What Would Abbie Say?

The news from Kansas: It’s still possible to rile the rubes by disrespecting the flag. In most other ways, though, we Americans seem to have totally changed our attitudes about what constitutes “disrespect.” It’s hard not to wonder what Abbie Hoffman would say.

kansas u flag

Revoking your artistic license…

Here’s what we know: The University of Kansas has moved a controversial display of the US flag. The display, a piece by artist Josephine Meckseper, was titled “Untitled (Flag 2).” She flew the flag with a picture of a striped sock on it, as well as an array of busy lines. Meckseper claimed her work was meant to highlight the fractured, divided nature of current American politics.

In a way, Kansas proved her right. Outraged veterans and politicians insisted the work was disrespectful. They insisted the campus remove the flag. Governor Jeff Colyer agreed, and the university complied.

What would Abbie say? Hoffman was famously arrested for wearing a shirt made from the US flag in 1968. Since then, everything related to the politics of flag-fashion seems to have changed. These days, prominent patriotic conservatives tend to wear the flag without giving it a second thought. It’s even easy to buy flag underwear.

abbie hoffman flag shirt

Respect the threads…

According to the flag code, the key seems to be the intention of the wearer. No one is supposed to wear an actual flag. But is it disrespectful to wear a flag-patterned shirt, as US Air Force General Richard Myers did in 2005?

There’s more: The code says the flag should never be displayed horizontally, but USA-loving football fans routinely cheer at such displays.

NFL: Oakland Raiders at New York Jets

They love America, but they don’t seem to like the traditions of proper flag etiquette…

To this reporter, it appears that Americans no longer care about the details of patriotic flag etiquette. As long as people seem to be cheering for the flag, they can do anything they want with it.

However, the instant someone seems to be disrespecting the flag, either in a fashion sense, an artistic sense, or a kneeling-NFL sense, a certain sort of patriotic conservative will predictably react angrily. In Kansas’s case, that sort of anger is politically impossible to resist.

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4 Comments

  1. That black-and-white flag with the blue line through it bugs me, although I support the message.

    Reply
    • An excellent point. My hunch is that most of the people displaying that flag mean to honor the USA, but the flag code specifically points out that there should be no design added to it:

      Section 176.(g) The flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature.

      I guess people could say that they are just changing the colors for politically expressive purposes, but to my mind it seems like a clear violation of the spirit of the flag code to alter the flag design in the way they do.

      Reply
      • I have long been amused by flag postage stamps. The post office puts an ugly black smear over it when canceling the stamp.

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