JANE: Before we unveil your design for the New Zealand flag, perhaps you can tell us a little about what considerations you took into account when putting your design together.
ALAN: I was mulling over the question that you asked last time about the purpose served by a flag. It seems to me that we need something that unambiguously identifies us at a glance. It can appear as a logo on trade goods for our international markets, and it is also a symbol that can be used to unite us on important (and sometimes solemn) occasions, such as memorial services and international sporting events.
JANE: Those sound like good criteria. Tell me how you’d manage this.
ALAN: My own personal preference is for a very simple design. (I don’t like clutter.) I decided to start with a solid black background because black is very much our national colour. It is always worn by our athletes at the Olympic and Commonwealth games and it was the colour of our yacht that won the America’s Cup. Our rugby team is always referred to as the “All Blacks”, (and those who play at the junior level are referred to as the “Small Blacks”). Our basketball team is known as the “Tall Blacks,” our hockey team is called the “Black Sticks,” our ice hockey team is nicknamed the “Ice Blacks,” our softball team is the “Black Sox,” and our cricket team is known as the “Black Caps.” Not that we are obsessive about it, you understand.
JANE: Perhaps you should change your national anthem to the Rolling Stones song “Paint It Black”…
ALAN: Good idea! Maybe we could incorporate a discussion about that into the flag debate, and then we could kill two birds with one stone in the referendum.
Anyway, superimposed on the black background, in a contrasting colour, I’d like to see a symbol that is unique to us such as the kiwi or the koru (a spiral representing the unfurling of a fern frond. You can see a stylised koru in the livery of Air New Zealand planes.)
Such a design would be simple, elegant, attractive and effective. I think that kind of approach works the best. Japan’s rising sun and Canada’s maple leaf are inspired examples of similar thinking and, in my opinion, they work brilliantly.
JANE: I like your idea. You could even have both a koru and a kiwi: black background, stylized koru, and then the kiwi framed by the koru. Why don’t you compose this and submit it?
ALAN: My skills in this area are non-existent. At art class in school I never progressed beyond drawing stick men. Trust me, any design I submitted would look as if it had been put together by a drunken, blindfolded pre-schooler who had drawn it with a crayon clasped in his left foot. And that’s on a good day!
JANE: Hmm… I know some people I could enlist. We may see a visual of your design yet.
Tell me the sort of places I’d be likely to see the new flag (with your wonderful design on it) if I came back to New Zealand.
ALAN: Flags fly on government buildings (and they fly at half-mast when someone important dies). However, you seldom see flags anywhere but government buildings. Though having said that, there is a chap at the bottom of our street who has a flagpole in his garden and the NZ flag flies there all the time. Everyone else on the street regards that as rather eccentric and a little bit embarrassing. It definitely lowers the tone of the neighbourhood.
JANE: At least where I live, most people don’t routinely fly a flag either. However, some people do put them out for the Fourth of July or Memorial Day or similar occasions.
ALAN: I think identifying yourself with a national symbol like a flag is very important, psychologically speaking. When I became a New Zealand citizen I had to swear allegiance to Queen Elizabeth the Queen of New Zealand (and, by implication at least, swear allegiance to the NZ flag). My citizenship application coincided with a government economy drive so there was no actual ceremony as such. All I did was sign a piece of paper. Formal citizenship ceremonies have now been reinstated and I’ve been to several because Robin used to sing in a Kapa Haka group that performed at them. I found the ceremonies quite moving and I’m really rather sad that I never got to take part in one.
JANE: I can understand why. Ceremonies are a form of ritual magic and you missed out!
ALAN: Though having said all that, I don’t think a flag necessarily has to be considered sacrosanct. Nothing is so serious that you can’t have a bit of fun with it. I got quite a kick out of seeing David Bowie dressing himself in a suit made out of the Union Jack. Do you remember that?
JANE: Of course I do… I believe Alexander McQueen designed the coat. It was featured on the cover of Bowie’s album Earthling. Uh, not that I’m a fan or anything.
ALAN: Perish the thought.
JANE: What was the general reaction (if any) to that coat? Did anyone find it disrespectful?
ALAN: No, not in the slightest. I think the major response was “Nice coat, David.” I also remember that back in the “swinging sixties,” girls used to wear Union Jack knickers. Nobody thought anything of that either. I even vaguely recall some rock star painting his car to look like a Union Jack.
The current design of the New Zealand flag is so tremendously dull (not to say asymmetric) that I really can’t conceive of anybody wearing it when they go to the pub of an evening. I think it would be lovely if we could choose a new flag that would look nice on a T-shirt or a jumper.
JANE: I agree, actually. The U.S. flag reproduces beautifully on clothing. I’m sure someone has done the equivalent of panties, and I’m equally sure there are some who would find that disrespectful. However, no one I know has a problem with flags on shirts, jewelry, or other such images where it can be considered a representation of the national symbol in another form rather than as a banner.
Last week you mentioned that the Maori Sovereignty movement Tino rangatiratanga has its own flag. That got me thinking about our own state flags and other semi-official flags. Maybe we can discuss this next time.