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Union Jack Cushions Reduced - Nationalism Discontinued?

Posted: 13/06/2012 01:00

Two weeks ago, shop windows displaying flags somehow how aided our need for a Union Jack cushion. Now, shop fronts that were once plastered in red, white and blue bunting have gone back to the recession red sale signs, and with it our national pride has been safely put away until our next outing of organised nationalism. But with all the flag waving out the way are we any more comfortable with our flag?

Americans proudly salute their flag every morning in school, pitch it on their lawns and fly it from every available rooftop. We have ours printed in China on sweat shop T-shirts and sold to us when we've been invited to a Jubilee barbeque and need something to wear. The irony is almost too much to bear.

We Britons have an awkward relationship with our flag. I was born on the same day as the Brixton riots and grew up in a un-United Kingdom fuelled by racial tension, rioting and far right political groups who commandeered the Union flag as their symbol. By the early 90s our flag was not a symbol of pride but something that identified you as a 'a nationalist'. As a child the famous red, white and blue scared me. It stood for something I was uncomfortable with. Confronted with it plastered across Oxford Street to celebrate a woman having the same job for 60 years, those same awkward feelings arise. When going through an unfamiliar area anywhere in the UK, the sight of a George Cross and/or Union flag always make me think twice about walking alone. Should we really be scared of a flag that is meant to represent unity?

I think my feeling is generational. Friends of a similar age have the same association with the Union flag; and its connotations run deep. But when I was recently working with some East End pensioners, their feelings toward the flag were of pride. Some women were even wearing personalized Union flag brooches "not 'cause of the Queen, 'cause we're British ain't we?!".

The day after our Jubilee weekender I was shooting a new short film. My director passed me a vital prop in the film - a bunch of flowers. These happened to be a Jubilee bouquet that was reduced from £7 to £1.50. But the irony doesn't stop there. On closer inspection it seems the blue flowers were fed dye to make them fit in with the national colour scheme. There is an analogy here about the Jubilee celebrations. Last summer a spontaneous feeling of community came out of the Royal Wedding - we weren't encouraged to throw parties funded by community grants. We lined the streets with flags and wore Union Jacks because it was spontaneous and we decided we were proud - a decision untainted by the BBC, the high street or government.

Is the future of our flag in jeopardy? Has our flag become a logo that flogs cheap apparel during times of nationalism decided by marketing teams? If Scotland gain independence do we need to change the flag?

I'm aware I'm projecting a feeling that is possibly unfashionable as you read this sipping your Fortnum & Mason Jubilee Tea sat on an ASDA Union Jack cushion looking at your Primark Union flag diamante iPhone case. But I wonder if those far right groups would have stolen the Union flag as their symbol of 'England for English' if they knew it was created by a Scottish, gay monarch in the 1600s? Having that knowledge behind our flag helps reinvent my relationship with it, not a piece of printed plastic.

 

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