So what are you saying, Sharon? They’re eating putty out of my hand in my head?

5 September 2006

If you see this what do you think of?

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The reason I ask is because this flag was the subject of a recent article in one of the Sunday papers. See county flags are a fairly recent phenomenon[1] at GAA matches, and you’ll often see supporters carrying other flags. Flags that have nothing at all to do with the county, apart from similar colours. And, among other flags, you’ll often see Cork fans waving this one. It fits even more because Cork is the Rebel County.

And when I first read the article giving out about the use of the flag, saying that is symbol of slavery, racism and violence, and that the GAA should do their utmost to get fans not to carry it, I was a little, “whatever, it is just a flag.” But symbols are important things. And while those fans waving the confederate flag probably never think about its historical basis that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a history, and that some people probably do feel insulted by it.

And then I think, well, symbols change meaning over time. So why shouldn’t Cork fans use it because of one aspect and ignore the other. Does intent matter? Or is it simply the act that is important?


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28 Responses

  1. James says:

    Hmm… I've had this conversation in the past, and I think it doesn't really matter what flag they're waving since it is all good-natured. Aside from being a rebel flag, the confederate flag has a lot of red and white. You'll often see Japanese flags at Cork matches too, it doesn't mean the owner supported Japan's WWII politics.

  2. NineMoons says:

    If the flag hadn't been used since the Civil War, I'd say fire ahead, it's a long time ago and it doesn't have any current meaning. Like Sligo fans carrying the Jolly Roger – it might once have meant something sinister and dangerous but not so much any more. But the Confedarate flag isn't just a symbol of a slavery owning country – it's the current symbol of a bunch of right-wing extremist groups as well. It's like the swastika – it doesn't really matter that it has a positive ancient meaning, its current association is overwhelmingly negative – at least when presented in conjunction with red and white.

    I'd vote no. Although I doubt there are all that many people in Ireland who really make the association.

  3. Terri says:

    … and then there are people like me who have no idea what the connotations of such things could be. I have a bandana in that design that I bought for my Big Bad Biker days. 'Cos it looked cool.

  4. NineMoons says:

    Incidentally, in response to your original question about what I think of when I see it – I basically think that I wish I were in the land of cotton. Y'know, cause old times there are not forgotten. Look away! etc. And brave men in grey dying in the mud for beautiful women in hoops and bonnets. And my dad. It's his fault really. He's obsessed with the American Civil War. Plus I love Gone With the Wind – book and film. So that's what I think first. And then I think rednecks and bigots. But waaaaay after the first thing.

  5. Fence says:

    James my initial reaction would be the same as yours. The reason Cork fans use the flag is because of the colours more than anything. I had meant to mention the Japanese flag as well, but once I got typing I forgot :)
    But is it all down to the intent of the person waving the flag? I don't for one second think that Cork fans are being racist, but is the flag itself percieved of as racist by others? And is that a valid reason not to wave it?

    Myself, I'm a bit wary of going down that route, cause pretty much everything is offensive to someone. But then again, that doesn't mean we should be offensive, simply because it wasn't meant that way.

    Terri, it is all historical, on account of them slave owning states in the US, and then afterwards the use of the confederate flag by, as NM put it "rednecks and bigots".
    However I think we should reclaim the term rednecks. Just because you are a redneck doesn't mean you are a bigot… but thats a different conversation :)

    My first thought on seeing the confederate flag is to sing about "some good ole boys" and the fun they had tearing around the shop in an orange car.

  6. Ann says:

    Good post – I wish I'd seen that article.

    When I went to my first Cork match last year, I was very surprised by the presence of Confederate flags. Not offended, just a little puzzled. In the States, any gathering that had any number of Confederate flags would be picketed and talked about on the radio and basically named-and-shamed. (In certain southern states, this attitude might vary a bit, but overall, the Confederate flag isn't something you wave around in polite company.)

    I mentioned this to Peter and having grown up here but lived there for so long, he was able to see both sides. His feeling was that the people waving them just didn't think of them as anything other than a rebel symbol.

    So, you're right, it does come down to intent, I think. In fact, I would be offended if, at a sporting event in the States, a good percentage of people whipped out Confederate flags. Because I know what they really mean. I don't think the Cork supporters are harboring any rascist feelings – they are just proud of their county's reputation and are supporting their team.

  7. anne says:

    The fact that people perceive it as a "racist flag" shouldn't be any reason not to wave it (I agree with you, everything is perceived as offensive to someone these days), and indeed, waving the flag could be a good way to reclaim it (much in the same way that the French tried to reclaim French symbols away from the National Front), except there is no connection between Cork fans and Confederate soldiers (my first thought when I saw it, simultaneaously – that's hard – mixed with a good measure of burning crosses and stuff), is there.
    Now, of course very very few people would think of calling Cork fans Southern rednecks, but I'm not sure about the intent bit. If that's the case, what's with the Japanese flag then? Honour?
    I'm more with NM on this, some symbols require caution before being waved about, no pun.
    Plus surely someone can design their flag/coin their motto…

    Now, about the linknote. I was puzzled at first, because in my head it sounded like "Strangers in the Night" at first – and then I got it (I think).

  8. Fence says:

    I can understand your confusion over the linknote Anne, cause it really should've read "mn u en un" or something similar, but I couldn't remember it properly, and didn't really think about it. The only intent behind the Japanese flag is that it is red, and Cork's colour is red. Unless they are going for the whole Samurai aspect, But I don't see it myself.

    The actual US flag is flown too, or at least it used be.

  9. Carl V. says:

    My first thought is of the General Lee from Dukes of Hazzard…well, not really. Its the confederate thing. I guess the problem with using something like this that partially represented good things that the South believed in and partially represents the bad ones..i.e. slavery, is that you aren't going to do anything but upset people. And if you take the argument that it is just a flag and we should be able to put our own meanings to things then you have to apply that to swastikas, crosses, etc. and it becomes a big, big mess! Symbols are and always will be important and it always bothers me a little when people take obvious, iconic symbols and do inappropriate things with them in the name of art, the latest cause, or whatever.

  10. weenie says:

    In a world where everyone get easily offended by anything and everything, then maybe people should just design brand new flags and wave those. Or just accept that Cork fans waving the Confederate flag aren't harking back to what it used to represent historically in the US?

  11. Carl V. says:

    Not that I honestly care, but the problem is that it does harken back, regardless of whether those fans intend it that way or not. The same as waving a flag with a swatstika on it would hearken back to Nazi attrocities or waiving a flag with a crucifix on it would hearken back to a number of the worlds major religions. Symbolism is inherent in so much of our lives and actually enriches and enchances it and I would prefer that people take the time to be creative and do their own thing rather than adopt symbolism that has such obvious history to it.

  12. Fence says:

    Carl, I totally get where you are coming from, because it does represent slavery. But over here I don't that occurs to the majority of people. So I'm wondering does ignorance excuse the possible offence?

    Weenie, I doubt anything would stop Cork fans waving whatever they want :)

    Symbolism does live on though. Been watching NM's Rome dvds, and couldn't help but notice how Nazi like the rows of red banner-type flags were. Course that'd also be because of the eagles and what not.

  13. sally says:

    I agree with Carl V. some symbols are just loaded no matter what the intent may now be behind it.

    A few months back Black and Tan were used in an ad campaign in Ireland (I think). Here in the states a reference to Black and Tan usually means to beer but in Ireland the term Black and Tan refers to a brutal police force. Now, would ignorance of the symbolism negate the fact that it's offensive to people?

  14. weenie says:

    In certain areas of India and the far east, the swastika is everywhere, cos it was originally a symbol of peace. What if peaceful hippies wanted to reclaim it as such?

    Maybe we should just ban all symbols since any symbol could be reminiscent of something else that's historically sinister?

    Just have nice, bland, plain circles, squares and triangles that don't represent anything, in a neutral non-offensive grey.

    Then no one can be offended. ;)

  15. Mal says:

    Hear hear!

    I love the stars and bars…aesthetically. I think the American civil war is like the English civil war according to 1066 and All That. One side was right but repulsive, while the other side was Wrong but Wromantic.

    Hey, I want to say very clearly that I'm AGAINST slavery. I don't have ANY slaves.

    I think the past should always be preserved, where possible, no matter what we think of it. The idiots who blew up Nelson's pillar were mindless vandals. So are the narrow-minded fools who object to 1916 being commemorated.

    Speaking of censorship, I'm in an internet café in Holyhead, with time to kill before my ferry leaves. This computer let me log onto your site, but blocked me from my own! It said it contained adult material! I ask you. Although it is very grown-up.

  16. kyknoord says:

    I think intent will always be important. Imagine if you're an ominipotent, omniscient being and you say something like "Let there be – er – stuff" You'd look like a right plonker and who'd want to believe in you then?

  17. Mal says:

    When I was a teenager I was always scared I was a suppressed neo-Nazi since I found something appealing about them. Eventually (with great relief) I realised it was just their insignias and visual flair. You have to admit they had style. Also because they appealed to my appetite for Nordic, Teutonic, folkish, Romantic things. The same appetite that fastens onto Tokien's Riders of Rohan. In fact, Tolkien said he had a personal grudge against Hitler because he had perverted something noble in itself.

    Should I put the spade down at this point? Let me condemn the invasion of Poland in the strongest terms.

    But in Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange (rubbishy, predictable dystopian stuff) the narrator describes the swastika as "that sign kids love drawing" (or something). It does have a certain intrinsic fascination, the rhythm of the symmetry (which doesn't mean anything but is the only phrase I can think of).

  18. Carl V. says:

    I agree that people get offended all too easily and I think that ignorance does give a degree of an excuse, at least as far as the intent goes. The problem lies in the fact that there are always going to be things in our lives that have strong symbolic meaning and some of those things, the ones that stand for greater atrocities especially, should just not be used (in my opinion). Those disagreeing with me might use the arguement that they are trying to change the meaning of the symbolism but to me it just doesn't ring true. I see it as laziness (lack of creativity) often combined with the desire to grab media attention for their lack of tact in the choice of their symbolism.

    I also realize that Hitler didn't create the swastika, however he is a good example of someone not honoring the meaning behind the symbol (or even worse, thinking he was honoring it) and turning something that no doubt had a positive meaning to the culture who had adopted it into something to loathe.

  19. Fence says:

    Sally, I don't think anyone was actually offended by the Black & Tan ice-cream, mor amused and bemused. At least I thought it was hilarious. Though if someone was celebrating the Auxies and Black & Tan then I'd probably be offended.

    Carl, I don't think the Cork fans are trying to change the meaning of the flag, just paying attention to the colours. I also think that the amount of confederate flags being flown is decreasing. Possibly because now the counties have flags of their own.

  20. Mal says:

    I hope this is the first of many vexillological posts. Flags are fascinating. My favourite is either Japan's or Israel's. Ireland's is rubbish. So is the United Kingdom's, although the St. George's Cross is nice and so is the St. Andrew's Cross.

    Tricolours grew out of the French Revolution. Everything mean and ugly and lustreless did.

  21. Fence says:

    Nonsense. Ireland's flag is the prettiest thing in the world. Evah!

  22. Mal says:

    No, that's Nigella Lawson. Or maybe a gleaming white sky. Or Nigella Lawson under a gleaming white sky, waving the Japanese flag in one hand and the Israeli flag in the other, with rolling green hills in the background, and mist. Can we get a picture of that, please?

  23. Mal says:

    The provincial flags are quite nice, though. Or the provincial crests rather, as seen on the Dublin Bus offices in O Connell Street.

  24. Fence says:

    The one you can see here? I like the Connacht one myself :)

  25. sally says:

    Fence, the news reports I read said there was a lot of anger in Ireland over the ad campaign. There was even talk about boycotts. The point I was making there's a huge element of ignorance as to the cultural significance of symbols…

  26. Yes, that's the nicest one. Munster's is nice too.

  27. Fence says:

    Yup, Sally I totally agree that the majority of people are ignorant about other people's symbols.

    As regards the Black & Tans ice-cream, I think the idea of boycotts is more than a little ott, either media-hype, so Irish people pulling the piss :)

  28. NineMoons says:

    I doubt I'd eat blackand tan icecream because it annoyed me that Haagen-Dasz or Ben and Jerry's or whoever twas didn't bother their arses doing a little bit of market research or even just checking That might count as a mini-boycott but it wasn't boycotting the whole company or anything.