Friday, July 4, 2008

What's in a Flag?

Mandy/Tammy/Kandice/Whoever watches fireworks display at Fourth of July Party

You might not realize it out there, but the people behind these avatars take their second lives seriously. Seriously enough, it seems, to take offense. This includes me, as you would be able to tell from my previous post. I'm capable of being annoyed that one of my avs gets too much attention and another does not. I can't win. At least, though, I can step back and analyze it, which may be something harder to do than in My Real Life (trademark).

Towards the end of my stay at a July Fourth party in SL, an "incident" occurred and I've been struggling with my conscience over it ever since. It is part and parcel of a secular national holiday that is fraught with historical significance for the flag to take on a heightened symbolism. It is also natural for partygoers to get a little bit silly, even if they aren't all tanked up. And, I suppose it is natural for other partygoers to take offense ... and a powder.

The old banner of the former Soviet Union, both now defunct.

When I say I wrestled with my conscience over this, I am referring to the propriety of waving the old flag of the former USSR. (Because I was busy taking photos, uploading them to Flickr, and typing in notes, I missed the full transaction so I cannot say what the circumstances were: Was the avatar aware of the content of the flag? Some attendees had "Missing Image" instead.) Someone thought this was funny, and, to be frank, so did I and I have a tendency to think anyone who would take offense would be a silly-billy, a party-pooper, and a fussbudget, probably in that order.
But was it appropriate? And the analogy I came up with, which came to me because of geography and local politics, was the flying of the Confederate battleflag on the grounds of our state house. I proceeded to analyze this situation (with the help of my husband, because I had already caught myself in a knee-jerk response) by comparing the situations.
CSA: no longer a sovereign nation
USSR: no longer a sovereign nation
CSA: lost the Civil War
USSR: "lost" the ideological Cold War
CSA: a symbol of the oppression of a people over hundreds of years, the ramifications of which we are still living with
USSR: a symbol of the oppression of lots of different kinds of people (Jews, Christians, Minorities, Gays, Intellectuals, Anyone Who Thought Differently) over a much shorter period that just ended recently and the survivors might still be around.
CSA: a symbol to some other people of all that was good and honorable in the historic and "venerable" past.
USSR: a symbol to some other people of a failed but well-meaning experiment.

The nub of the gist, my husband points out, is the intention of the waving of the flag, but does the existence of the Confederate battleflag on our statehouse grounds as an historic artifact make it less painful to the people who remember hard-won civil rights? It may over time, but that time is not now. Still, the assholes in the state capital will fly the damn flag merely because they'll be damned before they lose points with a sullen white electorate. Is that tacky? Well, I think so, but no one is going to listen to me if they don't listen to the African-Americans who complain about it.

That, at least, is the political excuse for waving the flag of a defunct nation. What about the humorous use?

I tried to sort out in my mind who has every right to be offended by seeing the flag of the USSR being waved. Those who fought the USSR in the ... no, wait. We never declared war on them or fought them directly and they were our allies in that war fought by the Greatest Generation. People who risked their lives to escape persecution in the USSR? I can see that. Still, if you come to this country to embrace freedom, you also have to accept the freedom of others to be assholes (like the Nazis who wanted to parade through Skokie, the Jewish suburb of Chicago) and, if you're like my staunchly Republican parents, you will support the ACLU when they defend those rights as well as the rights of asshole liberals.

So, if there were some former refugees (or their children, but I'm drawing the line there) of the Soviet Union at the party who were offended and felt they had to leave, I apologise for calling them silly-billies, party-poopers, and perhaps even fuss-budgets. Anyone who has not had a personal experience of oppression by the former, defunct USSR can just suck it up.

Also, anyone who thought the Soviet flag being waved at a July Fourth party was an "hilarious" expression of "We Won! We Won!" hubris can go tell it to the Marines.

Why did I think it was funny? It's the same humor generated by hearing "steak tartare," "steak tartare," "steak tartare," and then: "corndog." It was surprise. If I hadn't been so busy, I might have thought of something similar, like the flag of the United Kingdom. I have that texture somewhere.

Now, here are some pretty pictures to celebrate our independence from a country that is now one of our best friends:

Fireworks at the Cafe.

Oooo, pretty!

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