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The American President

John McCain’s first post primary ad that ends with the line the American president that Americans have been waiting for brings up some interesting issues. First of all, have we ever had an un-American president? Aren’t all of the candidates American? Does wearing a flag pin, made in China, or displaying a plastic flag on a stick, again made in China, make someone more American or more patriotic than someone else?

Harold Meyerson’s column, McCain’s America is Exclusionary, in the Washington Post makes some great points about this. Here are a few excerpts:

Now, I mean to take nothing away from McCain’s Americanness by noting that it’s Obama’s story that represents a triumph of specifically American identity over racial and religious identity. It was the lure of America, the shining city on a hill, that brought his black Kenyan father here, where he met Obama’s white Kansan mother. It is because America is uniquely the land of immigrants and has moved beyond a racial caste system that Obama exists, has thrived and stands a good chance of being our next president.

That’s not the America, though, that the Republicans refer to in proclaiming their own Americanness. For them, “American” is a term to be used as a wedge issue, a way to distinguish their more racially and religiously homogeneous party from the historically more polyglot Democrats. Such separation has a long pedigree: Campaigning for GOP presidential nominee Alf Landon in 1936, Republican leader Frank Knox said that the Democratic Party under President Franklin Roosevelt “has been seized by alien and un-American elements. Next November, you will choose the American way.”

This year, we can expect to see almost nothing but these kinds of assaults as the campaign progresses. The Republican attack against Obama all but ignores the issue differences between the candidates to go after what is presumably his inadequately American identity. He is, writes one leading conservative columnist, “out of touch with everyday America.” His reluctance to wear a flag pin, writes another, shows that he “has declared himself superior to an almost universal form of popular patriotism.”

 

 

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Eye Opening

It is funny the things around us that we don’t notice in the rush of everyday life. Awhile ago I came across this article, “United We Stand: Fresh Hoagies Daily” by Carrie Rentschler, Carol Stabile and Jonathan Sterne on the web site “Bad Subjects.” All I can say is I wish I had noticed this and photographed it. The article starts:

Driving around Pittsburgh the week after September 11th, we couldn’t help but notice that something had changed in the roadside landscape: the signs. Where roadside marquees once announced the arrival of new managers at tire shops and $.99 “values” at fast food restaurants, they now combine those messages with short, patriotic expressions — mostly cliches or variations on cliches. The sign from which this essay takes its name is a great example: a convenience store advertises its own brand of fast food, with its own brand of patriotism. These signs can be found all over the Pittsburgh landscape. The pictures that accompany this essay were taken in late October on a strip of highway leading from Butler, PA into Pittsburgh, and within the city itself. Roadside marquees can only say a little to passers-by, but as a pervasive cultural phenomenon, they can be read more deeply.

Informal Survey

As every working mother knows it is sometimes hard to keep up with every thing. Lately the kids have been complaining, “There’s nothing to eat here, we want Pop tarts.” So I decided get over to the local Farm Fresh and stock up. I see so many flag stickers on cars and trucks that I thought, while I was there, I would do an informal survey and see how many shoppers with cars parked at Farm Fresh had a flag, of some kind, on their car.

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Only five flags, I was a little surprised by that, granted it was the middle of the day during the middle of the workweek. But I wondered how many flags I would find on cars across the street at Wal-Mart. I drove over and did a quick peruse of the parking lot.

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Wal-Mart 13
Farm fresh 5
Not intended to be scientifically accurate, just an informal survey.

The Beginning

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George Washington Bridge, Septemeber 13, 2001, Greta Pratt

My idea about this whole flag thing is that it started with 9/11. I was living in New Jersey close enough that I saw the towers and the smoke,right after the first plane hit, from the top of Skyline Drive on my way to work. In the small town where I live many residents work in New York City and most know someone who was personally affected. There is a hand painted memorial in the local high school dedicated to former students who were killed in the collapse, the point being, it was very close and personal and deeply felt in my town and throughout the tristate area. What I noticed was that pretty much instantly people in New York City and its suburbs put up flags. It was a heartfelt showing of solidarity, a symbol that Americans, engulfed in shock, used as a way to say we grieve for those who lost their lives, we grieve for our country.

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Can Collection, Greenwich Village, September 13, 2001, Greta Pratt

That has always been my take on the Flag O’Rama. It started after 9/11 as a way to show solidarity and morphed into a “brand” used to sell, in its most harmless mode, products, but more dangerously it bombards and assails us with ideas of nationalism.
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Engine 14, September 13, 2001, Greta Pratt

Now that I am in southern Virginia, where people, for the most part, have no personal connection with the 9/11 tragedies, I am hearing different thoughts about the flags. My colleague Kenneth Fitzgerald’s take is that there are not nearly as many flags as there where after 9/11 when “every car had one of those little stick-on flag poles.” Maybe it’s because I am looking for them but I think there are a lot more now. They used to be just flags on a pole, visible to all, but now we don’t even notice them, they blend in, they are hidden in plain view.

A couple of weeks ago I was talking with Toby Kamps at the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston, where I am going to be part of a show he curated titled “Old Weird America,” he feels, from the start, it was just a marketing ploy.

Anyway, now I am curious, how did your town respond to 9/11 flag wise? Drop me a note here at the blog with your thoughts.

Seeing Flags 4, 5,6

More flags from viewers like you…first we have Amy Papaelias at the Phillies game who couldn’t help but notice the giant electronic flag.

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Russ in LA sends this example of someone decorating their Internet site with a flag and Greg in CA caught this couple with his cell phone camera while dining out with his wife.

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Patriot

It is lamentable, that to be a good patriot one must become the enemy of the rest of mankind.
-Voltaire

Welcome to Flag A Day the blog!

Well, here it is again, the holiday you have all been waiting for, June 14, the official “Flag Day,” and incidentally the birthdays of my friends and compatriots Amy Papaelias and Sue Peterson. Happy Birthday!
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In the last few years I have observed the proliferation of American flags everywhere I go. Every time I leave the house I am bombarded by images of the American flag. They are on my neighbor’s mailbox, on cookies in the grocery store, at the doctor’s office, you name it and I bet there is a flag there. As a response to this commercialized, consumer ready, (patriotic?) blitz I started photographing the flags I see as I go about my daily life. These photographs will be posted daily on my website http://www.flagaday.com accompanied by this blog to post articles and thoughts relating to patriotism, nationalism and the American flag.

Write to me and share your thoughts and photos of flag phenomena.