Friday, January 14, 2011

Flag Friday XXI

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: Disliking "graven images," he gives it a "C", 55/100.

Michael5000: Parsons and I share a healthy dislike of the kind of elaborate-national-seal-on-a-flag frimframery that stinks up some national flags (and a great many U.S. state flags).  I can't hold with him when he calls simple one-color shapes "graven images," though.  The Lebanese flag is a red-white-red tricolor with a wide center stripe and a green shape in the center; it passes the Betsy Ross test with (to use the unintentional pun for about the thousandth time) flying colors.  It's simple, dignified, and in the top ranks of recognizability.  I like it.

Grade: A-


Parsons: Disliking the "weapons" on Lesotho's flag, he gives it a "D", 55/100.

Michael5000: So I started out by thinking, "huh, I really like Lesotho's flag, I wonder why I haven't noticed it more before."  Then I read Parson's comment, and I was all like "'weapons?'  WTF?" But THEN I realized that Lesotho had a relatively recent flag change.  2006, in fact.  Here's a reminder of the old flag:

I think the change was a good idea.  The old flag was perhaps a bit more distinctive, but the new one has that classic tricolor charm.  The switch from brown to black was good.  As for the change of symbols, it's a nice gesture.  Quoth the BBC (Oct. 4, 2006):
The small mountain kingdom of Lesotho is marking its 40th anniversary of independence from the United Kingdom by flying a new more peaceful flag.
The military emblem of a shield, spear and knobkerrie is replaced by a traditional cone-shaped hat on the blue, white and green flag.
The hat worn by indigenous Basotho people was on the first independence flag but was replaced after a coup.
Lesotho says its new flag shows it "at peace with itself and its neighbours".
Probably they took Parsons' criticism to heart.  We flag critics have a lot of clout.

Grade (for the current flag): A-


Parsons: It's "too busy" and represents "plagiarism," but "at least an improvement on the US flag."  He gives it a "B", 74/100.

Michael5000: Hmm, "plagiarism."  Y'all know about Liberia, right?  American abolitionists buy the freedom of a bunch of slaves and literally send them back to Africa, thus dislocating not only the freedmen from their North American homeland but also the African folks who happened to be living on the territory chosen for the project.  Good thinking, guys!  The repercussions are still in full swing.

So, "Liberia," liberty, freed slaves.  Capital: Monrovia, after U.S. President Monroe, under whose tenure the whole scheme was hatched.  And the flag is, yes derived from the United States'.  Under the circumstances, "plagiarism" seems a little hard.

At least an improvement on the US flag?  Hard to argue with that.

Grade: B+


Parsons: Asks "did you even try?" but calls it "original" and "simple" and gives it a "B", 70/100.

Michael5000: Green!  The color of Islam!  And Libya is not shy about announcing itself as an Islamic country.

If you're like me -- which seems unlikely -- you've always wondered what this simplest of flags really looks like in actual use.  Here it is on a ship:

And here's a bunch of them among some public buildings:

Kind of weird, isn't it.  They don't quite look like flags, but like a placeholder for some more conventional flag to be determined at a later date.  Which leads to the main problem with the Libyan flag: it's quite distinctive when you are looking at it on a table of "Flags of the World" or whatever.  Whereas, if you see it in real life, it's loses any sense of distinctiveness.  "Is that a flag, or just a piece of green fabric," you ask.  I have a set of sheets that are essentially Libyan flags, but no inferences regarding my attitude toward the North African state should be made based on this fact.

Grade: C


Parsons: Without comment, he consigns it to a "C", 56/100.

Michael5000: Sure, the crown is a little fussy, but hats off to the Liechtensteiners for altering their flag when they realized that it was the same as one of the many iterations of the Haitian banner.  That was class.  Also, the crown is a just one- or two- color geometric element, depending on where you look, and therefore relatively inoffensive. Too, isn't a nice anachronistic crown pretty appropriate for a geopolitical relict as cute as a European microstate?  Tell me this isn't charming:

Viva Liechtenstein!

Grade: B+


  1. "at peace with itself and its neighbour*s*"??

    Has someone in Lesotho looked at a map lately? :)

    As to Lebanon: I've always found similarities between it and my own Canadian flag. Both have a red/white base of simple stripes (the white larger than either red), and both have a very recognizable symbol, flag or no flag, of the country in the middle. However, since Parsons also gave Canada a "graven images" tag (I guess anything that's not a tricolour/bicolour has "graven images") I shouldn't be surprised.

    Finally: re: Libya - I often see green flags at the beach (symbolizing it's safe to swim) and sometimes jokingly comment that the Libyan ambassador must be there. :) When flying on the beach, I get the same reaction as seeing the pictures above from Libya: placeholder. Distinctive, and if they did replace it, a part of me would be sad, the same part that would be sad if Nepal replaced its distinctive shape, but it needs to be done (in Libya. Not as much so for Nepal). Put something on it!

  2. dh: Heh, nice call on the false plural. Wish ~I~ had caught that.

    Parsons was wildly inconsistent with his "graven images" tag, but -- I suppose I can admit this in the comments -- I think he was just on a lark, killing some time, and never expected his little project to be exposed to the ridiculous scrutiny I've given it here. If he ever discovers this blog, I'm probably due for some serious 'pologizing....

  3. I think DH's comment about neighbours also alluded to the fact that Lesotho only has ONE neighbour....