Archive for the 'american culture' Category

The End


One year ago, I embarked on a mission. In order to document and call attention to the prevalence of patriotic imagery on the American landscape; I decided to photograph one new use of the flag, everyday, for one year. Now, 366 (I bet you forgot it was a leap year) flags later I am finished. The point has been made; in 2008 flag imagery is everywhere. It is common to see a person in a flag t-shirt or see the flag image decorating a mailbox or used on the packaging for cigarettes or any product you can think of.

All the uses I have photographed are blatantly against the U.S. Flag code (click here to check it out, great site)  yet it is considered acceptable and even patriotic to stick a plastic flag in your yard or don a flag shirt. However, some uses of the flag will get you arrested like hanging it upside down to protest the war in Iraq. And burning the flag is out of the question. Why does burning the flag incite people to violence while using it on a disposible garbage bag does not? Both are against the flag code.

To me the over usage feels like propaganda. It seeps in through your skin when you are not paying attention, subliminally creating a sense of nationalism.

Thanks for coming along on my journey! It has been an interesting year!


FLAG A DAY is going to be included in a show, sponsored by CREATIVE TIME that promises to be really exciting. DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA: THE NATIONAL CAMPAIGN will be at the Park Avenue Armory (643 Park avenue between 66th and 67th streets) in NYC from Sept. 21 – 27.


Raising the Flag

As Flag Day 2008 approaches, and I reach the end of the Flag a Day project, I realize that this commentary would not be complete with out mentioning the most iconic American flag image of all time, Joe Rosenthal’s Pulitzer Prize winning, Raising the Flag over Iowa Jima. This image, taken in 1945 on the Pacific Island of Iowa Jima, after a long, heated battle by the Marines, was distributed by AP and ran in newspapers all over the world. It symbolized perseverance, strength, victory and patriotism for American people in the midst of a brutal war.

The photograph became so popular that it appeared on 3.5 million posters for the 7th war bond drive. The Marines appearing in the photo were brought home and taken on a whirlwind publicity tour. The photo was made into a stamp in 1945 another stamp 1995 and a commemorative silver dollar in 2005.


The Marine Corps War Memorial, a memorial statue located near Arlington National Cemetery, is based on the photograph and a life size version made from Lego blocks is on display in the National Museum of the Marine Corps Heritage Center gift shop.

This photograph is an icon embedded in the American public memory bank symbolizing perseverance, strength, patriotism, unity and hope.

Oddly enough, a similar photograph was taken by Thomas E. Franklin of the Bergen Record in the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Officially known as “Ground Zero Spirit”, the photograph shows three firefighters raising a U.S. flag in the ruins of the World Trade Center. This photograph was also distributed by AP and ran in newspapers and magazines throughout the world. In 2002, it too was made into a stamp.


And finally here are a couple of my photos. You know that an image has moved beyond iconic when it reaches the status of lawn art. 





How Things Change

In October 1968, Activist Abbie Hoffman wearing a shirt, bought at Sears, that resembled the American flag was arrested and jailed for flag desecration. In May of 2005, Joint Chiefs Chairman Air Force Gen. Richard Myers wore a very similar shirt, resembling the American flag, to a Memorial Day rally in Washington DC and he was deemed patriotic.

hoffman.jpg myers.jpg
In 1968, most states had laws that prohibited flag desecration. In 1989 and 1990 the Supreme Court struck down the flag desecration laws. Although it is not illegal, both shirts go against the U.S. Flag Code, which is a set of guidelines that govern flag usage. Interestingly, the Flag Code was originally written in the 1880’s to protest the use of the flags in advertising.
Click here for a link to All Things Considered on NPR that gives some history of the Flag code.

Nitro Girl

You need to see Tuesday’s Colbert Report. It concerns the erection of the “Nitro Girl” patriotic statute in front of Werbeny Tire Town in Hilltop, NJ. It’s on Black Horse Pike. I think you will want to visit this place with your photo-mojo.
–Russ in LA


Thanks Russ! Here is the link to “Difference Makers Nitro Girl, If you don’t have a patriotic statue in front of your business, the terrorists have won.” on the Colbert Report…hilarious!

While we are on the subject of Giant Women I found out that Nitro girl is not the only giant woman made from this mold. In fact there are many “Uniroyal Gals” overlooking the highways of America clad in outfits befitting the climate of the area and taste of the owners. So if you happen to be the lucky owner of a giant fiberglass woman statue you can paint in whatever clothes, patriotic or not, that appeal to you.

Most of the original statues where made in the 1960’s by International Fiberglass a company that also produced giant men designed to lure in customers to the business of choice. The original man mold, for a Paul Bunyan, was altered in several ways depending on the purchaser’s need. For muffler and tire companies the Paul Bunyan beard was filled in and the arms changed to hold mufflers and tires, for Indians a naked chest was created and the arm was raised to give the stereotypical “Indian” greeting.


The Valley of Elah

tommy lee jones

Last week Mark was in town with a day off so we ditched the kids, well actually the kids ditched us, and caught our first movie in Norfolk where I am living and teaching at Old Dominion University. We went to the Naro, a very cool, old (1936), theatre to see The Valley Of Elah.

I wasn’t really expecting much, although I am a big Tommy Lee Jones fan from way back (Mark thinks it’s the three name thing, you know John Lee Hooker, Stevie Ray Vaughn) so I was surprised that I was really moved by this movie.

The movie effectively lets the viewer into the minds of young soldiers in Iraq who are unable to deal with the senseless, brutal, and horrific acts of a war that means nothing to them. Tommy Lee Jones, a retired career army man, and the father of a soldier who has gone missing, has a complete change of thinking and an awakening about the course America is on with this war. In the end he commits a hugely symbolic act with the flag (loved it!)

What touched me about The Valley of Elah was how effectively it relates one of the true devastations of this war, the destruction of the human mind.