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Countering the Irrational With the Rational on the Flag Issue

Some people apparently don’t like my comments on this hysteria of “disrespecting the flag,” the American flag, as in the Colin Kaepernick case. Well, I’m sorry that some people view a flag as sacred, and there are many people who do so in a mystical, superstitious kind of way. Yup, 12 years of government-controlled schooling and usually an authoritarian-collectivist upbringing will do it.

For example, the San Luis Obispo, California Opera performed Madama Butterfly, which included a scene in which a character takes an American flag and lets it touch the floor (a no-no in the nationalistic American flag superstition if there ever was one). According to a classical music blog I read,, a couple attending the performance complained to the opera company, stating, “we were stunned — appalled, really — to see the grief-stricken character Cio-Cio San grab the American flag off its pole (stage right), throw it onto the floor, then drag it as she sang. There were audible gasps in the audience, indicating there were many others among us deeply offended by such abuse of our flag, which is never to touch the ground.”

“Abuse of our flag”! Maybe you should give it some “Relief Factor.” But anyway, I am extremely impressed by the commenters on this blog and here are some good quotes:

Edgar wrote,

Apparently, America needs to endure its own homegrown brand of fascist totalitarian nationalism in order to really understand what it means when respect for the flag turns into the cult of the flag. They might indeed learn from German experience: the terrible cult of the Reichsflag, and, after 1945, the cult of the flag in communist East Germany (both not in unsignificant part in lies, which, according to Joseph Goebbels, will firmly establush themselves in peoples’ minds when repested often enough). As the German poet Rainer Kunze said: “Mein Freund, des Fahnenhissens bin ich müde” – “My friend, the hoisting of the flag has tired me.” Obviously, the protesting couple, blinded by unreflected nationalism, has lost, or, worse, knowingly refuses (thereby conciously or unconsciously condoning the protofascist tendencies affecting the republic and the nation of America to an ever serious and dangerous degree) to intellectually engage with any form and expression of art. Sadly, their behavior bodes ill for the cultural and intellectual health of the democracy they claim to uphold, and which, by their very action, destroy. I hope they will overcome their misguided narrowmindedness, and give generously to both the wounded soldiers and the opera company.

The “cult” of the flag. Yes, I would agree with that.

Alex Davies observed,

It seems that these people do not wish to see on stage anything which they would not wish to see in reality (or, what happens on stage is, to them, a part of reality). They seem to be unable to distinguish between a representation of a thing and the thing itself. One cannot resist the conclusion that they believe that the flag—not only the idea of the flag, but any instantiation of the flag—possesses some inherent quality of sanctity (or something close to sanctity) which is violated whenever any representation of the flag is brought into contact with the ground no matter what the circumstances. It seems similar to the manner in which Catholics and members of the various Eastern Christian Churches regard the consecrated bread and wine (i.e. as being in a real sense a physical manifestation of God). However, there is in fact no sound reason for a Catholic or Eastern Christian to object to a theatrical representation of an abuse of the Sacrament using unconsecrated bread and wine (i.e. nothing more than wheat and grapes), such as, for example, may be said to take place in Tosca. It is indeed a curious state of affairs when a simple piece of printed cloth is held to possess such metaphysical and transcendent qualities that a kind of profanation occurs when it is allowed to touch the stage of an opera house.

ACN commented,

It’s utterly dismaying that someone could sit through Madame Butterfly and be outraged by, nope, not the injustice and tragedy portrayed, but by the flag touching the floor – that someone could be more offended by a (mis)perceived “disrespecting” of the flag than by the human cruelty and the all-too-real human cost of imperialism as depicted in this opera. When flags and nationalist paraphernalia take precedence over human lives, something has gone seriously wrong. These people, shall we say, completely missed the point. The artistic director’s response is spot on – and very gracious.

And Herrera said,

I was there and I too was shocked, shocked, shocked that my pleasant evening of watching a 20+ year old man — and eventual bigamist dead-beat dad — impregnating a 15 year old girl, and then kidnapping the child from his mother’s corpse, was ruined by the horrors of seeing the American flag touching the floor.

I was also deeply offended when every time snippets of the Star Spangled Banner played in Puccini’s score that Cio-Cio-San took a knee! (Oh, the Japanese kneel a lot as part of their culture? Well, that’s no excuse, she should’ve stood up and put her hand to her heart anyway, especially after being statutorily raped by the American character.)

It’s always uplifting to read the classical music blogs and their rational commenters. I hear the complaints about “disrespecting the flag” constantly on talk radio, those nation-state worshiping nationalists who seem to see a flag as having the qualities and right to life as a living being has. Wasn’t it Dennis Prager who wrote a column titled, “It’s a Lion,” about Cecil the Lion who was killed in Zimbabwe by an American tourist? After all, it’s a lion, not exactly a human being. So, it’s a flag, people. Get real.

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