Turning inner space into outer space

June 27, 2015

Flags have meaning, and we shouldn't forget that

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It’s amazing how fast social change can take place sometimes.

Gradually changing public sentiment and major tipping-point events have combined to see a flag associated with hate and segregation banished from U.S. retailers while a flag that symbolizes love and inclusion is flying more proudly than ever before.

Surveys in recent years have shown that attitudes have been shifting in the United States and it was just a matter of time before same-sex marriage was as widely accepted there as it is here in Canada. A Supreme Court decision declaring bans on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional made it official.

Rainbow flag celebrations can be seen all over the Internet. I’ve seen many Canadians change their avatars to show their support for progress made south of the border.

In almost similar fashion, the Confederate flag of the Old South has long been a source of controversy in the U.S., but efforts to have it removed or replaced in southern states have stalled as some people clung to the notion that it was a symbol of heritage.

The truth is, that heritage has always included the idea that society should be divided by race, and that some races are superior to others. As outdated as those ideas are, there are still those who subscribe to them. They are racists.

For many of us, the murders of nine black people at a South Carolina church were a wake-up call. The Confederate flag favoured by the killer was kind of a fun thing used as a prop on TV shows like The Dukes of Hazzard to portray some good-natured rebelliousness.

We can now see the Confederate flag for what it is — something that belongs in museums and history books. It is a rallying point for beliefs that simply do not belong in the modern world.

Interestingly, Canadian retailers were among the first to announce they would no longer sell the flag. Soon an avalanche of U.S. retailers was on board. And we even have once-reluctant Republican politicians calling for its removal from state institutions — perhaps persuaded by their supporters that hatred is not good for business. It also serves as a distraction from gun control efforts.

Thrown into the mix was a decision by Apple to remove all games from its App Store that depicted the Confederate flag. Caught in the scoop were games that aimed to accurately simulate historical events of the American Civil War. Obviously, someone got carried away, and Apple is reinstating those types of games.

Making these decisions is tricky. I used to enjoy playing a game called Wolfenstein 3D. It was a first-person shooter where you are imprisoned in a Nazi castle and have to fight your way out. Of course, there were Nazi flags and swastikas adorning the walls, which made sense because otherwise you could be anywhere.

The goal was to kill Nazis, not glorify them. Still, it could hardly be called an accurate historic depiction, and it might be argued that the game’s cartoonish nature trivialized the undisputed evil of the Nazi regime.

As far as I know, no one as suggested removing this game from circulation. But it may be time to do a little more soul searching about the role of flags and other symbols in our popular culture.