Turbulent Tweeters and the fickle fallibility of the national memory: the NZ flag saga continues

Today the Flag Consideration Panel announced the shortlist of the flag designs consisting of four, which eligible voters will rank in the first binding postal referendum later this year. Twitter responses on the matter range from ambivalent, to angry and some of them are, from our view, quite funny. The somewhat heated responses reminds us of other flag designs and national symbols which people loathed to begin with before they became beloved national icons. We take a look at a few examples after sharing some of our favourite tweets on the shortlisted designs.

The four designs decided upon by the panel are Silver Fern (Black & White)’ designed by Alofi Kanter from Auckland, ‘Silver Fern (Red, White and Blue)’ designed by Kyle Lockwood, originally from Wellington, ‘Koru’, designed by Andrew Fyfe from Wellington and ‘Silver Fern (Black, White and Blue)’ also designed by Lockwood.

The binding postal referendum will be held between November 20 and December 11.

From what we’ve seen on our Twitter feed so far is that responses to these final designs seem to be quite negative. Here are a few of our favourite disgruntled Tweets:

One must remember, however, that there have been many national emblems throughout history that were once hated, or at least contested. But the national collective memory is a fickle thing and after a certain amount of time passes the anger seems to dissipate and the issue gradually seems to leave the public consciousness. Because as is the nature of life, there is usually always something new to worry about.

One example is the iconic Canadian flag, a red maple leaf on a white background flanked by two red columns, now a classic and much-loved flag. Canada even has a flag appreciation day. However, there was once vigorous debate over the fate of this flag, conveniently called, the Great Canadian Flag Debate.

This took place from 1963 to 1964 when a new design for the national flag was chosen and when Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson proposed his plans for a new flag in the House of Commons, although the debate had been going on for a long time prior. The debate on whether Canada needed anew flag lasted over six months and bitterly divided the House of Commons. Some felt a strong attachment to the Union Jack and the mother country and others disagreed on what the symbol should represent, according to CBC.

It was only in Quebec that the flag issue provoked little more than apathy, and we’re sure there are a number of New Zealanders, which feel this way about the current flag process too.

“Quebec does not give a tinkers dam about the new flag,” Liberal politician Pierre Trudeau said. “Its a matter of complete indifference.”

The Prime Minister eventually appointed a flag committee of fifteen liberals and conservatives and they had to come up with a flag design in six weeks and held 35 meetings. Over 3000 flag designs were submitted, with most consisting of maple leafs, and after a vote by the panel they unanimously chose George Stanley’s maple leaf design.

According to CBC a large generation of Canadians born after the Second World War embraced the country’s new symbol.

Then there’s the Eiffel tower, now an adored symbol the world over, but which was once also the source of vigorous debate, criticised by some of the biggest names in the world of art and literature, according to Tour Eiffel.

Other satirists publicly vented their distaste for the tower, which was supposed to be an icon symbolising industrialism and engineering might, featuring at the 1889 Exposition Universelle, a world fair held in Paris.

Here’s what some of them thought:

“this truly tragic street lamp” (Léon Bloy), “this belfry skeleton” (Paul Verlaine), “this mast of iron gymnasium apparatus, incomplete, confused and deformed” (François Coppée), “this high and skinny pyramid of iron ladders, this giant ungainly skeleton upon a base that looks built to carry a colossal monument of Cyclops, but which just peters out into a ridiculous thin shape like a factory chimney” (Maupassant), “a half-built factory pipe, a carcass waiting to be fleshed out with freestone or brick, a funnel-shaped grill, a hole-riddled suppository” (Joris-Karl Huysmans).

But, once it was finished the criticism died down and the French basically got over it. It was greeted with enormous success and received two million visitors during the 1889 fair.

Then of course we have our very own parliament building, the Beehive, which also faced criticism when first unveiled. According to NZ Parliament’s website when British architect Sir Basil Spence recommended building a new circular ‘executive wing’ and dubbed it “the Beehive” from boxes of ‘Beehive’ matches it had a mixed reaction when presented in Parliament.

Sir Basil Arthur said it was “a shocker and should be scrapped” but opposition leader Nordmeyer praised the design. Ultimately both political parties backed the idea, considering the building might “become a source of national pride and international interest”, which, for the most part it has. Construction started in 1970, and the rest is history.

Flag Consideration Panel chair John Burrows, said the Panel’s decision had been guided first and foremost by the results of its engagement programme across a range of communities where thousands of Kiwis shared what was special about New Zealand, as well as the panel’s own selection criteria.

He stressed the importance of designs being unmistakably from New Zealand, timeless, free of any copyright or intellectual property issues and with the ability to work in a variety of contexts.

“Interestingly, reviewing the flag designs long listed in detail and in real-life contexts helped shape the Panel’s decision making. For example, there are practical matters such as how they look from a long distance, how they look from both sides, when flying, or still, in situations where they may hang vertically, and so on,” he said.

“It would have also been easy to take a category based approach to our selection, for example have a silver fern option, a Southern Cross option, a koru option and an abstract or kiwi option. However, our mandate was to select what we believe to be the strongest flag designs, with the best symbol and colour combination that work well in any context from celebration to commemoration. We have made the decision to include one of the designs (by Kyle Lockwood) in two colour combinations, because they say different things to different people,” said Burrows.

Many Kiwis have connected with the Flag Consideration Project so far with 10,292 alternative designs published, 850,000-plus online visits, 6,000-plus visits to workshop and information stands, 1.18 million-plus people reached by Facebook, 146,000-plus views of the NZ flag history video and 43,000-plus New Zealanders shared what they stand for (online and via post).

Flag Consideration Project timeline:

Discuss – May 5 2015

New Zealanders are asked what they stand for. Flag design guidelines are made available.

Create and Share – Until July 16 2015

New Zealanders suggested and shared flag designs until July 16 when suggestions closed.

Select – September 2015

A shortlist of four alternative designs will be selected by the panel.

Referendum One – November-December 2015

The first postal referendum will determine the preferred alternative.

Referendum Two – March 2016

The second postal referendum will be held to decide between the current flag and the preferred alternative.

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