The Stars and Stripes

Title: Picture of US Flag
Designer: Robert G. Heft (Current version with 50 stars)
Year: 1958
Source: World Atlas

To view GIF, watch here:
Title: Hate in America
Designer: Edel Rodriguez
Year: 2017
Source: Time Magazine Twitter

Title: Iconic Image of 9/11 flag raising
Designer: Thomas E. Franklin
Year: 2001
Source: CNN

Title: US China Flag
Designer: Mike Keefe
Year: 2009

For my trope, I decided on the flag of the United States. This one I feel is especially relevant given the current tensions and situations that are occurring in our country. At the center of much of the imagery, the flag has played a key role in representing the ideals of all sides of the ongoing debates in our country.

The flag of the United States, often referred to as the “Stars and Stripes,” is a global symbol for not only the country itself, but the ideals and principles that the United States was founded upon. It is a symbol of freedom and democracy in addition to the specific symbolism of each element and color of the design. Like the country itself, the flag has evolved to represent the growing nation beginning with 13 stars to now 50. The meaning of the elements has evolved as well, but at its center the flag represents a nation that continues to strive for the high goals set by its founders. The American flag is frequently used in many different settings with each addressing a different aspect of its character and design symbolism. However, the one that most frequently plays out on the global stage is that of freedom and democracy against all odds as it was at the founding of the nation. However, this also leads to it being used to highlight the situations that do not support the idea of America and the country’s standards.

The first example I selected is a GIF from Times Magazine that was published last August after the riots in Charlottesville. It compares the United States to Nazi Germany; the animation is a Nazi salute with a US flag seeming to be raised on the arm. The text reads “Hate in America” which appears prior to the image. This brings the audience’s attention to the phrase and the topic that the GIF attempts to address. The artist draws a parallel between the stereotypes and aggression in Nazi Germany and our current state. The flag represents the “freedom” of the United States making an ironic statement that the country is supposed to be a center of high ideals and goals for humanity, but under our current leadership, the acts of the country more closely resemble those of a state such as Nazi Germany. This image struck me as providing a contrast to the traditional trope that is associated with the flag while still maintaining its association with the idea of greater values much as the Nazis believed that their platform was what would lead the country to a new golden age.

The second example of the trope that I selected is a political cartoon by Mike Keefe. This image contains the “Stars and stripes” associated with the United States, but in a way that implies that the country is under the control of China due to excessive debt. The traditional image implies that the freedom and democracy the flag is supposed to represent have been taken and twisted by the influence of other countries. It specifically references China which as a communist nation is the idealistic opposite of the United States in its ideas of freedom and democracy. China restricts the freedoms that in the United States are supposed to be a guarantee. This use of the flag again changes and contradicts the imagery that it is traditionally connected. I find this as a political cartoon to be particularly chilling as it is rooted in facts and numbers, rather than simple emotional manipulation. It invokes fear rather pride or the courage you would usually expect to feel when looking at the Stars and stripes.

The third and final example of “Stars and stripes” that I chose is an image from the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City. This image shows three firefighters raising the flag among the rubble after the collapse of the towers. In this case, the flag represents strength in the face of adversity in the United States. This is the sole example of the trope that I selected that reinforces the more traditional associations of the United States flag. Much like other iconic images with our flag, it incorporates the idea of a “hero” who upholds the values and freedom that the design is meant to represent. This version of the trope shows the country rising from a disaster strong and still fighting for those principles that it believes are essential for all its citizens. At the time, this image was a unifying one that helped to bring together a diverse nation to a common cause.

As seen in each of these examples, the flag of the United States and its emblematic stars and stripes pattern can be interpreted and presented in various ways. It can highlight the best moments of the nation as in the 9/11 flag raising and also the worst as seen in the “Hate in America” GIF. It is also used to represent our potential future and the direction our country may take, but with the changing times, the imagery will change. However, the association of the flag with freedom will continue to endure.