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Friday, 4 September 2015

It's not a dream: we're stuck with it

Let's review. This is my third post on the subject of New Zealand's flag change. In the first one I made some fairly general comments about the arguments involved, the supposed motivations and, of course, made my opposed to flag change views quite clear. In the second one, I essentially reviewed the short list of 40 (now reduced to 39 due to a copyright issue with the Modern Hundertwasser) in, largely, terms that it has subsequently become clear that the flag panel did not. That is to say, flag design principles and New Zealand's identity. Wait, subsequently?

Yes, we now know, and have known for some days (I've been discussing this elsewhere), what the final four are. Next step? Referendum. Yay! So excited. But, let's just get a picture in here.

NZ Herald: although I now notice the bottom two have their bottoms cut off.
Firstly, these are all ugly. The first two are busy to the point of distraction, the third is an unappealing logo and the fourth is a logo and, for a flag, far too black (which is ironic, because if it weren't meant to be a flag it'd be the best looker of this lot). I don't think anyone is really that happy with these. Except, of course, John Key and people like him who are happy with, well, a flag that sort of really embodies the bland contradictions of Key. To many these would never satisfy because flag change is bad, okay? To others, the first are too compromise-y, that is, they aren't different enough to what we've got. And most other objections probably relate to the aesthetics.

Secondly, let's reconsider the panel's criteria. Remember, they did have a list of guidelines. These were the guidelines that we were to follow. They're not difficult to understand.
The design should be simple, uncluttered and balanced.
It should be designed to be flown, and viewed from either side.
It should look as “timeless” as possible. Avoid using features in the design that will cause the flag to become dated or obsolete. Imagine the flag in a historic setting and in a very modern setting to check whether it would work in both.
In terms of colour, using fewer colours will keep the design simple and bold.
Contrast is important – use light colours on dark, and vice-versa. So a white cross on red is a good contrast, but a blue cross on red would be a poor contrast. This is a very useful guideline, especially for choosing the colour of any symbols and their background.
If the use of non-contrasting colours is unavoidable, make use of outline colours.
Any animals or birds would traditionally face the flagpole, so that the animal faces in the same direction as the flag bearer.
The top left hand corner of the flag is typically the place of honour in a flag. This reflects the fact that the opposite end of the flag wears out first, and is the section that is least visible when the flag is not fully unfurled.
It's pretty obvious that all of these flags do not follow these guidelines completely. That's okay, right? They're guidelines, not rules. Everyone understands that. The stylised koru belongs pretty clearly to some variety of modernism, as does the plain fern (read this about flag options and personality). None of the ferns really follow the top left rule and the koru doesn't really either. In all cases, if there's no wind, any of these flags will look largely like plain colour. I guess not too much of a problem. And as we mentioned, uncluttered and balanced does not describe the two fundamentally designs (did I not comment on the similarity re: the short list? Yes, yes I did). But, hey, not rules. Chill, dude. It's sweet. We good.

Guidelines exist for reasons. They are not arbitrary, in fact, there's a strong argument to make that guidelines are less arbitrary than rules. Why? Well, in general, guidelines arise from things like best practice or theory much more organically. A rule, on the other hand, has to be followed but can, basically, be drawn out of a hat. Rules are more how things are, guidelines more how things should be. This is wumbo. However, this panel was clearly composed of idiots of morons. Of people so stupid, that if you bribed them, they would be convinced to vote the other way... without realising this was happening. This was, in fact, recognised, in writing, when the panel process was decided (we'll get back to this point). But, for now, we'll stick with inference from the behaviour of the panel. Recall my second post?
Flag Design Principles (as interpreted from the panel's open letter, i.e. this gives us an inkling of what "flag design principles" means to the panel, what they actually are, in a real sense, is irrelevant if the panel's understanding, the one it used, is different):
A great flag should be distinctive and so simple it can be drawn by a child from memory. 
I'm chuckling. I would laughing but it just isn't funny. This is, to use common expression, shoot yourself in the head funny. Adults have tested this. They've tried they really have. And guess, what, even the koru's a bit difficult to draw. But that's okay, people tend to mess korus up: the design does follow this principle. The other three? Well, I think even Mike Hosking would have to agree, do not. I mean, even ignoring that they're blah (honestly, the koru's unpopular but by far the best design), even Baldrick would recognise and understand that pretty much no-one is going to get this right. I mean, Jesus, there was a teenager on that panel. Surely the memories of trying and failing to draw a silver fern whenever the All Blacks are shoved down your throat at primary school are still relatively fresh?

*brings hands together, as though praying, such that fingertips touch lips, then moves to hold palms up "don't shoot style" facing the screen, elbows not raised in air, and finally brings hands together again, having been shaking head during the last two movements*

The Panel's job was so damn simple. Take the guidelines. Eliminate all flags that don't follow them. Then eliminate the flags that don't really match up with "what New Zealanders have said they are looking for in a design for our national flag." Then, if there are still too many, get rid of the ones that don't look so good, the ones that just don't work, the ones that are more logos than flags... I mean, for Christ's sake (and I really do speak like this), flags? Well, you know them when you see them. Once your forty for the shortlist, do the copyright checks, and repeat the above process more thoroughly. If the Panel's membership had been well selected, I'd like to think this would've happened. I like to think that people who design for a living or who make buildings or who create specific products to specific briefs, would've been able to do this. I don't think the likes of Rod Drury of "we're losing money hand over fist" Xero are people to do things like this. I just don't.

I mean, jeepers, I'm starting to hope that they were bribed.

Thirdly, well, I'm not sure I have a third thing to say about the flags themselves. They're ugly. They don't follow the guidelines. I'm pretty sure the Panel was on Acid. Imma vote for the koru. Hang on, the koru. Yeah, probably just there to provide some evidence that this wasn't a charade to end up with some sort of fern on the flag. I hope you're reading to this and listening to the sort of music that plays when a sympathetic character's life has been ripped out from under them, because, as a great man once said, "It's not a dream: we're stuck with it!"

Let's be absolutely clear here, I would prefer it so much more if we weren't spending this money at all. I do not think that anyone has come up with a coherent and cogent reason why the current flag doesn't say who we are, who we were and where we are, or why those things aren't what our flag should be doing. In short, I think this is colossal waste. We should have established a mandate, had some foundation from below rather than direction from on high, before we started this conversation. This is what it means to not be a proponent of flag change.

Yet, for all that, this could have been something. It really could have. Instead, we're that hapless character in a drama who's about to have the case of their life, but, instead, the client's been shot and you're back snorting cocaine before you can say, "Mate." We're left holding the charred remains of exhibition vandalised the day before the grand opening. It's boojum.

People got involved, not so much in person, but people did make a lot of submissions. I made one. I never followed up on the other I wanted to make, the one that was a better version of my idea, but I thought about what I wanted, what I thought and came up with something which tried to follow that. And I did this, despite thinking, "Why are we doing this?" And I can look at the various flags and think, "Good flag, bad flag" without needing to acknowledge that they're all unnecessary flags. I can do this. Pretty much anyone can: I'm not unique. This isn't some special quality of me. Which makes the following, well, interesting:
This is what reading these endless flag debate comments is like - except that half of all the comments instead of talking about art and design decide the whole thing is stupid and that it shouldn't really be taking place in the first place. 
It is so painful - especially to those of us who like the idea of a new flag, and have tried to engage in the concept.
No, "Random Stranger," you don't sit there commenting on a Toby Manhire article about my (relatively) beloved triangles, saying the reason why a proper conversation is because, hey, some people disagree. I mean, I'm blinking. I lack the words, because I am an idiot, to express what I mean (but, also, because I'm a very visually expressive person when I talk). The reason why this conversation didn't happen is because of how the conversation a) began, b) proceeded, c) was directed and d) how it was all supposed to end. Imagine, say, the flag debate could be modelled. I would propose that an appropriate model to use would a be a text. Now, when you look at a text, you can't remove it from its context and that includes understanding that form, to a large degree, is connected to content in explanatory manner.

The Flag Debate was not an organic conversation. Sure, if John Key rocked up to Bill English and mentioned the flag and how he wanted to change it, that's pretty much the same start was we got. Yet, in that context, this is a relatively organic beginning and it will proceed organically: like a normal conversation. The Flag Debate, though, was equivalent to a debate with politicians or an interview. It only went anywhere because it required prompting. Some discussion, prompt, more discussion, prompt. This is perfectly natural if, say, we're talking about the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean or any other current event. It's the nature of the thing. How it is. But this, well, this is something that should have come from below: an organic beginning and procession would have been if it had arisen from agitation. For example if Mike Hosking, although in a relative position of power is still what we'll term a private citizen, had used his space on the Herald's website to try and start the conversation... that would've been better (but, really, we'd still want someone like Hosking or Paul Henry to be feeding off some existing current).

Furthermore, it was organic because of the way the prompts work. We don't know, for instance, that 71 (iirc) migrants are going to be found dead in a truck. We don't know that a toddler is going to drown attempting to find a better life with his family. We don't know that these stories are going to make it. And we didn't know, in the case of the latter, that the story would enter the consciousness. We can, in some sense, discuss that toddler in the same way that we'd talk about Tank Man in Tiananmen Square... although we would be wise to wait a bit to be sure, but, right now, if I had to guess, it'll be that kind of picture. On the other hand, we do know that Panel's going to create a list, that submissions last however long, that there'll be referenda etc. etc. Knowing these things is actually important: it matters. For instance, in the case of Random Stranger's complaint, that there will be a referenda and that it's going to be on a particular subject creates a sort of pressure... particularly for opponents (although, furthermore, that people think the current flag is sufficient should be telling you things about what a flag should mean and should like).

But, in some sense, I think when history reflects, it's going to look at the Panel. The Panel. Oh, dead Lord (hmm, like that typo), the Panel. It's time to mention that "in writing" thing. Warning: this may be anti-climactic if you're expecting me to be quoting a letter from, say, Bill English saying, "What a bunch of mugs" I do not know if such a letter exists, but I'd like to hope it does. What I do have is this:
Public consultation in relation to long list
The Government appointed the Flag Consideration Panel to select the 4 alternative designs that eligible voters will rank in the first referendum later this year. The Panel viewed every design and has followed a robust process.
The Panel will not be consulting with the public on opinions about designs or its decisions in this part of the process (selecting the alternative flag designs). The Panel needs to remain neutral and unbiased in making their deliberations.
Have you ever met a lawyer? A Judge? An historian? A journalist? A detective? Pretty much anyone who ever has to interpret evidence and reach some sort of conclusion? Probably.

Well, either you now believe that none of these people could ever possibly be any good at their jobs (it's just inherent, they can't be) or you are left with two options. Either people writing this are complete idiots or, alternatively, the panel are complete idiots... if not both. The alternative, of course, is that this another way in which we've been manipulated... that this process's democratic credentials have been infringed.

I'm inclined to say that it's all of the stupid and manipulative options.

You can defend the current flag. You can defend the view that we should change it. If you care, at all, about aesthetics, cost or democracy, you cannot defend how we've tried to go about this. (Well, technically, you can, you'd just wouldn't be representing your own views.) And the thing is? Well, these are related. If we cared more about democracy, we'd have a better looking set of alternatives and we'd have bothered to establish some sort of mandate: first. This entire thing has been manipulated from the beginning. Why? Well, we're not sure. Some conspiracy theorists (presumably convincing only to members of the Panel/those who only just weren't selected) reckon it's got a lot to do with the TPPA. I don't believe that. I do think, though, it's all been manipulated to ensure that what John Key wants gets the best chance it possibly can. From timings, to orders, to the way the Panel was to work, all of it is explained by this idea.

And, the thing is, the evidence suggests this theory more strongly than it does any other one. I guess that should scare me. It doesn't, but it should.

On a slightly more positive note (because it's doomed to fail), there's now a movement to get Red Peak considered.

I still think that my suggestion for it, improves substantially. Of course, it loses some of the symbology but, remember, I have a different concept to our friend here.

A Very Quick Alteration
Aaron Dustin's flag is pretty good, but I don't think the black should be there. With some more work, though, and a shade lighter for that red, I think my altered version of his design is better. On the other hand, Red Peak is growing on me.

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