Flag on the Fly

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Oh goody. New Zealand is going to get a new flag – the Prime Minister says it’s time to wave goodbye to the Union Jack version. And even better, we, the public, will get a say. We are going to give the Yeah:Nah in not one binding referendum but two binding referendums (or is it referenda?) on what it should look like and if it should be the one that’s currently flying high on flag posts around the world.

All this flap is because the red, white and blue ensign is not flying high in some public opinion polls so has gone to the top of the Prime Minister’s list of really really “actually” important things to do proving he is really really “actually” Honest John, action man and not just a politician who makes promises he will have to flag.

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“Our flag is the most important symbol of our national identity and I believe that this is the right time for New Zealanders to consider changing the design to one that better reflects our status as a modern, independent nation,” he said statesmanlike.

This from the man who understands beige and benign and doodles silver fern logos on black, just like the one that’s used by the All Blacks, Air New Zealand, Team New Zealand, Tourism New Zealand and various sporting teams that bat, bounce, kick and hook. I vote we run the Key design up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes it!

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The New York Times has thrown its weight behind a change to the New Zealand flag in an editorial titled Maybe One Less Union Jack.

“The flag proclaims New Zealand as a South Pacific outpost of the British Empire, which is precisely why Mr Key wants to abandon it,” the newspaper said.

“He thinks it shackles his country to its colonial past and is unrepresentative of the racial and cultural diversity of 21st-century New Zealand. Those on Mr Key’s side argue, too, that their flag is nondescript and derivative; it looks very much like Australia’s flag … ”

images (12)Mr Key has said he favours a silver fern on a black background – he’s good at drawing that design.

Kiwi birds, another favourite, are really hard to get right. Sheep are cute but silly.

Rugby balls may be a bit divisive and marmite may be confused with vegemite, and is unpleasantly wet and brown. Besides we’re sick of the Aussies claiming everything that’s ours as theirs and having a more recognisable identity and flatter vowels.

Anyway, Mr Key who knows how to be popular and please most of the people most of the time, is on the button.

silver fern

It would seem that the silver fern is by the far the most popular design to plop on a flag judging from the flood of feedback from the nation’s living-rooms of armchair designers and logo spotters.

No matter that interest is “actually” flagging. A recent Herald-DigiPoll poll found most New Zealanders did not think it was time to change the flag.

Too late. The red flag has been raised and it’s going ahead the New Zealand way.

Our new national lovemark is being designed by committee. Brilliant. Remember the description of a camel – really a horse designed by a committee. I dare not visualise the flag by committee.

I am assured the project will be in safe hands – at least a lot of hands. A whole bureaucracy is being recruited to spend a $25 million budget with project managers and project teams, lots of processes all mapped out with reporting lines, feedback loops and a full calendar of meetings with refreshments has been scheduled.

Note to self: confirm catering to ensure menus are varied and not carb loading. We could flag with all that sitting, dodging powerpoint bullets.

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Homage to Gordon Walters

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Homage to friendship

Better still Members of Parliament will be integral to the flag project. They are dab hands at sitting, going to meetings and assessing the merits of refreshment menus.

But best of all, to take the cake, will be the selection of a committee of old hands, well-known New Zealanders, who will narrow down the design options through national consultations and alot of refreshments so we have just the top notch ones to vote on in our binding national referendums, not one, but two remember.

I can but hope the committee excludes self-promoting, autocue reading, creationist admen seeking to lead us back to the edge of blackness.

helen clark - rather attractive Southern Cross

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark’s effort – ditch the Union Jack and leave the flag with “a rather attractive Southern Cross”. Thank you. Please stick to your day job now wiping out poverty and striving for world peace and equality.

It’s bad enough having cohorts of former prime ministers, politicians, design experts, brand experts, logo experts, analysts and radio jocks all offering their emblematic designs, thoughts and colouring-in drawings for serious consideration by the committee as they embrace a no such thing as a bad idea philosophy over tea and sandwiches up and down the country.

“I think in the end, you have to say well, what price do you put on democracy where people genuinely have their say on a matter that is actually important,” Mr Key has explained.

But honestly, common sense and endless examples remind you that if you want to kill a good idea, get a committee working on it.

No matter where you go in the known universe, there is design-by-committee. It has become a pecking order of disaster and finger-pointing.

No-one has ever built a statue to a committee and there’s no need to wonder why.

imagesActually I do wonder if Mr Key is just being tricky. Referring the matter to a committee can be a device for diluting issues, diffusing responsibility and delaying decisions.

Tragedy averted. Long live the Peter Principle and the salutary science of Hierarchiology and (in)competence.

It doesn’t always work. Look at Wellington International Airport’s Rock, named as one of the world’s truly ugly public buildings. The Beehive is on the list too.

Aotea Centre should be there but it was misidentified as a concrete bunker or nuclear fallout shelter.

And look what happened to the Stop sign when a committee ran it.

A flag is essentially a visual symbol of a nation, articulating in colour and imagery the core defining attributes of its people, culture, natural landscape, heritage, history and national identity.

Changing our flag is not a black and white issue – the ISIS flag of terror is. Few countries change their flag unless they have won independence, lost independence, are new borns or in Canada’s case, wanted to assert a stronger cultural identity, make a distinct break from its British colonial past and remind the world that it makes darned good maple syrup!

Instead of designing a flag by committee, promoting commercial logos, kiwiana images that are world famous only in New Zealand or garish pseudo ethnic graphics for smartphones, New Zealand needs to grow up, short though we are on history, and debate the real issue – who we are as a nation and what we stand for.

We can’t change our past. We do have an indelibly strong Anglo-Saxon heritage, with early British settlers making a huge contribution to our development as a nation and our nationhood. Yes there was bloodshed, ignominy, injustices committed against Maori, chopping down the flagpole and the revival of the Treaty of Waitangi as a guiding framework for so much of our endeavour.

Our flag – and the New Zealand state seal – recognises those foundations with the symbol of the Union Jack linking the British crown and Maori, which remain core to our national identity as New Zealanders. While we are becoming increasingly culturally and ethnically diverse, and are all the richer for it, that symbolic historical representation is important. Just as the royal blue background serves emblematically to represent our seas and sky and the stars of the Southern Cross denote the location of our southern Pacific home.

So please don’t paint our identity black. There’s got to be a silver lining. Let’s show our true colours.images (11)

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