Friday, April 30, 2010

Flag Fridays on Vexillophilia

Readers of The Life & Times of Michael5000 will already be familiar with the Flag Friday Project. In fact, they'll already be familiar with this exact post, which appeared in that undeniably fabulous blog just last week.

From now on, my running critiques of the world's national flags will be simulcast every few weeks on the L&TM5K and Vexillophilia. This index page catches you up with the action this far, and will be sporadically updated as we stagger forward through the alphabet.

The Flag Friday project is an ongoing critique of the Flags of the world. It was inspired by New Zealand philosopher Josh Parsons' reviews of the world’s flags from some years back, possibly the only comprehensive critique of the world’s flags on record. Each flag review cites Parson's assessment before explaining why I agree or disagree with him; then you, the reader, have a chance to agree or disagree with me.

As I mention every post: These discussions are about graphic design, and perhaps about nationalism and national symbolism in general. They should not be taken as critical of the countries, ideals, cultures, or people that the flags represent. That's important!

I: Grades
II: Glossary
III: The Flag Index
IV: Other Flag Posts of Yore
V: Flaggy Links from the L&TM5K Readers

I: Grades

For ease of comparison, I use Parson’s system of letter grades, which runs basically like so:
A = Excellent; Inspired
B = High Quality Flag with only minor concerns
C = Satisfactory Flag
D = Problematic Flag
F = National Embarassment

II: Glossary

The Betsy Ross Principle: At anything but the broadest level of abstraction, pictures are too detailed to be immediately recognizable at any distance and thus run counter to good flag design. Too, one feels that a flag ought to be something that could be put together by the local
Betsy Ross figure out of, literally, whole cloth. A fussy image that requires custom-printed fabric is vaguely undemocratic, and sacrifices the clean, bold aesthetic of solid blocks of color.

Civil Flags: The ordinary flag of a country, as opposed to the fancy State Flags that are often used to mark especially important national locations or people. Flag Fridays focuses on Civil Flags.

The Kid With Crayons Tests: The Kid With Crayons Test was originally suggested by Aviatrix and subsequently refined by points raised by The Unwise Owl.

  • The Kid With Crayons Simplicity Test is, like The Betty Ross Principle, a measure of a flag's relative simplicity. It suggests that an ideal flag should have a simple enough design that a child can reproduce it accurately with crayons.

  • The Experiential Kid With Crayons Test is a necessarily subjective assessment of a flag's immediate visual impact. It implies that certain flags -- eg. that of Bhutan -- have a design that might inspire a child to want to draw it in crayon, regardless of the design's complexity.
Maps on Flags: Parsons considers the presence of a map on a flag a grave cartographic error. I see no problem with cartographic flags in principle, but will also concede that maps are often a dodgy design element in practice.

State Flags: Special versions of a countries flag used to mark special occasions or locations. See "Civil Flags."

Tricolors: Flags that are comprised of three fields or "stripes" of color, running either horizontally or diagonally. Parsons posits "do not use a tricolour unless you are in Europe" as a rule of flag design, but I disagree wholeheartedly with him on this point. Tricolors are the very epitome of classic flag design, simple, bold, and immediately identifiable. European countries use them for the reason that they have strong use value, and triumphed over all other possible national signifiers through a historical process of evolution. To tell the younger countries of the world that they can’t use this design because it’s already been done is essentially to tell them that their flags shouldn’t look like flags.

Words and Names on Flags. Both Parsons and I am generally hostile to the idea of names on flags. The whole purpose of a flag is to present a graphic representation for a political entity, and if you have to (to take an example from the gallery of horrors that is the U.S. State flags) actually write “Oregon” on your banner, you have clearly committed a vexology fail.

III: The Flag Index

Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Andorra, Angola, Antigua & Barbuda

Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahamas

Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belgium, Belize

Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia

Bosnia, Botswana, Brazil

Brunei, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burma, Burundi

IV: Other Flag Posts of Yore

The L&TM5K Awards for Flag Merit

Thoughts on the Flag(s) of Angola

Flag Colors of the World

Thoughts on U.S. State Flags

The Wednesday Quiz II:1

Canadian and Australian Flags Quiz

The Monday Quiz IL

V: Flaggy Links from the Vexillophilia Readers

What is Written on the National Flags (Catholicguaze)

The Intersection of Flag and Food (Elizabeth)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Let's Talk About the Flag of Angola

I noticed the other day that the Angolan dude with whom I was playing online chess was represented by an unfamiliar looking flag. I was naturally expecting the familiar old Angolan flag that we all know and love:

This banner, you'd have to admit, embodies some of the core flaggy virtues. It is graphically simple and direct yet highly distinctive. It is immediately recognizable, and visually arresting. But it turns out that there are people, including possibly some actual Angolans, who have some reservations about this flag. Their criticisms are at least three.
1) The sickle and hammer concept is a little out of fashion.

2) Using a machete as your national symbol in an African republic could be construed as kind of, um, insensitive.

3) Perhaps most importantly, the flag descends directly from the banner of the largest of the colonial-era resistance movements in Angola, which subsequently became the dominant political party. Thus it is perhaps not the best symbol for a nation giving multi-party democracy the old college try.
A suggested alternative, and the flag that is being used by, is this:

The design in the middle is apparently derived from some famous Angolan prehistoric cave paintings, thus representing a tie to the ancient past.

It seems that is jumping the gun somewhat, though. I checked out the website of the Angolan Embassy to the United States, and there is no reference to this new banner to be found. In fact, I'd have to say that the embassy is still rocking the old flag's symbolism mighty hard.

There is, unsurprisingly, precious little media coverage of this issue to be found. The best I can do is off the Wiki, which sayeth:
Many Angolans dislike the flag proposal because they feel it has no real meaning, as opposed to the current flag which clearly has historical associations. Others are of the opinion that the proposed flag cannot be seen as uniquely Angolan because it resembles other national flags including the flags of Costa Rica and North Korea.
What do YOU think, gentle Vexillophilia readers? Allowing that the final decision is, of course, nobody's business but the Angolans'.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Another Good Flag Quote

A moth-eaten rag on a worm-eaten pole, It does not look likely to stir a man's soul. 'Tis the deeds that were done 'neath the moth-eaten rag, When the pole was a staff, and the rag was a flag.

-- Sir Edward Bruce Hamley

Where is West Xylophone?

They Might Be Giants, the American alternative rock band, primarily John Flansburgh and John Linnell, have released dozens of children's songs over the years. Including "The Alphabet of Nations."

The official TMBG video includes much map and flag fun... but where is West Xylophone?

From This Might Be A Wiki - The TMBG Knowledge Base:
Technically, there is no nation whose name begins with the letter 'X' or the letter 'W.' (Wales is a principality, Wallis is a territory of France, and Western Sahara is a disputed territory below Morocco). The fictional West Xylophone is used as a stand-in for both of these letters.
Several other TMBG fans have created videos for the song, with more map and flag fun:

However, there is some dispute as to the correct official flag of West Xylophone: