Monday, July 6, 2015


I stumbled today on a news story about a volunteer fireman in Minnesota who's been suspended for flying a Confederate flag on a city firetruck during a Fourth of July* parade.  He's not racist, of course, because he says so.
“I’m sick of the politically correctness, because they are trying to change too much in the United States,” Nielsen told KARE 11. “Me raising that flag had nothing to do with slavery. It had nothing to do with disrespect towards our vets. It was more of a statement against the PC. I’m sorry that I hurt my city and hurt the fire department. It was my decision and I didn’t think it was going to be a big deal, but boy was I wrong.”
He says he'd do it again, "just not in a public vehicle."  It was cruel of KARE to quote Brian Nielsen's inarticulate babble so exactly.   It would be interesting, and not only because I'm a cruel person (though I am), to ask him why it's "chang[ing] too much in the United States" to object to the display of the flag of a defeated enemy that waged war against the United States, a flag that has been used to symbolize resistance to the equal treatment of all American citizens.  If Brian Nielsen really wanted to show the "politically correctness" how truly bold an independent thinker he is, why not fly a North Vietnamese flag, or an ISIS flag (a real one, not a parody), or -- damn the torpedoes and Godwin's Law -- a Nazi flag?  I'd love to see Nielsen yatter about political correctness  to the people who'd dogpile him if he did such a thing, in a Fourth of July parade no less.  It's a mark of how corrupted the American collective memory is that there are many people who can't see what the CSA battle flag has to do with slavery, white supremacy, or "disrespect towards our vets."

I suppose it would be understandable for a twelve-year-old to want to do something just because somebody somewhere said it shouldn't be done, but not for a forty-three-year old "father of one."  (Notice, by the way, that the Colorado teenagers who included guns and a Confederate flag in their prom photograph did so with the support, and in the presence of their parents.)  But I'm being unfair to twelve-year-olds.  Brian Nielsen thinks like a two-year-old.

Speaking of that ISIS dildo flag that confused seasoned CNN commentators during a Pride parade in London in June, the guy who made it is not a lot more clear-minded than Brian Nielsen.  He wrote an article for the Guardian explaining what he thought he was doing.
Previously, I’ve attached dildos onto postcards from each country where homosexuality is still illegal to point out that the laws of these places regards its gay residents as mere sex objects. Previously, I’ve attached dildos onto postcards from each country where homosexuality is still illegal to point out that the laws of these places regards its gay residents as mere sex objects. 

The decision to make the flag was a simple one: a sense of outrage at Isis’s brutal advance across North Africa, Libya, Syria and Iraq. Medieval ideologies and barbarism were being spread and recorded through that most modern of expressions, social media, with that flag ever-present. It has become a potent symbol of brutality, fear and sexual oppression. If I wanted to try and stimulate a dialogue about the ridiculousness of this ideology, the flag was key.
I see.  Leaving aside the artiste's stilted diction and uncertain syntax, how do "the laws of these places regards its gay residents as mere sex objects"?  I don't think Paul Coombs understands what "sex object" means.  The term refers to treating another person solely as an object to be used for one's own sexual pleasure -- which is not what Islamist regimes are doing to their gay citizens.  (Nor is it how the sodomy laws on the books of numerous US states until 2003 regarded gay men. Am I reaching far back into "medieval" times if I also mention Britain's antigay laws, repealed in 1967 but brought back in other forms by the Thatcher Regime?  Or Germany's infamous Paragraph 175, finally repealed only in 1994?  Perhaps the scientific "treatment" of gay men like Alan Turing, dosed with "female" hormones for the crime of having sex with another male.)

I too am outraged by ISIS' "brutal advance across North Africa, Libya," etc.  But I can't forget the brutal advance of the United States and Great Britain over Africa and Asia, whether in the past (India's law against gay sex, for example, was imposed by the English, though it's still in force after independence) or in the present: hundreds of thousands dead, wounded, tortured, driven into exile, while the coalition of the willing set up and propped up Islamist regimes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and elsewhere.  (Hamas, you'll remember, was assisted at first by Israel -- which also means by the US -- in hopes of undermining the secularist PLO.  The best-laid schemes. like satire, gang aft agley.)  The US and Britain are currently supporting Saudi Arabia's brutal advance through Yemen, with great loss of life already and much more to come.  Given the limits of our time and energy, we have to choose what we'll yell about, but it's far too easy to condemn an official enemy like ISIS from afar while ignoring what one's own government is doing.

Satire is difficult, of course.  A single object, like Paul Coombs's dildo flag or Brian Nielsen's battle rag, is especially ambiguous and easy to misunderstand.  Yet so many would-be satirists take for granted that their brilliant and complex, many-layered symbolism will be instantly understood by their audiences, no matter how many times they learn otherwise.  Some people simply can't grok satire.  Coombs, however, is too easily satisfied:
On a message board someone posted: “Whenever I see the Isis flag anywhere, all I can see is dildos!” Mission accomplished.
Yeah, ISIS, take that!  Gay Brits won't be fooled by your sinister secret agenda.  It won't help the people being slaughtered by your tanks and bombs, or by American bombs intended for ISIS but going just a bit off target, but Paul Coombs laughs you to scorn.

*Actually, a "Third of July" parade, according to the article.  I have no idea why.