Culture

Flag Mistakes of Our Fathers

It's time to change America's state flags

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Shane Jett is an Oklahoma state representative with an idea that he says would raise his state's profile, bring in more tourists, and enrich the local economy. He wants to change the state flag by italicizing the state's name and adding an exclamation point. Thus: OKLAHOMA!

The suggestion doesn't seem to be making him a lot of friends. "People ask me if there aren't more important things for me to work on," Jett told The Tulsa World. Lawmakers from Ponca City, the home of the current flag's designer, say they oppose any change. An editorial in the World insisted that the banner, unlike just about everything else in this vale of tears, "needs no improvement."

In fact, Oklahoma's symbol has something in common with most of the other 49 state flags: It could use a great deal of improvement. A lot more care goes into designing the basketball uniforms at big public universities than went into designing what flies over those schools.

The Oklahoma flag is one of many that seemingly were all created by the same designer on a rush order. They bring to mind Henry Ford's line that you could get a Model T in any color you wanted, as long as it was black.

Like more than a dozen others, it's a variation on a humdrum theme: A blue background with something obscure, cluttered, and gold in the center. If you climbed up a flagpole in Lansing and replaced the Michigan ensign with that of Louisiana, New York, Virginia, or Nebraska, I promise, it would be months before anyone noticed.

Oklahoma stands out slightly more only because, like Montana, Oregon, and Kansas, it prominently features the state name. Idaho goes them one better by doing it twice.

Given that most flags fly almost exclusively in their home state, including a name disparages the mental acuity of residents. It implies that without a prompt, some people would forget where they live.

On a distinctive, well-designed flag, the name is unnecessary. Imagine Old Glory with the name of the country prancing across it. Or Canada's maple leaf. Or Israel's Star of David.

The only good thing to be said about the popular blue-bedsheet style is that it assures a state flag will be forgettable instead of just plain homely. Maryland's clashing juxtaposition of black, gold, red, and white shapes could have been used to extract information from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The image of George Washington on the Washington flag brings to mind a Presidents Day sale.

A good flag is clean, simple, and distinctive. The experts at the North American Vexillological Association (NAVA) offer an excellent rule: A child should be able to draw it from memory.

For that, you can't beat Texas' tricolor with a white star or Alabama's red X on a white square. If the banner can evoke something about the place, even better—as with South Carolina's crescent moon over a palmetto tree, New Mexico's sun symbol, Arizona's starburst, and Wyoming's buffalo.

The more a flag tries to do, the less likely it is to succeed. Illinois features a bald eagle perched on a boulder, which bears the dates 1818 and 1868. The bird grips a stars-and-stripes shield in one talon, and its beak holds a streamer proclaiming "State Sovereignty, National Union" (with "sovereignty" upside down). At its feet are what looks like palm fronds and shoots of grass, and behind it is a sun rising over a body of water. All these images congregate above the state name.

This is not a flag but a novel. It's got everything but Abraham Lincoln and Wrigley Field. Marilyn Vos Savant couldn't draw it from memory.

Surely we could do better. For most states, where the flag inspires only boredom, any change would be a good change. Well, almost any change: When Georgia got rid of a flag that included a Confederate symbol, the new model was voted worst in the country by the NAVA. Two years later, it was replaced by yet another version.

Georgia, however, deserves praise for trying to get it right. So does at least one guy in Oklahoma—I mean, OKLAHOMA!

COPYRIGHT 2009 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.

NEXT: Here Comes the Judge

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  1. Kansas’ flag should obviously be the album cover of the prog band’s eponymous debut.

    Michigan should license Wolverine from Marvel comics, put ‘im up there. The possibilities are limitless.

  2. New York’s state flag should just be a portrait of Travis Bickle with a mohawk.

  3. Can Maryland change theirs to a map of a trailer park? Or is that too much truth in advertising?

  4. Fluffy subject. How many countries have a clean, distinctive, memorable design for their flags?

    That sort of design is harder than it looks.

  5. This piqued my interest and I did a quick search of some flags. Here’s sight that claims it has the top ten flags (and they may very well be right) http://images.google.co.uk/imgres?imgurl=http://xnepali.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2007/11/national_flag_of_nepal.jpg&imgrefurl=http://blog.xnepali.com/ten-best-flag-designs/&usg=__YWLMas8ioUJERJ7eGXJr0RNKLqY=&h=391&w=320&sz=21&hl=en&start=13&sig2=qp8MN8V27lodxXt4jb6GGQ&um=1&tbnid=9QCUA5rfA8z5EM:&tbnh=123&tbnw=101&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dnational%2Bflags%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DX%26um%3D1&ei=emrLSYWSCsiQ_Qbzs_2VCg

    My personal favorites are from the Russian province of Yaroslavl Oblast (a bear holding an axe) and the North Caucasian Emirate only lasted for three years (1918-1921) (it is a smiley face made of a crescent moon and three stars)

  6. I guess Chapman couldn’t think of anything this week but wanted his $50 weekly payoff from reason.

  7. dude – learn how to use an anchor tag – jeez…

  8. Flags ? States ? What, does Chapman believe in government ?

  9. At first I thought the usual “doesn’t my state have more important things to worry about? Like relaxing draconian laws regarding alcohol!”

    Then I realized as long as their worried about things like this, they’re not doing much harm.

    If only Obama and the Feds were so distracted.

  10. Virginia has a sweet flag. It has boob on it AND it says “Thus Always to Tyrants” right under a tyrant who just got his ass kicked. Not that anyone in the state government pays attention to the motto, unfortunately (what up, smoking ban in restaurants?)

  11. That’s not a crescent moon on South Carolina’s flag; it’s a gorget.

  12. Yaroslavl Oblast

    This flag kicks the respective asses of 99% of all flags, ever.

    In fact, if it were that bear on the VA “sic semper tyrannis” flag, I might cry a little bit at the awesomeness.

  13. Steve’s right. Most state flags suck. The state quarters show far more design skill.

  14. The Northeast and Midwest flags suck the hardest, I think. Too many blue backgrounds with state seals.

    Best state flags off the top of my head:
    Texas, Louisiana, Arizona, California, Maryland, Wyoming, New Mexico

  15. Yaroslavl Oblast’s flag is the best I’ve ever seen.

  16. Holy shit I’d never seen Virginia’s seal up close, that shit’s great.

  17. Everyone knows exclamation points make everything better.

    New York!!!!1!!!1!

    All they need is a blink tag for flags.

  18. Fascitis Necrotizante,

    You are the first person I have ever encountered who likes the current Maryland flag.

    Just an observation, nothing wrong with your taste.

  19. Bonnie Blue,

    Very nice. I prefer the name of your short-lived nation over “redneck riviera” too.

  20. Alaska’s flag is pretty cool.

  21. What makes the flag on the mast to wave?
    Courage!

  22. Suki, locals know it as LA…Lower Alabama.

  23. Nick,

    That is a requirement in a state that has nine months of winter.

  24. Shut the fuck up Steve Chapman

  25. I’m okay with Florida’s flag. Historical, recognizable. What else do you need?

    South Carolina has a revolutionary war flag (the Ft. Moultrie flag), which is cool. If I were picking a flag for a state now, the Gadsden would have to be up there.

  26. Gadsden’s badass. I like Maryland’s cuz it looks like some ugly shit they’d wave at a drag race. I also like Ohio’s.

  27. Anytime you drive into Maryland they should have a bunch of bikini clad women (a la Cruisin USA) jumping up and down and waving it as you pass. Frankly all states should do that.

  28. I also like Ohio’s.

    Finally, some love for one of the most unique flags in the world.

    Having looked up some state flags, I hate to say that Chapman is right, but he is. I mean, really, Oregon? What were you thinking? And Montana’s flag looks like it was drawn by a fourth-grader.

  29. Obama should get on top of this immediately.

  30. Like more than a dozen others, it’s a variation on a humdrum theme: A blue background with something obscure, cluttered, and gold in the center. If you climbed up a flagpole in Lansing and replaced the Michigan ensign with that of Louisiana, New York, Virginia, or Nebraska, I promise, it would be months before anyone noticed.

    Oklahoma stands out slightly more only because, like Montana, Oregon, and Kansas, it prominently features the state name. Idaho goes them one better by doing it twice.

    Since he works for the Chicago Tribune, I guess Chapman can’t bring himself to mention Wisconsin’s flag–which has both that blue-background-with-a-seal motif and the state’s name. 😉

  31. also Iowa

  32. Hey, you know what the world is missing? A 3-D holographic flag.

  33. (prints the name)

  34. The more a flag tries to do, the less likely it is to succeed. Illinois features a bald eagle perched on a boulder, which bears the dates 1818 and 1868. The bird grips a stars-and-stripes shield in one talon, and its beak holds a streamer proclaiming “State Sovereignty, National Union” (with “sovereignty” upside down). At its feet are what looks like palm fronds and shoots of grass, and behind it is a sun rising over a body of water. All these images congregate above the state name.

    This is not a flag but a novel. It’s got everything but Abraham Lincoln and Wrigley Field. Marilyn Vos Savant couldn’t draw it from memory.

    I honestly never knew that was on our flag. I say we just go with the Block I. Of course, I may be a bit biased.

    And I think California has the best state flag.

  35. I think the Oklahoma flag is pretty. Maybe I’m just prejudiced since I grew up there. The shield in the middle is an Osage Indian shield I believe if I remember right.

  36. How many countries have a clean, distinctive, memorable design for their flags?

    Quite a few! You’ve apparently never played Geo-Challenge on Facebook.

  37. If the idea is to focus on bringing in tourist dollars, my home state of Florida should just stick Mickey Mouse on the flag. We could even have a special spring break flag every year and just have a field of blue with Girls Gone Wild printed in gold.

  38. Penna.’s flag has the motto “virtue, liberty, and independence.” Probably should have a depiction of a greasy politician with his hand in the cookie jar.

  39. BTW, you can’t get much simpler than Libya’s flag.

  40. Florida should have an alligator eating a flamingo with the space shuttle taking off in the background over Magic Kingdom.

  41. I always thought the Maryland flag was the finest, in fact I was under the impression that is was pretty much universally regarded as the most distinctive and beyond that, aestertically pleasing state flag.

  42. FN,

    Don’t forget the holographic explosion every 90 seconds.

  43. “Alaska’s flag is pretty cool.”

    Would that be the Star of David? That’s the flag Palin has hanging in her office.

  44. bookworm,

    The LaRouche thread was posted last night, look down one.

  45. And I think California has the best state flag.

    Come on, that bear doesn’t have an axe. Heck, he’s not even armed or standing upright! Some paltry Russian republic has totally schooled your state.

    Suki,

    Hey, that’s a thought. A flag made out of tiny, tiny LEDs, that can run video! Oh, man, I’m going to make some money from this one. Not in developing the technology per se, but in selling ad space on the flags. “America. Brought to you today by Coca-Cola. Drink Coke. Keep America free.”

  46. I was under the impression that is was pretty much universally regarded as the most distinctive and beyond that, aestertically pleasing state flag.

    Uh, not to me it isn’t. Maryland’s flag looks like it was designed by the graphics artists for the Atari 2600.

  47. Real hard-hitting stuff here. Thanks for reminding me why I didn’t renew my subscription to REASON last year.

  48. [Waves dismissively.]

  49. Was that a call to drink at 10:34? I don’t know the drinking rules around here yet, but that sounds like it should be one.

  50. Washington’s flag is gay as hell. President’s Day sale is about right. It should either be some kind of totem pole-like design (I think the manhole covers in parts of Seattle approximate something like that) or else it should be George Washington rising out of Mt. St. Helens with a battle axe and Free Willy jumping over it.

  51. I think you miss the point, many of these flags are related or close to their civil war battle flags. The Northern bland blue seems useful, and the ones with actual state names would be more helpful than small pictures. This use has offcourse become outdated, but flags with some tie to a states past seem more useful than state marketing logo stuff (Keystone state is MUCH better than “you ahev afriend in PA” or the PA website URL),

  52. Can Maryland change theirs to a map of a trailer park?

    Where do you live, PG?

  53. AR,

    I think Montana’s flag is the victory screen from Oregon Trail.

  54. I think one of the western states (not California) should put Clint Eastwood on its flag. Maybe Wyoming? Anyway, I’d opt for a still from The Outlaw Josey Wales, or, if my video flag comes to fruition, a clip from the movie.

  55. Ohio FTW. Not often one gets to say that.

  56. Timon19,

    You can say it, but it’s not true. It’s not that exciting, man.

  57. My personal favorite is the new Georgia flag with the middle finger and swastika.

    http://www.theonion.com/content/node/35101

  58. Distinctive, but simple, and a complement to the US flag such that it doesn’t look out of place on a flagpole right below. It doesn’t look too similar to the US flag, but it also isn’t too different.

    Pretty much a great design for a 2nd order administrative flag.

  59. That only works if you like the death of federalism. Me, I prefer something a little more rebellious.

  60. Got to agree with Nick about Alaska’s flag. Plus it is one that can legitimately claim to have been created by the people: A contest was put out to school children and Benny Benson, a 13-year old kid, in a contest open to school children. It was selected from 700+ entries. So this one definitely passes the “kids can draw it test”. It even has a plausible reason for the blue and gold color scheme that most state flags seem to have.

    I contrast that to the Indiana state flag (I live in Indiana now): same colors, but when my kids draw it at school it is indistinguishable from their attempts to draw explosions…

  61. ProL,

    Bah! Echoing (but not copying) the design of the US flag doesn’t mean a surrender of sovereignty. Nice try.

    The shape is rebellious enough.

    Though my favorite flag of all time is the Gadsden. Which is now very closely followed by that kick-ass flag from Yaroslavl Oblast.

  62. I’ve always been partial to Colorado’s flag. It’s got a nice sun motif, plus the first letter of the state and the etymology of the name. It also makes for a nice bike shirt or tattoo.

  63. Adopt the Gadsden flag or stop losing badly to UF in national title games, and I’ll show Ohio some respect.

  64. How did UF do in the tournament this year?

    Oh, wait…

    🙂

  65. Our new Republican majority legislature here in Oklahoma is setting new records for idiotic time wasting.

  66. “BTW, you can’t get much simpler than Libya’s flag.”

    Oh I don’t know. I think the white flag Obama is waiving at anti-overseas contingency operationist bin Laden is as simple as it gets.

  67. True flagwonks know to check the Flags of The World site. Here’s their page on
    state flags.

    New York’s should show a leech, attached to a taxpayer’s wallet. The “excelsior” motto should be replaced by something else.

    What’s the Latin for “pony up, suckers?”

    Wisconsin’s flag should be a Holstein rampant on a field of barley. The “forward’ motto can remain, `cause their pols need help determining which end of the cow is which.

    Kevin

  68. “Our new Republican majority legislature here in Oklahoma is setting new records for idiotic time wasting.”

    Given what Tony would likely consider a productive use of their time, it’s probably best that the Oklahoma legislature spends most of its time dithering.

    And Tony, if you live in Oklahoma, you have my deepest sympathies, and my forgiveness for any interludes of bitchiness you may have expressed. It all makes sense now.

  69. Thanks economist. One of their first agenda items was to try to get a 10 Commandments statue placed on public lands. They’re real winners.

    My “interludes of bitchiness” come about usually during bouts of heavy drinking, which I suppose I can partially blame on being completely surrounded by dumbfucks.

  70. Californicate should replace the Golden Bear with the Terminator. No bears here anymore anyway.

  71. Mr. Chapman is dead on about words on flags being useless, except perhaps with the Don’t Tread on Me flag and definitely the Cannon Flag used by Texans in the Battle of Gonzales in response to an attempt by the Mexican government to retrieve a cannon it had provided earlier to the ungrateful rabble-rousing Texans.

  72. This sort of article would be so much more actually useful if it included images to illustrate the text.

    I understand some internets come with such a capability.

  73. You know what would look good on a flag? The Wallace clan crest. It’s where my cognomen comes from, though others have used it, as well.

  74. At least Oregon’s flag is distinctive in that I understand it’s the only state flag to have something on the reverse other than just the mirror image of the front side.

  75. Yeah and it’s just a shitty little beaver.

  76. Oregon has porn on its flag? I never thought to look on the other side. What a great idea!

  77. It’s probably because I grew up there, but I love Hawaii’s flag, born of trying to kiss 2 asses at the same time.

  78. Kansas’ flag should obviously be the album cover of the prog band’s eponymous debut.

    Nah, they should use the cover of the next album, “Song for America.” Much cooler and more sinister.

    What about corporate sponsorship–who wouldn’t want to see the Golden Arches fly over their state capitol if it meant less taxation? “Delaware – I’m Lovin’ It!”

  79. I like it! But the new flag should just say, “OK!”

  80. A flag should NOT have the state’s name on it. That defeats the purpose of having a flag, for f*ck’s sake. Also, doesn’t the caution against complexity apply to the good ol’ stars n stripes, which is busier than a Christmas tree?

    Let me throw a vote in for changing my state’s (Colorado) flag– it is ugly as hell.

  81. California’s flag should be the “PAY POOR TAX OF $15” Chance card.

  82. I’ve always figured that if you cut the seal out of a Virgina flag and mailed it to some highly placed politician, you could expect a visit from some angry men who all shop in the same store.

  83. DC has a pretty decent flag. As does the city of Durham. Easy to draw, has the Pleiades (which are part of Taurus, hence Bull, hence Durham.) Perhaps could get a Subaru endorsement too. (Subaru is the Japanese name for the Pleiades.)

    Maryland flag is polarizing.

  84. ProGlib, I concur on the Ft. Moultrie flag. I like it both stylistically and thematically.

    And yeah, Gadsden would be awesome, but not for SC. South Carolina doesn’t need any encouragement to think that it collectively is the rattler, rather than its citizens.

    I think that the Gadsden flag might be interpreted in the SC Statehouse (and numerous Battle-Flag flying sh*tholes) as, “Don’t tread on me, Federal Government, just because you think I should respect the rights of all my citizens. I’ll bite you if you try to make me stop oppressing people!”

  85. Actually, I like the idea of a mix of the original Moultrie flag, which was just the crescent/gorget with the word “LIBERTY” inscribed in it, with the modern palmetto addition. Just to ‘liberty up’ the modern version a bit.

    Except for the color scheme, I like the New Mexico flag, too. And I probably wouldn’t change it, I just don’t love it.

    Naturally, I pretty much despise any Confederate-battleflag themes in state flags. The whole states’ rights thing would carry more water if they weren’t almost entirely focused on the state’s right to take away individuals’ rights.

  86. “Our new Republican majority legislature here in Oklahoma is setting new records for idiotic time wasting.”

    At least they’re not passing legislation outlawing the hunting of whales in Oklahoma as a previous Democratic legislature did.

  87. The suggestion doesn’t seem to be making him a lot of friends. “People ask me if there aren’t more important things for me to work on,” Jett told The Tulsa World.

    Shouldn’t it be The Tulsa World!?

  88. Suki — I am the second.

    I like Maryland’s flag also.

    BTW– probably the only place that flag is displayed outside of Maryland is an old house in a park in Brooklyn, because of the heroism of Maryland troops on that site during the Revolution

  89. Where do you live, PG?

    No, a different state that is not Virginia.

  90. I like Maryland’s flag also.

    BTW– probably the only place that flag is displayed outside of Maryland is an old house in a park in Brooklyn, because of the heroism of Maryland troops on that site during the Revolution

    That is certainly a reason to like it.

  91. Put me also in the minority that admires the Calvert family coat of arms.

  92. How about adding a new state slogan, one that recalls state history?

    “Oklahoma — proof that you should never trust the federal government. Just ask the Indians/Native Americans.”

  93. Oregon has porn on its flag? I never thought to look on the other side. What a great idea!

    Oregon is the Beaver State, so the image on the reverse of the state flag is a beaver. Some might call that porn.

    http://www.50states.com/flag/orflag.htm

  94. http://www.crwflags.com/fotw/flags/us-tn.html

    The three star symbol in the center of the Tennessee flag looks like the symbol for some neo-fascist party.

    Just imagine a red armband with a blue circle and three white stars.

  95. Kansas actually had a state banner instead of a flag. It was a rectangular blue banner with a sunflower and the word kansas. Sadly, they got rid of it after only two years, and now we are stuck with our boring rectangle. The banner was sweet and gave the government in washington headaches.

  96. How about a little realism? Replace all state flags with a US flag bearing the words “Department of” followed by the State’s name.

  97. “Californicate should replace the Golden Bear with the Terminator. No bears here anymore anyway.”

    No more Grizzlies. Still plenty of Black Bears in California.

  98. I heard a rumor oklahoma changed their flag from red during mccarthy’s witch hunt for communists. can anyone verify?

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