Last year, when I was working at a bookstore in Berkeley, I made the observation that, if you are wheel-chair bound, all you have to do is add an American flag to your ride to appear crazy. Wheel chair - elicits sympathy or indifference from strangers on the street; wheel chair plus flag - whoa, that guy's crazy. Berkeley is one of the most handicapped-accessible cities in the world, a sort of Mecca for the disabled - &, unrelatedly, it also contains many, many crazy people. There are definitely more American flags strapped to electric wheel-chairs than there are American flags stuck to S.U.V.s.
I saw the Taj Mahal of Wheel Chair patriotism the other day on the BART. This old man had dozens of flags on his person, outnumbered only by Crucifixes. He had masking-tape on his face (on his forehead, with the base going down his nose) with the words "JESUS GODS JUDGMENT" written. &, the kicker, a movie poster for "The Passion of the Christ".
American Flags have been infiltrating Berkeley recently, in several pro-war protests organized as responses to our resident Mothers-Against-the-War group, Code Pink. Code Pink has been camping outside of the Marine Recruiting office downtown since it opened last year, culminating in some angry exchanges between the Berkeley Town Council & outside forces.
Roaring into Berkeley on their Harley’s—with the more sedate aboard red-white-and-blue-draped SUVs—a leather-clad flag-bearing conservative America took center stage Saturday at the downtown Marine Recruiting Center. The event, which drew some 350 people at its height, was organized by two groups, Eagles Up and Move America Forward (MAF).
“I’m Cat Moy, and I’m an American,” said the Move America Forward executive director, speaking from the bed of a pickup truck at the noon rally in front of the center.
Moy praised the patriots she said she saw in the crowd. “We stand today in the bowels of anti-Americanism,” she said as the crowd cheered and waved hundreds of American flags. The Berkeley City Council “paid the way of America’s enemies. They have called our Marines—our heroes—‘unwelcome.’ And these traitors refuse to apologize to the Marines, the very men and women who give them the freedom to act like maniacal dopes. These filthy leftovers from the Vietnam-era and their spawn give nothing to this country….”
-Judith Scherr, Berkeley Daily Planet, 25th March, 2008.
The article continues, calling out the bias of the police's Laissez-faire treatment of the visitor's protest in comparison to our homespun ones. (They were allowed to block sideway traffic, &c.) Ah, Berkeley, hospitable to strangers & travelers to a fault! Even Code Pink basically only just set up an information stand & watched as they were mocked.
If I recall, a few decades ago, an American track-&-field Olympic Gold Medalist got in huge trouble after he won - he put a flag on his head & did a victory lap, & was subsequently chastised for his mistaken debasement. Since September 11th, 2001, the Stars & Stripes have seen no shortage of humiliation in the name of patriotism, to the point where I more associate it with crazies with crosses on their foreheads & pro-war protesters bringing thousands of them to town on motorcycles. Besides obsessive flag-waving being a symptom of fascism, & Sen. Barack Obama getting in trouble for not wanting to constantly wear one on his lapel, any overused image can get wearying & illicit a backlash. Since it is a national symbol & in its very design meant to be unifying, maybe it should be treated with more respect & displayed more sparingly & with more polite, detached reverence. Otherwise, it may only be associated with war & Mel Gibson.
So please put your hand on your hearts & listen to my favorite patriotic song, Toby Keith's Angry American: