Throwing The Flag In The Trash

Every year, they come by a few days before July 4th and stick little plastic flags on the lawns on the street. (I’m not entirely sure who “they” are. We don’t have a neighborhood association, I think a local realtor does it as a promotional thing.)

I’m not much on the flag. (Though I do have some Baltimore hometown pride about “The Star-Spangled Banner”.) It’s been the symbol of oppressors too often. But I also don’t have any urge to burn it or desecrate it. While I absolutely support people’s legal right to do so, it’s still investing the symbol with power.

And as a general principle, it’s rude to desecrate something others find important. Neither the Bible nor the Koran nor the Torah mean anything much to me, but I wouldn’t stomp on a copy of someone else’s holy book.

My father, a Vietnam veteran, was a flag-flying sort of guy. The last flag he received (from the country that sent him to ‘Nam to get exposed to the Agent Orange that hastened his death…it was a complicated relationship, I guess) sits now formally folded on his desk next to the box of his ashes. I wouldn’t want to offend his memory by insulting the flag.

But every year, intending some sort of patriotic celebration, they put this little plastic flag on my lawn, without so much as a by-your-leave.

And so every year I have to throw a little plastic flag into the trash. What else am I supposed to to with them? Keep them until I die for someone else to throw out? I can’t even respectfully burn them, as one is supposed to do when ritually disposing of a damaged flag; burning plastic is toxic.

Somehow that little plastic flag feels like the perfect symbol for the United States today, a toxic imitation of a questionable original, a tangled commodified mess of symbol. It makes me feel bad to throw it away, but what else can I do?

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