Thursday, December 17, 2015

New Zealand's 10,292 Flag Ideas

It seems that New Zealand Prime Minister John Key came up with the idea of a new flag. His detractors called the flag idea an exercise in “empty symbolism” but Key was adamant and he pursued it nevertheless.

He even argued, somewhat implausibly, that a change in flag “has got to be worth billions over time” in brand recognition.

Then he pointed to Canada’s transition from a Union Jack ensign to the maple leaf in 1965: “Show me a single Canadian on the planet who would go back to their old flag. Not a single Canadian would, because if I walked in with a sweatshirt on with a maple leaf on, you would say instantaneously that person lives in Canada, is a Canadian or has been to Canada”.

I don’t quite know how to respond to the argument – anyway, polls had consistently found a strong majority of people don't want to change and besides, the flag exercise is costing the country’s taxpayers a lot of money. UK’s The Guardian calculated that it will amount to nearly £12.5 million.

Anyway, like it or not, New Zealanders got to vote on the future of their country’s flag through two postal plebiscites. The referendums will determine a preferred alternative flag and after that decide whether New Zealand should adopt it.

The government had been taking submissions for new designs for its national flag – and while it is far from certain that the country will change its flag, design ideas were aplenty. As long as a design did not feature offensive or copyrighted imagery, or an individual’s face – it was accepted.

Anyway, the government had made it clear that, at that point in the process, there was no such thing as a bad idea – not even those that were patently, gleefully daring it to call them out as such. A childlike line drawing of a “deranged cat raking its garden”; a crude scrawl of a man on a bicycle; the Southern Cross reimagined as a pentagram; most egregiously, a QR code.

A spokesperson for the Flag Consideration Panel had said it was “great to see such a high level of engagement”. Uh-huh.

That explains why a total of 10,292 design suggestions were received. These were deliberated upon and then there was a shortlist of 40 designs. From there, these were pared down to just 5 designs.

From all the submitted designs, it is noteworthy to mention that the main themes featured were Māori culture, nature and history. The favorite colors were white, blue, red, black, and green. And the favorite elements incorporated into the flag designs were the Southern Cross, silver fern, and koru.

[The koru (Māori for "loop") is a spiral shape based on the shape of a new unfurling silver fern frond and symbolizing new life, growth, strength and peace. It is an integral symbol in Māori art, carving and tattoos].

The first vote took place between November 20 and December 11, 2015 and asked "If the New Zealand flag changes, which flag would you prefer?"

Kyle Lockwood’s Silver Fern which sports a black, white, and blue design came out tops.

And a second referendum, which is planned for March 03-24, 2016, will ask voters to choose between the current New Zealand flag and the preferred alternative design.

[Note: The existing flag features the United Kingdom's Union Jack in the corner and four red stars in a Southern Cross formation, indicating New Zealand's location in the South Pacific].

Sometimes, a country engages in political frivolity simply because nothing else that is even remotely exciting is happening. And so excitement must be manufactured even if it is not forthcoming and this in spite of the government’s best efforts.

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