Friday, September 17, 2010

Flag Friday XIV

Flag Friday is a periodic discussion of the world's national flags; the project is explained and indexed here.

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.


Parsons: He awards it "good colors," but calls it a "bad tricolour," which apparently rounds out to a B+, 75/100.

Michael5000: I hold the opposite opinion. The colors of the Gabonese flag are, to my eye, a bit too pastel and washed out to assert themselves with a properly flaggy boldness. On the other hand, they are complementary enough and make a perfectly serviceable tricolor.

You might well come up something like this if you were designing a flag for any coastal place with forests, be it Gabon or Chile or, say, Oregon. Ocean, beach, woods. Officially, though, the gold stripe here in Gabon indicates the Equator. I can't say I really get that, either as a piece of representation (thick gold line?) or point of national pride ("visit beautiful Burma, home of the Tropic of Cancer!"), but that's nobody's business but the Gabonese.

Grade: B-


Parsons: "Great design and colour choice," says Parsons. "Also represents the geography of the country (without being a map)." Praising "good colours," he assigns an "A+", 90/100.

Michael5000: I like the flag of Gambia. The darker green is a good companion color to the classic red and blue, and the white trim adds a distinctive note to your basic horizontal tricolor.

The common belief that it is a diagrammatic map of the country, however, is badly overstated. It's true that the blue stripe is supposed to represent the Gambia River, along which the country's territory is stretched, but there's no particular concept of a northern red or a green south involved. Also, Gambia is more than ten times as long east-to-west as it is wide north-to-south, whereas its flag is your basic world-standard 3:2.

So the cartographic nature of the Gambian flag would amount only to "we're a country with a river running through it," which I suppose is more than Nauru can say. Fortunately, it doesn't need to be a map to look sharp.

Grade (for the current flag): A-


Here's the flag of Georgia that Parsons reviewed:

Parsons: Complained of "bad colours" and assigned a "C+", 60/100.

Michael5000: I thought of that flag (which flew from 1990 to 2004) as among the world's most distinctive, but not in a good way. I would not have been as kind as Parsons in grading it. Fortunately, a new Georgian flag was adopted by Presidential decree in 2004. Here's a picture of me and some friends celebrating that exciting event:

Sweeping claims are made regarding the historicity of this flag design -- Fifth Century! -- which would put it in use many centuries before the origin of flags per se, at least as I understand the vexillological timeline. But that's OK. The important thing is, Georgia has come up with a design with some sort of national resonance, and it's not butt-ugly to boot.

The specs call for the red to be a perfect 255-0-0 fire-engine candy-apple red, baby, but I think the design works a little better if the red tends towards the maroon of the previous flag. Judging from photo evidence, everybody else does too.

Grade: B+


Parsons: Without comment, he gives it a "B", 70/100.

Michael5000: Best things about Germany's flag: it's a very distinctive combination of colors, if you ignore Belgium (which Germany has an unfortunate history of doing). And it certainly stands out against, well, anything, including a blue Central European sky:

The downside is that the colors are, frankly, a little hard on the eyes. They are a little too befitting of crude stereotypes of the German personality: the utilitarian colors of industrial diagrams and signage, or the excessively flamboyant tie of a man who is ho-ho-hoing much too hard at his own joke.

We love you, Germany! Thanks for saving Greece!

Grade: B


Parsons: With an accusation of "plagiarism," he assigns a "B", 70/100.

Michael5000: OK, Ghana was the first of the "newly independent" countries to escape European rule in the late 1950s. The new flag did indeed deliberately quote the colors of the Ethiopian flag, as I described last time. A lot of other countries in Africa would subsequently join Ethiopia and Ghana in choosing green, yellow, and red for their flags, reflecting an aspiration for a united continent that, however naive it seems in retrospect, was rather noble and idealistic in its time and place. Parsons is only kidding when he reduces this whole process to "plagiarism," but it still makes me kind of sad.

The black star in Ghana's center stripe is thought to be an homage to the Black Star Line, a short-lived maritime company founded in the 1910s by the journalist, African-American community leader, and unintentional Rastafari prophet Marcus Garvey. Which is pretty far out.

Grade (for the current flag): B

Friday, September 10, 2010

9/11 Flag Waving

Following that terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, DC, on September 11, 2001, there was a surge in patriotic displays of the flag of the United States.

Photo gallery in Salon this week:
Flags for 9/11: Photographs from the aftermath of 9/11.
By Bryce Hall

"These pictures were all taken in California during the year following Sept. 11, 2001. Some are ironic ("God Bless America" coffee mugs made in China); others are simple expressions of patriotism."

Friday, September 3, 2010

Flag Friday XIII

Flag Friday is a periodic discussion of the world's national flags; the project is explained and indexed here.

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.


Parsons: Calling it "too busy", he gives it a "C", 55/100.

Michael5000: OK, here's another African flag in green, yellow, and red. But wait! This is the original green, yellow, and red African flag. Ethiopia was the African country that endured European colonialism the least and for the shortest period, and was the first African country to join the big happy family of modern states. It was a bit of a beacon to other independence-minded Africans, and the colors of Ethiopia's flag thus became the symbolic colors of pan-Africanism, idealistically incorporated into the flags of many other countries as they became independent.

Back in the day of Emporer Haile Sallasie, the center figure was a lion of Judah clutching a flag of Ethiopia. This was kind of badass, but a bit fussy. After that, the flag was officially just a tricolor until 1996, and apparently the blank tricolor is still in pretty common use. The official version has the blue circle with the shining star, though. I'm sure this is an idiosyncratic response, but the star always reminds me of one of those "move four of these matchsticks to make a correct mathematical formula" puzzles. I don't love it.

Grade: B


Parsons: Also "too busy," but also burdened by "graven images" and "colonial nonsense." "Features a picture of a lion rolling a cigarette (cf. Sri Lanka)" He gives it a "D", 40/100.

Michael5000: You know, I too find it too busy and burdened by graven images and colonial nonsense. It also strikes me that sky-blue is a problematic color for a flag, which is often seen against, well, the sky. Photographic evidence supports my point.

The Fijian oceangoing contingent seems to have noticed this problem too, coming up with a naval jack that can actually be seen against sea and sky.

But I digress. There has been a little bit of debate about the Fijian flag, but interestingly it has not been about getting rid of the colonial business. Instead, there is a faction that wishes to make the national seal yet more fussy. As an outsider, I'd have to say that seems like a step in the wrong direction.

Grade: D


Parsons:Praising its "good colours" and praising (I assume) it as "simple," he assigns a "B+", 76/100.

Michael5000: That is one classic freaking flag. It looks about five centuries old to me. Actually, it's a 1910s design with roots going back only a few decades earlier. But it's awesome -- it totally says "Finland."

Grade: A

Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

Parsons wrote his flag reviews towards the end of a narrow window of time where, due to rather finicky geopolitical concerns (the Greek government, from an outsider's perspective, being just plum silly), it made sense to call the new country of Macedonia by this absurdly abstruse moniker. That seems to have more or less settled down, so we'll deal with Macedonia under "M."


Parsons: Without comment, Parsons gives the flag of France a B, 70/100.

Michael5000: The flag of France is both one of the most recognized flags in the world and the most simple. If you were going to make a cartoon of a flag, you would probably make a red, white, and blue tricolor. The flag of France is not just the flag of France, it's the flag of flags. It's not as old as you might expect, though, going back only to the Revolution.

I can see why Parsons didn't have much to say about it, though. It is so simple and so ubiquitous as to kind of defy comment.

Grade: A-