If you’ve been anywhere near Facebook in the past couple of weeks, you’ll almost definitely be aware of the latest trend in national nitpicking: the Red Peak nipple flag design.
I want to preface this by saying that I am not overly opposed to the Red Peak flag. What I AM opposed to is the flawed arguments being flung all over social media, and the fact that the mainstream media has taken the issue on board without even attempting to turn it into a valid message. Once more, every news portal is being clogged with yet another childish example of the way New Zealand politics can be most astutely described as “toddlers fighting in a sandpit”.
One of the first arguments brought to my attention is the claim “it’s a true representation of New Zealand, unlike the other suggestions”. Yes, triangles are a very unique New Zealand article of geometry. Well, except for the other triangle based flags, which are essentially the Red Peak turned right 90 degrees: Cabo Rojo, Czech Republic, Jammu Kashmir Liberation, South Africa, etc., etc.
Ignoring my petty stab at triangles, this “true representation” is apparently tied to what the triangles each symbolise. So what do they symbolise? Well, that depends on who you ask. The description by the artist himself is rarely mentioned, not even being accurately explained on the change.org petition. The various descriptions resemble a widespread game of Chinese whispers, a problem that is hand-waved by explaining that the range of explanations is “a representation of how widely it can be applied to different features of New Zealand”. However, it’s equally attributable to the age-old point that “if you look hard enough you’ll find what you want to see”.
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Let’s take the Austrian flag, with two red stripes flanking one white stripe. The official explanation is “when Duke Leopold V of Austria returned from war his white battle dress was soaked with blood. When he took off his belt, however, the cloth underneath was still white.” One could claim that the real explanation from the flag came from when Duke Leopold returned from war and was greeted by a threesome with two menstruating women.
Regardless of the lost meaning in this “true representation”, to claim that the endemic silver fern and the historically relevant Southern Cross aren’t representative of New Zealand is a bit extreme.
My anger was fuelled amid the claims that we “just totally, like, have to change the law now” to appease a social media tirade. A petition with 50,000 signatures does not equate to a reasonable argument. At less than 1.25% of the population of NZ, it is by no means representative of the wider population. In fact, the initial response to the Red Peak placed it 37th out of 40 (and the least preferred for Māori). This response is also the only one actually based on a sample that is not exclusively drawn from the internet. Internet polls are widely slated as invalid data, in part because of their inability to represent a wide demographic sample.
The bigger problem isn’t that the issue took social media by storm. As I alluded to earlier, the mass social media phenomenon caught the attention of the mainstream media, who continued to report on it as a social media phenomenon. Media picking up the story could have a platform to a real discussion regarding the referendum, but instead the entirety of the coverage consists of politicians responding to Facebook comments and tweets, and the tiresome bickering between National and Labour over who can piss further. Why didn’t the media expand beyond social media to garner a wider public perspective? Where are updated polls of the average NZ viewer in light of this upheaval?
We also need to be wary of potential repercussions that may arise from the plight of the Red Peak. The success of a design that previously had such a low ranking could easily spur a repetition of the whole ordeal for a submission that had higher public ratings. Why not argue for Wa Kainga/Home by Grant Alexander?
The ultimate problem really though is the entire flag referendum. It has been rushed and poorly executed. It should be scrapped and started again. Importantly, there needs to be more of a public forum and attempts to represent a wider demographic. Additionally, I believe it was misguided to hand the job over to the average Joe to design a national flag. Instead, the public contributions should have been another way for the public to express what they want, then it should have fallen to actual designers and (more than one) vexillologists to collaborate and produce a range of designs on which the public could vote—and definitely not a range of just four finalists, selected by a panel with little to no professional experience with flags.
My big problem is not that I dislike the Red Peak design. It’s the evangelical keyboard-bashing around it, along with the lazy media portrayal. Oh, and the buttfuckery that is this entire flag debate.
Bronte is a fourth year science student, on a mission to prove science isn’t just for geeks as she runs around in Star Wars and superhero merchandise, inducing glazed eyes on everybody within earshot as she insists that protein interactions are awesome.