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American flag as protest

Patrick,

I fly the Ami flag because it taps a deeply held belief that I can be a socialist, agitator, and a good citizen at the same time. It’s my right. When public mass-worship of the flag hides the motivations and methods of moneied elites, power, and capital, my little flag says fuck you. I get to burn it, shit on it, drive on it. I mean, if people can wear underwear made out of it…

If lived on your block, I would sneak around at night in a ski mask and burn the fuckers. Then those flags would mean something. Right now, they represent the worst of mass hypnosis, mass thinking, and mass culture. Don’t get out of this mainstream, they say. If you do, if you dissent or think differently, then we will exclude you. We will exile you from community. We will grind you down until you live in our Zion of the Dolls.

In many ways, the American flag is used as a whip. Buy. Believe. Sell. Be alike. Do not dissent. Car dealerships in Kansas City fly flags big as city blocks. Perkins prides itself on the size of the American flags flown at its restaurants. Everywhere the flag means rot, decay, decadence, and torture by misery of ideology. As you say, it makes enemies of outsiders and leads the way when it comes to nativist depredation of immigrants, repression of gays, the poor, and minorities, and exploitation of workers.

Yet, I have my flag. It’s made by union workers in New York of domestic textiles in a plant. That’s a kind of protest these days. I planted my flag right in the front of my house to protest the forms of social and economic pressures people of power and wealth who fly the flag want to hide. It is also me dressing up in a sensible suit and going to my office in the financial district to use the systems of wealth production and accumulation against themselves. It is a statement that I will not stand in a line or put up with your ideological pressure, and and fuck you if you try to make me.

Do I want to burn it? Sometimes. Can I? You bet. I would call the media. Someday I will just to show, once again, that you don’t have to hate your country to protest the systems of oppression it protects.

I also think of the way Jackson Pollack, Robert Rauschenberg, George Maciunas, and Jasper Johns used the flag to reveal how it was an empty shell and a deeply meaningful symbol–and how American life was empty and, yet, full of possibility. Look up Hammons. It’s interesting to his statement of how the flag does mean all that freedom and liberty stuff. Absolutely. It also represents an ideal to which the present cannot measure up, and that minorities and repressed groups cannot access.

Johns targets came after his flags. Oddly, they are very much like his flags. The simiarlity is not accidental. But if you think of targets and flags, you can see them a couple of different ways. America as target. It’s the Cold War. What about people as target?

Rauschenberg often used the flag as an icon in the crash and bang of modernity he portrayed in his work. People hated it. Conservative social critics, like Harold Bloom, still rant about it.

But the most reviled of Rauschnberg’s work was an American flag he drove over. He drove over a flag with ink on the tires and hung it on a wall. People fucking hated it. He received death threats. But doesn’t that sort of sum it up? Andre Codrescu wrote in that people in modern American commercial society have a number of freedoms that they really don’t know and don’t want to know about because they are willing to become holes that industry pours ciphers into. It’s easier.

I argue that there have been tire tracks on the American flag since before the Civil War. It has been burned in a million toasters and under millions of irons. It has fueled hundreds of millions of cars and glowed in a billion televisions. It has started a thousand wars and killed millions of people.

All because of what’s happened on your block. Unthinking group behavior. In this case, religiously motivated group behavior.

But it’s a rational, decidedly deliberate group behavior. We always segregate fascism from ourselves because it is just this. Rational. Nationalistic. Nativist. Imperial. Culturally superior.

Yikes! There’s an American flag under there.

Patrick

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