The Flag Has No Meaning

By Alex Gryciuk

Can the American Flag, the symbol for a union made up of 50 states, be burned as a form of protest? Can this symbol of freedom and democracy be disrespected in the name of corregrafted outrage? A question posted to all citizens; the Texas v. Johnson’s case analyzed whether or not the dismantling or destroying of a United States flag could be an extension of the first amendment right to free speech. 

Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled that burning the flag failed to reside within the jurisdiction of the government’s powers to limit because the act was protected under first amendment rights and of freedom of expression, no matter how controversial. 

Yet, the court case still is being referred to in classrooms and media discussions to start a conversation about democracy and powers that the government bodies obtain. One of those discussions, on censorship, took place in my AP government class. 

Debate on censorship: Should the flag be burned?

Should the international symbol for democracy and freedom, and the greatest country in the world be burned? Overall, my class agreed on a similar decision as the Supreme Court: Freedom of expression, no matter how controversial, must always be protected by the constitution.

Nevertheless, rather than asking if the flag should be burned, I think the questions should be: does burning the flag have any impact? Did Johnson’s public act in Texas actually mean anything when he did it? 

I personally think it did not. High commercialization, changeable meanings, and already altered flags result in a symbol which has lost its meaning. 

June 14, 1777: The Continental Congress Passed the Flag Act that solidified the pattern of the flag for a uniform look. The troops fighting for independence and freedom had a symbol for a country they fought for and wanted. Betsy Ross, just a month before this act passed, sewed the first flag of the United States after George Washington visited her and paid a “large sum of money from the Pennsylvania State Navy Board.” When the flag had meaning, it was made by hand. More importantly, there weren’t thousands of flags available to one person. The flag was a special commodity that was only viewable in the correct setting.

However now,  thanks to commercialization and its desire to squeeze every bit of profit out of anything, one can buy thousands of flags off the internet. When looking it up, thousands of websites and pages show up in seconds. If there are so many flags, what makes the one on display special? Everyone can get one and replace it in less than a minute. 

The commercialization of flags has a much more detrimental effect than just thousands of flags on the market. Companies have turned the flag into a design choice rather than a revered symbol. Sunglasses, bathing suits, T-shirts, socks, etc. Literally anything could have the American flag on it; thus destroying the symbolism it once had. The founding fathers and early Americans saw this flag as a uniting force and symbol for their freedom. It was special. Now that you can wear it on your junk as underwear or wear it as a hat to cover you from the sun, does the flag mean anything? What would the founding fathers think of our flag being everywhere?

1814: Francis Scott Key views an American flag at Fort McHenry in Baltimore and is inspired to compose the National anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner”. When the song was composed, the flag had an immense meaning of freedom and fighting for a country that defended democracy. In the present, the flag can mean anything that a person wants. For example, Trump supporters use it as a symbol for their hateful rhetoric and extreme patriotism. Does the flag mean what they want or what you personally believe? 

1909: The only instance for honorably cutting up the flag, Robert Peary placed an American flag at the North Pole. Now, the flag is still spliced up in its own way to appeal to others. How is adding Taylor Swift to a flag respectable and not cutting it up? Aren’t you still dismantling the flag? For its discrepancy in what is acceptable defacement, the flag has lost its meaning because no one can distinguish what the flag originally means. 

All in all, the flag has no meaning.