TT: Redesigning the Flag

JANE: So, Alan, I read on-line that New Zealand is considering redesigning its flag.  Is that true?

Flag of All Nations

Flag of All Nations

ALAN: Yes, that’s true. Quite out of the blue, our government has decided that the country needs a new flag. There will be a referendum in 2016 so that we can all vote for the flag of our choice. Not long ago, the first of a series of public meetings was held to discuss the choices so far. Somewhat to the government’s embarrassment, nobody turned up to this meeting and the delegates were left to speak to an empty room.

As time goes on, there will be more of these meetings held in all the major, and some of the minor, centres. If the turnout continues to be so abysmally low, there will be a lot of egg left on a lot of government faces!

JANE:  As I see it, nobody turning up to the meeting is an indication that the public does not feel the flag needs to be changed.  Have the politicians taken the hint?

ALAN: No politicians will ever admit that they made a mistake, so they’ve just waffled a bit about inadequate publicity for the hui.  (Hui is Maori for meeting, and the two words are used interchangeably – the news broadcasts that described the fiasco used both words, probably to avoid having to repeat themselves.)

JANE: What does the New Zealand flag look like anyhow?

ALAN: It has a blue background with a small union jack in one corner and a set of stars to represent the Southern Cross.

JANE: That sounds nice.  Wait…  Let me Google for an image.  Yes.  It does look nice.  So why does anyone think it needs to be changed?

ALAN: Why does it need to be changed? The Union Jack is considered to be a symbol of the colonial past. The flag is (almost) identical to the Australian flag – the two are often confused. And of course there is nothing on it to indicate any Maori influence or heritage.

JANE: I can see why there might be a problem with the flag being confused with the Australian flag, but what’s wrong with a colonial past?  I mean, it’s part of your history, right?

ALAN: Indeed it is, and personally I can’t see anything wrong with having the Union Jack on the flag for exactly that reason. I suspect a lot of people feel the same – it may well be the reason for the poor turnout at the first hui.

JANE: Yes.  I see your point, but you were born in England, so some might say you have a different point of view.  Someone must see a problem with representing New Zealand’s colonial past on the flag or this wouldn’t have come up.  Can you clarify that for me?

ALAN: That’s a complex question – on the one hand, we are very proud of our independence and colonialism is a reminder of the shackles that once bound us. On the other hand, Maori are naturally somewhat resentful of the ills that colonialism brought them and they don’t look kindly upon it. Reparations have been made (and continue to be made) but some ill-feeling remains. Indeed there is a Maori Sovereignty movement called  Tino rangatiratanga which actually has a flag of its own!

And on the gripping hand, these days a significant proportion of our population are of neither Maori nor British descent and therefore the history of colonialism is of little significance to them. We are starting to think of ourselves as multi-cultural, and consequently there is a feeling that we should look forwards to the future rather than backwards to the past.

JANE: That’s really interesting.

Maybe New Zealand could take inspiration from the U.S. flag.  The colors (red, white, and blue) are the same as the British Union Jack, but they’ve been rearranged so that, while still serving as a nod to the past, they take on new meaning.

As you may know, the red and white stripes represent the original thirteen colonies, while the stars stand for each of the fifty states.  Every so often, there’s talk about adding another state or two, and then there’s a discussion of how to add another star or so in an attractive fashion.

ALAN: Yes, I can imagine that it must be getting harder and harder to stop the design from looking crowded. I remember that there was a lot of discussion about it when Hawaii became a state in 1959. Back then I was just old enough to have started taking an interest in the world at large and Hawaii’s statehood was a topic on the English news broadcasts of the time. That was when I first realised what the stars symbolised, and I remember feeling quite smug that I had it figured out!

JANE: I bet you did feel smug.  It’s like solving a code…

What sort of designs have been suggested for the New Zealand flag?

ALAN: Again, the government opened a real can of worms for themselves with this – anyone at all is allowed to submit a design to the committee overseeing the process and the committee is obliged to take every submission seriously, and make it available for discussion. Consequently a lot of people have been having a lot of fun with the idea – my favourites at the moment are a kiwi that is farting a rainbow, and a kiwi that is shooting laser beams out of its eyes (because it can!).

The irreverent clown in me really hopes that something like that does get chosen in the referendum…

The web site has all the submitted designs to date. Last time I looked, there were 3,212 of them!

You can see the farting kiwi and one or two other amusing suggestions here.

JANE:  I like some of the ones that look like drawings by schoolchildren.  You know, maybe in working out a new design, some thought should be put into what purpose a flag serves.

ALAN: That’s a very good question. Let me think about that and I’ll get back to you next time…

JANE: I shall eagerly await!


7 Responses to “TT: Redesigning the Flag”

  1. Peter Says:

    And if the Canadian experience is anything to go by, 40 years later some curmudgeons will still be flying the old flag (one still sees the odd Red Ensign flying here and there).

    The reasoning behind the current Canadian flag is nicely laid out here:

  2. Heteromeles Says:

    And then, of course, we have the experience of the Kingdom of Hawai’i, which reportedly adopted a flag based on the Union Jack without British pressure back in 1816. The flag of the state of Hawai’i even has the Union Jack in it. Of course, there’s a bit of an argument among the Hawaiian sovereignty movement about what flag they should fly (link).

    Being a botanist, I do of course wish the people pushing the Koru would portray it more realistically).

  3. Chad Merkley Says:

    To some extent, a good flag should be like a good company logo, distinct, easily recognizable, and easy and inexpensive to reproduce. The state of Washington (where I currently live) is green with a round medallion thingy in the middle, featuring a portrait of George Washington. I moved to WA from Alaska when I was 10 years old. The Alaska state flag is a blue field with the Big Dipper and Polaris on it (8 stars total). This was a design that we copied and drew on everything in elementary school. Not being able to draw my state flag anymore, and having no one care about the state flag was a huge culture shock (among many others–school being canceled because of snow seemed really strange).

    • Jane Lindskold Says:

      Alaska’s state flag IS a good one. My only change would be to make the stars stand out a bit more — larger, maybe?

      In any case, a highly recognizable constellation is a great flag motif.

  4. Paul Dellinger Says:

    I’d really like to see Alan’s design submitted!

  5. Jay M. Says:

    I’m not sure flags are such a good idea any more. Partly, it’s due to a Babylon 5 episode (“Green!” “Purple!”) and partly it’s due to the main historical use of flags being to rally armies and navies, to identify aristocracy, or to burn someone else’s flag as an insult. It’s a throwback to an earlier era and maybe, just maybe, we shouldn’t have to need them any more? Is “get rid of all flags” an option?

    • Heteromeles Says:

      Since I feel like burning a confederate flag after that South Carolina church shooting two days ago (I won’t, but only because it would be stupid to start a wildfire in the process), I get your point. Still, I’m don’t think we’re at the point where we can let go of nationalist or ideological branding.

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