No, I don’t mean “cymbals”. Read on.
Part I: You might be a Confederate
Suppose that, in some future time, nearly all of humanity’s records of the last few centuries were lost, and all the people of the future had to go by for the 19th and 20th centuries were copies of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Inglourious Basterds, and The Grand Budapest Hotel. Oh, what the hell, let’s throw in a few episodes of F Troop or Wild Wild West just to be generous.
Pretty funny, huh? It would put the stories of our time in the same class with Gilgamesh, the Iliad, the synoptic Gospels, and the King Arthur stories. In other words, people would be forced to base their imaginings of our times on works in which historical accuracy had no place, was not a consideration, was simply not the point of the story at all.
I hate to break it to you, but that’s what MOST history becomes for most people, without anything catastrophic happening to records. If I need to explain:
First, history is written by the winners. Those killed in the historical process can’t talk or write. Those impoverished by it have little influence over what gets published. Those culturally marginalized by history often don’t speak a language widely known in the future.
Second, very few people pay much attention to history. The information they bother to gather is always scanty, unless they happen to be professional historians, whom hardly anyone reads. What people more often read, watch, and listen to are:
Third, fantasies. Someone has a personal fantasy that doesn’t fit very well with the here & now, so it’s put in a “historical” setting, forcing that setting to fit the fantasy. Sometimes it can be an impressive work of art that lots of people enjoy. Later people come along and treat that fantasy as if it had some kind of “based on fact” quality. It’s how we get things like:
— King Arthur’s knights usually pictured in 15th century-style armor.
— Kilts and tartans adopted as an affectation in the 19th century, long after Scottish identity ceased to be a threat.
— The Book of Mormon written in a bad imitation of King James English, and people still taking it seriously today.
— A new KKK being created out of whole cloth (so to speak) in the 1920s, with cosplay based on Birth of a Nation.
— The Stars and Bars being much more often seen in the early 21st century than during the actual Civil War (er, “Southern War for Independence”)
That last one is of course what prompts this rant. Yeah, South Carolina. There’s no shortage of people (southerners mainly, but not exclusively) who want to remind us that the Civil War was much more complex than a simple “slavery vs abolition” thing.
They’re right, of course. Anyone who tells you any major historical event was “simple” needs to STFU and read a book. Most of the guys who fought for the South owned no slaves and had no real stake in the slave-based economy. They were deluded, as most people in most times are deluded, especially those who go off to war.
But then, why is anyone displaying this flag?
Maybe there’s some impulse to “honor” people who gave their all for a cause, no matter how misguided, just because “giving one’s all” is supposed to be somehow admirable. Does that mean betting the farm on one roll of the dice is somehow admirable? Do you think the dead give a flying frisbee how you “honor” them?
Maybe you want to remind people of the great martial prowess of the Confederate armies. I’ve never heard anyone question that. If there’s ever anything admirable about killing more of “them” than they kill of one’s own, while outnumbered, outgunned, and starving, well yeah, the South certainly did that far more often than not right up to the end. But again, they’re dead. For whose benefit are you bringing it up?
Maybe you take this flag as just an innocuous symbol of a region; a region that has certainly suffered, and in recent history thought of itself as “recovering”. I can understand the sentiment: that the southern economy was ruined and lagged far behind the rest of the country until well into the 20th century. It’s the only large group of “white” people we have that could really think of itself as “defeated”, and might need a certain “pride” expression to raise its spirits. The South “rising again” can simply mean economic recovery.
But if you want a symbol of a rising southern economy, there must be better images for that. How about an exploding drilling platform? An air conditioner? A factory farm? Elvis? The possibilities are endless. No need to bring up the battle flag of an army that raided Pennsylvania and captured freed slaves to send back “home”.
I can see only one legitimate cause that someone might try to make allusions to the Confederacy for, and it would be a really BAD use of a symbol:
The basic legal issue in that war was one of excessive federal power and whether a state had a right to opt out. It’s popular enough as a general idea that an obvious allusion to it, without all that bothersome slavery stuff, became one of the great cult tv series of our time.
So, in the spirit of “You might be a redneck…..”
— If you think the feds should butt out when a state legalizes marijuana….
— If you think the use of National Guard units for foreign wars should be at the discretion of the states…
— If you think any act of war needs to have explicit approval from Congress, with the words “Declaration of War” as the title of the document, setting forth what the threat is to the U.S., and what demands are being made of whom…
— If you think trade treaties should set minimum, rather than maximum, standards for environmental protection, labor rights, and banking practices, and that states and localities should be able to set higher standards…
— If you think there are a couple of those states in the southeast that the rest of us would be better off without…
…you might be a Confederate.
But all that misses the point about re-created symbols like a “Confederate flag”. Whatever it might have meant to the people back then, it definitely does NOT mean that to anyone alive today. People back then hadn’t seen the last 150 years. They thought of everything very differently, in ways that we have great trouble imagining. What the “Confederate flag” means to people today is pretty simple: some idiot saying “Hey, slavery wasn’t all THAT bad!”, and much worse, which I won’t go into.
If you want to put forward an ideology that says participation in the Union is optional, and that there might have been some good points about “state’s rights”, you need a very different symbol for it. The Confederate battle flag is definitely not it. If you can’t come up with something new that expresses your ideas, you are really, really lame.
Part II: I’m really really lame.
I hope I’ve made a point that should have been pretty obvious to begin with: Using historical symbols is a bad idea unless they already mean exactly what you want them to mean to the people you want to win over. Now I’ll try something practical; actually relevant to something my friends do.
When starting a new political movement, or even marketing a new brand of toothpaste, symbols are pretty important, and Greens have used a number of them, with limited or no
success, and I can’t say I’ve done much to cure this. That doesn’t mean I can’t sit on the sidelines and nag, of course.
I’ll start by repeating what I’ve said about logos in some past discussions:
Different logo designs are better for different media.
(1) For quickly drawing on a wall with chalk (while being chased by cops): must be very simple; no multiple color combinations, easy to draw. Examples: christian cross, swastika, nuclear disarmament “peace symbol”.
(2) For a flag or banner: must not lose any meaning in mirror image (both sides of a flag). That excludes most things alphabetical, unless you’re very lucky about it being a single letter that doesn’t change with reversal, like “T” or “O”, right? Should also be a simple, bold design easy to recognize at a distance.
(3) For making thousands of cheap copies on paper: Must not lose any meaning or recognizability if only black ink is used and detail shows up poorly.
(4) For posting on a web page or printing on something high-quality (very rare): Much
more color and detail can be used in these situations, but they should only be elaborations of the much simpler form used in #1 and #3, for consistency of branding.
Web posting allows even a gif of several images being flashed, but there must be no mistake about which of the images is the “main”, or most basic, symbol. So let’s run through some of the Green Party logos that have been used.
This seems to be the oldest, most universal symbol of the Green parties and movement. Used all over the world.
It fulfills condition #2 above, and certainly can be elaborated into something big and colorful, but fails in both #1 and #3. Not easy to draw quickly, and in black & white people are likely to think it’s a daisy. Any flower loses a lot in black & white, of course.
— It’s not very hard to draw, but not very easy, either. A klutz like myself has to really pay attention to get the curves right so it’s recognizable as a leaf shape.
— It’s alphabetical. I really have a problem with using a single alphabetical character and expecting people to know what you’re about. I can think of only one instance of this succeeding, and it had all the propaganda power of an empire behind it.
The GPUS has used this in recent years, but might be
supplanting it with the one below. Fulfills all conditions
“G” IN DIAMOND
This, and some other uses of the green diamond shape, seem to have been recently adopted by the GPUS, and it’s a real loser, for all those alphabetical reasons. I also don’t see it lending itself to much elaboration for something pretty. Good for #1, bad for #2 and #4. Middling for #3.
RECENT, UNUSED IDEAS
FIST, AND SOMETHING ELSE
Someone recently suggested that we need something a tad more forceful than a flower or a leaf. I sympathize. Even boring old “Labour” parties use a thorny rose, at least. Here’s one draft submitted, though it was emphasized that it was a preliminary idea:
Not bad, but it’s not easy to draw and might not come across well in black & white.
The fist presents a problem for a group with nonviolence as one of its Four Pillars, and also brings up some historical stuff with the SDS and all. It reminded me of any number of old radical groups that came to nothing, not to mention the Communist salute, and all the baggage that might bring up.
The tree is definitely a good symbol for Greens (much more strength than a leaf or flower), but is complicated to draw with any realism. The Lebanese have gotten along pretty well with one on their flag, but I don’t know what they do when they want to quickly improvise it on a sign, say. In any case, Lebanese nationalism isn’t one of the more powerful social movements I’ve heard of.
Someone recently pointed this out, found in someone’s Twitter profile. The star, with varying numbers of points (in this case looking more like a sunburst), might be easy to draw, but if it must be Green, that throws out the usefulness in black & white. It’s something to consider if one can make something unique about the star that will survive the loss of color.
GREEN MAN, ELABORATED
Setting aside my easy-to-draw requirement for the moment, and trying to come up with something forceful, I thought of this:
Yes, those are pruning hooks crossed behind him, suggesting a Jolly Roger. They carry a connotation of both peace and clearing away dead wood to make room for new growth. Sneaky, huh?
The Green Man is a nice ancient, slightly subversive symbol, but its use by neopagan groups might spoil it for us. Don’t want to look like a religion.
The Jolly Roger allusion can cut several ways. Some Disney movies, some “Pirate” parties in Europe, and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster have all given pirates a better image in recent years. The defiance of authority is attractive, and pirate ships were often run as worker co-ops, but that’s expecting people to know some history. Bad idea, as I pointed out above. I don’t know whether any of this can overcome the violent image that pirates have had.
The only thing I’ve come up with that fulfills all my requirements is this:
The strokes don’t need to be colored to get the shape across.
It can be elaborated any number of ways if an artist wants to get fancy: add smaller branches and leaves, put symbolic things on the ends of branches or hanging as ornaments, perch birds or monkeys in it, whatever.
As long as the four bold strokes stand out (representing the Four Pillars), it’s recognizable as the same symbol.
So, what do my Green peers think?