag.  From the abstract: This anniversary was greeted with a colossal yawn not only by a great majority of ordinary Americans, but also by most flag enthusiasts, flag manufacturers, patriotic organizations, schools, veterans groups, government agencies and news media. Question: Why did a country so conscious about its flag allow this anniversary to pass practically unobserved? This paper presents a range of possible answers, some based on historical perspectives, others on interviews with news outlets, veterans, school teachers, flag-involved individuals and organizations.


22 July 2014

One of two enormous, custom-made, all-white US flags flying above the Brooklyn Bridge.
One of two enormous, custom-made, all-white US flags flying above the Brooklyn Bridge.

Sometime after midnight German artists Matthias Wermke and Mischa Leinkauf evade police surveillance to replace each 10-by-19-foot U.S. flag atop both towers of the Brooklyn Bridge with all-white versions of their own making.  Though seriously freaking out the guardians of the bridge tasked with protecting it from terrorism, it turned out to be an extension of the artists’ “interventions and performances” in urban public space, “to question common standards and show the beauty beyond these standards”.  In their Brooklyn Bridge project, Wermke and Leinkauf manage to defamiliarize the US flag and make us wonder at its continuing power.  (See our blog posting, White Flags, for more on de-coloring the US flag as an artistic tactic.)

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Author: SDM

Ethnography * Technology * Design

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