Blog No. 61.
Readers resident in New Zealand will be all too aware of the campaign recently launched, at Prime Minister John Key’s behest, to replace the country’s long-flown flag with something more trendy and up-to-date (and less likely to be mistaken for the Australian flag.)
A budget in excess of $25 million was put aside for this endeavour and heralds sent forth to proclaim the competition in which citizens of this, and other nations, were asked to submit their designs. It was whispered (and will no doubt be heeded by many) that Mr Key personally believed that the flag should sport an emblem not dissimilar to the Silver Fern as sported by that embodiment of New Zealanders’ sense of national pride and identity, the All Blacks. There was a caveat that the silver (read ‘white’) emblem should not be on a black background, lest that be mistaken for the flag of the Islamic State. (A possibly prudent precaution, given that the government has sent NZ troops into the IS conflict zone with the possibility that those flying a white squiggle on a black background might be strafed by one or more of the air forces of our natural allies and of other parties now involved.)
Over ten thousand flag designs were submitted to the selection committee, who rejected all but forty of the submitted designs – Khaki Specs’s submission included (see below).
With these forty designs they then conducted a series of twenty-five public meetings around the country to bring the possibilities into the public eye and excite the nation at the prospect of its new identity. Though public reaction was underwhelming (in all, only a total of about 6,000 citizens attended the roadshow meetings) the committee then came up with four favoured designs three of which contained the beloved white symbol.
In November, these four flags and the ‘Red Peak’ late addition (below) will go to a national postal referendum to choose the one most favoured by the nation. Then, in March 2016, that most favoured design, will again go to a national referendum. This time it will be to decide whether or not the New Zealand people wished to exchange their old flag for their chosen new design. Click: flag choice
With the final selection of just four flags being revealed in all its splendour, there followed a period of severe criticism at the sorry repetition of such similar design. Though the Prime Minister might have been delighted by such restricted choice, the public was less enthused. The fact that the flags looked more like corporate logos than a national flag, was much commented on. Thoughts were expressed on the actual purpose of a national flag and of the national values that it is meant to represent.
Of course, a corporate logo might well encapsulate the essence of how the New Zealand government views itself. As a leading proponent of the neo-liberal, merchant state and led by a business-savvy Prime Minister, who gives the impression of never having read a history book in his life, the government is naturally enamoured of corporatism and its symbols. In fact it could be argued that sub-consciously, the act of replacing the old flag is of itself symbolic of the neo-liberal ideology. The community and the common history that glues it together, is to be broken down so that each individual stands isolated and alone in front of the corporates to which he or she will sell their labour and from which they will buy the wherewithal to live their lives. A sense of shared history is the basis of a national identity and community: get rid of the history, as embodied in the traditional flag, community ties are weakened and the group becomes more open to exploitation in detail. Out with the old: in with the new!
Unsurprisingly, a protest movement sprang up. This sufficiently excited the media to force the reluctant government to add one more design to the favoured four.
Red Peak: designed to reflect powerful and fundamental visual elements from New Zealand culture this flag breaks down multicultural elements into simple, shared forms. The chevron is inspired by traditional Maori weaving tāniko patterns and refers to the collision of two tectonic plates which form the Southern Alps. The colours suggest a landscape of red earth and black sky and reference the story of Rangi and Papa, a creation myth in Māori mythology. The red triangle with a white stripe is also an iteration of elements of the tip of the stars from our existing flags. This design communicates the uniqueness of our land, light and position.
At least this new design abandoned literalism and gave room for the exercise of the imagination. One could make it symbolise whatever one wished – one correspondent even suggested flying it upside down as a gigantic V sign.
A small movement, mainly Maori supported, put forward an alternative suggestion –rather than leaping into the ephemeral, neo-capitalist present, the country should delve back even further into its historical roots. Click: NZ flag history Watch the three minute video – fascinating!
New Zealand’s first official flag was the flag of the United Tribes. It was selected on 20 March 1834 by 25 chiefs from the Far North who, with their followers, had gathered at Waitangi in the Bay of Islands. Missionaries, settlers and the commanders of 13 ships were also present. The official British Resident, James Busby, made a speech and then asked each chief to come forward in turn and select a flag from three possibilities. The son of one of the chiefs recorded the votes. A flag based on the St George’s cross that was already used by the Church Missionary Society is said to have received 12 votes, the other designs 10 and 3. Busby declared the chosen flag the national flag of New Zealand and had it hoisted on a flagpole to a 21-gun salute from HMS Alligator.
My personal preference is to drop the current Australian lookalike in favour of the Flag of the United Tribes. This was the first flag ever flown by a New Zealand-owned ship to indicate its country of origin. However, the United Tribes flag is not shortlisted for consideration and the opinion polls indicate that, come the second referendum, the country will have sensibly opted to retain its present, colonial historical status and Australian similar, flag.
My preference for change is not simply an expression of pique at the committee’s rejection of my own submission. Though my design, with its literal, in your face symbolism of NZ’s surrender of its sovereignty to become an obedient member of the American empire, might have been rejected, I nevertheless feel vindicated in that the idea behind my design appears to have been taken up by the selection committee. I fully accept that the favoured white feather, against a star-spangled background design deserved to beat it in the competition. The white feather is more pleasing to the eye, while still serving to symbolise, albeit with greater subtlety, exactly the same cowardly submission to an illusory economic convenience.