It’s great news that New Zealanders have voted to keep their flag instead of adopting an ugly empty substitute. And revealing news.
At first the traditional flag seemed doomed, partly because it was the traditional flag. Why, it even had the Union Jack, and the usual suspects were saying New Zealand couldn’t be all grown up until they dumped their heritage and… what? Got a new one?
Oddly, the incoherent answer there, as so often here in Canada, was implicitly if furtively yes. The other ugly options with ferns were somehow meant to represent the real New Zealand, which didn’t spring from the Anglosphere but by some strange coincidence had all its virtues while being trendily postmodern, inclusive and amorphous or something, And typically it was the “centre-right” party that was pushing the change.
Unsurprisingly it was veterans’ groups who spearheaded the opposition early on. And possibly people with taste. And in the end the politicians managed to make the whole thing sour and skewed, and in the aftermath people are going after PM John Key, claiming that by intruding his own preferences for a new flag he prevented the people from voting the old one out in favour of a blank space into which some false new traditional emblem could later have been easily inserted.
It’s one thing to be sensitive to failings in our past and determined not to repeat them. And, to be fair, to worry that your flag looks too much like Australia’s, as some New Zealanders did. It’s quite another to reject the past but deviously, substituting an ersatz one instead of owning up that you really don’t like the place as it actually evolved and want to get a new better one. And when consulted, people with a heritage worth keeping will reject the latter every time. As I very much imagine Canadians would have done if given a vote on whether to ditch our Red Ensign for a logo in the Liberal Party’s colours back in 1965.
I don’t think it’s coincidence that the traditional New Zealand flag is actually nice to look at and the various replacements were not. They had that focus-grouped-logo look, smooth, manipulative, contrived and off-putting. And in that they accurately reflected the deeper impulse behind the move to replace the traditional emblem and the tradition itself with something artificial and uninspiring.
Anyway, congratulations to New Zealanders for keeping the old flag flying. And not just, I hope, on the flag pole.
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