Freethought San Marcos: A column
by LAMAR W. HANKINS
The NEW Star Spangled Banner
Oh, say, can you see, through the day and the night,
What so proudly they flew on their car lot’s tall flag pole
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, what a glorious sight,
As from the freeway we watch’d, to see what was being sold;
And the flood lights’ bright glare, from tall towers in air,
Gave proof thro’ the night that their ad was still there.
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of their greed and the money they crave?
My apologies, of course, to Francis Scott Key, who penned the original words after witnessing the Battle of Fort McHenry in 1812. Since he is a distant relative of my wife, I hope there will be no ill will. In 1931, the Star Spangled Banner was adopted as the official anthem of the United States. The song focuses on the United States flag as a symbol of courage and a fighting spirit that was demonstrated by 1,000 American fighters who repelled 5,000 British soldiers.
That flag has nothing whatever to do with commerce, but in recent decades huge American flags have been flown, especially at automobile dealerships, to attract attention and associate the dealership with the patriotic impulses that Key expressed in his poem. Such flags can be seen up and down interstates 35, 45, and 10 throughout Texas.
The United States Code provides, in part, that “The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever.” Of course, the Flag Code, as it is called, has no enforcement mechanisms, so car dealerships are free to violate this prohibition without fear of penalty.
A business might fly a huge American flag for many reasons. One is to attract attention by the sheer size of the flag. This is especially beneficial where other regulations limit the size of the advertising that can be used at the business. Apparently, oversized American flags are never regulated as other signs are, so they afford a business the opportunity to attract attention that would not otherwise be allowed.
If the giant flags that have become so ubiquitous at car dealerships are an attempt to link the business with patriotism, the effort is misguided. While patriotism has often been associated with nationalism, it is in the classic sense associated with the common good, often challenging one’s country to be the best that it can be. In the history of the United States, patriotism in its highest form has had more to do with the American ideals of devotion to humanity, to acts of kindness and charity, and especially to righting the wrongs of slavery. It has arisen from notions of individual responsibility to our fellow citizens and fulfillment of the social contract–that we live together in a mutually rewarding arrangement in which we give up complete individual freedom in exchange for a certain social and political order that allows everyone to thrive within limits.
But I suspect that the huge flags are used to attract people through the powerful emotions that have become associated with their symbolism, a symbolism closely associated with our military. The giant-flag wavers want potential customers to associate the business with unquestioned loyalty to country, with the pride of being an American, and with the notion that the United States has a divine calling to both lead and dominate the world.
The enormous flags are meant to convey a feeling that this is a place where one should shop because this business is associated with all that is good in this country. Of course, flying such a flag means nothing of the kind. It is a crass, perhaps jingoistic shortcut to sway potential buyers through emotion, rather than reason. I have long abhorred the use of our flag in such commercial displays. They dishonor true patriotism and cause many to feel that the flag has lost its true meaning through such misuse.
There have always been those who will distort our freedoms for personal gain. Such is the case with the giant-flag wavers.
© Freethought San Marcos, Lamar W. HankinsEmail | Print