Thursday, September 10, 2015

Picking a Banner

Something occurred to me today about NZ's flag referendum.

I'm not sure I've said much about Tangleball. Initially we referred to it as a "creative space" so as not to get tied up in the negative press around the term "hacker". i.e. traditionally they're called "Hacker Spaces".

So when it came to picking a name, these names were kind of chucked around. Hacker.... Maker... Brain... Mind.... etc. All of the obvious suspects. But nothing felt right. If I remember it rightly someone jokingly said we needed something different. Original. Unused and undefined. Like Tangleball. Or something. And suddenly there was a movement. There were those who hated it. And those who fought tooth and nail for the name.

Jump forward to now. We have this opportunity to change our flag. To have a discussion about our identity. And what do we get? 3 designs based upon the NZ sporting icon of the silver fern, and something that looks kind of like a monkey's butt.

They didn't go that next step when choosing a design. There wasn't the "So there are the usual suspects. How about something different?" step. And this, in essence, is what we're all a bit upset about.

Two of the designs are exactly the same except for a change to one of the colours used, a koru gone terribly wrong, and the NZ Trade and Enterprise logo.

While we're being told that the silver fern is about more than just sports, looking at the history of if, and it's usage now, it seems a bit of a stretch.

The silver fern first became a symbol in 1886 and applied to a sports uniform in 1888. Nowadays it's used almost exclusively in relation to sports. The NZRU (New Zealand Rugby Union) own the copyright to the traditional silver fern logo. The New Zealand netball team are called "The Silver Ferns".

Sure, it shows up in other places. Mostly branding (fernleaf butter), logos (NZ Trade and Enterprise) and previously on money (the now no longer in use $0.01 coin). This should not distract from the fact that when we see it, we instantly think "sports".

It'd be like the England flag being replaced with the three lions. While it represents some people of England - probably quite a large proportion of them - it doesn't say anything of their culture unless their culture revolves around football violence.

Those of us not in the "we have things to be proud of and that we identify with that are not rugby related" camp are more than just a little miffed. While the majority will probably win with what's been dubbed the "Weetbix" design or the very similar (same) design with black instead of the red, not due to popularity but more so out of an unwillingness to be in that group that doesn't win (this happens during elections as well i.e. the polls say X is going to win so I will vote X), the miscontents out there have become split though the result is likely to be the same.

One side of this split is saying "Give us this option":

Whereas the other side are saying "Why do we need a flag change at all?"

I didn't like the red peak at first. Hell, I didn't like the name "Tangleball" to begin with either. But it's the most abstract, "let's build a national identity under this" flag that could have been a possibility. At the very least it's a cry of  "give us an option that isn't a fucking fern".

Of course, it's reliant on being able to make it an option. The prime minister, John Key, specified his preference for the fern before the final 4 were announced and articles everywhere keep pointing out that a local sports star (a rugby player) expressed the same preference. The PM has stated that he will not drop one of the other designs (seriously... did we really need two of the same flag?) in favour of this one nor is he willing to go through the law change needed to offer up a 5th choice.

The end result? While one camp, those who want the red peak, acknowledge that the old flag, being a symbol of a bygone colonial past, needs to go, will likely vote for the old flag to stay over any of the other designs offered. Noting that only 3 other countries currently have the Union Jack as part of their flags (ignoring Great Britain which is an odd one i.e. England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own flags):
  • Tuvalu
  • Australia
  • Fiji
With Fiji wanting to remove it and other two in no real hurry.

Those who think this whole process has been a vanity project for the PM to establish his legacy as a rugby loving leader, will also likely vote for the flag to stay the same.

However, the PM has ensured that there's no chance of  a split vote. What's twice as expensive as a referendum? 2 referendums! The first to decide the most preferred of the limited 4 options (they're not options if they feel all the same with a token one thrown in there), and the second to decide between that design and the current flag.

Will it be a close vote? It's hard to gauge via social media. The people I tend to talk to are the ones who happen to agree with me about this being a farce.

What it all comes down to for me though: What is our national identity? Is it tied into sport? How about the things in our past we were most proud of? In no particular order, these are the things that I think have shaped who we are and how we see ourselves:
  • Our willingness to look after each other.
    • From 1935 to 1949, the first Labour government of NZ established a welfare state. Policies that would set a tone for this country and its policies right up until the 1980's. Michael Joeseph Savage, the PM at the time, is one of our most revered prime ministers.
    • In 1893, NZ became the first self-governing country in the world where all woman had the right to vote in parliamentary elections.
    • The Treaty of Waitangi. While relations are somewhat strenuous and often shrouded in media inspired "What do the Maori people want now?!?" sentiments, it is to be noted that the Treaty of Waitangi is given due recognition most of the time. In fact, it's this recognition that allows the Maori to cover our arses from unscrupulous governments (water rights when selling off power plants for example).
  • Our stance against nuclear weapons. In 1984, David Lange, then PM of The Labour Party (and drinking buddy of my grandfather), signed the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act banning nuclear propelled vessels in NZ waters (though strangely, does not ban nuclear power plants on NZ land).
  • The Springbok Tour. In 1981, the NZ Rugby Union agreed to the then apartheid South African rugby team, known as the Springboks, to tour NZ. While the government was appealed to to stop the tour from happening, the government chose not to let politics get in the way of sport (separation of government and sport... interesting). This at least proves that there is a large proportion of NZ who are more than willing to put ethics before sport.
Meanwhile, looking at NZ's history to the Rugby World Cup (there is a point to this, I promise), NZ has won 2. 1987, at the first Rugby World Cup, and 2011. Already, thus far, there has been a newspaper article branding a punter a "traitor" for betting against the All Blacks in the upcoming rugby world cup.

Is that the national identity our flag is meant to convey?

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