Happy Flag Day!
This is a holiday that embodies many contradictions. I love the flag — I have always made copious use of it as a design emblem at my American Vaudeville Theatre. I use it the same way Barnum, Tony Pastor, Harrigan & Hart and George M. Cohan used it — as a powerful and handy symbol. And I have done so without irony, even though there is something intrinsically self-contradictory about the American flag.
They way I look at it, to be a true American patriot is to be in some sense “unpatriotic”. In other words, one’s true allegiance ought to be to doing what’s right, not parties, clans, and least of all symbols. “Pledging allegiance to the flag” rather than to, say, the principle that “All Men Are Created Equal” (or better yet, “All People”) seems like dangerous waters to me — it goes hand in hand with all those authoritarianisms we as a People are supposed to reject. After September 11, I stopped using the flag at my shows for a long while because it seemed to me a whole bunch of people were flying it who didn’t understand what it’s supposed to stand for. You can see a bunch of them in that rodeo scene in Borat.
Flag-burning controversies aside, it seems to me that flags are a lot LIKE fire: primal, incendiary, and dangerous unless used with caution. Flag Day is a very good day to observe therefore, but always with that awareness. The day should be an opportunity for meditation and debate and cautious celebration — but never for blind worship, or indoctrination into conformity or obedience. Because the lesson I drew from American history class is that that’s precisely NOT what our flag is supposed to stand for. This is the flag that symbolizes your right to reject all flags! So fly it, wear it, make a motorcycle helmet out of it, use it to sell beer, or don’t do anything with it at all. The irony is, the latter may be the most patriotic course of action of all.