The New American Icon

The new American icon strikes a cold contrast with the flag I learned to respect as a kid. That one got special handling, and it was alive, more than a symbol, an active reminder of values. What went wrong?

The New American Icon, a filthy icon left out in the rain.
The New American Icon: a filthy national flag forgotten in the rain.

This filthy, limp American flag, flying in New York City, the equally filthy East River brown behind it, captures something unwanted, but true. On a mild spring afternoon, it’s what’s become of our once proud, idealistic values.

Some days, it’s barely recognizable as the country in which I grew up full of hope, sure of the future.

It’s not much like the place where I grew up pledging allegiance in class and singing The Star Spangled Banner.

What I learned in the fifth grade…

A large American flag hung outside our window. My fifth grade class just happened to be the one responsible for it. Each day, before going home, we brought it in, using a pulley.

It was heavy, not easy to handle.

The American fllag
The American flag I grew up with.

Assignments for folding it rotated, so we all got a chance. Folding the flag required specific care. You never let it touch the floor, and you folded it diagonally, in sequence, tucking it tight at the end.

You never left it out after sunset, and later at camp, we learned to lower it at sundown while someone played Taps.

Contrast: The New American Icon

Is it fair to compare the American icon we see dangling from poles today with the one that sent pulses racing after World War II?

The times are different, and American greatness is challenged here and elsewhere. The idealism that swelled after our greatest victory, clearly good over evil, took a beating. We got tricked in a disastrous war in Vietnam, and a decade of protests drew back the curtain on our less than perfect values.

Equality, fairness and democracy failed the test.

But do we really deserve the new American Icon?

American flags flying everywhere

Maybe it’s because we see it trivialized.

Public buses with flag decals pasted on the sides? Why? Are we afraid an enemy might not know which side they’re on?

Tattered flags whipping from antennas at 65 miles per hour on the State Thruway? White turned gray from road soot and exhaust fumes?

Topping off building construction, patriotism as male ego?

None of these are ever taken down before sunset, respectfully folded or cleaned. The new American icon gets less respect that a souvenir football jersey.

If it’s a symbol, of what?

What does the new American icon or we stand for?

Outrage follows overt disrespect for the American flag. Burnings in public squares of our enemies intends to provoke just that, an irrational reaction to a symbol.

But that’s not so common anymore. We shrug off the disrespect.

Is it because we already do so much of it ourselves, degrading the flag publicly in countless ways?

Has the ubiquity of casual, unthinking flag displays undermined everything it stands for? Or have the values that once stood behind it been diminished by modern history putting a lie to them?

More…

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