December 17, 2015

Horse 2044 - Red Flag, Black Flag, ISIS and Meatballs

Especially during the second half of the twentieth century, when the Soviet Union was pointing nuclear weapons at the United States, a narrative developed that communism in particular and socialism in general was an evil which needed to be destroyed. During the 1980s under Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, the Anglophone world set about progressively dismantling a lot of the things which a distinctly socialist viewpoint had helped to set up from 70 years before. Labour Unions were trampled, government owned businesses were privatised without any real justification and in counterpoint, the Soviet Union collapsed.
This means that we now are left in a world where the only properly communist nations in the classical sense of the word are probably Cuba, North Korea which is nineteen different kinds of crazy and China which doesn't know exactly what it is but it keeps on being it. Socialism is a thing which works perfectly well in Scandinavian countries and in places like France and Germany but to Anglophone ears, it's still an evil word.
Without the Soviet Union around any more and with her collection of republics changing flags en masse, this has meant that the only nation in the world which flies the scarlet banner as its national flag, is China. Many of the red flag movements which existed in France, Germany and the Anglophone world, are shadows of their former selves and no red banners fly in those countries.

Maybe as little as ten years ago, the only two black flags that you'd ever see being flown, were the skull and crossed bones of the Jolly Roger and the silver fern on black of New Zealand sporting teams. The former had long since passed into the realm of parody and jest and the latter has had copyright claims placed upon it even though the generic silver fern on black, dates all the way back to the Boer War. In all honesty, a silver fern on a black field should be the default entry in the New Zealand flag referendum but it isn't and I suspect that it only isn't because of the current political turmoil in the Levant.
The black flag of ISIS/Daesh, like a bunch of other black flags such as the Black Standard Shahada and the flag of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, is a poor flag from a design perspective because it includes words on it. It you have to write on your flag to get your point across, then you've failed at making a flag. The only reason that these flags work is because of the connotations that we already have with black flags.

I was thinking about this particularly this week because as we enter the Christmas season in earnest and every shop seems intent on blaring out a their curated collection of Christmas songs, the one that I've heard the most this season is "O Christmas Tree" or to give it its original German title "O Tannenbaum". That tune has very different associations for me; both of which have to do with flying a flag.

The people's flag is deepest red,
It shrouded oft our martyred dead
And ere their limbs grew stiff and cold,
Their hearts' blood dyed its every fold.
So raise the scarlet standard high,
Beneath its shade we'll live and die,
Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer,
We'll keep the red flag flying here.
- Jim Connell, The Red Flag, 1899

Flying high up in the sky
We’ll keep the Blue Flag flying high
From Stamford Bridge to Wembley,
We'll keep the blue flag flying high.
- We'll Keep The Blue Flying High, Chelsea FC fans, 1960s?

The first of those two sets of lyrics is unashamedly socialist and appears to have sprung up in the 1920s. The second set of lyrics is song by the supporters of Chelsea Football Club and given that their SW10 postcode in London has many properties which have changed hands for eight figure sums and that the club was bought by a Russian billionaire with the money that he got from oil revenues and the blood of Russian peasants, is right at the other end of the scale from socialism.

The point that I'm getting at here (before it departs on the express train to oblivion and you miss it) is that if the same tune can be put into service by both the very left and very right of the economic spectrum, there shouldn't be any logical reason why colours can't be made to do likewise.
I find it almost absurd for instance, that the song Yankee Doodle Dandy which upon anything more than even the most shallow glance at the lyrics is mocking and insulting, should be pressed into service as some sort of patriotic song. Yet that's one of the reasons that it endures, I suppose.
It seems to me that the greatest untapped weapon which we could deploy against the horror that is ISIS, remains unused; that weapon being the use of mockery.
Western nations and in particular the United States, with help from Britain and now Germany and France, seem perfectly happy to indiscriminately drop bombs that cause sorrow and death without discrimination but they haven't turned to that most effective and long lasting of weapons, gentle mockery.
Seventy years after one of the twentieth century's vilest dictators decided to end his life before being thrown into a ditch, dowsed in petrol and burned, even schoolboys today can sing songs about his imagined monosphericular deficit in the pants department (but poor old Goebbels). Fifteen years after the tune of "The Banana Boat Song" still in my mind still says "Come Mister Taliban, hand over Bin Laden" more than it does about tallying a bunch of bananas. Why have we not employed the likes of satirists and comedians to mock both Assad and ISIS?

We have definitely moved away from the days of music hall and brass bands and maybe rap and hip hop just don't lend themselves to the writing of witty, pithy and frivolous ditties but if Gangnam Style can sweep across the Internet; leapfrogging the language barrier and jump straight into the realm of public consciousness, then even in 2015 a popular song can still run half way around the world before outrage as got a chance to put its boots on.

From insolvency to bankruptcy,
We'll keep the black flag flying high?

Maybe we could just start flying the "Meatball Flag" from the world of motor racing. The Meatball Flag indicates that a competitor has some sort of mechanical problem and is leaking oil or other some such about the place. 

At any rate, the Meatball flag is flown to indicate to the driver that they need to get off the track immediately. Many parties would like ISIS to get out of Syria and Iraq because they pose problems and other internal hazards. I doubt if ISIS would be polite enough to just get out because they saw a flag though. 

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