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Confederate flag analogies commence...
August 28, 2009 4:41 PM   Subscribe

Workplace Sensitivifilter. I seem to be in disagreement with a large number of people on whether the Japanese "rising sun" flag is inappropriate for the workplace, per a tangentially related ask.meta post.

A coworker finds and installs a great distressed-cotton 13-star American flag. We both agree I should get a Japanese Navy flag for my workspace for a few reasons, some personal and some aesthetic. I posted to ask.metafilter asking where to find one distressed or just a cotton one that I might distress myself.

...Turns out lots of metapeople find this flag objectionable. Somemetabody said they'd try to get me fired for hanging it in my private, doored office. I just don't get it--it's a flag, not obscene or profane, and it's currently in use by the Japanese navy.

Jessamyn said take it to talk, so please talk with me about this. I want to know how something like a flag or symbol can be offensive enough that someone would not want me to hang it in my personal workspace. This idea is completely foreign to me.
posted by Phyltre to MetaFilter-Related at 4:41 PM (368 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Somemetabody said they'd try to get me fired for hanging it in my private, doored office.

I would hope anyone actually doing this would find themselves suddenly lacking a metafilter account.
posted by hippybear at 4:48 PM on August 28, 2009 [14 favorites]


Japan and China were both occupied under that flag—older folks especially have a strong antipathy to anything involving the Japanese military. Whether this context is applicable to your workspace is a different issue, as there are plenty of flags (my own among them) that would be offensive if hung certain places (outside of the Green Zone in Iraq).
posted by klangklangston at 4:49 PM on August 28, 2009


Even in Japan, there are a lot of people very much against that flag. It is, much like the Confederate flag, considered to be a symbol of oppresion and hatred. The whole weight and history of the region, if it needed a symbol to rail against, it would probably be that flag. Seriously, comfort women, the Bataan death march, slave labor , and of course The Rape of Nanking. And that's just a smattering. It would be hard to imagine any non-Japanese Asian person entering your office and not feeling some sort of negative reaction.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:57 PM on August 28, 2009 [7 favorites]


Jessamyn said take it to talk, so please talk with me about this. I want to know how something like a flag or symbol can be offensive enough that someone would not want me to hang it in my personal workspace. This idea is completely foreign to me.

This seems like an easy conceptual barrier to cross: imagine a swastika banner or a Confederate flag.
posted by grobstein at 4:58 PM on August 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


I find the flag objectionable. However, in your own space you can hang any piece of cloth you like. But in the workplace, your employer wants to have an office full of productive workers. Just as much, they do not want any hint of an office becoming a hostile workplace. Given that, I'd be surprised if your company allows this.

You could make an argument with your company, that this is free speech, or that you are rehabilitating the image, or that many/all countries (including the US, where I assume you are) have done people wrong. For the first and second argument, I don't think they will be swayed as it hurts others and by accepting employment you accept some curtailment on your rights. The third argument, especially if you point to your office mate with the US flag, will only make them make a rule like, "no flags at all" or "no decorating office walls".

I will admit that I'm curious why you would choose this flag over any other. The Rising Sun flag is not related to the Betsy Ross flag at all, unless I'm missing something. Are your personal and aesthetic reasons strong enough that you would offend others? Are they strong enough for you to take it up with your boss? Given that it is offensive, why is it important to work under the Rising Sun flag?
posted by Houstonian at 5:00 PM on August 28, 2009


Look, I have no horse in this race. But this really stuck out to me:

I want to know how something like a flag or symbol can be offensive enough that someone would not want me to hang it in my personal workspace. This idea is completely foreign to me.

I can think of two or three symbols (e.g. Nazi symbolism, neo-Nazi symbolism, for example) that I really, really don't want someone to hang it in their personal workspace. Nazi stuff is this for me; a Confederate flag might be the same for other people. Maybe those don't seem reasonable to you.

But if they do seem reasonable, consider that the rising sun flag has the same level of impact on other people.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 5:01 PM on August 28, 2009


It's not just a flag, it's a symbol for a regime that committed terrible atrocities.

Please watch a documentary interviewing survivors of the Rape of Nanking to understand why so many people are losing their shit. Would you be comfortable working for someone proudly hanging a Nazi swastika flag if you lost your grandparents in the holocaust? For many Chinese, it's the same thing.
posted by aquafortis at 5:02 PM on August 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


I don't find it offensive at all. But then, I grew up in the 80s, when clothing with some version of that flag on it was part of the cultural landscape.
posted by The World Famous at 5:03 PM on August 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


Just a note that you do not need to be a member of an injured group to be offended by symbols of oppression. I'm not Asian, but find the Rising Sun flag offensive; I'm not black, but find the Confederate flag offensive; I'm not Jewish, but find a Nazi flag offensive; etc. Oppression and intolerance hurts us all, and symbols of such are hurtful to us all.
posted by Houstonian at 5:05 PM on August 28, 2009 [21 favorites]


I want to know how something like a flag or symbol can be offensive enough that someone would not want me to hang it in my personal workspace. (emphasis mine)

It's not your personal workspace. You don't own it -- the company does, and it assigns you to work there, just as it assigns others to work near you.

Part of operating a company and an office is an agreement that it's a safe, inoffensive place. That means policing the individuals that work there, to ensure they don't harm or offend others under the company's employ.

If you hung a Rising Sun, Confederate or Nazi flag in an office of a company that I owned, I'd fire you on the spot. Not because you offended anyone. Because you've demonstrated such a severe lack of common sense, I'd always be wondering what else you were doing at the office, and what other colossal mistakes you'd make in the future.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:09 PM on August 28, 2009 [11 favorites]


... in my private, doored office.

Do you ever have other coworkers in your private, doored office? Clients? Is your private, doored office cleaned by a janitorial service at night?

If so, the space isn't as private as you may like to think. So, there should be some consideration put into the decorations you put up.

I want to know how something like a flag or symbol can be offensive enough that someone would not want me to hang it in my personal workspace. This idea is completely foreign to me.

Seems pretty simple to me. People who were under the thumb of Japanese Imperialism might view it as a symbol of Japanese Imperialism and as a reminder of atrocities.

As to it being in current use... Well, some segments of the Japanese population/government don't have a great track record with acknowledging that Those Bad Things happened.
posted by CKmtl at 5:10 PM on August 28, 2009


A Japanese manji, also known as a swastika, is just a symbol, and in many places, it is a positive symbol. To most of the Western world, the swastika is considered highly offensive and inflammatory at worst and mildly discomforting at best. You seem to be strongly against the idea of symbols carrying any weight, but regardless of your personal feelings about symbols, for most other people, they matter.

The Japanese Naval flag isn't necessarily offensive in and of itself, but it bears an extremely close resemblance to the war flag. For some, that flag is directly associated with the atrocities committed during that time. The flag in and of itself means nothing; it's a piece of cloth, but by displaying it publicly, you send a message to those around you that you are either ignorant of the flag's perceived symbolism, supportive of it, or utterly dismissive of it. None of these things is a crime, nor is displaying the flag, but it ultimately shows a lack of consideration for that time period and for the people who do feel strongly about it. Maybe no one around you knows or cares about the flag or its meaning, but if someone sees it who does know and does care, it won't just be a neutral wall decoration, but a potentially loaded statement about you.
posted by Diagonalize at 5:10 PM on August 28, 2009 [6 favorites]


Just to chime in...

While I don't find the flag personally offensive (I do not have a direct connection to the connotations that it evokes), I would find the display offensive on pragmatic grounds, due to lack of sensitivity or awareness about how your behavior may affect others.
posted by iamkimiam at 5:13 PM on August 28, 2009


I grew up in the 80s as well, and while I don't find it offensive in itself I would take a double look at it and probably ask you straight up why you were hanging that particular flag in your office. If you didn't have a strong answer or hesitated I would begin to observe you and your actions more closely and make decisions and assumptions about you and your character with the flag and its connotations in mind. Keep in mind that most people are not willing to confront others on awkward or personal issues, so they are likely to fall back to just judging you with the flag in mind without saying anything.

You can push this as far as you want; the rising sun flag was used long before the atrocities committed by Japan during the WWII era, and the swastika was used by a wide range of cultures around the world for thousands of years before Nazi Germany changed its meaning in most Western minds. If you were to hang a swastika of any kind in your office you should have a damn good education in the symbol's history and lots of evidence as to why you think it's appropriate. Saying "It wasn't always a symbol of evil." is not going to cut it.

Be prepared to defend your choice.
posted by Science! at 5:16 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Turns out lots of metapeople find this flag objectionable.

Well, it's a simple fact that a lot of people worldwide get skeeved out by the rising sun flag. This is just a simple fact, which you happened to learn today. So you're running a risk by putting this up in a place where other people might see it.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:17 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


This seems to be where I and lots of people see this issue differently. I think that being offended by something as benign as a flag is childish and misdirected. If a racist posts a Confederate flag or swastika, the problem is the person. If a history buff posts either...where is the problem?

I just can't imagine walking into someone's office, seeing something, and being offended by it enough to ask them or management to have them remove it. It would have to be so obscene, violent, or graphic that I couldn't even describe it on Metafilter for me to interfere in someone else's work space. I don't have a problem with swastikas or any of the several Confederate flags, because they are just flags. They can't hurt me.

My argument was that by this sort of scale, nearly any flag could be considered offensive. The US killed off the Native Americans and more recently tortured quite a few Middle Easterners, the Chinese make their own civilians disappear in the name of nationalism, the British--well, there's a rather large number of offenses there, many with modern-day survivors.

Should we just start banning all flags from the workplace? Or does there need to be a counsel to determine which countries have been good or bad lately and therefore which flags you're allowed to have in your workspace?
posted by Phyltre at 5:17 PM on August 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


aquafortis: "It's not just a flag, it's a symbol for a regime that committed terrible atrocities."

*takes down American flag from cubicle wall*
posted by Plutor at 5:18 PM on August 28, 2009 [11 favorites]


Yes Phyltre, while you may feel that way, many others don't. You can choose to accept that or fight it.
posted by iamkimiam at 5:20 PM on August 28, 2009 [5 favorites]


Context is key. If you had served in the Maritime Self-Defense Force, then I'd understand why you would have it in your office -- as a memento of your service.

However, unless I am quite mistaken, you have not served, nor are you Japanese. This is perilously close to wanting to hang the hammer and sickle "because it's stylish." There is a whole lot of symbolism tied up with a flag, and you ignore that at your peril.

As Science! says, be prepared to defend your choice. And then be prepared to take it down if/when your employer demands it.
posted by armage at 5:21 PM on August 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


I just can't imagine walking into someone's office, seeing something, and being offended by it enough to ask them or management to have them remove it.

I don't have a problem with swastikas or any of the several Confederate flags, because they are just flags.

You are an unusual person in this respect. Most other people do not think this way. This is why you have been advised that it would be risky to display a potentially offensive flag in your workspace.

Should we just start banning all flags from the workplace? Or does there need to be a counsel to determine which countries have been good or bad lately and therefore which flags you're allowed to have in your workspace?

It's pretty straightforward for most of us, I think. It's a matter of knowing the social context in which we move. In America, it's almost always cool to display a US flag. Nazi flags are out most generally, and you should be careful about flags with communist symbolism. It's just something you pick up by living in a place and knowing a little bit about it's history and cultural values. You should probably ask around before displaying a flag, however, as you seem to be unusually calibrated in this respect.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:23 PM on August 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


My argument was that by this sort of scale, nearly any flag could be considered offensive.

True, which is why it boils down to a community standards argument. In parts of America, displaying the Confederate battle flag raises no eyebrows; in others, it would get you run out of town. You could certainly choose to make a First Amendment case out of it, but even if you did win, would you really want to poison your workplace environment like that?

It may not be "fair," but that's the way it is.
posted by armage at 5:24 PM on August 28, 2009


Should we just start banning all flags from the workplace? Or does there need to be a counsel to determine which countries have been good or bad lately and therefore which flags you're allowed to have in your workspace?

This is a straw man argument, via an appeal to reductio ad absurdum. It doesn't carry much heft in an everyday, real-world discussion. This would only make me fire you faster.

My argument was that by this sort of scale

There's the rub. Different people have different senses of "scale." You don't care. Others do. Ultimately, since this isn't a free speech issue (you're in a private office) it's the employer's call to make.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:24 PM on August 28, 2009


It would have to be so obscene, violent, or graphic that I couldn't even describe it on Metafilter for me to interfere in someone else's work space.

And yet, in the AskMe, you say, "I have a pinup with this motif, but that's not work-appropriate of course, so this is the next best thing."

So you do understand that, even if you own an item you would hang in your home, an item that you do not deem to be obscene, violent, or graphic, it can still be inappropriate at work.
posted by Houstonian at 5:25 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


iamkimiam has it. I think the best response here is, "Whatever man. Do what you want." If you have enough power in your company you can get away with it, maybe even change some minds or encourage people to look deeper into the meanings of human symbols, but you're also going to piss off a lot of your workers and change the environment of the office when they realize their concerns aren't being address because the higher-ups are asking each other, "where is the problem?". If you're not high enough up in the company you'll catch hell from your coworkers and bosses and at least you might have fun making up creative reasons for why you left this job when you start interviewing for a new positions.

Whatever man, do what you want.
posted by Science! at 5:27 PM on August 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


Incidentally, I didn't see it linked, so here is the thread in question.
posted by armage at 5:27 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


I just wish people would stop displaying flags, generally. Regardless.
posted by Dumsnill at 5:28 PM on August 28, 2009 [7 favorites]


Reading my own post, I think my question boils down to this:

Why is somebody else getting offended by what they think I think by posting a flag on my wall somehow more important than why I actually posted it? Isn't it childish to judge somebody based on a superficial impression of their actions? Aren't some of these responses outright admitting that they would negatively profile me based on my choice in cloth pattern?

Why are so many comfortable judging people and getting angry enough to fire them over a flag? I'm a very logical person and I'm getting no logic out of this. I didn't rape Nanking and I didn't occupy any countries. I'm not a racist. I'm not a nationalist or sexist, and my fiancee is from the Philippines. Putting this flag in my office would not be an endorsement of anything negative. Why are so many people comfortable being totally wrong about the situation?
posted by Phyltre at 5:32 PM on August 28, 2009


Why are so many people comfortable being totally wrong about the situation?

I wouldn't go that far. You don't sound comfortable at all.
posted by haltingproblemsolved at 5:34 PM on August 28, 2009 [11 favorites]


They are not wrong. Neither are you. Things have social meanings. Just because you do not want to recognize this does not make them go away for others. You can choose to ignore these social meanings, but in your doing so, you will be seen as breaking the social contract, and will be treated accordingly. That's all.
posted by iamkimiam at 5:35 PM on August 28, 2009 [36 favorites]


I'm not a racist. I'm not a nationalist or sexist, and my fiancee is from the Philippines.

Yeah, and some of my best friends are black but I don't hang a swastika in my workspace and tell them I'm getting back to my indo-European roots.

Why are so many people comfortable being totally wrong about the situation?

For the same reason you're so comfortable being wrong about it. Personal opinion and preconceptions, it's just a matter of how much you value others' and how hard your willing to fight.
posted by Science! at 5:39 PM on August 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


Houstonian:
I should have been more clear the pinup is not offensive--it is explicit. I chose to not post the pinup because it actually depicts something not appropriate for American broadcast television, ie, nudity. I do disagree with this standard but I can at least understand it.

I would think that a flag in modern use by a first-world nation would be reasonably distinct from such a consideration.


A few years ago I agreed with you, Dumsnill. Maybe that's why I'm seeing it as a piece of cloth rather than such a powerful symbol, flags as symbols seem silly to me.
posted by Phyltre at 5:39 PM on August 28, 2009


flags as symbols seem silly to me.

Then why hang one up? If you just like the look of a red circle, paint one on the wall.
posted by Bookhouse at 5:42 PM on August 28, 2009 [5 favorites]


I think where you've gone off the rails is assuming a history buff wouldn't know, or care about other people's feelings towards that symbol. Perhaps you have no issue with the confederate flag, but then again, have you ever been persecuted/threatened/hurt/made to feel unsafe by someone who wears, or flaunts that symbol? Has anyone in your family, that you have direct contact with, ever been threatened, persecuted, or had harm done to them by someone doing the act under the auspices of that flag, be it Confederate, Nazi, Rising Sun, or whatever?

And the American flag diversion you throw out there? When I lived in China, it was usually safer to say I was Canadian rather than American. People sew Canadian flags onto their bags for a reason, and it's not always because they're Canadian.

Just because you, yourself, are not upset by the symbol (of oppresion, as regarded by a nation of 1.4 billion people, among many, many others) that you wish to flaunt on your wall does not make it irrational for others to react in very negative ways to that symbol, and yourself as a person insensitive enough to flaunt the symbol.

Then again, experience is the best teacher. Buy it, flaunt it. Enjoy dealing with people treating you differently. Enjoy being asked why you have that hanging in your office. Defend your rights as far as you want. Upset as many people as possible to prove your point. Maybe at some stage you might realize that other people have opinons very different from yours, and that you might want to think about that before you act.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:42 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm a very logical person and I'm getting no logic out of this.

That's because, logical as you may be, you're showing yourself completely tone-deaf to the meaning of symbols. Flags, in particular, carry lots of symbolism by design. The one you're thinking of hanging carries some symbolism that will make your workplace hostile to other people.

You didn't commit the Holocaust and you didn't occupy any countries. You're not a racist. You're not a nationalist or sexist, and your fiancee is from the Philippines. Would you hang a swastika in your office?

You didn't start the Civil War and you didn't burn any crosses. You're not a racist. You're not a nationalist or sexist, and your fiancee is from the Philippines. Would you hang the Stars and Bars in your office?
posted by haltingproblemsolved at 5:42 PM on August 28, 2009 [8 favorites]


Aren't some of these responses outright admitting that they would negatively profile me based on my choice in cloth pattern?

Choices are just that, choices. That's different from being negatively profiled because of your skin color or sexual orientation.

Here's a comparison -- I used to have very long hair and wear my beard pretty bushy. I was nearly always stopped for "extra searching" by the TSA at airports, was routinely harassed by cops if there was an opportunity. I recently cut my hair and started wearing my beard shorter. I've flown three times since then and, lo and behold, I was NOT delayed by luggage or personal searching at the airport.

(I'm not saying any of this is right, or that I am happy about having cut off my hair. But it is a stark difference between EVERY TIME and NOT AT ALL.)

I really don't have a beef in this argument, but realize -- the choices you make about how you present yourself DO affect how people view you, even without having really met you first. You can call that profiling, or prejudice, or whatever. But it happens.

(You don't want to look inside my mind at what I think about people who drive Hummers. They may be lovely people, but I have nothing but ugly when I think about them. Shallow? Yes.)
posted by hippybear at 5:43 PM on August 28, 2009


Are you on the autistic spectrum, Phyltre? It seems like you have a tough time with social cues. The reason people would be upset with your proposed display is because it has a significant social and cultural meaning. It's symbolic speech, and much as people would judge you based on the choice of the sounds coming out of your mouth if you walked down the street shouting ethnic slurs, they would judge you for this symbolic speech.

And yes, their judgement is divorced from your interpretation of the symbols, because the symbols have a fixed cultural meaning that is independent of your interpretation. That's just the way it is.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:43 PM on August 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


On preview, iamkimiam beat me to it.
posted by haltingproblemsolved at 5:43 PM on August 28, 2009


The thing you want to hang is not just a cloth pattern. It's a symbol, and symbols mean things. If you put a Marimeko sheet on you wall, that would be a cloth pattern. A conferderate flag, swastika, or rising sun are not the same. Do what you will, but be prepared for the repercussions.
posted by rtha at 5:43 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


A few years ago I agreed with you, Dumsnill. Maybe that's why I'm seeing it as a piece of cloth rather than such a powerful symbol, flags as symbols seem silly to me.

I continue to see it as a piece of cloth that is held up as some important symbol.
posted by Dumsnill at 5:43 PM on August 28, 2009


To all the people who find the flag offensive: what do you see as an appropriate expression of that offense, given that it's not your workplace and you'll probably never actually see the flag in question? Is trying to get someone fired a reasonable response?
posted by scalefree at 5:44 PM on August 28, 2009


That was my point
posted by Dumsnill at 5:45 PM on August 28, 2009


Why are so many comfortable judging people and getting angry enough to fire them over a flag? I'm a very logical person and I'm getting no logic out of this.

No, you're not being logical. I'm gonna go out on a limb and guess you're really young, though. Do you know many vets from WWII?
posted by Justinian at 5:45 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also, when a majority of people from a wide range of social backgrounds see a particular thing differently than you, it would be wise to listen to them for a moment and try to see it from their perspective. You don't have to compromise yourself or your beliefs, but your unwillingness to go even that far kinda makes it you against the world. Odds aren't so good there.

Think of it like those magic eye pictures. You know the ones, with all the funny patterns and if you stare at it just so and converge your eyes, you'll see a 3-D image of a dolphin or something? Well, this is kind of like that. You like the pattern and see nothing wrong with it, but for others, who can see it just a little deeper, instead of a dolphin, it is a big sign in block letters that says "I DON'T RESPECT YOU, SO FUCK OFF." Other people are trying to tell you what it says, and your response is essentially, "You're wrong. I don't see it that way and I don't care."

Do you see what's wrong with that picture?
posted by iamkimiam at 5:45 PM on August 28, 2009 [12 favorites]


that they would negatively profile me based on my choice in cloth pattern?

I don't understand what's wrong with negatively profiling people based on legitimate, behavior-based, substantive criteria. Imagine you appeared in court in the United States and the judge showed up in a Beetlejuice costume, instead of a black judicial robe. Would you not negatively profile them based on their choice in cloth pattern?

I don't care if you hang a rising sun flag in your office. I do understand why some people would find it offensive, even if I don't (mostly, again, because I grew up at a time when it was a recurring motif in mainstream fashion). But how can you not get that people can have legitimate negative reactions to your decorating choices?
posted by The World Famous at 5:45 PM on August 28, 2009


Because you throw her out there as a testament to your open-mindedness, how does your fiance feel about the flag? How does her family feel about that flag? Even if you aren't willing to take the opinion of others on this, would you be willing to potentially piss off your soon to be in-laws over something like this? WWII was not all that long ago, and more than likely, someone in your fiance's extended family has some first hand experience of that flag, in a non-memorabilia sort of way.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:45 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


An appropriate expression of my offense is calling Phyltre so tone-deaf that he either has a medical problem or he's doing it on purpose. I'd only try to get him fired if he worked for me, and I don't see anyone doing that in this thread.
posted by haltingproblemsolved at 5:47 PM on August 28, 2009


Why are so many comfortable judging people and getting angry enough to fire them over a flag? I'm a very logical person and I'm getting no logic out of this. I didn't rape Nanking and I didn't occupy any countries. I'm not a racist. I'm not a nationalist or sexist, and my fiancee is from the Philippines. Putting this flag in my office would not be an endorsement of anything negative. Why are so many people comfortable being totally wrong about the situation?

Have you ever taken an Asperger's Syndrome test? Seriously, it might help.
posted by aquafortis at 5:48 PM on August 28, 2009


Here? Phyltre is asking for feedback and that's the only appropriate response. Taking it further is out of line and over reacting. He hasn't actually displayed the flag and even if he had it's not my business to follow up with it, let the company deal with it. He did however post two questions explicitly asking for feedback to a website of which both he and I are members and have agreed to the rules, so I'm comfortable in giving feedback here.
posted by Science! at 5:49 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


What does your fiancee think of this idea? How would her family feel about seeing that flag displayed? Why do you think your choice in cloth patterns for office decor is more important than the comfort of your coworkers?

Part of the reason people in your workplace might feel comfortable judging you for why they think you display a symbol they find offensive, as opposed to accepting the explanation you provide, is that racists are often disingenuous (you don't think that the "heritage not hate" argument is always fielded in good faith, do you?). Which is more common in America, someone who is prejudiced or someone who philosophically is opposed to acknowledging the social import of common symbols? Check out the "customers who purchased ___ also purchased" on this page. And that's for the allegedly less offensive chrysanthemum flag.

You are setting yourself up for some serious problems. What compensating benefit do you hope to get from displaying this flag that will outweigh the hurt to those around you and the damage to your image?
posted by vilthuril at 5:49 PM on August 28, 2009


Why is somebody else getting offended by what they think I think by posting a flag on my wall somehow more important than why I actually posted it? Isn't it childish to judge somebody based on a superficial impression of their actions? Aren't some of these responses outright admitting that they would negatively profile me based on my choice in cloth pattern?

There was an answer I gave in another MetaTalk where someone was wondering why not to be an utter prick. Now, I am not saying at all that you are being an utter prick and you can count me among the people who would miss the symbolism of your flag. However, any time you are with and among other people, there's a bit of a social contract thing going on. You may not be aware of it, but it's there.

How it works sort of varies from one place to another, but having some semblance of shared culture is one of the things that makes a bunch of people hanging out in the same geographic area a society. It's why people call MetaFilter a community. Certain things that are okay some places aren't okay others. We have things like etiquette, debatable as some of its practices are, so that we can have a way to show other people who we don't know "I care enough about you that I am going to try to be respectful of the space/event/place/whatever we are in."

So, for example, people in American have a vague idea of what to wear and not to wear to a wedding, or what to hang or not hang in their cubicle at work. Some people don't have a built in sense of what is okay in these sorts of situations -- I literally can't dress myself for a wedding and have to run my fashion ideas past other people, so I feel your pain -- but that doesn't mean that I'm not aware that for other people these things are both important and, to a certain degree, obvious. The fact that you don't have this sense isn't in and of itself a problem. The fact that you're responding in a defensive and wtf way when people are telling you "hey this is how this might affect people you work with" might be.

Again, you can do whatever you want. There are consequences to those actions. People here have told you what some of them might be.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:50 PM on August 28, 2009 [15 favorites]


It's like stinky cheese.

It's perfectly logical to eat stinky cheese. There are no ethical problems with eating stinky cheese. Most people who refuse to eat stinky cheese are just being stubborn and closed minded — for all they know, they'd love it if they tried it. There are large parts of the world where eating stinky cheese is perfectly normal. Stinky cheese has a long and illustrious history.

It's still not nice to eat stinky cheese in the office. Why? Because, logical or not, the smell makes some people upset. And it's not nice to upset people when they can't just walk away.

Logical or not, your flag is going to upset some people who can't just walk away. And that's not nice.

(You might say, "Well, so-and-so hung up a whole bunch of Christian prayers in her cubicle and that upsets me! That's not nice! And she gets away with it!" I agree with you on the not nice part. It isn't nice, making a big show of religion at work. But two wrongs don't make a right. Just because some co-workers get away with being not-nice, that doesn't mean you should go and be not-nice too.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:52 PM on August 28, 2009 [10 favorites]


scalefree, it's not so much trying to get him fired, at least from my standpoint. It's trying to alert him to the very real possibility that by going forward with his plan, he might very well loose his job, or at the very least, end up with some sort of reprimand. Will I see his flag? No. On the other hand, if I were to see it, I'd probably think very little of the person who put it up, and try to avoid interacting with him. Maybe that outrageous small-mindedness on my part is foolish, but it would, at the least, affect the ability of me to work with that person. Assuming I'm not alone, there might then be difficulties with teamwork. Productivity could suffer.

To get a sense of who, at the moment, thinks that flag is pretty keen, look up Uyoku (yt). They love the flag. They also deny the Nanking Massacre, threaten and harrass politicians with views that don't mesh with theirs, and would like to see Japan return to the military force it was. If Phylter wants to put himself in their company, well, best of luck to him.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:53 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


the difference between the flag in question and the stars and bars or the swastika is that the flag in question is still being used as a symbol for that nation, right?

would it be wrong to hang the union jack or the american flag because of our own imperialistic and horrible pasts?

i don't think you should hang it and i think it's obvious as to why (people will get offended and think you mean something you don't), but i don't really understand comparing a currently used flag to flags of regimes past. it doesn't seem like apples to apples to me.
posted by nadawi at 5:53 PM on August 28, 2009


haltingproblemsolved, iamkimiam, & Science!:

My implication was not that they would be wrong about being offended by the flag. I am referring to some posters that indicated they would start to judge me negatively as a result of my placing this flag up. Nothing that offends them about the flag is related to me, and therefore their contempt would be misplaced insofar as to their assumptions as to why I posted it.
posted by Phyltre at 5:56 PM on August 28, 2009


There are people who are perpetually aggrieved, on the lookout for reasons to be offended, if not for themselves than for others in proxy.

If you listen to people like that you will be paralyzed. If one were cynical one might suspect they were doing it as an indirect form of social control.

When it comes to flags, sometimes it gets taken to extremes. In the aftermath of 9/11 there were some cases where people hung US flags on the walls in their work booths -- and were criticized for doing so because it would create a hostile work environment for immigrants. Oddly enough, those who complained weren't doing so on their own behalf, but because of imagined grievances that theoretical immigrants might have, maybe.

The arguments were: 1. that the US flag flew over horrible events in Central America and thus might make people from there feel intimidated, and 2. that it might make people not born here feel as if they were not welcome.

Thus it was that Americans were told that they were not permitted to display the flag of their own country.

There is no constitutional right to not be offended. Free speech is only truly free if it encompasses offensive speech. If people are only permitted to do things that no one finds offensive, then they are slaves.

Part of the price we pay for our own freedom is to tolerate freedom in others, including being offensive. Those not willing to tolerate that in others don't understand the social contract -- or are deliberately trying to destroy the social contract.

Phyltre, the proper course of action here is to ignored the perpetually aggrieved and hang the damned flag on your wall.

(It's interestiong how selective this grievance-by-proxy is. The same people who will complain about the rising sun or the stars-and-stripes see no problem at all in wearing a T-shirt with a picture of Che Guevara on it. That's chic; that's OK, and never mind that he was a brutal mass murderer. And they wouldn't object to a hammer-and-sickle either, even though Stalin was responsible for far more deaths than Tojo.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:56 PM on August 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


would it be wrong to hang the union jack or the american flag because of our own imperialistic and horrible pasts?

If you worked in an office where you thought the American flag would make people deeply uncomfortable, then yeah, hanging it up would be wrong. Not because the flag is inherently wrong — it is, after all, just a hunk of cloth — but because knowingly going out of your way to make someone uncomfortable is wrong.
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:58 PM on August 28, 2009


and my fiancee is from the Philippines.

You could ask her or an older relative to explain it to you. You know, why they would not fly the Rising Sun in the Philippines in 2009.
posted by mlis at 5:58 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Logic:


You walk into someone's office, you see a Yankees pennant hanging on their wall. Logically, it's safe to assume they support the Yankees.

You walk into someone's office, you see a Japanese Rising Sun flag. Logically, it's safe to assume .


The problem, Phyltre, is that in that "blank" above, a fair number of people, if not a majority of people, will automatically assume that it represents the Japanese Empire and its actions during the Second World War. This could cause you problems. You will likely end up having to explain to everyone what your intended "blank" is, and that is what they should assume.

Honoring or respecting the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force is a perfectly rationale thing to do. However, do you want to have to keep on repeating that fact? Or more so, will those you work for feel comfortable that you disseminating this fact will be enough to comfort everyone's sensitivities in your office?

The ball is entirely in your court. As illogically as it may sound to you that people have an aversion to the design of that flag, they will. For the same reason that people have reactions to all other types of symbols. We live in a visual society where we are raised to understand that symbols mean something.

With more regard to the Rising Sun design, it is laden heavily with history. You make good examples about American torture and Chinese human rights abuses, but how many people in your office look at the American flag and feel themselves reminded of the torture? Logically speaking, I'm sure a lot of people might take offense for such a reason to an American flag in certain parts of the world, but not so much in the United States. Your flag, likewise, may not raise an eyebrow in Cuba, but it will in other areas. It's your problem to live with in the end, though.

posted by Atreides at 6:00 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


You all realize that the Rising Sun Flag is still the flag of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense force, right?
I understand it might be offensive if the OP was in China or Korea, but the comparison to the Nazi flag or Confederate flag is misleading, because those fell out of use due to them being more directly related to the indefensible beliefs that they represent. The rising sun has been used in some form or another for almost 150 years, and while atrocities were committed under it, they were not committed because of beliefs that the flag represents.
On preview, what nadawi said.
posted by baserunner73 at 6:01 PM on August 28, 2009


nebulawindphone - maybe you missed this part of my comment: "i don't think you should hang it and i think it's obvious as to why (people will get offended and think you mean something you don't)
posted by nadawi at 6:01 PM on August 28, 2009


Just to be clear, I would judge you negatively for putting the flag up, for very much the same reasons I am judging you negatively based on your social stance in your responses here. It is unfortunate, because I also get the feeling that you ultimately mean well and I try not to judge people in general, but your refusal to show any accommodation to others signals that you are the type of person who may not respect me or my stuff. This results in me distancing myself socially from you. You may encounter similar reactions from others based on comparable interactions you may have with them.
posted by iamkimiam at 6:01 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ghidorah, my fiancee and her family have no problems with Japan or its military or its flags. We've had this discussion before. My soon-to-be father-in-law is told he resembles Hirohito when he wears glasses and laughs about it and used to have a little picture at home for comparison.
posted by Phyltre at 6:01 PM on August 28, 2009


Chocolate Pickle, I don't see anyone pulling that political correctness shit here.

The argument is not "That flag is evil; here's an airtight argument proving it." That would be absurd. It's "That flag angers a lot of people; here's some historical background to help you understand why they react that way."
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:03 PM on August 28, 2009


Very good, no problems, all peace love and understanding, is it? Not able to provide you with any historical context?
posted by mlis at 6:05 PM on August 28, 2009


Phylter, choosing to hang the flag on the wall is announcing that you have, as you say, no problem with hanging that symbol on the wall. What we are trying to tell you (and literally, for your own good) is that there are many, many people around the world (and quite possibly in your office) who feel that symbol is a symbol of absolute, abject inhumanity. It's the flag of the regime under which officers held beheading contests in Nanjing. Contests which were reported in Japanese newspapers back home with a "go gettem boys" cheer. It's a flag that to many people symbolizes systemic rape as a part of warfare.

What we're trying to tell you (and what chocolate pickle seems to completely ignore) is that other people exist. Other people, who might very well have feelings and opinions that are different than yours. By taking that into account, perhaps you could, as has been suggested, hang something else, like the mon of the Tokugawa shogunate, or even some u-kiyoe prints, that would show your affinity for Japan. Or you can charge ahead, and post another askme in a couple months time trying to figure out why people at your office are such over-sensitive assholes, and we can meet back here in MeTa about ten minutes after that.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:05 PM on August 28, 2009


nadawi — no, I caught that. I think we more or less agree on what the OP should do. But you asked an interesting hypothetical question, and I thought I had a good answer, so I gave it. No fightiness intended.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:06 PM on August 28, 2009


My soon-to-be father-in-law is told he resembles Hirohito when he wears glasses and laughs about it and used to have a little picture at home for comparison.

Do you know who else resembled Hirohito when he wore glasses and laughed about it and used to have a little picture at home for comparison? That's right. Hirohito's son.
posted by The World Famous at 6:08 PM on August 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


I would judge you negatively for putting up that flag. I live in Korea, and I'll confidently say that most Koreans would do so as well. Phyltre, you seem unwilling to answer a simple question posed to you repeatedly: How would you react to a Nazi flag in a coworker's office?
posted by smorange at 6:11 PM on August 28, 2009


> Should we just start banning all flags from the workplace?

Yes, why not? I actually don't understand how they are appropriate in a workplace at all. Even the American flag would be odd where I work due to the large number of non-Americans working there on visas, or visiting from one of our many foreign offices. Is it really necessary to advertise your patriotism or fealty to a particular country in the workplace, and what message are you intending to advertise by doing so? Unless your job is on a military base or government office where such sentiments have some relevency, I just don't get this.

I also thought the million little pen-holder flags that popped up in my office after 9/11 to be extremely tacky, but full-size flags? Run em up a pole at your house if you need to tell everyone how great your country is, keep it out of the workplace where there might be some disagreement on this point.
posted by cj_ at 6:17 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yes, why not? I actually don't understand how they are appropriate in a workplace at all.

Well, there's the whole First Amendment protection, particularly with respect to political speech.

Is it really necessary to advertise your patriotism or fealty to a particular country in the workplace

Necessity or lack thereof isn't much of an argument for across-the-board prohibition on political speech.

I agree that I don't really like to see a bunch of political stuff at work. But a prohibition, at least in the United States, goes against some quite deeply-engrained foundational doctrines.
posted by The World Famous at 6:20 PM on August 28, 2009


If it's "just a piece of cloth" why is it so important to you to hang it in your office? There is no dearth of design objects with similar elements that are not associated with a national military.

To be really honest, my main problem with your hanging a flag of the Japanese navy-equivalent in your office wouldn't be so much that service's past participation in horrifying acts of war as wondering why on Earth you thought that was a good idea.

Unless you formerly served in the Japanese armed forces (or, I suppose, have a parent or child who served or is currently serving) hanging a flag used by one of those armed forces in your office makes you look like an arrant wannabe.

The flag your colleague hangs in his office is the American national flag. The flag you want to hang in your office is not the Japanese national flag; it's a Japanese military flag. I would find it weird and a bit unsettling if people tacked American military flags or Canadian military flags or French military flags to their office wall, unless they were veterans of those services.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:21 PM on August 28, 2009 [6 favorites]


(That said, I'm not trying to say that a private entity should or can be held to a First Amendment standard, since it is not a government actor. Still, though.
posted by The World Famous at 6:21 PM on August 28, 2009


You all realize that the Rising Sun Flag is still the flag of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense force, right?

Which might be relevant if the OP were Japanese or in Japan, or had some other obvious reason to do what he's thinking of doing. Absent that, people will make assumptions that seem most natural to them. Cultural context matters.
posted by smorange at 6:22 PM on August 28, 2009


And I should say with Voltaire's biographer that I would fight to the death for your right to put a Japanese military flag anywhere it was your legal right to do so. But I would also fight to the death for other people's right to call you an asshat for choosing to do that.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:22 PM on August 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


To be clear, when I say "ban", I mean in the sense of people recognizing that it's a dumb thing to do and self-policing themselves -- or HR departments recognizing it for them, which is totally their right. Nothing involving laws, heh.
posted by cj_ at 6:24 PM on August 28, 2009


I would also judge you negatively for hanging up that flag - and even moreso if you hung it up after these two threads.

Not knowing where you work or what kind of industry it is, it's quite possible that no one will react negatively to it. Or perhaps you won't know if they do. People in workplaces, unless they are sufficiently aggrieved, often put up with a lot of things they wouldn't in places where they have more control. So maybe no one will say directly to you they don't like your flag, but maybe they will talk about it with other colleagues. Maybe they'll mention it to your boss.

Or maybe they'll keep quiet and judge you on that decision. And they will keep that thought in their heads. And maybe they will notice you are insensitive in other ways or they will resent you a little if you ask something of them. But people like going to work and getting on with their jobs and not rocking the boat.

I have a colleague or two that tell off-colour jokes. Sometimes I call them on it, most of the time I don't. Calling someone on their insensitivity can sometimes create a more hostile environment. Doesn't mean that I don't recognise this dickish behaviour.
posted by crossoverman at 6:24 PM on August 28, 2009


I can promise you that if you do this, you will forever be known to your colleagues as "the douche with the Japanese war flag." Perhaps that works for you.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:26 PM on August 28, 2009 [5 favorites]


Smorange:

I have a problem with self-important racists having a swastika. For having the hubris to seek to associate themselves with the horde that got close to legitimizing evil itself. This is spreading hate, which is evil.

I do not have a problem with a non-racist, non-sexist/nationalist/whatever posting a swastika. They obviously mean something else by it. I don't think the swastika should be banned from culture or use.

The distinction is that I do not use a person's choice in flags or decor or musical taste to decide what kind of person they might be. I use their actions towards others first and myself second. Posting something in their personal space is not an action against someone else, it is personalizing their space and making it livable for 8 hours a day. They are posting symbols that have meaning to them.

I have tons of people telling me others are offended by the rising sun flag, but I don't get the why. Not "what did the Japanese navy do", but why be offended by a symbol? A symbol can't abuse, or torture, or enslave, or mutilate, or rape. People do that. The Japanese naval flag wasn't generated because it was magically more evil than other flags, and there were more years of relative peace under it than war according to what I know about it.

I keep hearing "this is a symbol of hatred" but I don't think if tomorrow the US government decided to nuke the globe immediately following a lengthy land bio-war campaign against all first-world nations that the US flag would suddenly be a symbol of pain and suffering.
posted by Phyltre at 6:32 PM on August 28, 2009


I'm a very logical person

I can tell.

I'm sure it frustrates you that most of the people you know seem to be ruled by their emotions in comparison, and can't understand that it's just a piece of cloth. But the fact is, they will be offended, and if you don't learn to respect other people's non-100%-logical reactions, you're going to have trouble getting along with coworkers and other people you interact with, and your life will probably be less pleasant. Sorry.
posted by dfan at 6:35 PM on August 28, 2009


You walk into someone's office, you see a Yankees pennant hanging on their wall. Logically, it's safe to assume they support the Yankees.

You walk into someone's office, you see a Japanese Rising Sun flag. Logically, it's safe to assume ...


That he wiped out a platoon of Japanese soldiers in WW2 and hung their flag on his wall, or at least identifies with those who did. (I guess I've known too many people who brought souvenirs home from world wars.)
posted by Brian B. at 6:37 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Mr. Logic
posted by Abiezer at 6:40 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


but why be offended by a symbol?

I take it you don't have any emotional response whatsoever if someone gives you the finger?

Symbols are called "symbols" because they symbolize something, duh.
posted by The World Famous at 6:42 PM on August 28, 2009


I have tons of people telling me others are offended by the rising sun flag, but I don't get the why...They are posting symbols that have meaning to them [and others].

Order reversed to make a point. The question is not whether the swastika-waving coworker is a Nazi, but rather, why he chose to hang the Nazi flag, given (your words) the meaning it has to others. The answer, in most cases, will of course be that he's a Nazi sympathizer. So, too, with the Rising Sun (to a weaker extent, but the reasoning is the same).
posted by smorange at 6:43 PM on August 28, 2009


Phyltre, the why is there. It reminds people (many people, as I've said before) of abuse, torture, enslavement, mutilation, and rape. For many people, it is symbollic of those things, much like the swastika is symbolic of the holocaust. Hell, you don't see people wearing the little toothbrush mustache anymore, do you?

As you say, people do those things. But people did those things under the authority of the nation that was symbolized by that same flag. People did that under the orders given to them by the nation, by the military that operated under that flag.

What you fail to understand is that, in many parts of the world, the US flag is just as hated as the nazi swastika. It already is to some people a symbol of pain and suffering.

Finally, if we can't get you to understand that people have negative reactions to that flag, do you at least realize that those negative reactions do in fact exist, and that by hanging said flag, you are creating the possibility of very strong reactions by those who interpret that symbol differently than you do? You might not interpret it that way, but many, many more people do. Many people in Japan don't even like that flag, man. Seriously, let it go. Or hang it up. It's your choice. We're actually trying to help you. The whole point is to live and let live. Do you want to make another person's interactions with you unneccesarily unpleasant?

I thought the whole point was to make life easier and more pleasant for those around us. Maybe I've just missed a memo somewhere.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:45 PM on August 28, 2009


No, The World Famous, when someone gives me the finger I laugh because they think they're insulting me somehow. That's genuinely an internal dialog I've had before--the middle finger is notable only for its bedtime prowess, not its attack power. People only have power over me if I give it to them.
posted by Phyltre at 6:46 PM on August 28, 2009


I laugh because they think they're insulting me somehow.

Bingo. Symbols are symbolic (hence the name "symbol"). They are tools of communication. The fact that you choose not to react negatively to the message being communicated is irrelevant. The message is sent, and you get the message.

There is a difference between saying "no message is sent by the flag" and saying "I think people should ignore the message."
posted by The World Famous at 6:48 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Whatever man, do what you want.
posted by buxtonbluecat at 6:49 PM on August 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


> (That said, I'm not trying to say that a private entity should or can be held to a First Amendment standard, since it is not a government actor. Still, though.

Eh, not buying. By that argument, plastering my wall with pornography would be OK too. Hell, it was for a long time. I get where you're coming from and realize a flag and boobies aren't much alike, but yet here we are discussing how a particular flag is offensive to a lot of people and so utterly inappropriate. What I am saying is that any flag has that potential due to the underlying political message. I am American, but a full-sized flag waving in someone's cube would make me uncomfortable. Offended, no, but maybe someone else. I would definitely make some judgments about them, fair or not, based on ideas I have about people who wear their patriotism on their sleeve -- to the point they feel the need to advertise it in a context where it's not relevant.

There's something "going that extra mile" about hanging an authentic full-sized flag in your workplace, like you're Making A Statement. I get it, you love America. My office entertains many non-Americans on a daily basis and it just feels off to me. I recognize this will be highly variable in different contexts, though. I'd expect flags all over the place in a government office, or a military base, and at least innocuous in a non-multinational.

I mostly only bring this up because the OP is using his coworker's proudly-hung flag as a starting point for justification and I think this is pretty weak argument in the first place, before you even get to the fact this particular flag is offensive to many.
posted by cj_ at 6:49 PM on August 28, 2009


When someone personalizes their office, they are usually trying to do so expressively. They often do this by posting things that represent the kind of person they are. "I am a family man: here are pictures of my children." "I am a risk-taker: here are pictures of my extreme sports vacation." "I am a racist: here is my miniature noose." This is the language of symbolic expression via office tchotchkes. People will be offended by the symbol you want to display because it would be typically understood as expressing support for something they find abhorrent. You can try to educate your coworkers about the years of peace under the Japanese flag, just like you could try to educate them about why it's actually perfectly reasonable to work naked, as long as your office was kept warm and clean. You seem to comprehend that people understand nudity to communicate something other than workaday professionalism, regardless of how you actually might intend it. Accept that neither project would be terribly well-received.

Or go ahead, post the flag. It will be a great symbol of how you don't give a damn about how your coworkers feel.
posted by vilthuril at 6:52 PM on August 28, 2009


I have tons of people telling me others are offended by the rising sun flag, but I don't get the why. Not "what did the Japanese navy do", but why be offended by a symbol? A symbol can't abuse, or torture, or enslave, or mutilate, or rape.

Dude, that's the point of symbols - they SYMBOLIZE THINGS. They're not just "images", they stand in for other things. Hence the name.

It's not just a pretty red graphic, it's a SYMBOL that, for a lot of people, REPRESENTS great evil, pain and terror. (Of course the symbol itself can't hurt you, don't be obtuse)
posted by tristeza at 6:53 PM on August 28, 2009


I have a problem with self-important racists having a swastika. For having the hubris to seek to associate themselves with the horde that got close to legitimizing evil itself. This is spreading hate, which is evil.

I do not have a problem with a non-racist, non-sexist/nationalist/whatever posting a swastika. They obviously mean something else by it. I don't think the swastika should be banned from culture or use.

The distinction is that I do not use a person's choice in flags or decor or musical taste to decide what kind of person they might be.


What you are being told is that many people WILL use your choice of flag decor to decide what kind of person you might be, and they will react to you as though you were a self-important racist with the hubris to associate yourself with a horde that got close to legitimizing evil itself, and trying to spread hate. This reaction could take the form of trying to sack you, simply avoiding you, or anything in between. If you are willing to have people react to you this way, then full steam ahead.
posted by jacalata at 6:54 PM on August 28, 2009


I believe it is every person's obligation to make life easier and more pleasant for as many people as they can.

But I believe it is nobody's right--in fact, it is evil--for another to demand or pressure them to do so. Good things only come voluntarily. That might be why I believe in charity versus taxes, but that's another story for us to post back and forth about. :)

I feel like we're having trouble communicating the sticking point. I disagree with Smorange--an evil symbol is only an evil symbol when used with evil intent. That's my belief. I don't think the symbol can convey evil on an otherwise innocent person. I think the question is, must always be, "what does this person get out of this controversial symbol he's using" rather than "based on my limited knowledge, this person using this symbol means ___." I don't think we get anywhere by allowing ourselves to be offended.
posted by Phyltre at 6:54 PM on August 28, 2009


Not "what did the Japanese navy do", but why be offended by a symbol? A symbol can't abuse, or torture, or enslave, or mutilate, or rape. People do that. The Japanese naval flag wasn't generated because it was magically more evil than other flags, and there were more years of relative peace under it than war according to what I know about it.


Do you really, really, really not see why people would be offended if someone hung a lynching rope outside a black family's door? It's just a symbol.
posted by Justinian at 6:55 PM on August 28, 2009


I think the question is, must always be, "what does this person get out of this controversial symbol he's using"

So....what do you get out of it?
posted by tristeza at 6:55 PM on August 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


(feel free to imagine a poster of a lynching rope if you object that the rope itself is a symbol)
posted by Justinian at 6:55 PM on August 28, 2009


Posting something in their personal space is not an action against someone else, it is personalizing their space and making it livable for 8 hours a day......A symbol can't abuse, or torture, or enslave, or mutilate, or rape. People do that.

So you really can't understand that if a person is displaying a symbol clearly known for being associated with abuse, torture or death, that the person is viewed as a proponent of that, unless there is some blatantly overriding context that says otherwise?

For me, if you display certain symbols, that says something about you that puts me in a self-protective mode. Say you put up a confederate flag (as per your title) and I worked at your job. You would instantly be a threat. I would ignore your qualifying pleas and view you as a threat. The fact that you used what little space you have to display something like that, in my proximity, would make you a threat.

Some people might get offended and try to get you fired. Others may be like me, view you as a threat, and the day you do something that looks shady, feel the need to protect themselves. It's one thing if it is some symbol that gross or just fart-joke offensive. But when you clothe yourself (which is basically what you're doing) in that, you say to me "I like this symbol of the death and destruction of people like you." Obviously if you're a historian, there will be many more artifacts on the wall and the very atmosphere will be a blatantly overriding context.

Else? You are basically saying "fuck you, coworker". And if you have folks that know what that means but may not feel personally threatened, you're saying "fuck your friends, or folks you know, coworker, I like this symbol of death and destruction."

Dude, do your job. I had a similar argument with some cat who was just so damned adamant that it was okay to use a racial slur because rappers do.

I think you have an overdeveloped sense of privilege. An unwillingness to have there be something that you're not supposed to do. You feel like it puts a limit on your freedom. And this is America!

I get that you don't want your freedom limited. But you can't just pretend like symbols have no meaning, and you might just find yourself with the freedom to catch a beat down if you display something that has a strong history associated with it. But hey, like Sidhedevil says - by all means, learn the hard way. I can't tell you how many times people told me something again and again and I didn't listen. I had to go and learn the hard way. Maybe that first foot in your ass will make you say "Ohhhh! I get it!" Sometimes that's just what has to happen for us to learn, when the explanations of dozens just zips on by us, in one ear, and out the other.
posted by cashman at 6:56 PM on August 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


I have tons of people telling me others are offended by the rising sun flag, but I don't get the why. Not "what did the Japanese navy do", but why be offended by a symbol? A symbol can't abuse, or torture, or enslave, or mutilate, or rape. People do that.

You could say the same things about your pin-up, which you fully recognize as inappropriate for the workplace.

A picture of some vampy woman with her breasts hanging out can't abuse, or torture, or enslave, or mutilate, or rape.

Nobody ever committed massacres with a picture of some vampy woman with her breasts hanging out flapping in the breeze overhead.

Hanging up a picture of some vampy woman with her breasts hanging out doesn't automatically mean that you're a leering, ass-grabbing pervert who will try to extort sexual favours from his female coworkers/underlings. It doesn't even automatically mean that you find breasts arousing: some gay dude could very easily hang one up because he likes the art/photography, or just for the sheer kitschiness of it.

And yet, you know that the picture of some vampy woman with her breasts hanging out will make some people uncomfortable. You may disagree that the vampy woman's breasts should cause discomfort, but you understand that some people would find them objectionable. You might also understand that it may make some female coworkers assume that you are that leering, ass-grabbing pervert who will try to extort sexual favours.

In b4 "Metafilter: some vampy woman with her breasts hanging out flapping in the breeze."
posted by CKmtl at 6:59 PM on August 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


Go for it, and more than that, engage anyone who visits your office in just this discussion.
You'll be known far and wide for the cool unassailable rigour of your logic in the face of irrational social mores, and shunned accordingly.
posted by Abiezer at 7:00 PM on August 28, 2009 [29 favorites]


OK dude, but you're making some oblique philosophical point about the nature of symbolism and intent, where the question is a practical one -- is it a good idea to hang in the workplace? The answer is that it is not, because people will find it offensive, whether you think they should or not. This is a really simple point, actually.

Can you explain why this particular flag is important to you? That is suspiciously lacking here. Sorry if that is not assuming good faith, but I would've thought you would mention its importance to you if you are going to discount the symbolism behind it that already exists.
posted by cj_ at 7:00 PM on August 28, 2009


Trying to dictate others' reactions to something based on your own logic is illogical.
posted by hippybear at 7:01 PM on August 28, 2009 [7 favorites]


I am referring to some posters that indicated they would start to judge me negatively as a result of my placing this flag up.

There's a story I often tell about how I used to have to wait at a dark bus stop in an underpopulated area, and often, men would approach too close to me and start a conversation. I never wanted to talk to those men, because one of two things was true:

1) They were too clueless to realize that they were making me nervous and that they should back off.
2) They were deliberately making me nervous.

It didn't really matter which was true -- I didn't want to talk to them whether the problem was that they were stupid or the problem was that they were genuinely menacing. Absent an actual attack, the difference was just a matter of intent. At a bus stop late at night, it was all still scary.

Same deal here.

Whether you're an asshole who genuinely supports the atrocities that the flag represents or a jerk who just doesn't care that he's making people uncomfortable in order to hang a pretty bit of cloth on his wall is a matter of intent -- intent that the other person can't decipher. The result is pretty much the same either way.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:01 PM on August 28, 2009 [33 favorites]


I don't think we get anywhere by allowing ourselves to be offended.

Phyltre, the world is not populated by clones of you. This thread is evidence of this fact. Unless you think your coworkers are just like you, or will quickly adopt your perspective, as well any clients/guests/etc, the flag will cause you problems. As much as you want to believe no one will make judgment calls on you, someone will. It's just a fact of life, of living in our world of illogical people acting emotionally. If you don't have a problem with that, go hang your flag. Someone else might have a negative emotional reaction to the symbol the flag depicts. If you don't have a problem with that, hang it up. You get the picture.

It is stupid to make a judgment call on someone by what they wear and what they decorate with, etc, without understanding why they chose to do so. That said, it's quick and easy to make assumptions, which everyone does, (even you, by assuming the flag won't offend anyone). Its the world we gotta live with. So keep that in mind.
posted by Atreides at 7:03 PM on August 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


This isn't the first time he's posted about not understanding emotions or social cues.

I'll bet most of his co-workers are going to read this less as "closet Japanese Nationalist" and more "Otaku Aspie".
posted by aquafortis at 7:06 PM on August 28, 2009


I am Japanese-American and both of my grandfathers fought in WWII for the U.S., so my feelings about the flag are rather mixed. I wouldn't be particularly comfortable with the flag in my workplace, but I wouldn't try to get anyone fired over it. More than anything else, I'd probably make the assumption (Shallow, I know.), that the person hanging it up was a guy prone to over-idolizing Japanese/Asian culture(s), and I'd probably avoid interacting with him (again, shallow). If for some reason we did end up with some kind of personal relationship, I'd probably ask him why he was displaying the flag. Maybe he has a close friend in JMSF; I don't know. If he didn't have a good reason/strong attachment to it, I'd probably mention that it's a pretty thorny symbol for some and try to explain why he might want to take it down, especially if there were other Asians around the office, particularly clients. If he refused and came back with some of the arguments I've been hearing, I'd likely think he was a jerk or had Asperger's (yep, I'm still pretty shallow). Our personal relationship would almost certainly evaporate, and this would also likely cause our working relationship to deteriorate. I'm not saying everyone would respond like me, but there's a good chance they might.

You can do whatever you want, and you probably will, but please recognize that you might be making your life, and the lives of those around you, that much harder.
posted by Diagonalize at 7:09 PM on August 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


Tristeza:

I love the physical design of the flag. Something about the radiant arms, getting thicker towards the square border, offset from the center of the image, has been an extremely compelling visual for me for most of my life. I didn't really realize it until I saw that it was the common thread in so many of the wallpapers on my computer and doodles in my old school notebooks. More recently it's been overdone a bit but I can't think of any other image or motif or design I find so visually gratifying, just from the sheer geometry of it.


@ Justinian:

I would object in the first instance because a noose in a weapon. In the second, because a noose hung outside someone's door is a clear threat in addition to trespassing. Hanging a noose in your own personal space? People do it all the time, see: Halloween. Also to protest slavery, or the death penalty. The most recent really public-sphere hanging I'm aware of was Saddam Hussein, I would probably be reminded of that first. I'm not saying there's something magical about the shape of a flag that would make a written note to someone saying you're going to hang them from the neck until dead, flag-shaped, not be an immediate threat to them. That's not even sensical.
You could win with a full house if I were going to select some random Asian coworker and hang the naval flag in the entrance to their office, but that situation is pretty definitively different.
posted by Phyltre at 7:12 PM on August 28, 2009


You could win with a full house if I were going to select some random Asian coworker and hang the naval flag in the entrance to their office, but that situation is pretty definitively different.

Is it, though? Do you mean that your "hiding" it in your office means anything less to the potential offendee?

This is like saying it's ok to say "nigger" as long as your black friend isn't within earshot.
posted by tristeza at 7:16 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is, essentially, a failure to recognize that you are not the main character in your own movie. Other people have their own experiences, which generate opinions and reactions to things that you don't share. Failing to recognize this is failing to realize that everthing you do isn't about you. You don't get to create your own reality, guaranteed that others will accept it. You seem unwilling to understand this. This is what makes a narcissist what he is.
posted by smorange at 7:20 PM on August 28, 2009 [10 favorites]


I keep hearing "this is a symbol of hatred" but I don't think if tomorrow the US government decided to nuke the globe immediately following a lengthy land bio-war campaign against all first-world nations that the US flag would suddenly be a symbol of pain and suffering.

If the US government nukes the globe, regardless of the provocation, then, yes, obviously, the flag is going to be a symbol of pain and suffering. But since you don't get how a god-damned nuclear holocaust would color the way people would see the star-spangled banner, I guess now we ought to know that you'll never understand the problem some folks have with the rising sun flag.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 7:26 PM on August 28, 2009 [10 favorites]


Also to protest slavery, or the death penalty.

How can a symbol protest something? People protest things. Symbols don't do anything but sit there. (That was sarcasm, in case you didn't catch it.)
posted by The World Famous at 7:26 PM on August 28, 2009


Phyltre, I'm going to try to address the 'why' question you posed. I want you to try this analogy; maybe it will help you see it in a new way, maybe not. Please bear with me...

Can you think of a time in your life when you were really sad? I want you to, for a brief moment, remember that feeling. I don't know you or your life, so I don't know the details. Maybe it is a moment from a long time ago. Maybe you lost somebody or somebody said something that hurt or offended you. Now, I'm not doing this to make you feel bad or to bring up bad memories, but this is necessary to make the reason people get angry about the flag symbolism relatable to you.

Now, while thinking about the sad memory, can you remember some details about it? Maybe a color, something that was said, a piece of clothing perhaps? Something that is associated with that memory. Now imagine that the thing you associate with the sad memory is being displayed by somebody else at your work. When you see this person at your work, through no fault of their own, they are accidentally reminding you of the sad thing you experienced. Furthermore, they don't understand or care about you or your emotions regarding this. They don't care about your experience because they didn't experience the sad thing you experienced for themselves, so they don't see that it is a reminder of something painful.

Words can have this effect too. Words are symbols for the way we feel inside or the beliefs we hold. That is why some people get offended when people say insulting things to them. You seem to be impervious to this, which is great for you. However, other people aren't so lucky. Your words and actions may be hurtful to them, even though you don't mean them to be.

You seem to be a special kind of person that is way more logical and less emotional than many other people. I guarantee that if you take some extra precaution in dealing with others and trying to understand that they feel things like happiness, sadness and anger more intensely than you do, they will take strides to understand your point of view, and might even come to realize that you mean no personal offense to them when you do things like hanging up objects that remind them of painful memories. However, your part in this...being sensitive to their heightened and seemingly illogical emotions needs to come first.

Does any of this help you? Did this make sense?
posted by iamkimiam at 7:26 PM on August 28, 2009 [10 favorites]


This is, essentially, a failure to recognize that you are not the main character in your own movie.

You are the main character in your own movie. And your actions determine whether or not it's a movie about an insensitive jerk who knowingly displays symbols that offend people, while rejecting the very notion of symbolism.
posted by The World Famous at 7:27 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


That might be why I believe in charity versus taxes, but that's another story for us to post back and forth about. :)

So this pinup you know better than to post...I'm guessing it's of Ayn Rand?
posted by stevis23 at 7:28 PM on August 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


Good stalker-fu, aquafortis, but my coworker is the one that suggested the Japanese flag in the first place. I was just going to find a nice European cityscape print off of Deviantart. He suggested it because it matched the pinup which he didn't think I should post, and I agreed. I sure am a mean coworker!

Not to pressure you to not make assumptions, but if I am autistic it must be an odd variation. I was voted Band President for a year in high school and an RA in college. Voted most likely to succeed. Never failed to make lasting friendships with anyone that I'm aware of. Please don't think I somehow think this drivel is brag-worthy...it's just my understanding that this would be atypical, given that autism is characterized by social and communicative abnormality. Anyone knowing me would not describe me as anything I see listed in a modern definition of Aspergers syndrome or autism in general. I come to Metafilter when I either do not want to ask abstruse questions of people or when I am looking for a more...cosmopolitan view. Or just an internet view in general, my tastes do tend to run towards the odd and on the internet you can always find people who know what you're talking about. I ask asocial questions on the internet because asking your social sphere those questions will give you predictable answers. I already know what my close friends/family will say, no need to even ask.

Don't you think it's a little silly to assign someone a disorder, over the internet, because they have a different viewpoint than you do? Doesn't that sound like a bit of a straw man to you, and a way to divert the difference of opinion into a mental deficiency?
posted by Phyltre at 7:32 PM on August 28, 2009


Phyltre, I know you think you're being rational, but you're being incredibly irrational. Some questions which you probably won't answer since they go against what you say:

Do you believe in verbal abuse and verbal bullying, and the possibility that people can become severely hurt by others' words? Because words are symbols; they're a series of phonetic and visual sounds that do nothing other than to symbolize. Earlier in this thread you said "they are just flags. They can't hurt me." Do you believe in the same for words? "they are just [words]. They can't hurt me." "A symbol can't abuse, or torture, or enslave, or mutilate, or rape. People do that."

Also, you said: I use their actions towards others first and myself second. Posting something in their personal space is not an action against someone else, it is personalizing their space and making it livable for 8 hours a day. They are posting symbols that have meaning to them.

Where do you draw this irrational distinction between "posting symbols" and actions? Do you draw a difference between "swearing profusely at someone" and an action, or making a rude hand signal and an action, or 'writing racial slurs on a board and posting it in a public space' and an action? For the person who doesn't know English, a racial slur means nothing to them. For the person who doesn't understand the meaning behind the Rising Sun flag, it means nothing to them. Where's your rational answer concerning this? No snark intended, meet me on that level and then let's talk.
posted by suedehead at 7:32 PM on August 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


This seems to be where I and lots of people see this issue differently. I think that being offended by something as benign as a flag is childish and misdirected. If a racist posts a Confederate flag or swastika, the problem is the person. If a history buff posts either...where is the problem?

I am sorry I do not have time to read all the comments as I am ill, but as a historian of modern Japan I can tell you that many, many Southeast and East Asians find that flag offensive today. Many Japanese do too. As many have said in this thread, there is a great amount of animosity between Japan and its neighbors based on Japan's history as a colonizer and that flag symbolizes a dark era in the history of Korea, Mainland China, Korean Peninsula, and of course Japan itself. The politics are messy on all sides but your idea to hang the Japanese flag is an absurd idea.

If I understand you correctly you say you are a history buff. There are a lot of great books on the politics of memory of WWII fought in the 1980s and 1990s over this symbol.

If you want a neutral Japanese decoration for your office, get a manekineko cat, a good luck temple from a shrine or temple, calligraphy of a Japanese character you like-- any number of Mefites could help you there-- or something else less politically loaded.
posted by vincele at 7:35 PM on August 28, 2009 [5 favorites]


This is, essentially, a failure to recognize that you are not the main character in your own movie. Other people have their own experiences, which generate opinions and reactions to things that you don't share.

To add to this, you're not the person who gets to decide how other people should perceive you. It's those other people, the perceivers, who get to decide how you are perceived. Just because you know that you're not a bad person and have completely non-objectionable reasons for hanging the flag, certainly doesn't mean at all that anyone else knows it, or should be expected to know it.
posted by Ms. Saint at 7:37 PM on August 28, 2009


Decontextualize it however you want, but symbols have meaning. Displaying a symbol is a volitional act of manifesting meaning. So, you've either got to a) explain it to everyone, which is kinda arrogant and presumptuous because at work people have Shit To Do, or b) tell folks you just liked the pretty colors, which is lame. I suppose you could hang it up and spray paint "THIS DOESN'T MEAN WHAT YOU THINK IT DOES" across it, but then you'd be committing conceptual art, and no one wants that.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 7:39 PM on August 28, 2009 [15 favorites]


Also, you keep saying "I'm very logical" when refusing to listen to anything anyone else says about how other people might react to something. This is not logical; this is stubborn.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:44 PM on August 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


I think the reason that people are throwing out the internet diagnoses of Autism Spectrum Disorder or Aspergers is because, IMO, you seem to be displaying some subtle problems with Theory of Mind. Specifically, your stance and response to the explanations tend to show a possible lack of, or problems with empathy. Also, the whole construct of hanging a flag in spite of others who find it offensive, very closely parallels a false-belief task, which is a construct that is very similar to this situation. Your response is not entirely unlike the response of someone on the Autism Spectrum. Theory of Mind, lack of empathy, and failure of false-belief tasks are all major tip-offs to a diagnosis of Aspergers Syndrome.

I agree that diagnoses by internet strangers are inappropriate at best. There is nothing we can say or do that should be taken as fact. We are not your doctors. However, it is possible that we may be picking up on the same behaviors that a trained doctor in the real world may also pick up on. It is worth looking into, just for thoroughness. There is no shame in finding out more about a population that people may or may not justifiably be associating you with. Also, there is no shame in a diagnosis of ASD, if that is the case. Some people find it a relief in fact, since it can explain a lot of lifetime miscommunication, if that is something you've experienced.

Also, I'd like to say that many, many people with ASD are social, popular, successful and otherwise normal. It is a gradient thing, and different people have found various ways to live their lives, cope, or just be, regardless of whether or not they have a diagnosis, or have acknowledged the possibility of one.
posted by iamkimiam at 7:46 PM on August 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


Posting something in their personal space is not an action against someone else

This is a very odd assumption, when "personal space" is in fact a semi-public office that may be visited by (or just visible to) co-workers, your boss, custodial staff, and (conceivably) clients. Your goal may be to make the space more aesthetic for your own purposes, but any act of customization you do to this space is in effect also an act of communication with these other people. Even if you don't intend any communication, people will reason about what you might mean by putting up this particular symbol, and many people in this thread have described how that reasoning might go. You seem to want to believe that if your motives are entirely non-communicative and pure, putting up the flag won't be an act of communication (well, you are framing it in terms of whether it would be an act of evil, but I think that is a red herring). But that is not how people work -- we do a massive amount of fairly involuntary reasoning about what we might infer from people's public actions about their private beliefs and intentions. Pick a symbol that does not have deep-rooted and very negative associations for huge swathes of the world population if you don't want them to draw any inferences about your views on those associations.

If you want to prevent whatever customization you do to your semi-public space from being an act of communication, you have to consider not just your intentions, but the inferences that people, who may well think and reason in completely different ways than you, could draw from it. It isn't a question of how people should (in your opinion) reason about symbols, it is a question of how they do. And hopefully by this point in the thread you realize that the vast majority of people reason about them in a completely different way than you. But you have to understand that communication is not about the communicator's private intent, but what plausible inferences about intent can be drawn from the public components of the act, based in large part on the other person's beliefs'. And "I am hanging this flag up for purely aesthetic reasons" is not a plausible inference here.
posted by advil at 7:47 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Isn't it childish to judge somebody based on a superficial impression of their actions?"

You don't really understand how the whole "workplace" thing do you?

Most companies don't want to get sued, so good luck explaining why the person suing them over a "superficial impression" isn't something to fire you over.
posted by y6y6y6 at 8:04 PM on August 28, 2009


suedehead:
You seem to be ignoring context. By verbally bullying someone, I am deliberately communicating with them in a derogatory manner. Reading this first question, it sounded like our definitions for the word "symbol' as sued were a little different. According to a moment with wikipedia, I lean toward Jung at least as far as he defines the word "symbol"; a symbol as I was using it is a figurehead, a single image that communicates a large and nebulous body that would require paragraphs to explain. I consider using the word symbol to describe letters and words a different usage. Obviously verbal abuse exists because one person is saying something to me that is negative towards me specifically. When I am using a large or nebulous concept such as a government flag, many things can be intended and it is unwise to assume the specific meaning. Consider the difference in the Chinese and English alphabets. Both have symbols with meaning but they get put together and work very differently--English letters form words that form sentences, but Chinese symbols have little concepts all their own that can be highly situation-dependent when forming sentences. There is no single per-character literal reading.

The second question, though, I feel highlights our difference of opinion. You don't seem to be making a distinction between a person having a deliberate conversation with someone and decorating your office. Let's say that I'm walking down the hallway and loudly curse. You happen to hear me, but I obviously wasn't talking to you specifically. Now let's say that I'm walking down the hallway, I get close to you and look you in the eye, and curse in an identical manner. Are these two situations different?

Let's try again. In this hypothetical, I am moved to a work location where I am the only non-Christian member of an office. As a new transfer, I get rid of my previously bland office furniture over the course of a month and populate my workspace with every manner of Satanistic, gothic, alchemic, animalistic, or otherwise religiously potent paraphernalia I can find. Would this hypothetical me be innocently populating their workspace or seeking to antagonize his coworkers?

The difference is the "someone else" in the situation and how they are relevant to the nature of the expression. I hang up a picture on the wall for myself, because it is meaningful to me personally. I have a picture of my fiancee on my desk to remind me of her, not to communicate how hot she is to my coworkers. Therefore my personal office space is fundamentally different from a communal area, where I likely would not be posting images of my fiancee to "remind" others of her. I draw the line at intent, not surface appearance.



Ms. Saint:

I agree and I don't. On one hand I am not in the control of others, but on the other hand many social evils are caused by assumptions. Racism is only a single facet of the endemic trait of the human mind to use a single data point to extrapolate across an entire population. I really wish people would fight that trait more often.
posted by Phyltre at 8:17 PM on August 28, 2009


The issue is the message that the symbol sends. You know what message the symbol sends. The question is whether you want to employ the symbol that sends that message. It sends the message whether you want it to or not. Your intent is irrelevant to whether or not the symbol is symbolic of the things it symbolizes.

Surely you can understand why people in your office might not like it if you decided that from now on, rather than saying "hello," you would greet everyone by showing them the back of your raised middle finger, with your intent not being to intend, but merely to say "hello."
posted by The World Famous at 8:23 PM on August 28, 2009


People do fight that trait. They do it by being considerate towards others and showing respect for the things they hold dear.
posted by Diagonalize at 8:24 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


The idea that people shouldn't judge you on the symbol you decide to hang but judge you on who you are has a fatal flaw in it - you are the one who decided to hang that flag, which is a symbol to other people of repression, hatred, etc, etc. You don't get to decide how other people view a symbol.

Also, do you have time to explain to every person who walks into your office why you hung that flag? Or do you have time for every person who walks into your office to get to know the real you? I'm going to guess not. Very few of my work colleagues know the real me - because most of the time I spend in my office, I'm working, not explaining my motivations for hanging loaded symbols of repression and persecution on my wall.

I'm sure you are a complex and complicated guy with lots of facets, none of which have to do with your appropriation of a Japanese naval flag and symbol for your simplistic aesthetic decorating needs - to get you through your eight hour day. But it's going to leave an impression, whether you want it to or not.

Especially if you explain it's hung simply for aesthetic reasons - which makes you even more of a douche than I already thought you were.
posted by crossoverman at 8:26 PM on August 28, 2009


At least explain how I'm being what you say I am so I can stop, crossoverman. A weak person will laugh, a strong person will pull the stickynote off someone's back...
posted by Phyltre at 8:34 PM on August 28, 2009


I have a picture of my fiancee on my desk to remind me of her, not to communicate how hot she is to my coworkers.

But it communicates that whether you like it or not. By displaying it you cede control of its possible meanings. You are participating in symbolic discourse, and it ain't a monologue.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:35 PM on August 28, 2009 [8 favorites]


What, exactly, do you want to get out of this conversation?

You don't seem to want to understand why putting up that flag might not be a good idea, because you are fighting tooth and nail to avoid that conclusion (and you're using "logic" as an excuse to be bullheaded--this is something that logicians find pretty damn annoying). And if you want to argue that, no, you really DO want to understand and it's just that no one is offering a single good explanation, you really should probably start asking questions intending to inspire clarifications rather than arguing against every possible explanation given.
posted by Ms. Saint at 8:35 PM on August 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


In parts of America, displaying the Confederate battle flag raises no eyebrows; in others, it would get you run out of town.

really? not in michigan - trust me on this
posted by pyramid termite at 8:35 PM on August 28, 2009


How about placing the flag between a big rubber dildo and a skull? Maybe with a Sacred Heart set between a jack-o'-lantern and a miniature The Motherland Calls statue opposite for balance. Round it off with a disco ball on the ceiling and I guarantee you'll have a seat on the board before Christmas 2011.
posted by Abiezer at 8:36 PM on August 28, 2009 [6 favorites]


If you want a neutral Japanese decoration for your office, get a manekineko cat

2nd this - it's a cool thing to have and not offensive - back when i was blogging, i had one for my profile pic
posted by pyramid termite at 8:38 PM on August 28, 2009


At least explain how I'm being what you say I am so I can stop, crossoverman.

1. You titled this post "Confederate flag analogies begin..." which proves you are at least conscious of where people might be coming from, but you don't actually want to listen to why both things are analogous and why people are upset by these symbols

2. You insist this is some kind of freedom of expression thing, yet you object to other people expressing their own feelings about A) flags, B) symbolism and C) the Japanese naval flag, in particular

3. You have no connection to Japan or the Japanese navy, but simply want to hang the flag because it pleases you aesthetically - which speaks to an astounding ignorance (even though you have been told what this flag represents), since cultural appropriation of objects/flags/symbols and trying to eradicate them of their meaning is an insidious form of racism

4. You aren't taking anyone else's feelings into consideration. I'm talking here about your co-workers; since you don't work for the Japanese navy, I suspect that at least one person who sees the flag in your office will wonder why you have hung it. Whether or not they will be offended is impossible to know, but apparently you are okay with that (or have time to actually explain to everyone who sees it there why it doesn't mean what they think it means)

5. I used the word "douche" as a SYMBOL to express how I think you are acting, even though I don't actually think you're a device that some people use to wash out their anal cavities.
posted by crossoverman at 8:46 PM on August 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


You are confusing douche with enema. hth hand.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:52 PM on August 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


Thanks, Jessamyn! I thought douche was a multi-purpose word for both things.
posted by crossoverman at 8:58 PM on August 28, 2009


A weak person will laugh, a strong person will pull the stickynote off someone's back...

You've got a 100+ comment thread here of people trying to pull it off, and you are trying to explain to them that it isn't really there, and even if it was there it's just a post-it note and it can't hurt you, and that they are shallow for trying.

I say put up the flag - people in your office are already used to you not understanding societal norms.
posted by dirtdirt at 9:05 PM on August 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


This is what an anal douche looks like.
posted by aquafortis at 9:06 PM on August 28, 2009


oh man, I really never like seeing conversations like this turn into earnest attempts to tell someone they have asperger's. I mean, I've done it myself, so I'm as guilty as the next guy, but there comes a point where AT BEST you're playing armchair psychologist off of a piss poor diagnostic opportunity. at worst...

when it really comes down to it, there isn't a whole lot you can say to somebody who really seems to believe that he's got the definitive answer for how other people should feel about something. while it's certainly within the realm of possibility that he's got asperger's, he could also just be presenting himself really poorly and not listening very well right now, for any number of reasons.

he could also just be a troll and/or a jerk.
posted by shmegegge at 9:13 PM on August 28, 2009


Review of the product aquafortis linked to:

Item is OK, easy to clean and to use. But there is someting odd about it

Sublime!
posted by ericost at 9:14 PM on August 28, 2009


Ms. Saint, I am trying to figure out the viewpoint that a person would be in to allow themselves to be assumptive, presumptive, and dismissive of people who display a symbol they don't like. I have been generally aware of this but it had never been an issue for me because I'm almost too inoffensive normally. That was my perspective of the situation when I got so much feedback via the ask.metafilter post, and the one I argued through as long as I could.

I created this thread specifically to get responses to every single one of my thoughts on the matter. I need people to argue circles around me so I can see where I stand. A corollary of that is I have to keep going until I'm standing on the smallest bit of ground possible so I can see what the point really is. Even if it means being devil's advocate after some gaps get filled in for me.

I see now, with the overwhelming response evidenced in this thread, that
1. there is a generational/cultural/geographical gap in perception of the Japanese naval flag, specifically due to digital design in the last 20 years if I had to guess
2. I am still a naive idealist in some matters.

My office is full of not-young-anymore white people whose only experience with this flag will have been the ones their fathers/grandfathers brought home as souvenirs from the war. I would have nothing to fear from virtually all of them. My immediate coworkers are more coarse socially than I am, sometimes I have to shut my ears with the jokes they tell. I'm familiar with the occasionally "hostile work environment."

The pitfall here is that I could easily engage in behavior which would be acceptable in this subset but not in a larger setting, and I would rather have broader feedback--which I do, now. I don't have any intention of offending anyone through my office decor. Never did. The difference is, I now understand a few very different viewpoints than my own. I don't feel like such a politically correct pushover for being as considerate of others as I am (not that you'd infer that from this thread.) I understand at least a little better the other side. I've always been deconstructive but most people aren't. I see things differently...the problem with perspective is you don't always know just how different.

The logical side of me argues that when I use a symbol personally, I define it. The social side of me says even though the usage is mine, the intentions are generally opaque, and that it is best to wholly avoid anything controversial--but the logical side of me never got this. I see now that interaction by and large has to be largely subconscious--not the thoughts, but the cues--just enough that an initial negative reaction will win out over context. And honestly most people aren't willing to learn people. Not a negative thing, of course. At the end of the day, I am overthinking what is a simple thing. No matter how relevant the flag is to me, or what it means, I cannot change its meaning for others. Which is depressing, frankly, but no less true as a result.

You may have already noticed via the original question that I am going to commission my own flag to be created on Etsy. I am going to use the radiant design as a basic motif (yawn, overdone) but change it significantly (yawn, overdone). I'll mock it up and have a real(ish) artist make it pretty. It's been awhile since I've been particularly artistic, I'll get more fun out of it than just buying a foreign flag anyway.

Thanks to everyone who responded, I hope I didn't offend. You have helped me immensely. You taught me what the flag means to culturally sensitive people, what different reactions to office etiquette might be, and helped me figure out my own understanding of symbolic communication.

I realize this thread will probably not be particularly active too much longer--if anyone would like to contact me, for insults or psychological diagnoses or a good douching (anal or otherwise, as the case may be), send a line to my oldest email address: iguanidon at aol dot com.
posted by Phyltre at 9:19 PM on August 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


I draw the line at intent, not surface appearance.

That is not how symbols work. Symbols are vastly complex. Cultures beget symbols, and then invest them with varying amounts of meaning. The symbol 'f', for instance, has dozens of meanings, depending on the viewer. It could be function, failure, the initial of our arch-nemesis or a beloved relative. Our display of symbols has to take into account any of the potential meanings in order for it to be an appropriate thing to display publically. But an 'f' is a relatively innocuous symbol and few people have it invested heavily with meaning.

A swastika, especially on a red/black/white color scheme, on the other hand, is pretty laden with meaning, and a strongly emotionally-responsive meaning on top of that. It may take centuries to eradicate or fade from consciousness. It may manage to retain meaning, and I think it even has begun to retain it, without firm, objective, concrete knowledge about the derivation of that symbol's meaning.

A flag itself is a symbol. A flag of any shape, with anything on it, means something different than a sticker or a bandana or a decorated cake. One of the meanings is 'allegiance,' or something like patriotism. Flags themselves are important.

The sign you want is a symbol. You are not seeing it as a symbol! You are seeing it as a graphic design! That is the least meaning-laden form. Many people in this thread are seeing it as a strong symbol, one with cultural and familial associations of, to put it mildly, since this is not my culture area, unpleasant times.

This set of symbols, because it is a set, has now been revealed to you to have a moderate-to-high risk, depending on the culture around you, of strong emotional negative response. The socially appropriate thing to do, in a presumably neutral office setting, is thus not to display it.

As you have now been made aware of these new levels of meaning, your insistence on displaying it anyway speaks of social unawareness, cultural insensitivity, and generally a sort of demeanor which will not lead to success within the social realm.

I know that those of us who are very logical-intelligent - and I am one of them - can and will, until we learn the importance of them, demean the importance of social abilities, social-intelligence. But eventually it will become apparent, possibly after dramatic set-backs or faux-pauses, that unless you are absofuckingloutely the most brilliant person at your field, you need to be able to negotiate social waters with some grace.
posted by cobaltnine at 9:21 PM on August 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


I can't not think about symbols, and what they mean, regardless of what the person displaying the symbol intends it to mean.

This is because I am sitting in the upper deck at AT&T Park, watching the Giants play the Rockies. This rivalry is hot, since both teams are in the wild card race, but it's nothing compared to Giants v Dodgers, and what happens after Giants/Dodgers games between fans wearing the symbols of their respective teams is often pretty ugly. It isn't how things should work. But it's usually how it is.
posted by rtha at 9:33 PM on August 28, 2009


My office is full of not-young-anymore white people

Oh my Title VII (see if you can figure out what that "symbolizes").

whose only experience with this flag will have been the ones their fathers/grandfathers brought home as souvenirs from the war.

Actually, their primary experience, if they are in their 30s and 40s and grew up in the U.S., will have been seeing it on people's clothing and painted on guitars in the 80s.

I'm familiar with the occasionally "hostile work environment."

See, supra, Title VII.
posted by The World Famous at 9:54 PM on August 28, 2009


jessamyn> You are confusing douche with enema. hth hand.

wikipedia> A douche is a device used to introduce a stream of water into the body for medical or hygienic reasons, or the stream of water itself.

Douche usually refers to vaginal irrigation, the rinsing of the vagina, but it can also refer to the rinsing of any body cavity.


And it's wikipedia, so you know it's correct.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 9:54 PM on August 28, 2009


yeah but only because i edited it to make people who cite wikipedia wrong
posted by klangklangston at 10:00 PM on August 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


When you use a symbol, you're using it to communicate. If that symbol has an established meaning, it is not logical to believe that others are going to be mentally tuned into your own secret, deeply personal interpretation. That is highly illogical, as is playing devil's advocate when people are genuinely trying to educate and assist. Being deliberately obtuse and inflammatory only alienates the people who are attempting to come to your aid while making you a target for those who would happily tear you down. Throughout this conversation, you have been peevish, unreasonable, and generally dismissive of what is clearly a sensitive issue for many. Your flag was probably never going to offend that many, but your attitude has, and while I'm glad you don't intend to offend your office, you have definitely offended me.
posted by Diagonalize at 10:06 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


wikipedia> A douche is a device used to introduce a stream of water into the body for medical or hygienic reasons, or the stream of water itself.

Douche usually refers to vaginal irrigation, the rinsing of the vagina, but it can also refer to the rinsing of any body cavity.

And it's wikipedia, so you know it's correct.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 9:54 PM on August 28 [+] [!]


epenisterical.
posted by Rumple at 10:24 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


You are correct, Diagonalize, that on a purely logical level I have no high respect for someone who would walk into my office, see a flag banned from use by the US in 1945 (64 years ago) then reinstated as the flag of a self-defense force nine years later and flown peacefully since, and then assume that the negative connotations they associate with the flag must also apply to me because heaven knows something like a flag means the same thing to everybody and who ever saw that design on everything from soda commercials to shirts anyway? I have no extraordinary respect for that person because they have no respect for me, and respect occurs only mutually, on an individual level. The rest of the planet and I usually don't agree, this is no different.

The social side of me would like to tell you that if I were not playing devil's advocate this thread probably wouldn't have been able to help me. It's how I learn. I stopped being hurt by internet people trying to tear others down a long time ago or I wouldn't have started a thread that had the potential to be so controversial. We have different perspectives, and I was only being my most honest to you and everyone else by being dismissive. I can't make that flag not an issue for you, and you can't make it an issue for me. Perspective. I respect whatever fraction of society is genuinely offended by this flag enough not to put it in my office--not because HR would do something, they wouldn't, but I want everyone to feel welcome in my office. I can't go much farther than that.

I'm not sure what to say. I am sorry that I have offended you, but it seems as though the expressed existence of someone such as myself to whom the flag is a non-issue would offend you. I've been called names a few times in this thread, and accused of a brain development disorder. I did not do the same to you, Diagonalize--I was honest. That is the highest level of respect I can bestow upon anyone. Please don't be offended by honesty.
posted by Phyltre at 10:43 PM on August 28, 2009


The social side of me would like to tell you that if I were not playing devil's advocate this thread probably wouldn't have been able to help me. It's how I learn.

Phyltre, I can appreciate the usefulness of Devil's Advocacy as a rhetorical approach to analyzing a complicated problem, but please keep in mind if you're ever going to do that on mefi that it's polite to identify that technique up front so people can tell that you are arguing in good faith for the sake of the argument rather than arguing in bad faith for some other reason or just simply failing entirely to grasp what other folks are saying.

A lot of people on the site are happy to dig into complex arguments, but Metatalk is not really a Free Argument outlet for you to just glibly and with no disclosure upfront decide to string along for the sake of satisfying your own personal curiosity about one thing or another. Jessamyn suggested the discussion come here not so you could sate that particular desire but because she was trying to do your AskMe question a favor by keeping it from imploding. Please don't take advantage of that sort of thing, it's a bit of a violation of the social contract here.

And it's wikipedia, so you know it's correct.

Ah, but Grice's Maxim of, say, Manner suggests that if it is specifically anal how's-your-fathering that we're intended to intuit, use of "enema" is preferable to the still-correct but less specific, more ambiguous unqualified "douche".

And it's wikipedia, so you know it's correct.

(There has never been a proper post to the blue about Grice's Maxims or the Cooperative Principle. I'd make it myself, but I really know about half a butt about pragmatics.)
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:01 PM on August 28, 2009 [5 favorites]


Don't be offended by what the following symbols mean to you, I just happen to like how they look together:

Don't be such an inconsiderate argumentative prick. Office jobs suck enough without shit like that. Since you're just arguing for arguing's sake, can we close this damned thread??

Beautiful, isn't it?
posted by potch at 11:05 PM on August 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


The logical side of me argues that when I use a symbol personally, I define it.

That is not logical at all, because your premise is false. According to the definition of the word "symbol", symbols acquire their meaning through association and convention; things that you as an individual do not have the power to affect, particularly when a symbol has widespread and longstanding use. Additionally, your intent does not have the power to override other peoples' response; it is not logical to argue that your use of a flag that means nothing to you therefore means that other people will forget the conventional use of that symbol.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:12 PM on August 28, 2009 [6 favorites]


symbols are symbolic neh? So, if something has come to represent an idea, action or belief that symbol is symbolic of it.

We do not live in an isolated world of everything devoid of context, we are not Chance the gardener or Valentine Michael Smith, things has intrinsic cultural meanings, even symbols.
posted by edgeways at 11:13 PM on August 28, 2009


The Martian from the Warner Brothers cartoons used a Japanese flag on a few occasions. I thought that was quite interesting on a number of levels, especially given the era in which they were made.

The Japanese flag [both types] is one tremendously cool flag, so I agree with your "aesthetic" comment.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 11:13 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


You all realize that the Rising Sun Flag is still the flag of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense force, right?

Phyltre is talking about a deliberately distressed flag. In that context, along with being hung along side an archaic American flag, it no longer refers to the current Japanese Maritime Defense Force. It forces a historical perspective onto the flag, and the history of that flag is brutal.

I have tons of people telling me others are offended by the rising sun flag, but I don't get the why. Not "what did the Japanese navy do", but why be offended by a symbol? A symbol can't abuse, or torture, or enslave, or mutilate, or rape. People do that.

And the people identify themselves and those that share their ideology using symbols like that flag. Totalitarian dictatorships put stock in those symbols because they are uniting. They draw people together under a common set of beliefs. It's very much like wearing a uniform. You see me in a cop hat, it's reasonably to assume I am a cop. It's reasonable to assume that someone with a deliberately aged Japanese war flag has a vested interest in old Japanese wars, and the old ideology that goes with it.

Stating repeatedly that this is a current maritime flag is disingenuous when you are planning on aging it. Making the flag look old links you to that old meaning of the flag, and it's the old meaning that's so very offensive.

The logical side of me argues that when I use a symbol personally, I define it.

This is incorrect. A symbol is given a broader socially shared meaning. This is what makes them valuable. We recognise, for example, that the word "cat" represents a certain feline animal. Everyone shares this meaning. The word has other meanings, too, and privately held ones, but if I say I'm taking putting the cat out, 99% of folk will take that to mean I'm releasing my feline animal into the great outdoors. I may be referring to a cat-shaped candle that I'm blowing out, but I would need to provide a substantial amount of context for most folk to understand that. They would need to be seeing the candle, the shape of it, and that it's on fire.

The context you are providing for your personally used symbol is the additional distressing, and the presence of another archaic flag. And as I said that links it to Japanese military history, which is contentious even in Japan.

Since you are getting something commissioned on Etsy anyway, why not come up with a similar radial design that is just as aesthetically pleasing and less offensive?
posted by Jilder at 11:26 PM on August 28, 2009 [5 favorites]


And it's wikipedia, so you know it's correct.

You all do realize I was joking, right?
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 11:29 PM on August 28, 2009


When asked about your Japanese flag tell people that it symbolizes mankind's ability to repudiate evil and reinvent itself as peace-loving. Avoid the subject of vending machines that sell used panties.

If that doesn't work here is a handy list of flags that no one finds offensive:






 
posted by vapidave at 11:52 PM on August 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


Phyltre, if I worked with you, I wouldn't object to your hanging a Rising Sun in your office.

But every time I saw you, in or out of your office, alone or with other people, I'd glare at you hatefully and loudly snarl "Remember Pearl Harbor!" and be secure in the knowledge that you fully and reciprocally supported my right to self-expression in the workplace. And I would expect that no matter how nasty and loud my snarl, and how pointedly hateful my glare (and believe me when I say I can strip baked enamel off primed metal by growling, and set fire to cellulose flammables by glaring), even if directed at you 40 times or more times a day by chance meeting and circumstance, I'd think you thought nothing of it, and expected that no one else should, either. I think you'd agree that our co-workers should then be free to form their own opinions, and instigate whatever responses, if any, they, too, find appropriate, to our efforts to keep vital self-expression in our workplace.
posted by paulsc at 11:57 PM on August 28, 2009


You all do realize I was joking, right?

You're not soaked in urine?
posted by maxwelton at 12:01 AM on August 29, 2009


You're not soaked in urine?

It's hard to set a man on fire if he's soaked in urine. When they come for you with the oil and torches, I'll be the one having the last laugh.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 12:04 AM on August 29, 2009


It's a good thing words aren't symbols.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:15 AM on August 29, 2009


A FPP about pragmatics and cooperation is asking for all kinds of trouble.

But, since it would go straight to Meta by definition, no reason not to do it right here, right now:

Grice's cooperative principle states: "Make your contribution such as it is required, at the stage at which it occurs, by the accepted purpose or direction of the talk exchange in which you are engaged."* This boils down to 4 maxims:

1. Quality
2. Quantity
3. Manner
4. Relevance


Maxims can be followed, or flouted (deliberately violated). Examples of following and flouting a maxim...

Context: I have a plate of cookies. There are 12 of them on the plate. The cake is a lie.

1. Quality - lying vs. not lying
Following: "I made some cookies today."
Flouting: "I baked you a cake, but I ated it."

2. Quantity - saying as much as you need to, vs. ...not
Following: "I baked a dozen cookies today."
Flouting: "I made four cookies today."

3. Manner - be brief, and don't be weird
Following: "Here are the cookies I made today, you want one?"
Flouting: "I woke up at 6:47 this morning. Realizing I was out of flour for my cookie baking extravaganza that I cleared my calendar for, I decided it necessary to take a trip to the store. While at the store, I debated whether or not I should make peanut butter cookies, aka. snickerdoodles, or coconut ones. I have never tried to make anything macaroon-like before. I considered it too risky, so I settled on chocolate chip cookies, but with expensive chocolate, so as to impress you. With all the ingredients I needed, I returned home and began baking. I laid out flour, eggs, sugar, my favorite measuring cup, vanilla extract, chocolate chips and butter. Oh, and I preheated the oven. Following this recipe here, which I found AFTER I had already tripped to the store and therefore had to omit bacon for, I prepare the cookies as directed. However, I had to take some liberties, as I channeled your spirit animal for advice as to whether you like chewy cookies versus crunchy ones. I decided on chewy, because your owl told me it was the wise choice. So, after my day of toil, I present to you, a cookie. Please enjoy."

4. Relevance - be relevant.
(I should say here, that this is the magic maxim, because this is the one that makes inference possible. And without inference, talk would be really, really exhausting.)
Following: "I hope you're ready for yummy desert!"
Flouting: "How about those beans?" (quickly changing the subject because a troll just showed up and we don't want to tip off any trolls that we have cookies!)

Really, that's about all that there is to say about Gricean maxims, and cookies. It really just boils down to this general idea that humans have an incentive to be cooperative, and we naturally adhere to these 4 tenets of cooperation. Except when we don't, for whatever reasons.

*I am an utter nerd and know that by heart.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:20 AM on August 29, 2009 [16 favorites]


There's actually another sociolinguistic concept that is really fun, and pretty relevant here. Brown and Levinson's Politeness Theory. If you read the original article/book, check out pg. 60, it's interesting to start applying the theory and seeing the different strategies people use in different situations. Also, how we orient to each other based on what we perceive as important to that person.

Sorry for all the Wikipedia here and previously...it's just that Wikipedia tends to do linguistics really, really well!
Also, should be noted that Politeness Theory has evolved considerably since this original 1978? publication.

posted by iamkimiam at 12:33 AM on August 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


Since you bring up Jung, let me preface whatever I say that I use 'symbol' in the way the Pierce defines it --- as a signified 'meaning' that's detached from formal resemblance or indexical/causal connection from the signifier.

Obviously verbal abuse exists because one person is saying something to me that is negative towards me specifically. When I am using a large or nebulous concept such as a government flag, many things can be intended and it is unwise to assume the specific meaning.

Ah, see, I say that this is a false difference. The mass of valences that's possible when someone says "dumbass" is perhaps more limited than the nebulousness of concepts such as a government flag, yes, but that doesn't make the fact that your interpretation of words and a flag is any different. In each case, words and a flag function as signifiers that point towards many different kinds of meanings; in both verbal abuse and in your reading of the flag, you're isolating and prioritizing certain concepts and interpreting them as their primary meanings.

You don't seem to be making a distinction between a person having a deliberate conversation with someone and decorating your office. .... The difference is the "someone else" in the situation and how they are relevant to the nature of the expression. ... . I hang up a picture on the wall for myself, because it is meaningful to me personally. ... I draw the line at intent, not surface appearance.

Well see, this is funny, because you're contradicting yourself here. On one hand, you consider intent to be important. Intent is an internal motive that has no relation to the consequent repercussion or effects of the action -- intent is all about the originating action. So for you to say that intent is important and the intent of posting a flag up on a wall as decoration means that you're less focused on what people think and instead on what you originally meant when you put the flag up.

On the other hand, you mention that it's important to distinguish between whether or not a symbol is used to interact with someone or whether it's just as a standalone decoration. You say it yourself -- "the difference is the 'someone else' in the situation and how they are relevant to the nature of the expression." So now you say that it's whether or not the flag is used as a direct message which is the important aspect.

That is, the important aspect is if or how the flag functions as a message -- depending on who the other person is, what their beliefs are, etc. etc. You seem to be saying that putting "Satanistic, gothic, alchemic, animalistic, or otherwise religiously potent paraphernalia" within an otherwise Christian workplace would be antagonistic. In other words, you're really saying that the interpretation of the way that the objects that you choose do function is based on your relationship to people around you.

And that's what we're saying, exactly. What you think or what you intend with your flag is your choice and yours, and I'm not putting that into question. What I'm saying is that by not taking into account the "'someone else' in the situation and how they are relevant to the nature of the expression", you risk offending others. You're free to do so if you wish. Just so you know.

And in a later comment you say this: The logical side of me argues that when I use a symbol personally, I define it. The social side of me says even though the usage is mine, the intentions are generally opaque, and that it is best to wholly avoid anything controversial--but the logical side of me never got this.

That's not logical - that's not really how language works. There's no such thing as a private language, and there's no such thing as a private definition -- language is a mish-mosh of wrong interpretations, social norms and usages, and so is generally a series of "generally this means--" statements over and over and over.

Visual language works the same way; whether ingrained or learned, we have certain ways of perceiving certain forms as pleasing, horrid, powerful, and so on. You yourself used those terms when you described the flag: "More recently it's been overdone a bit but I can't think of any other image or motif or design I find so visually gratifying, just from the sheer geometry of it." And here, again: it's not visually gratifying from the "sheer geometry", it's because you, and me, and us all are working within a visual language (that we may or may not share) that determines the way we evaluate certain visual forms.

And not only is it textual language and visual forms that fall underneath this system -- if you continue this rational discussion further, you've got to consider the existence of a social language, or a similar systems of norms/symbols/interpretations applied onto actions and interactions between people.

You'd probably agree that giving someone the middle finger with good, loving intent and expecting them to react in accordance to your intent is futile. They'd get pissed off. You'd also probably agree that, maybe, after you explained to them that 'flipping them off' to you is actually a sign of endearment, they'd react positively to the 'social symbol' or 'social code' that you've personally defined. If so, then your understanding the fact that people interpret actions the way they're used to reading them, and it's not their fault if they react negatively to something, that, for many people, is a negative response.

And that seems to be what most people are saying. There's a social language. It doesn't care about intent, it cares about the "someone else" in the situation. The choices that you make will be interpreted by other people based on their own preconceptions.

No matter how relevant the flag is to me, or what it means, I cannot change its meaning for others. Which is depressing, frankly, but no less true as a result.

Oh, and I just saw that you said this. Yeah, absolutely. All language is like this, visual, textual, social, and so on. I'd recommend Derrida's 'Monolingualism of the Other' -- it's a bit of a slog, I'm going through it myself, but it's pretty relevant and fascinating and describes this exact issue, with the famous quote: "I have but one language, and it is not mine."
posted by suedehead at 12:42 AM on August 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


Get the hell over yourself and just hang it up at home for crissakes.

You want to talk about logic? Then let's boil this down to practical terms. To you, the flag is just a design that looks Wicked Cool. To me, it's the banner of the navy that damn near killed my grandfather. To a person with Chinese or Korean ancestors, it might be the symbol of far, far greater suffering than you can possibly imagine. Yeah, it's "just a piece of cloth" and yeah, it's a powerful symbol that not everyone is going to react well to. The smug condescension with which you've dismissed the "illogical" nature of our objections to that flag and other potential objections has done you no favors here, nor will it do you any favors when HR comes to talk to you about it, which they will do if your employer has any interest at all in maintaining a professional work environment. Because for all the myriad ways a person might respond to the symbol you wish to display, here's the one that counts: management seeing it for the distraction and the liability it is.

TOP TIP: No matter how smart you think you are, when you find yourself having to say something like this - I'm not a racist. I'm not a nationalist or sexist, and my fiancee is from the Philippines - you've probably picked the losing side of the argument or are about to embark upon a disastrous enterprise.
posted by EatTheWeak at 1:11 AM on August 29, 2009 [5 favorites]


I don't think you actually understand what a symbol is.

Symbols have meaning. A picture, an object, whatever, has to have a meaning to make it a symbol. Not everyone has to share the meaning. If only you attach the meaning to the object, it's only a symbol for you. But if lots of people attach meaning to an object, then it's a symbol for all those people.

It is as though you were illiterate, and had a big sign saying FUCK YOU, and you said -- those are just black lines on a white background. They have no inherent meaning. Why are people reacting so strangely to those lines?

The fact that you attribute no meaning to the object does not mean it has no meaning for others. Since they cannot know that you attribute no meaning to it, they will assume that you are communicating with them.

Anyway, "it's just a symbol" is an oxymoron. "Just a" implies that there is no meaning, but meaning is inherent in the concept of symbol. You might mean "it's just a picture" or "it's just an object", but if other people perceive a meaning, whether or not you intend to convey it, it's a symbol for them.

Suppose you shouted "FUCK YOU" in your workplace, and then said -- hey, they're only words. I was only quoting them. I like the emphatic, fricative-plosive nature of those sounds. I didn't mean anything by them. If you're upset it's only because you impute meaning to them I didn't mean to convey.

That's not going to get you very far.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:19 AM on August 29, 2009 [2 favorites]



I keep hearing "this is a symbol of hatred" but I don't think if tomorrow the US government decided to nuke the globe immediately following a lengthy land bio-war campaign against all first-world nations that the US flag would suddenly be a symbol of pain and suffering.


Actually, for most people, it probably would. That one, dramatic act, would readjust all previous perceptions about the U.S., due the scope of the event.

Just as the Holocaust was so devastating and widespread that the swastika lost its previous relevance as a religious and spiritual symbol, at least among Westerners.

Just as the war crimes of Japan in WW2 were so heinous and unprecedented to many non-Japanese Asians that the military flag of Japan lost its association as being "just another military flag" of another country.
posted by thisperon at 2:27 AM on August 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


I'm not a nationalist or sexist, and my fiancee is from the Philippines. Putting this flag in my office would not be an endorsement of anything negative.

Perhaps your wife could explain this better to you than we can? The Filipino people suffered horrendously under Japanese occupation. Have you considered her feelings or those of her family? Wherever the Japanese set up shop, the flag followed. It was a calling card. It was more than a symbol for people who suffered at the hands at the Japanese, it's a concrete reminder of who was in charge.

Moreover since WWII Japanese relations with the Philippines have been strained due to sex tourism and truly vile forms of prostitution in Japan performed specifically by often not-fully-informed Filipina women (manaita show, anyone?).

I cannot believe you have no sensitivity about the political dimensions of this choice of yours and you plan to marry someone who very likely has a strong opinion about your obstinate desire to display the Japanese flag. Have you asked her and her family what they think? If you did you might be surprised by what you hear. Apologies if I missed a discussion of your wife, her family and their feelings about the Japanese and your desire to display the Japanese symbol of raw power over the Philippines from 1941-1945.

And I'm telling you that feelings about the Japanese and WWII are raw in the US. I have had to justify my decision to become a Japanese historian ever since I started learning the language. People feel that the Japanese began an unprovoked war with the US. Many people living today had relatives who died in that war. I do. Your displaying the Hinomaru flag in your workplace is objectively as culturally and socially wrong as it is to call oneself "sensei" in Japanese.
posted by vincele at 3:03 AM on August 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Phyltre, if I worked with you, I wouldn't object to your hanging a Rising Sun in your office.

I wouldn't either, provided he didn't object to my populating the office with Stars and Stripes toilet paper.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:24 AM on August 29, 2009


No evil symbolism intended, of course. I just like to see the contrast between the Red, White and Blue and the Brown.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:26 AM on August 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't have a problem with swastikas or any of the several Confederate flags, because they are just flags. They can't hurt me.

They can if you hang them in your workplace and your employer reacts by giving you the boot.

Compare: I don't have a problem with poster size enlargements of Kirk Johnson's gaping anus, because they are just posters. They can't hurt me.
posted by flabdablet at 5:46 AM on August 29, 2009


I think the comparison to Confederate or Nazi flags is very much a false equivalence for one simple reason:

They are no longer in use. The Confederate flag is a symbol of the confederacy, and a red banner with a white circle and black swastika is a symbol of the Nazi party of Germany.

The Japanese Naval ensign is a symbol of the Japanese navy. It was the flag under which quite a few atrocities were committed, yes. But it is now a symbol of the Japanese navy. It's a flag currently in use, and saying it stands for the abhorrent ideas of the early 40s is offensive to anyone serving in the Japanese navy.
posted by Dysk at 6:13 AM on August 29, 2009


I'm going to attempt to tackle this from another angle:

I want to know how something like a flag or symbol can be offensive enough that someone would not want me to hang it in my personal workspace.

It actually is not your personal workspace. Unless you are paying rent on the workspace out of your own pocket, it is not your personal workspace.

That means, that if anyone complains to Human Resources about the decor in your workspace, HR is legally obligated to put it on your record. If enough people complain, they will have to investigate.

Now: you have received a lot of anecdotes about people who would object to that specific symbol in your workplace. We don't have to agree with them right now, we don't even have to understand why they do -- we just have to accept that "certain people feel this way". And: all of those people would be complaining to HR about that flag in your office, and HR would be obligated to investigate each and every time.

They would even have to investigate if, after the first instance, you had a conversation about HR about how "this is just a piece of cloth I've chosen for the aesthetics." The first time this happened, the guy from HR may just say "okay, I see where you're coming from," and leave. The second time, he may say, "okay, I know you said this, I just gotta come in and ask you about it anyway because the law says I have to," and then he'd leave again. But even though you and the guy from HR had settled this, he would still have to keep coming back again and again and again, and after a while, he would get thoroughly sick of it, and may start asking you, "look, whether you like it or not, there are just a lot of complaints, can't you just make everyone's life easier by taking the damn thing down for the sake of collective harmony?"

Again, this is all the case because this is actually NOT your personal workspace. Unless you pay rent out of your pocket, it is not your personal space. And you have to abide by your employer's wishes when it comes to decor, whether you agree with them or not -- or whether you understand why they have made these rules or not. And if you try to talk your way out of it, your employers will not look kindly on it -- not because of any intellectual grounds about the offensiveness of flags, but more because, "hmm, we've asked the guy to abide by a rule and he's not. That's not good."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:20 AM on August 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think the big misconception running through all of Phyltre's responses is that he somehow has control over the meaning of a symbol which pre-dates him by decades and already has a very distinct, deeply-engrained meaning for millions of people around the world. It doesn't matter if people who know you know what your intentions are in displaying such a symbol - the symbol and its message exist independently of you.

If you want to display something awesome and historic that relates to Japan, there are numerous options you can go with, like a Katsushika Hokusai painting, or a juni-hito, or a print of the original manuscript of Genji Monogatari. There you have a few examples of historic Japanese symbols that do not evoke imagery of brutality for millions.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:21 AM on August 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


A flag is just a piece of cloth, and a ten dollar bill is just a piece of paper.
posted by Elmore at 6:28 AM on August 29, 2009 [5 favorites]


I am trying to figure out the viewpoint that a person would be in to allow themselves to be assumptive, presumptive, and dismissive of people who display a symbol post a comment they don't like that doesn't agree with them.

Fixed that for you. Sorry about the grammar.
posted by lysdexic at 6:54 AM on August 29, 2009


You can't just flatly assert that you're not a racist and treat this like a proven fact that excuses other behavior (which is almost inevitably racially tinged in these discussions). I see this more on AskMe than elsewhere, but it's a personal grudge of mine. For example: "My boyfriend is, like, totally not a sexist but he has a tendency to post long rants about bitches on seduction community bulletin boards."

It's really stupid to think of racism as a binary switch like this, but even stupider to think that interpretations of your actions are somehow incorrect because people don't know some unseen quality of yours. Especially because the act of hanging the flag itself certainly would dynamically interact with whatever level of racism you had and readjust accordingly. So next time you walk down the street and see someone beating the living daylights out of a homeless person, think twice before you judge them. They may have given to the march of dimes.

And finally, if you need a 100+ comment thread to prove to people that you're not a racist (and with mixed results) then you may be wrong.
posted by allen.spaulding at 7:11 AM on August 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


This thread reminds me a lot of my own workplace. In that I have the same conversation over and over again, punctuated by my young charge following up every. thing. I. say. with "Why?"

After round five, I sigh and politely tell him "I just told you. If you had your listening ears on, you would know."
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:30 AM on August 29, 2009 [5 favorites]


--I have already stated that I have no intention and had no intention of posting negatively connotative things in my workplace. I considered posting the flag because I did not think it was offensive.

--I have also posted that my fiancee and her family do not have ill will towards Japan or any of its flags. Whatsoever. They are going to spend a few days in Japan two months from now. She and I have been together over eight years now, if she was against this particular flag at all she would have told me and wouldn't have a little Japanese flag of her own in her room. I think it's curious how four or five of you insist that we haven't discussed this before, or perhaps that she told me she hates Japan and I am somehow deaf. Her family knows the history, and knows it as history.

I've already indicated what I will do earlier in the thread and the original ask.meta question, I think some posters might have missed it as that course of action has been recommended to me again.
posted by Phyltre at 8:18 AM on August 29, 2009


This is, essentially, a failure to recognize that you are not the main character in your own movie.

If Phyltre is a character in a movie, he's a Straw Vulcan.

As that article notes, "Logic ultimately exists to make sure you can never arrive at a wrong answer from true premises. As such it is supposed to make sure that you don't make errors in your reasoning, for example by contradicting yourself. It won't, however, make up for incorrect or incomplete information." If you start from false premises ("Everyone else is as logical as I am,") logic is likely to lead to false conclusions.

Isn't it childish to judge somebody based on a superficial impression of their actions?

No, it's human to judge somebody based on a superficial impression of their actions. Sometimes snap judgments like that lead to incorrect conclusions, but they're often right, and being able to make quick often-though-not-always-right judgments tends to serve people well, overall. It means I can decide in five minutes, or even an hour, whether I want to do business with a particular sales rep, rather than spending years getting to know the true person before being able to make that decision.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:25 AM on August 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Those of you who would be offended by such a flag: would it still offend if the person who hung it had served in the Japanese Navy (which uses said flag)?
posted by Dysk at 8:27 AM on August 29, 2009


Brother Dysk: I think the comparison to Confederate or Nazi flags is very much a false equivalence for one simple reason:

They are no longer in use.


That is not, in fact, true. The Confederate flag is still a part of the Mississippi state flag. It was also a part of the Georgia state flag from 1956 to 2001 (and you better believe adopting that flag in 1956 in Georgia sent a very deliberate message). Elements of the Confederate flag also make up parts of the state flags of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, and maybe North Carolina and Tennessee.
posted by 6550 at 8:41 AM on August 29, 2009


Sorry, not North Carolina, obviously.

But South Carolina did until fairly recently display the Confederate flag on the State House.
posted by 6550 at 8:43 AM on August 29, 2009


6550, that it makes up part of the Mississippi flag isn't quite the same as the confederate flag itself still being in use...
posted by Dysk at 8:55 AM on August 29, 2009


(Or any other state flag, for that matter.)
posted by Dysk at 8:58 AM on August 29, 2009


That is not, in fact, true. The Confederate flag is still a part of the Mississippi state flag.

Which makes the point really. Someone hanging a Mississippi flag in their office would probably not be objected to, and I'm sure there are plenty of Mississippi flags hung in Mississippi.
posted by smackfu at 9:09 AM on August 29, 2009


What a rich thread, thanks iamkimiam and cortex!
posted by everichon at 9:09 AM on August 29, 2009


The second question, though, I feel highlights our difference of opinion. You don't seem to be making a distinction between a person having a deliberate conversation with someone and decorating your office. Let's say that I'm walking down the hallway and loudly curse. You happen to hear me, but I obviously wasn't talking to you specifically. Now let's say that I'm walking down the hallway, I get close to you and look you in the eye, and curse in an identical manner. Are these two situations different?

For a co-worker who grew up in a household where a person walking down the hallway exclaiming profanities was often followed by terrifying rages and abuse, there might be very little distinction between these two exclamations, despite the intent of the speaker. Such a co-worker might keep that to themself, knowing that the symbolism was something forged out of a personal trauma that others are not likely to know. Yet, whatever their co-worker's intent, such exclamations might give rise to powerful and uncontrollable emotions. It might bring back vivid memories. It might cause adrenaline to rush into their body, thrusting them into a fight-or-flight response in the middle of their attempts to work. It is not logical, it is merely fact.

Symbols can be forged in this way through personal trauma. It is often the case with wars and other society-wide traumas that symbols of personal trauma are widely shared. This does not mean that everyone shares them, but it does make it different from the abused co-worker, because it is possible for any of us to find out which symbols carry these widespread traumatic meanings, and to avoid propagating these symbols in public places. These symbols will change over time, as the shared trauma fades from personal experience: I'm sure there were times and places when symbols of Roman Legions or the Inquisition would have been offensive and/or intimidating and traumatic to people.

In this case, the flag you propose to hang is such a shared symbol, and one which many people around you (as evidenced by this thread) expect you to know. If your office is large, or if people from outside your company visit it, it is possible that you will evoke a strong and uncomfortable emotional response in people who are trying to go about their work. Because it is a shared symbol, people expect you to know this. From the assumption that you know your flag might be upsetting to some, only a few explanations readily present themselves: that you are willing to risk invoking those responses in other people, either because you are insensitive (you don't care or are not willing to believe that the response happens), or that you want to offend. Of course, it's possible to assume that you don't know about the flag's affect on people, which might suggest to some that you're socially incompetent.
posted by carmen at 9:18 AM on August 29, 2009


iamkimiam: Think of it like those magic eye pictures. You know the ones, with all the funny patterns and if you stare at it just so and converge your eyes, you'll see a 3-D image of a dolphin or something? Well, this is kind of like that. You like the pattern and see nothing wrong with it, but for others, who can see it just a little deeper, instead of a dolphin, it is a big sign in block letters that says "I DON'T RESPECT YOU, SO FUCK OFF." Other people are trying to tell you what it says, and your response is essentially, "You're wrong. I don't see it that way and I don't care."

This is a misleading analogy, as it insinuates that the offence people see is an intrinsic feature of the flag. A more apt analogy would be a Rorschach inkblot which the OP hangs up, and lots of other see an offensive image in it. The fact that the OP doesn't see it doesn't mean that he can see less of the image than anyone else (which is something insinuated by the 3D picture analogy), merely that he sees it differently.

Of course, that doesn't automatically mean he shouldn't take it down in order to appease those it offends.
posted by Dysk at 9:21 AM on August 29, 2009


I want to know how something like a flag or symbol can be offensive enough that someone would not want me to hang it in my personal workspace.

I think an important point that's been overlooked in this thread is that your workspace isn't personal. It's professional, and public to coworkers/clients etc. even if your office has a door. What you do in that office, whether on the computer or on the phone or on the walls, represents the company you work for. "Personal"=yours, and unless you own the company, your office walls are not your personal space.
posted by headnsouth at 9:27 AM on August 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


A more apt analogy would be a Rorschach inkblot which the OP hangs up, and lots of other see an offensive image in it.

Except a Rorschach blot wasn't hoisted as a symbol of a militaristic movement that committed numerous atrocities across several countries. If you want to be really, really pedantic I guess you could argue that it's just a white rectangle witha red shape on it, but the reality is slightly different. It's that reality that a number of people in this thread are asking the OP to consider and respect, rather than his own reclaiming of the symbol's meaning.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 9:28 AM on August 29, 2009


Japanese folks display the Hinomaru flag (white with a red circle) on all sorts of occasions, such as National Foundation Day. That's normal.

However, if you saw someone parading down the street with a Japanese naval ensign (the Rising Sun flag being discussed in this thread), that would be unusual, and more than a little creepy, as the only folks in Japan who display the naval ensign are right-wingers.

So hanging such a flag in your office is indeed a political statement. Although it must be said that Japanese people are far less reverent of their flags than are Americans.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:30 AM on August 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


Marisa Stole the Precious Thing, he's not 'reclaiming' since it has a well-established symbolism with the Japanese Navy. He's claiming, sure.

a Rorschach blot wasn't hoisted as a symbol of a militaristic movement...

No, but there might be a (to us but not the OP) pretty clear militaristic symbol in the Rorschach blot (such as a swastika).
posted by Dysk at 9:32 AM on August 29, 2009


This is a misleading analogy, as it insinuates that the offence people see is an intrinsic feature of the flag.

It is not so misleading as you suggest; your implication in turn is that there is no intrinsic symbolic charge to the flag, which is true only in a cultural vacuum. That vacuum does not exist; there exist culturally intrinsic meanings in that flag, and insofar as either Phyltre's ignorance of that cultural baggage or his disinclination to believe that that cultural baggage is a meaningful component of the image of that flag is (or was) preventing him from connecting the abstract signifier to the far-from-abstract cultural signified, it's very much like failing to see the notional holographic failboat.

It's as much as anything a question of whether he's in the position of being incapable of crossing his eyes vs. being unwilling to do so. It sounds like this was more a case of unwilling that has eased over to willing in the process of this and the other thread, so, hey, awesome.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:37 AM on August 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


cortex: there exist culturally intrinsic meanings in that flag

Absolutely. But that is not analogous to saying that there is some physical feature of the flag that the OP cannot see. Something that's culturally intrinsic is still subjective.
posted by Dysk at 9:52 AM on August 29, 2009


Also, analogies, metaphors and the like can and will always be lacking mappings to the target topic in several dimensions. If they were perfect, they'd be the actual thing we were comparing them to, or close enough to lack contrast (more like similes). We can only get close enough to highlight a particular dimension or feature that is salient.
posted by iamkimiam at 9:56 AM on August 29, 2009


I'm personally not offended by the flag, but I'm also very young. While you have every right to hang the flag and I think that the people suggesting that you're autistic or have aspergers are being completely ridiculous and harsh, if it offends this many people you should probably just go with the flow.

Do you really want to risk offending this many people just because you think it looks cool? If this was really important to you I'd say risk it, but it sounds like you don't even have much connection to this flag, so I'd just back down.
posted by kylej at 10:01 AM on August 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's a flag currently in use, and saying it stands for the abhorrent ideas of the early 40s is offensive to anyone serving in the Japanese navy.

Well, it was their choice to continue to use it after the ban had been lifted, right? It is pretty silly to say that now that someone else uses the rising sun flag, any person who suffered during WWII should get over their response to the symbol that for them represents Japanese occupation or aggression for fear of offending Japanese Marines.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:06 AM on August 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


What kim said. The capacity to extract and understand the visual meaning from a magic-eye is, here, analogous (not literally physically identical) to the capacity to extract and understand the cultural meaning of the flag. Likewise, a refusal to acknowledge that such a visual meaning is a component recognized by others if not one's self is analogous to a refusal to acknowledge that a cultural meaning of the flag exists outside of one's one personal context for that flag.

The Rorschach analogy is less apt despite mapping the same perception-of-visual-phenomenon physicality as looking at a flag, because it fails to account for the existence of fixed meaning external to a naive viewer's understanding of the image. A generic Rorschach blot is by design an abstract array free from fixed cultural meaning; it like a flag only in that it is made of marks on a surface.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:06 AM on August 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Not "unwilling", cortex. I had not personally encountered anyone who reacted negatively to this flag before in my lifetime. I had only seen a single comment thread (on Deviantart, of all places) where a small vocal minority were demanding a particular wallpaper be taken down because it reminded them of the naval flag. I disregarded this as classic comment hyperbole or perhaps as a political statement, given that the wallpaper was innocuous and you'd have to almost be bringing your perception to the wallpaper rather than vice versa.

Quite a few posters are telling me that the very fact that I had not encountered anyone reacting negatively to this flag is somehow a flaw on my part or a failure of social sensitivity. I'm curious how I should have been expected to be aware of the cultural ramifications of this flag when the affected groups are well outside of my normal sphere of experience--quite literally on the other side of the globe. That's what they call an unknown unknown.

As I stated previously, my only experience with the flag in physical form was as a US veteran's souvenir from WWII--obviously he was against the Japanese navy, not for it or its atrocities, yet he was hanging it on his wall. I find it somewhat ironic that many posters here would have walked into his office, seen the flag, and been offended that he would "support" the atrocities performed by the Japanese. You know, the seventeen of them he killed personally.
posted by Phyltre at 10:17 AM on August 29, 2009


Not to pressure you to not make assumptions, but if I am autistic it must be an odd variation. I was voted Band President for a year in high school and an RA in college. Voted most likely to succeed.

it's called archie's syndrome and the sufferers believe that life should be just like a comic book high school where they are always popular and looked up to by the rest of the class

symptoms include a clueless belief in privileges, constant hostility and rage when questioned, passive-aggressive offense-baiting, confusion when confronted with hostile events, a belief that everyone should live like them, taking the local chamber of commerce far too seriously, voting republican and joining the rotarian club
posted by pyramid termite at 10:17 AM on August 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


cortex: it fails to account for the existence of fixed meaning external to a naive viewer's understanding of the image

But cultural associations and symbolism aren't fixed...

I recognise that most Americans (and Chinese, and probably other cultures too) are aware of the offense such a flag would cause even if they don't themselves feel offended. That doesn't make it a fixed meaning of the flag, merely a widespread transitory one.
posted by Dysk at 10:18 AM on August 29, 2009


A flag isn't a mere decoration. It is, by definition, a symbol of allegiance to a place, person, or ideal. Using a flag as a decorating element must be considered with the attendant associations in relation to visibility beyond one one's household members.
posted by batmonkey at 10:20 AM on August 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm curious how I should have been expected to be aware of the cultural ramifications of this flag when the affected groups are well outside of my normal sphere of experience--quite literally on the other side of the globe. That's what they call an unknown unknown.

"If I never personally encountered something, there's no way I could have known it existed".

Honestly?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:24 AM on August 29, 2009


Pyramid Termite, I'm guessing you think I am a republican? I am pretty close to libertarian, I know there are probably people out there who don't like me, I hate chambers of commerce, I don't vote republican, and I think the rotary club is just a silly grab for community power that shouldn't exist.

I guess you missed the diagnosis. Thanks for the assumptions.
posted by Phyltre at 10:25 AM on August 29, 2009


I'm not sure what you're asking, Marisa Stole the Precious Thing.


...even if I rather enjoy that song on occasion.
posted by Phyltre at 10:27 AM on August 29, 2009


Pyramid Termite, I'm guessing you think I am a republican? I am pretty close to libertarian

i knew i'd forgotten a symptom somewhere in all that

i can only hope that you really are clueless enough to troll your employer the way you've been passive-aggressively trolling us

bye
posted by pyramid termite at 10:31 AM on August 29, 2009


Marisa Stole the Precious Thing, never having personally encountered something and never having encountered it are not the same thing.



(I used the word 'bollocks' for years before I realised that it was offensive to anyone. I found out that it was in a book, have continued to use the word as before, and have yet to personally encounter anyone who indicated that my use was offensive to them. But until I encountered the idea of it people being offended by it, I had no clue it might be considered profanity.)
posted by Dysk at 10:31 AM on August 29, 2009


Dysk, let's look at what Phyltre wrote:

I'm curious how I should have been expected to be aware of the cultural ramifications of this flag when the affected groups are well outside of my normal sphere of experience--quite literally on the other side of the globe.

In other words: "How could I have known this when these people live on the other side of the planet?" Which is ridiculous. Does this really need spelling out and parsing?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:39 AM on August 29, 2009


I think the rotary club is just a silly grab for community power that shouldn't exist.

Well, if I wasn't judging you before...
posted by jacquilynne at 10:41 AM on August 29, 2009


Not "unwilling", cortex. I had not personally encountered anyone who reacted negatively to this flag before in my lifetime.

Fair, I didn't mean to seem like I was being hard on you. I think it's fair to say that "unwilling" describes the arc from when you first received stark rebuttals to the idea of hanging the flag to when you decided that the stuff folks were making you aware of was in fact something you were willing to take into account. I won't give you a hard time for that, since in absolute time that's a reasonable bit of turnaround if you were really feeling rug-pulled by the whole revelation, but (and this goes back to my earlier comment) it might have done you some good to acknowledge that explicitly sooner rather than carrying on the unmitigated Devil's Advocate pose of just not being, apparently, willing to accept that as a reason to modify your own behavior.

I'm curious how I should have been expected to be aware of the cultural ramifications of this flag when the affected groups are well outside of my normal sphere of experience--quite literally on the other side of the globe. That's what they call an unknown unknown.

No one expects you to be psychic. You may (and presumably regularly do, like most curious people) encounter things that are wholly new to you, and if someone gives you a hard time for not knowing it that may not be charitable of them. If the thing you didn't know leads to you blundering socially, it may be understandably why that uncharitable response came forth.

If you deal with your bumble deftly and sensitively—e.g. by getting over the initial "well how was I supposed to know?" reaction quickly and moving on to that "hey, wow, I didn't know" and the learning-about-this-new-thing stages, you will be in great shape. People may still give you a hard time about it, but people are people.

What you did in Metatalk did not seem very much like deftly acknowledging your ignorance and moving on to the learning phase. You said that this thread was educational for you, and that's awesome in general, but as I said earlier, the way in which you went about it here wasn't great.

But cultural associations and symbolism aren't fixed...

They are very much more fixed than any nonce decoding of a Rorschach blot. If you want to argue that they are not fixed in some absolutely intrinsic fabric-of-the-universe sense, you have my total agreement, but to leap from there to refusing to acknowledge that there are practically speaking some long-standing, potent cultural meanings tied to that image is foolishness.

For all practical purposes, those meanings are indeed fixed, functionally static aspects of that image. In a human social context, "decades long" is only "transitory" in a pedantic sense, not a socially meaningful one. To argue otherwise doesn't make any sense in this specific conversation.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:42 AM on August 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm curious how I should have been expected to be aware of the cultural ramifications of this flag when the affected groups are well outside of my normal sphere of experience--quite literally on the other side of the globe. That's what they call an unknown unknown.

This is a good example of the type of social information that you don't seem to naturally pick up on. Many of us do, regardless of whether or not we have personal or geographical connections to the content in question. That's ok, but a little awareness that others in your immediate sphere are indeed picking up on cultural information bits that you aren't picking up on will go a long way for you. I kind of see it as the following: we as humans, have roughly the same allotment of smarts, or talent points, if you will. Yours seem to be heavily stacked in the logic and orderliness of things. Maybe you can organize and systematize and see patterns like nobody's business (I'm guessing, I have no idea). Others, not so much. But that comes at a cost in some other area. You seem to have a lacking in the cultural intuitiveness department, as evidenced by your steadfastness to the idea that what we all see, you refuse to believe exists or is valid. Maybe just recognizing how the deck is stacked for you, relative to others, will help some. You have a lot to contribute to any community with your unique perspective. It's always good to have somebody around who is focused and doesn't take things personally or get offended easily. But that is best balanced by others who can address the social aspects of a situation and the cultural meanings that you don't attune to as easily. My point being, we can all work together to cover all far-reaching corners of any social dynamic. But all the participants have to acknowledge their strengths and weaknesses for this to work effectively, as well as be willing to learn from others.
posted by iamkimiam at 10:44 AM on August 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think the comparison to Confederate or Nazi flags is very much a false equivalence for one simple reason:

They are no longer in use. The Confederate flag is a symbol of the confederacy, and a red banner with a white circle and black swastika is a symbol of the Nazi party of Germany.

The Japanese Naval ensign is a symbol of the Japanese navy.


This is a good point. But even more troubling is that the flag is the symbol of far-right Japanese political/terror/gangster operations TODAY. You're most likely to see the national flag in Japan on a radical right-wing propaganda vehicle or displayed by one of those groups during a protest than in any other context.

This is Japan's dirty little secret-- secret because the Japanese media doesn't widely report on these activities. Anyone living in urban Japan has been woken up at 8am on a Sunday by one of these vehicles or has otherwise experienced the face of right wing radicals waving the rising sun flag.
posted by vincele at 10:46 AM on August 29, 2009


Work is a bad place to force issues. Try a compromise.
posted by breezeway at 10:47 AM on August 29, 2009


Phyltre, if you want to hang that flag s'damn bad, just hang the flag. Evidently you're above the words of us "internet people", so why you're getting all in a tizzy about an opinion you asked the internet for is beyond me. So, go and hang your Japanese military flag already. I don't know why you're standing around arguing about it. You need our permission or something?
posted by katillathehun at 10:48 AM on August 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


You may (and presumably regularly do, like most curious people) encounter things that are wholly new to you, and if someone gives you a hard time for not knowing it that may not be charitable of them.

Yes, and I was being uncharitable as well. It's wholly possible that he really didn't know that there were negative connotations to this symbol. But I think that, in this day and age of books, radios, television and computers, we all know quite a number of things that do not exist in our physical range on the planet. That's why I took issue with this retort of "How could I have known when it isn't physically near to me?" But again, this doesn't necessarily mean it's impossible he didn't know the ramifications behind this flag, and I can accept he's gone through life without learning of it until the discussion appeared on Metafilter.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:50 AM on August 29, 2009


What Marisa Stole the Precious Thing said, plus this:

When a reasonable person finds out that they didn't know the thing they were about to hang on their office wall is, in fact, horribly offensive to about a quarter of the world's population, they say "Oh, shit! Didn't know that! Thanks for saving me from making a terribly insensitive mistake." What they don't say is "I think that being offended by something as benign as a flag is childish and misdirected."
posted by jacquilynne at 10:53 AM on August 29, 2009 [7 favorites]


If I had a Rorschach blot framed on my wall, and half the people who came into my office saw the rape of Nanking in that Rorschach blot, I might say, y'know, I don't see it, but it seems like there's something there.

Logic doesn't mean privileging your premises above experimental data—you asked a question, and enough people responded that you should probably think about not doing this that you should probably think about not doing this.
posted by klangklangston at 10:53 AM on August 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


vincele, national flags being associated with right-wing radicals isn't really unique to Japan (though I wasn't aware of the extent of it there). It's not really a comparable situation due to the complexities of the Union, but living in England, I still get suspicious of anyone displaying the Cross of Saint George unless there's a world cup on, or something.

Marisa Stole the Precious Thing, the reason I didn't know that people considering 'bollocks' profanity existed had a lot to do with the fact that they tend to live in the UK (or US? It's primarily a British English word, isn't it?) and I lived on near the other side of the world at the time.

cortex, let me just acknowledge that there are practically speaking some long-standing, potent cultural meanings tied to that image, then. In fact, there are some long-standing, potent cultural meanings tied to that image. That doesn't mean that those meanings are fixed, though. It does mean that the only sensible course of action of the OP would be to not put the flag up.
posted by Dysk at 10:57 AM on August 29, 2009


Enough with the autism cracks.

So says the parent of an autistic child....
posted by Gravitus at 10:59 AM on August 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


katillathehun: why you're getting all in a tizzy about an opinion you asked the internet for is beyond me.

The OP initially asked where to get such a flag, not for anybody's opinions on it. Even in this split-off MeTa thread (seemingly started to split a derail off into a more relevant place), the wording does not contain a question asking for anyone's opinion.

Gravitus: Enough with the autism cracks.

Amen. Where they're disingenuous, they're hurtful, and where they aren't, misguided.
(Unless you happen to be a psychologist, of course, and reckon you have enough basis to make a clinical judgement.)
posted by Dysk at 11:02 AM on August 29, 2009


Marisa Stole the Precious Thing, the reason I didn't know that people considering 'bollocks' profanity existed had a lot to do with the fact that they tend to live in the UK (or US? It's primarily a British English word, isn't it?) and I lived on near the other side of the world at the time.

That's a nice story, but my point, again, is that since Phyltre was using physical far-ness as his reason for not knowing about the ramifications of the Japanese flag, it's worth pointing out that information is able to traverse the planet, so there's no reason why the physical far-ness of (some of) the people who see the Japanese flag in a negative light would prevent him from knowing of the flag's ramifications. Is this getting any clearer? We can know of things that are not physically close to us. It is possible, trust me.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:05 AM on August 29, 2009


The intersubjective structure is the final arbiter of meaning. 'Nuff said.
posted by knapah at 11:06 AM on August 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


Marisa Stole the Precious Thing, yes it is possible, but equally, it is possible that you might not know of things that are not physically close to us. That it's possible does not mean that the opposite is impossible.
posted by Dysk at 11:07 AM on August 29, 2009


The "well how was I supposed to know" would have worked if everyone wasn't so anxious to denigrate someone who didn't know. Scroll up, apparently only social outcasts and callous jerk douches don't know that this flag is offensive to the entire universe. And quite a few posters spelled out that they would probably just be offended by it, judge me for it, and never even tell me why. That doesn't seem like a situation that would have ended well with a "well how was I supposed to know." I needed to figure the rest of it out.


Tangentially, I disagree with the very idea that symbolism and cultural associations are fixed. Rather, I do not disagree that this may be a culturally valid statement, but I find that someone who approaches symbols with static symbolic and cultural associations taken for granted rather than interpreted through the lens of the situation is--well--I don't have any nice words for that. I don't judge people based on the contents of their office and at the end of the day, I suppose I don't have much patience, empathy, or understanding for people who would. I suppose that's my flaw.
posted by Phyltre at 11:08 AM on August 29, 2009


I'm curious how I should have been expected to be aware of the cultural ramifications of this flag when the affected groups are well outside of my normal sphere of experience--quite literally on the other side of the globe.

There are most certainly people who lived under Japanese occupation or were interred in Japanese prisons currently living in the US. There are huge Chinese, Filipino, and Korean communities as well. If you're not aware of the presence of certain groups people in your own country it seems unlikely that that you're going to be sensitive to any of the nuances of thought that other people around you might have. I'm not trying to put you down or pile on, but there is a great big complicated world outside of what appears to be your very limited frame of reference. I think you might do well to broadening your outlook, because it is only going to help you when you are confronted with all the variables that are part of life. Also: a logic class, because you seem to have some confusion about the difference between making properly logical arguments and your personal belief system. Again, I'm not saying these things to be mean, I just think a well rounded outlook makes people generally wiser than not.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:08 AM on August 29, 2009


> You all realize that the Rising Sun Flag is still the flag of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense force, right?
I understand it might be offensive if the OP was in China or Korea, but the comparison to the Nazi flag or Confederate flag is misleading, because those fell out of use due to them being more directly related to the indefensible beliefs that they represent.


The Rising Sun Flag is just as directly related to indefensible beliefs, it's just that Japan has not repudiated its brutal past to the extent Germany has. It has showily renounced war, but it has allowed the symbols and ideas of that past to continue on, embraced by right-wingers in much the same way the symbols of Imperial Germany were embraced by right-wingers during the Weimar Republic. If Germany had been unrepentant enough to continue using the swastika on its flag, would that magically make it OK?

> I am still a naive idealist in some matters.

No, that's how you like to see yourself, but you're actually just another clueless person trying to figure out how to navigate the messy sea of humanity. I won't insult you with armchair diagnoses, but I hope you're young enough that you have a chance to learn better.
posted by languagehat at 11:09 AM on August 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


Look, in the end we could all not care less what you hang in your office. We will probably never be there. Everyone above is trying to help you by explaining the potential consequences of your actions.

You can keep replying that we're wrong, we're illogical, whatever - but surely this thread must have proven to you that the flag has a lot of baggage for some people and that your association with it will cause others to make perhaps unkind assumptions about you. Except they won't say anything to you about it, they'll just quietly assume. If you want to go ahead and risk those assumptions, it's your prerogative. Nothing you say to us will prevent them.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 11:10 AM on August 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


The OP initially asked where to get such a flag, not for anybody's opinions on it. Even in this split-off MeTa thread (seemingly started to split a derail off into a more relevant place), the wording does not contain a question asking for anyone's opinion.

I know what the OP originally asked. I was referring to this thread, in which the OP said: "I want to know how something like a flag or symbol can be offensive enough that someone would not want me to hang it in my personal workspace. This idea is completely foreign to me."
posted by katillathehun at 11:12 AM on August 29, 2009


That it's possible does not mean that the opposite is impossible.

Look: when he's saying "How was I supposed to know when all these people are on the other side of the planet?", he is saying that their far-ness does make it impossible for him to have known. I'm saying that's not true; not that he MUST HAVE known, just that physical far-ness does not, in all cases, equate ignorance of a fact. Alright?

And frankly, Phyltre, I think you may as well do whatever you like, as you sound like you have your mind made up already, and I don't really understand why you're keeping this rolling along.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:15 AM on August 29, 2009


I've said three or four times now I'm not going to put the flag up, I'm going to make my own.

People keep responding to my earlier posts and asking me questions, so I keep replying. Would you rather I just ignored them?
posted by Phyltre at 11:17 AM on August 29, 2009


Marisa Stole the Precious Thing, I read that as saying that the far-ness means that we shouldn't automatically assume that he knows, not that the far-ness automatically makes it impossible that he would've known.
posted by Dysk at 11:19 AM on August 29, 2009


Phyltre: That is probably the best way to let the thread die.
posted by knapah at 11:19 AM on August 29, 2009


You're right Phyltre, the social meanings of symbols aren't permanently fixed. They are locally fixed, relative to slippery factors like time, orientation, relation to other symbols, geography, current events, and various other cultural factors and on and on. It's an incredibly complex landscape that gives each individual symbol its particular meaning for a particular person at a particular point in time. But like words, many symbols are culturally negotiated and accepted to mean specific things, until those things or the words themselves take on a different meaning, for whatever reason.

One example of this is the meaning of the word 'columbine'. It used to be a more common word, referring to a flower. I recently heard it in a Decemberists song and thought it odd and interesting, since the word itself has taken on a new cultural meaning, due to the Columbine shooting several years ago. For many, this word has a stronger neurological tie to the concept of 'high school shooting' than to 'flower'. Maybe both things get evoked, but for some, the concept of the shooting is more prominent and more relevant. This may be true for the cultural meaning of the flag, for many people. It evokes painful memories more than neutral ones associated with something else.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:24 AM on August 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


I find that someone who approaches symbols with static symbolic and cultural associations taken for granted rather than interpreted through the lens of the situation is--well--I don't have any nice words for that. I don't judge people based on the contents of their office and at the end of the day, I suppose I don't have much patience, empathy, or understanding for people who would. I suppose that's my flaw.

Sorry, but the conventional associations with symbols don't have a damn thing to do with you or your office. Sure, someone meeting you and learning how you feel about the rising sun flag will give them some additional food for thought. However you seem to think that what you feel about something overrides all the other associations with that symbol. That is a flawed an illogical belief. To anyone else, the "lens of the situation" might well be that you are a culturally illiterate and insensitive muffinhead. You can't control their viewpoint, and it make no sense to insist that there is some neutral ground that everyone views the world through. There isn't- you've demonstrated this by insisting that you don't know any people that are offended by the flag, and that colors your views on the situation. The fact that you can't ascribe the same characteristics to other peoples' views- that their views are shaped by their experience- or, -that you will happily judge people who "judge" you- is pretty darn illogical.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:25 AM on August 29, 2009


People keep responding to my earlier posts and asking me questions, so I keep replying.

Actually not 100% true, as you have chimed in to share your thoughts without anyone really asking you in the first place. No one's telling you to stop posting, of course, I'm just wondering what your motivation is for goading this discussion along is all.

I read that as saying that the far-ness means that we shouldn't automatically assume that he knows, not that the far-ness automatically makes it impossible that he would've known.

That's an interesting reading. "How could I have known when these people are on the other side of the planet" is pretty much saying "it's impossible for me to have known since they are on the other side of the planet".
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:28 AM on August 29, 2009


People keep responding to my earlier posts and asking me questions, so I keep replying.

Threads like this pretty much keep going as long as you keep replying - if you feel there's nothing more useful to be exchanged, you can ignore the replies and let it taper off.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 11:37 AM on August 29, 2009


Nobody expects you to be familiar with the symbolism and meaning of the Japanese Imperial Flag, because it is completely unrelated to everyday life in America. Until you hang it in your damn office, at which point you indicate an interest in the idea, and then the argument that it's from a long way away so you didn't know much about it is disingenous and shows a pretty damn shallow approach to life, which I personally would interpret as culturally insensitive appropriation.
posted by jacalata at 11:39 AM on August 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


my only experience with the flag in physical form was as a US veteran's souvenir from WWII--obviously he was against the Japanese navy, not for it or its atrocities, yet he was hanging it on his wall. I find it somewhat ironic that many posters here would have walked into his office, seen the flag, and been offended that he would "support" the atrocities performed by the Japanese

You can't possibly be this dense. He's a veteran. You're not.

But, you know what? Please yourself. You're clearly the specialest, most logical snowflake.
posted by EatTheWeak at 11:41 AM on August 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


oneirodynia:
I suppose that's where we disagree. I would hold that a flag in my office, hung by me, would have quite a few things to do with me and my office because I would be the one using the symbolic language it represents. I would not be asking for my viewpoint to override theirs, I would be asking them not to let their viewpoint override mine. And they have no idea what mine is. This thread has proven to me that asking someone to not make assumptions about me in such a situation is asking too much, so I'm not posting the flag.

The last point I think is an interesting one, similar to "tolerating intolerance." Tolerant people don't tend to tolerate intolerant people. This is not illogical because the goal of tolerance is spreading tolerance and therefore intolerance must by necessity be seen as negative. It does still come off as hypocritical in some cases.


Virtually all of my posts on this thread, Marisa Stole the Precious Thing, have been in response to one or more other posters. I realize that I have not labeled every single reply as such, but with over 200 posts that is becoming somewhat tedious. I continue to post because while I know what I will do in this particular instance, I would like to understand the feelings of others better. I really am a nice person in practice, believe it or not.
posted by Phyltre at 11:45 AM on August 29, 2009


Yes, I do believe you are a nice person, Phyltre, and never said otherwise. I get that you feel picked on and misjudged, but do understand that I don't think you're a monster or something. I'm just left scratching my head at some of this discourse here and some of the claims you've made, is all, but a lot of my own "logic" runs counter to what a lot of people think is logical. What I do try to do, though, is when I'm confronted with an overwhelming response to a position I thought was valid, is take a moment to reconsider where I'm coming from. I think that's pretty natural, and I think that's what pretty much everyone in this thread is asking you to consider as well - not so that people don't pass judgements on you as a person, but so that you better understand and empathize with the feelings of others.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:53 AM on August 29, 2009


I continue to post because while I know what I will do in this particular instance, I would like to understand the feelings of others better.

I am more able to understand the feelings of others better when I stop talking (writing) and instead consider/reflect on what the other person is saying (writing). I've realized after the fact before, that when I'm continually replying and trying to convince other people of my POV that I'm really not listening or seeking understanding at all.
posted by headnsouth at 12:05 PM on August 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Marisa Stole the Precious Thing: "How could I have known when these people are on the other side of the planet" is pretty much saying "it's impossible for me to have known since they are on the other side of the planet".

I agree. But what the OP said was: "I'm curious how I should have been expected to be aware of..." not "How could I have known..."

This is quite different.
posted by Dysk at 12:10 PM on August 29, 2009


A flag, by its very nature, is a symbol representing a country. For example, there are people in the US who get pretty riled when an American flag is burned. Your flag is graphically beautiful, but it's a symbol with very negative associations. Do you really want to align yourself so strongly with it?
posted by theora55 at 12:34 PM on August 29, 2009


Pyramid Termite, I'm guessing you think I am a republican? I am pretty close to libertarian,

Oh, we're caught up on your politics, thanks.

Another instance of the preoccupation with others' irrationality, by the way.
posted by palliser at 12:35 PM on August 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


theora55: A flag, by its very nature, is a symbol representing a country.

So which countries do these represent?
posted by Dysk at 12:45 PM on August 29, 2009


It's a pretty flag. One of my favourites, aesthetically speaking.

But, dude, it carries much the same weight as the more familiar flag of those other people we fought in WWII. You really probably shouldn't hang it in your office.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:45 PM on August 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


turn the key
turn the lock
nationalism
you can suck my...
- Violent Femmes - America Is
posted by finite at 1:10 PM on August 29, 2009


But what the OP said was: "I'm curious how I should have been expected to be aware of..." not "How could I have known..."

This is quite different.


What? They're effectively synonymous. Unless you mean "he used different words to say the same thing".

I like playing King Pedant as much as the next guy but boy is this gettin' silly.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:24 PM on August 29, 2009


Y'know, few flags seem to have been created by artists; most, actually, are rather ugly. The Rising Sun flag is a great design success, as flags go...

But hanging this flag, in your workplace, among co-workers (or clients, or office visitors), some of whom might find it disturbing, would constitute a bad business decision.
posted by darth_tedious at 1:28 PM on August 29, 2009


Phyltre, two things.

1) This is not about you. You continue to worry that people would judge you for the flag hanging in your office. Try to remove yourself from that equation. This is not about you, a flag, and a third party: this is about someone else and a flag. Other people are going to react negatively to that flag regardless of its location or owner. Even if you're a nice guy who's totally not racist and all that jazz: this is not about you.

2) I don't understand exactly how my cell phone works, but it does. I know that there is an explanation, I just don't happen to understand it. My mind doesn't work that way. Similar concept here: I know that you don't understand why other people are offended, but you need to keep in mind that they are. Even if you never grasp why, the lack of explanation will not take away their continued offense. Don't wait for comprehension before you accept the fact: accept it first, because it's there and true.
posted by Help, I can't stop talking! at 1:57 PM on August 29, 2009 [6 favorites]


I guess the excitement of being "best answer" in that thread isn't as great as I would like. I don't personally have any negative associations with that flag and didn't realize there were any but having followed over to this thread can understand and appreciate the reasons why it's a bad idea. Anyway, I hope you get what you want out of it. I'd be interested to see what the final piece looks like.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 1:58 PM on August 29, 2009


I have tons of people telling me others are offended by the rising sun flag, but I don't get the why.

Who cares why? Point is, they are. Now you know. Hang your flag and accept what it makes people think about you, or not. That's it, man. That's the answer.

I know I have no problem with the flag itself, but if I saw your flag on your office wall, I would think some things about YOU that you say you don't intend. Is that what you want? Even in the unlikely event that you saw me see your flag and had the opportunity to explain that it has no symbolism for you, that it was just some cool pattern - Then I would just think you're a dumbass who doesn't give a shit about everyone else's feelings. So you'll have that going for you.
posted by ctmf at 2:20 PM on August 29, 2009


The Nazi and Confederacy comparisons fall flat for a rather simple reason: there is no longer a Nazi regime and there is no longer a Confederacy. They were defeated, and now Germany has a different flag. Southerners in the U.S. use the Stars and Stripes like the rest of America.

The hinomaru is still the current, national, recognized-by-everyone flag in use today in Japan. Those other flags are a sort of time capsule, since no one uses them anymore, but the Japanese flag is not.

In other words, if I hang a Nazi or Confederate flag in my office, people who see it will necessarily think of it as a symbol of that time in history. A Japanese flag...can simply be the flag of modern Japan. As in three and now four generations removed from WWII.

To put it another way--when you watched the Olympics and saw the flag on Japanese athletes, did you think about WWII atrocities, or did you simply see an athlete from Japan?
posted by zardoz at 2:21 PM on August 29, 2009


The hinomaru is still the current, national, recognized-by-everyone flag in use today in Japan. Those other flags are a sort of time capsule, since no one uses them anymore

This is false. The Battle Flag of the Confederacy is still in use today.

To put it another way--when you watched the Olympics and saw the flag on Japanese athletes, did you think about WWII atrocities, or did you simply see an athlete from Japan?

This is also false. The national flag of Japan is not the same as the IJN's naval ensign.
posted by Justinian at 2:30 PM on August 29, 2009


The hinomaru is still the current, national, recognized-by-everyone flag in use today in Japan.

!!!He's not talking about the hinomaru. He's talking about the kyokujitsu-ki.

Hanging a hinomaru in his office would just make him look like an ordinary wannabee. Hanging a kyokujitsu-ki in his office, if he is not a veteran of the Japanese naval self-defense forces, is much more problematic.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:34 PM on August 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yes, the Confederate battle flag is very much in use by certain groups of people, most notably on the right, just like the old flag of imperial Japan is used by right-wing nationalists in Japan today.

Hanging a hinomaru in his office would just make him look like an ordinary wannabee.

They prefer to be called "weeaboos", thank you very much.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:50 PM on August 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


The Confederate flag is definitely still in use; aside from the state flags mentioned above, it's a favorite symbol of people who possess a (in my opinion, unhealthy) level of pride in the South and who either embrace or deliberately ignore the fact that it was the flag under which a particularly nasty war was fought. It's also used extensively by various white supremacist groups. Sure, hanging the Dixie flag doesn't automatically mean you're a white supremacist, and those who do will give you a fancy song & dance about pride in their roots or some such noise if you ask about their motivations, but there's no way that most folks regard that flag as some completely benign historical artifact.
posted by shiu mai baby at 2:51 PM on August 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


> The hinomaru is still the current, national, recognized-by-everyone flag in use today in Japan.

You have no idea what this is about, do you? Hinomaru: not what we're talking about). Rising Sun Flag (Kyokujitsu-ki): what we're talking about.
posted by languagehat at 3:06 PM on August 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


oops, I stand corrected. Carry on, all...
posted by zardoz at 3:33 PM on August 29, 2009


Southerners in the U.S. use the Stars and Stripes like the rest of America. ... Those other flags are a sort of time capsule, since no one uses them anymore

You really need to go to an Ole Miss football game sometime...
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:05 PM on August 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


The Confederate flag is definitely still in use; aside from the state flags mentioned above, it's a favorite symbol of people who possess a (in my opinion, unhealthy) level of pride in the South and who either embrace or deliberately ignore the fact that it was the flag under which a particularly nasty war was fought. It's also used extensively by various white supremacist groups. Sure, hanging the Dixie flag doesn't automatically mean you're a white supremacist, and those who do will give you a fancy song & dance about pride in their roots or some such noise if you ask about their motivations, but there's no way that most folks regard that flag as some completely benign historical artifact.

It's also a strangely common sight in the UK and Ireland (and maybe elsewhere, I don't know) as a symbol of Americana... a lot of people are distinctly unaware of the severely negative connotations of that flag.
posted by knapah at 4:06 PM on August 29, 2009


It's also a strangely common sight in the UK and Ireland (and maybe elsewhere, I don't know) as a symbol of Americana... a lot of people are distinctly unaware of the severely negative connotations of that flag.

I lived in the UK about 20 years ago (gulp), at the height of the whole Madchester scene. "The North Shall Rise Again" was a t-shirt slogan you'd occasionally see -- obviously a take-off of the old "The South Shall Rise Again" -- as a kind of "in your face, London and other southern environs that dominate culture and politics!" sentiment. But what was particularly weird was that some of these shirts would be set against a flag that was a cross between the Union Jack and the Confederate stars and bars. I tried explaining to someone once how, um, problematic this was, but I don't think I got very far. (If there had been such a thing as Metafilter in 1989, I'm pretty sure he would have come to Meta to start a thread about how crazy I was.)
posted by scody at 5:43 PM on August 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


I lived in the UK about 20 years ago (gulp), at the height of the whole Madchester scene. "The North Shall Rise Again" was a t-shirt slogan you'd occasionally see -- obviously a take-off of the old "The South Shall Rise Again" -- as a kind of "in your face, London and other southern environs that dominate culture and politics!" sentiment. But what was particularly weird was that some of these shirts would be set against a flag that was a cross between the Union Jack and the Confederate stars and bars. I tried explaining to someone once how, um, problematic this was, but I don't think I got very far. (If there had been such a thing as Metafilter in 1989, I'm pretty sure he would have come to Meta to start a thread about how crazy I was.)

People here don't tend to know much about the US civil war, hell, a lot of them don't even know a lot about the English civil war... to a lot of people, the confederate flag is just a cool flag that has a rebellious streak to it.

An American friend of mine from New York was recently in Ireland and took a picture of some guys in Cork with a confederate flag and put it on facebook with the tagline "What The Fuck?" Cork's nicknamed "the rebel county", so that's probably why they had it... but they probably wouldn't keep it up long if someone informed them of the connotations. (or they looked them up themselves...)
posted by knapah at 5:48 PM on August 29, 2009


But then again, the Cork lot are odd. They also talk about the People's Republic of Cork.
posted by knapah at 5:51 PM on August 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


1.) I can't believe I made it all the way to the end of this thread.
2.) I have been part of many conversations on MetaFilter, and many of them have been contentious, but never have I so wanted to punch someone in the face.

Phyltre, you're not autistic. You're just a troll, happy to make a spectacle of yourself by making everyone dislike you. Congrats! You have now convinced the majority of the site's regulars that you're a pig ignorant enemadouche that refuses to recognize when he's being an tone deaf a-hole. I look forward to skimming and disregarding your posts in fond remembrance of your epic idiocy in this thread in the future.
posted by orville sash at 6:29 PM on August 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


Oops, I confused the flags too. I guess that's what I get for skimming the thread. Thanks to sidhedevil and languagehat for pointing out the distinction between the two flags.

Before I bow out for good, I want to repeat my wonderment that the dude has a Filipina fiancee and does not discuss this issue with her or her family. No direct or indirect victim of Japanese aggression has ever passed up the opportunity to tell me exactly how he feels about the Japanese. Funny and scary was the elderly neurosurgeon who recounted the Japanese crimes against Korea while poked around inside my spinal column with...something pointy...for a test. I was under twilight sedation and remember the entire exchange.
posted by vincele at 6:49 PM on August 29, 2009


vincele, he did have the discussion apparently:

my fiancee and her family have no problems with Japan or its military or its flags. We've had this discussion before. My soon-to-be father-in-law is told he resembles Hirohito when he wears glasses and laughs about it and used to have a little picture at home for comparison.

It seems not to bother them...
posted by knapah at 6:52 PM on August 29, 2009


Re: symbols having different meanings in different countries & regions -- a few years ago my husband and I took a trip to Paris, and did the requisite day trip down to Versailles. On the train down, we met a nice guy who lived just a few blocks from the palace. He was eager to show us around the town, and invited us to come back to his apartment after we toured the palace.

He clearly came from a good deal of old money; his family's "apartment" was gorgeous, with parquet floors, lord knows how many bedrooms, a formal salon *and* a library with floor to ceiling bookcases. Obviously, the library captured my attention, so it was in there that we hung out and chatted about all sorts of stuff. As I perused the bookshelves, some of which had little curios on them, I came to one shelf and my heart about stopped in my chest: there was a whole line of little 3" figurines wearing what appeared to be the robes and pointed hoods of the Ku Klux Klan. As a girl raised in the American South, this pretty much scared me shitless, and I started wondering what kind of person this guy was.

I asked about them in as casual a tone as I could muster, although clearly I must have betrayed some anxiety. He quickly explained that they were the robes of the penitent that were worn during sacra santa, Spain's holy week (he had mentioned earlier that his family was half French, half Spanish). The conical hood was called a capirote, and had been part of the traditional garb for centuries, definitely predating the Klan, which had coopted the robes for their own use.

It was a big relief, obviously, but I'll always remember that initial feeling of panic, seeing those little figurines wearing something that is inextricably associated with malice and hatred in my own background.
posted by shiu mai baby at 6:56 PM on August 29, 2009 [7 favorites]


shiu mai baby: I saw them parading in Barcelona a few years ago and did a big double take. I had completely forgotten what time of year it was!

Here's a picture (not one of mine)
posted by knapah at 7:01 PM on August 29, 2009


@ orville sash:

Your hate is misplaced. Your desire to punch me in the face is misplaced. If a majority dislike me as a result of this thread, I am at peace with that. I've been honest and explained my thoughts and position as best I can. Please don't be angry or vindictive, those are wasted emotions.
posted by Phyltre at 7:45 PM on August 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


If a majority dislike me as a result of this thread, I am at peace with that.

Then presumably you will be equally at peace with the dislike you'll engender in your workplace when you go through with your cunning plan, not to mention being at peace with the possibility of getting fired for creating a hostile work environment. So your zen-like peace with actively seeking out ways to be an ass is impressive and all, but it does raise the question as to why you started this thread in the first place.
posted by scody at 8:12 PM on August 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


He has already said he's not putting the flag up. On more than one occasion for that matter.
posted by knapah at 8:13 PM on August 29, 2009


Geez, guys, some dude just said he should be punched in the face! Can't someone just say, "You shouldn't be punched in the face, Phyltre"?

You shouldn't be punched in the face, Phyltre. You might be just a little tone-deaf and fixated on a superficial version of rationality, but you're probably 22 or something, so it's cool.
posted by palliser at 8:23 PM on August 29, 2009 [5 favorites]


I can't believe that no one suggested testing people's reaction to the symbol of the flag by trying to burn one in various countries/states. Americans aren't very tolerant of having their flag burned. And other nationalities don't like the practice with their own country's flag either. Those reactions show how seriously various folk take the piece of cloth.

Also let us all think of the many HR departments out there who deal with stuff like this all the time. Daily. I can't believe no one had any good Workplace Manual stories to share, but perhaps it's because I've only ever worked at state run universities and colleges, and a couple of large corporations that I've seen so many. I assumed everyone always checked the What's Allowed in Our Workplace manual - there are many untold stories in the List of Things Thou Shalt Not Bring To the Office. (I did not have to be told not to bring, for instance, my human skull collection to work. Er, they're made of non human materials. And very friendly.) ...Somehow I'm getting a flashback to elementary school when the teacher said "ok look, I'm going to confiscate these toys so we can all focus on the schoolwork - you know, what we're all supposed to be doing - and you can pick the toys up at the end of the year." And suddenly the distracting items went away and work was done.

Short version - I do whatever HR says, including think of what might upset my coworkers in office decoration - and go out of my way not to bother people. Everyone stays happy, I get my paycheck, and I have fewer worries. And then I go home where I can enjoy my skull collection, and no one minds. (I'm an aging goth. It's an illness. I'm still in recovery.)

"He quickly explained that they were the robes of the penitent that were worn during sacra santa, Spain's holy week (he had mentioned earlier that his family was half French, half Spanish). The conical hood was called a capirote, and had been part of the traditional garb for centuries, definitely predating the Klan, which had coopted the robes for their own use."

In the late 80s I was in Spain during that holy week and had NOT been clued in to the penitent garb. So I was scared shitless when we were went to the night parade of the statue of the Virgin and bumped into several hooded penitents coming out of a dark street. I was also told that some of them wore hair shirts under their robes. It was very much You Are No Longer in the US. (And one of many many times when I cursed my choice of taking French instead of Spanish - I miss out on so many explanations of what's happening.)
posted by batgrlHG at 9:55 PM on August 29, 2009


Has anybody commented yet on the irony of what flags symbolize here on Metafilter?
posted by iamkimiam at 10:33 PM on August 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


I couldn't read all the way through so I just want to ask - has anyone made a joke yet about flagging this post?
posted by awfurby at 10:39 PM on August 29, 2009


Has anybody made a joke about the fact that someone made a joke about flagging this post right above awfurby's question as to whether or not anyone made a joke about flagging this post?
posted by katillathehun at 12:16 AM on August 30, 2009


Oh man, spanish catholics. I spent maybe 2-3 years worth of Semanas Santa convinced that it was only a matter of time before the pointy-hooded penitents came to drag me off to some camp with "el trabajo hace libertad" on the gates before I realized that remaining benevolently drunk the entire week would stave off the ridiculous paranoia quite well.
posted by elizardbits at 12:24 AM on August 30, 2009


Phyltre to MetaFilter-related: I want to know how something like a flag or symbol can be offensive enough that someone would not want me to hang it in my personal workspace. This idea is completely foreign to me.

It may be foreign to me—it's foreign to me, too—but most of the Japanese people I've know, people who have lived and were even born and raised in Japan, would find this unspeakably offensive. You'll get the same reaction putting up a Reichskriegsflagg in Berlin.
posted by koeselitz at 1:23 AM on August 30, 2009


palliser: Geez, guys, some dude just said he should be punched in the face! Can't someone just say, "You shouldn't be punched in the face, Phyltre"?

Well, sort of.

I mean, I don't think Phyltre should be held down by a gang of people and repeated punched about the nose and eyes.

But if a guy stood up at my local bar and started waving a Rising Sun around whilst loudly declaiming that "it doesn't mean anything, it's just a symbol!" and "how can all of you judge me for displaying this flag? It never killed or raped anybody—just a symbol!" then I would indeed stand up and punch him in the face.

That would probably entitle him to punch me back, but that's just fine; sometimes it's just too much to bear. And, hell, sometimes a punch in the face is just what a person needs.
posted by koeselitz at 1:43 AM on August 30, 2009


Oh, okay, my favourite flag is the one I get when I press this:

[!]
posted by crossoverman at 3:29 AM on August 30, 2009


If I had a big Sacred Heart of Mary image in my office, I'm pretty sure everyone would assume that I'm a proud/staunch/pious Catholic (or Orthodox). (Even Phyltre, most likely... or at least he would understand why others would think so.) However, if I had this, plus a lot of other Byzantine religious icons, people would probably assume I was a collector of Byzantine religious icons, and perhaps, but not necessarily, also religious. If I had this image along with representations of Queen Elizabeth I, Marie Curie, Amelia Earhart, etc. they would assume that I was making a (probably feminist) statement or was inspired by important female historical figures. If I had this image next to a large photo of Madonna, people would assume I was making a sort of wry cultural statement. If I had this image, plus photos and portraits of Mary Pickford, Mary Poppins, Mary J. Blige, etc. then people would assume I just have a thing about famous people and characters with the name "Mary."

So, even the strongest iconic images don't always suggest only a single interpretation. But, whatever the circumstances, because it's a powerful image, I think very few people would ever assume that I put it up just because I liked the design of her wimple.

This is actually not a bug, but a feature. People are hard-wired to recognize and interpret (among other things) symbols and juxtapositions not just as an aid to communication, but in order to quickly judge a person/situation and thereby modulate or determine their own actions. If I saw that a person surrounded themselves with a great deal of violent imagery, I would be very uneasy. I'd want to cut short any involvement with them, and get away as quickly as possible. Yet if I saw that all these images had to do with famous battles, I might be more inclined to wonder if this person is a harmless military history buff. Of course people pay attention to all kinds of cues... it's one way to keep on surviving, for one thing. One could keep a very open mind that war paint/gang signs/clan symbols/war banners are just meaningless emblems that you can't interpret until you've had a discussion with the bearer, or you could haul ass and keep breathing.

Of course, a lot of art and literature has to do with rendering these sorts of cues ambiguous, to challenge us and make us look deeper, or examine our own reactions... and most of us don't want to punch the artist in the mouth as a result (though some always do... and wasn't that the whole point, sort of, anyway?) But this too absolutely relies on the concept of people understanding the meaning of those symbols. So, while I don't feel angry at Philtre, and am sympathetic to the idea of even a hated symbol of hate/suppression/violence being intellectually challenged/repurposed, I have to say that the idea that people wouldn't/shouldn't make assumptions about symbols seems to me just about the opposite of logical/rational. If symbols didn't mean anything, we wouldn't have symbols... their entire purpose is to convey a fairly specific and complex idea in an instant.
posted by taz at 3:43 AM on August 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


I'm from Singapore, which was occupied by the Japanese during WWII. The rising sun flag does provoke a slightly uncomfortable feeling in me, and I'm certain my grandparents who lived through the occupation would be immensely disturbed at the sight of the flag.

The main point here is not whether or not people are judging you negatively, as somebody has previously mentioned. The point is, there are some people out there for whom this particular symbol evokes negative feelings, very much like shiu mai baby's experience with the penitent robes. That's what most people have been trying to explain to you in the thread.

Of course if you're unaware of this nobody has the right to blame you, and if I were in your office and saw you put up the flag I'd just assume you didn't know its history.

However, if the flag bothered me enough that I asked you to take it down, would you do so and respect my right to not be affected in such a way while at work? Or would you basically say that "oh its just a symbol, I don't mean all that, ignore it" and refuse?

Doing the latter (which I believe many commenters feel you would based on your replies) would then be a just reason for me to be offended, because you are not respecting my rights in a common space.
posted by destrius at 3:59 AM on August 30, 2009


I wanted to add something about Grice; I know I'm a little late in the thread but I think it is both interesting and relevant to (what I think is) the main point in this thread about interpretation. Grice was concerned although we can generally agree on what a sentence means (for the most part), we often use sentences to convey other meanings, ideas that might have nothing at all to do with the actual semantic content of the sentence. He developed the the idea of the cooperative principle and the maxims specifically to address how this was possible. If we assume that our interlocutor is being cooperative, then we believe him to be following the maxims (see iamkimiam's excellent summary above). So when we hear a sentence, we take both the semantic content and the context into consideration when judging what knew knowledge we can take from the utterance of that sentence.

An example will help: if I say "I have two children" this sentence is true in the case where I have three children. If I have three children, then I necessarily have two children. But if I say this sentence in a discourse, my interlocutor will assume that I am following the maxim of quantity, and that I have no more than two children.

Another example: if I am asked to write a letter of recommendation for a student for a graduate program, and I write "he has excellent handwriting and frequently showed up to class on time" then the student is not likely to be accepted into the program. Why? Because the reader of my letter will assume that I am being cooperative, and therefore if I fail to write about how astute and intelligent the student is it is because if I were to say these things I would be violating the maxim of quality.

So if someone claims to be "logical" in their interpretation of language (and symbols), he could be strictly adhering to the semantic content of a sentence, and not taking the context into consideration. Normal conversational interaction conveys information beyond just what is logically contained in the sentences uttered (this is the object of study of the linguistic subfield known as pragmatics). Failing to take this into consideration is either obtuse or willfully ignorant, but at any rate it is not customary behavior and will result in misunderstanding at best.

(Note that the way that maxims work varies among different speaker groups/cultures.)
posted by tractorfeed at 5:51 AM on August 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


D'oh. Elizardbits has it right. Spanish holy week is Semana Santa, not frickin' sacra santa, as I had written. Romance language FAIL.

Side note to my fellow non-Spaniards: That link has another picture similar to the one linked by knapah, above. Even though I know full well in my rational, college-educated brain that it is not a picture of Klansman, I still -- still -- have a tenth of a second gasp when I see the penitent.
posted by shiu mai baby at 6:06 AM on August 30, 2009


Now let's be clear, palliser. I didn't advocate his face punching. I said it was something I would personally like to do. And not because he is just culturally insensitive, but because he has artificially prolonged this argument by either pretending to be or actually being willfully ignorant and obnoxious in the face on mountains of evidence that his behavior is, in fact, willfully ignorant and obnoxious.

as for phyltre:

Your hate is misplaced.

who said anything about hate?

Your desire to punch me in the face is misplaced.

erm...nope.
posted by orville sash at 6:46 AM on August 30, 2009


This thread would have a much better signal-to-noise ratio if people took the time to actually read the thread before posting.
posted by CRM114 at 6:46 AM on August 30, 2009 [5 favorites]


God yes. If another "yeah ok do you say the same thing about black people?" pops in I think my desk will finally break in two from the number of times my forehead has slammed against it.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:58 AM on August 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I completely agree that nothing phyltre has said warrants his being punched in the face.

He should definitely be punched in the dick though.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:17 AM on August 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


CRM114: This thread would have a much better signal-to-noise ratio if people took the time to actually read the thread before posting.

That's often true, but not here. The bitter disappointment for those of us who spent those two hours it took to get through the whole thing was that the poster felt pretty much the damned same about it at the end as he did at the beginning.
posted by koeselitz at 10:02 AM on August 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Americans aren't very tolerant of having their flag burned. And other nationalities don't like the practice with their own country's flag either. Those reactions show how seriously various folk take the piece of cloth.

Speaking as a Canadian: Meh.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:16 AM on August 30, 2009


I don't think it's realistic for any of us to expect that a MeTa post will dramatically restructure somebody's worldview in 300 comments or less. But maybe a seed of some idea, whether its tolerance, empathy, or something else entirely, will be planted in each one of us.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:20 AM on August 30, 2009


Wow, that sounded so pragmatic and whimsy. Let's all hug.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:22 AM on August 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


If this is where we start with the hugging, shouldn't there be pie, too? I think there should be pie.

But what kind?
posted by rtha at 11:43 AM on August 30, 2009


I don't think it's realistic for any of us to expect that a MeTa post will dramatically restructure somebody's worldview in 300 comments or less.

Yeah, but if we can hold out until just 301, maybe there's a chance...!
posted by Ms. Saint at 12:01 PM on August 30, 2009


I'm not a racist. I'm not a nationalist or sexist, and my fiancee is from the Philippines.

OK. You're not a racist?

Don't display racially charged symbols in your office, then!

There. Problem solved. We can all go home now.
posted by jason's_planet at 12:07 PM on August 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


DUDE NO WE CANNOT GO HOME WE HAVEN'T HAD HUGS OR PIE YET!!
posted by iamkimiam at 12:10 PM on August 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Flagged as brilliant:

I don't understand exactly how my cell phone works, but it does. I know that there is an explanation, I just don't happen to understand it. My mind doesn't work that way. Similar concept here: I know that you don't understand why other people are offended, but you need to keep in mind that they are. Even if you never grasp why, the lack of explanation will not take away their continued offense. Don't wait for comprehension before you accept the fact: accept it first, because it's there and true.
posted by jason's_planet at 12:11 PM on August 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


*hugs a pie*
posted by Sys Rq at 12:14 PM on August 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


*hugs a pie*
posted by Sys Rq at 3:14 PM on August 30

You're gonna need a new shirt.
posted by paulsc at 12:20 PM on August 30, 2009


{{{3.1415926535897932384626433832795028841971693993751058209749445923078164062862089986280348253421170679}}}
posted by jenkinsEar at 12:24 PM on August 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Christian Hosoi, white red courtesy phone, please.
posted by porn in the woods at 12:35 PM on August 30, 2009


iamkimiam: DUDE NO WE CANNOT GO HOME WE HAVEN'T HAD HUGS OR PIE YET!!

... and everybody knows hugs and pie come after face-punching.

And drunk sex.

Wait, where am I?
posted by koeselitz at 12:36 PM on August 30, 2009


@koeselitz:

What kind of outcome would you have considered to not be a bitter disappointment?
posted by Phyltre at 12:52 PM on August 30, 2009


posted by rtha I think there should be pie. But what kind?

A cherry pie with a Rising Sun across the crust. If you're offended, well hey, that's your problem. It's just a pie!
posted by mattdidthat at 12:56 PM on August 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Has anybody commented yet on the irony of what flags symbolize here on Metafilter?

cortex and I have been making that joke pretty much nonstop here in backchannel land.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:58 PM on August 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


If you really want to get into it, start contemplating what the national flag of Backchannelland might look like.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:11 PM on August 30, 2009


Not sure what the flag of Backchannelland would look like, but when I described what I thought the flag of planet Earth would look like, one Mefite was there to make it happen.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:17 PM on August 30, 2009


A cherry pie with a Rising Sun across the crust. If you're offended, well hey, that's your problem. It's just a pie!

I will eliminate the offending item by eating it, so no problem at all!
posted by rtha at 1:28 PM on August 30, 2009


But since I have no pie right now, I'm consoling myself with a BLT, without the L. The T are dry-farmed, making them the most delicious Ts anywhere.
posted by rtha at 1:29 PM on August 30, 2009


Not sure what the flag of Backchannelland would look like, but when I described what I thought the flag of planet Earth would look like, one Mefite was there to make it happen.

That is totally what a conversation between jessamyn and cortex looks like.
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:35 PM on August 30, 2009


The Flag of Backchannelland
posted by jtron at 2:03 PM on August 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Rampant buttplug symbolically entering the nation of Backchannel? Nice.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:42 PM on August 30, 2009


The new Flag of Backchannel
posted by Rumple at 3:11 PM on August 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


MetaFilter: Rampant buttplug.
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:31 PM on August 30, 2009


would it be wrong to hang the union jack or the american flag because of our own imperialistic and horrible pasts?

Wrong in which sense? Wrong in some sort of platonic sense of wrong, or wrong in some social sense?

I know a few English Brits who bemoan the way that St Andrew's Cross is taken as asign of Scottish nationalism in a postitive sense, but the Cross of St George is associated with racists, because racist gangs in the 70s and 80s started using that flag as an indication of their anti-white beliefs.

Likewise, in context of former British colonies waving a Union Jack about may create hostility - go try pinning one up in your office in Eire and see how far it gets you, for example.

Should we just start banning all flags from the workplace?

Why not? I'm actually at a loss to understand why people would feel the need to wave nationalistic symbols around the office, anyway.

Well, there's the whole First Amendment protection, particularly with respect to political speech.

I assume, therefore, that you believe that it would be OK to hang Nazi banners in the office to indicate one's Neo-Nazi sympathies? Or IRA paraphenalia? Or al-Qaeda symbols?
posted by rodgerd at 4:36 PM on August 30, 2009


You owe me a new desk, rodgerd.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:49 PM on August 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Likewise, in context of former British colonies waving a Union Jack about may create hostility - go try pinning one up in your office in Eire and see how far it gets you, for example.

As an Irish citizen, this won't bother too many people. It might in west Belfast or South Armagh though.
posted by knapah at 4:54 PM on August 30, 2009


I assume, therefore, that you believe that it would be OK to hang Nazi banners in the office to indicate one's Neo-Nazi sympathies? Or IRA paraphenalia? Or al-Qaeda symbols?

I don't think whoever it was who said that was suggesting that it would be OK, just that it should, in the US, be legal.

(Note to non-US MeFites: It is legal to display Nazi paraphernalia, Klan paraphernalia, and so on in the US because of the First Amendment to the US Constitution, which in theory permits all speech, however offensive, that does not contain direct threats of violence to specific individuals. I understand that other countries have different laws, but this is the law in the US.)
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:56 PM on August 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


rogerd, there's also been some relevant discussion of the public-private distinction in the application of the First Amendment. For example, in the US, people can legally hang neo-Nazi propaganda on their own front porches, however it may offend passers-by (this still being not "OK" in any other sense than "legal"), but I actually think they're not permitted to hang it on the private property of their employers.
posted by palliser at 5:09 PM on August 30, 2009


I assume, therefore, that you believe that it would be OK to hang Nazi banners in the office to indicate one's Neo-Nazi sympathies? Or IRA paraphenalia? Or al-Qaeda symbols?

I don't think whoever it was who said that was suggesting that it would be OK, just that it should, in the US, be legal.


They seemed to me to be suggesting that because it was legal (and desirable) that it ought to be OK in an office.
posted by rodgerd at 5:10 PM on August 30, 2009


They seemed to me to be suggesting that because it was legal (and desirable) that it ought to be OK in an office.

What I took from it was that the poster had interpreted "ban" as "government ban," rather than an individual company's human resources having a policy against it (a la dress codes), because the First Amendment would be irrelevant to the latter situation.

Obviously, not everything that is legal is OK to do in the office (smoke cigarettes, listen to Metallica at top volume, walk around barefoot, keep ferrets, etc.)
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:25 PM on August 30, 2009


Actually, we do all of that in my office aside from smoking, which is only allowed on the fire escape. (ok, it's mostly dogs and cats and fish, no ferrets.)
posted by elizardbits at 8:07 PM on August 30, 2009


Obviously, not everything that is legal is OK to do in the office (smoke cigarettes, listen to Metallica at top volume, walk around barefoot, keep ferrets, etc.)

My favorite exchange from The Hangover springs to mind right now.

"Lots of things are frowned upon that aren't really illegal. Like masturbating on an airplane."

". . . I'm pretty sure it's illegal to masturbate on an airplane."

"Sure, maybe now, in our post-911 world . . . thanks a lot, Osama."
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:12 PM on August 30, 2009


Phyltre: you really deserve a response, and the truth is that I've gone through six or seven different versions of this, but it's pointless if I don't say this directly:

What's disappointing is that we never got to the heart of all this, either because nobody actually asked you the question or because you'd rather not say. Why do you want to put up an Imperial Japanese flag? You said up above that you had reasons that were both personal and aesthetic, and you listed some of your aesthetic reasons for liking the flag; what are the personal ones? Why on earth would you and your co-worker see the Imperial Flag of Japan as somehow parallel to the 13-star American Flag, when there's nothing whatsoever parallel about the societies and regimes that produced them?

And, more than that: I understand where you're coming from, I think. You had no idea that anyone would think this, having had your own milder associations with the flag; and you feel a bit threatened (most anybody would) by the sensation of dozens of people telling you that this idea you'd had was an offensive one. So you ask: how can people take such offense at me personally when I'm being clear that I'm not a racist or a fascist or a militarist or anything like that? How can you judge what I intend by these symbols by your associations with them?

But, Phyltre, while I know that it seems like an insult when people say they'd be offended, while I understand that it sounds like a judgment about your personal feelings about the actions of the Japanese military during the imperial era when people tell you that that flag, to which you apparently feel some connection however insignificant, is a symbol of the repression and tyranny so many people suffered under—I think you're making a tremendous mistake in jettisoning all these apparently hostile viewpoints and hemming to your own 'personal symbolic language.' I know it seems much more convenient, and moreover it appears to dovetail nicely into your sense that people oughtn't be judgmental and ought to afford each other freedom of speech and expression.

This isn't really about freedom of speech, though—everybody has the freedom to speak just as much as they have the freedom to be offended. This is about how that speech is understood, and about the symbols and emblems we use. And those emblems aren't just personal, private things; in fact, I'd argue that 'personal symbols' ultimately don't mean anything, and that it's our sharing of them that gives symbols their power and meaning. In using a symbol, you're taking part in a pool of shared meaning, a collective common ground; and it's worth it to take that seriously.

Seventy years ago, certain things happened in Japan that no well-meaning person should want to see happen again; a generation of artists, writers, thinkers, teachers, and great minds in Japan was killed off by the Imperial government, a government which showed time and time again that it cared very little for its people or their well-being. A good number of us believe pretty fervently that it's very, very important for us to remember what that meant and what it means to avoid it. Do you agree? Or not? I don't think you have a choice: the way you use the symbol of the Rising Sun flag has an effect on the way the symbol is used in the future; that power you have, it turns out, is a good thing, a blessing, not a curse.

In the end, I don't think you should abandon your idea; it might actually be a very good thing for you to put the imperial flag up in your office. Really and truly, that's what freedom of speech means, and I'm actually convinced that most of the people in this thread who have objected to the flag's very presence have done so because they had no context and no idea what you meant by it.

I only think that, if you hang a Japanese Imperial flag in your office, you should be prepared to offer an explanation. When people sit down, look over, and suddenly seem a little uncomfortable, you should be ready to tell them why you have that flag hanging there—you should be ready tell them what you haven't told us, what personal connections you might have to it—and you should realize that with just about every last one of those people, you'll have to explain that you don't care much for the Imperial-era Japanese government. And if you want to contribute to the shared symbols of our society in any responsible way, you ought to consider your own personal connections to the symbol in relation to what it means for the rest of us; history is part of all of us, of you as much as of me.
posted by koeselitz at 10:37 PM on August 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Actually, koeselitz, he's at work. So instead of having a little learn-in where he confronts people with upsetting images and then inspires them to work through their reactions with him, he should get to work and let them work.
posted by palliser at 5:32 AM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


palliser: Actually, koeselitz, he's at work. So instead of having a little learn-in where he confronts people with upsetting images and then inspires them to work through their reactions with him, he should get to work and let them work.

Ah yes, I'd forgotten. Many of you prefer to switch your souls off when you go to work.
posted by koeselitz at 6:07 AM on August 31, 2009


Sorry, palliser; I should probably be a little clearer about what I envisioned.

I can imagine a situation where someone keeps around a Confederate flag, or a Nazi flag, or an Imperial Japanese flag, specifically because she wants to keep the memory alive of what happened there and to never allow it to happen again. I don't think there's anything wrong with that; and in that sense it is indeed true that it's not the symbols or the words you use but what you mean by them that counts. That was really my point: that Phyltre is quite correct that the symbol can stand for what he wants it to, but only if he makes it stand for that; and that requires explanation, real explanation of the kind which has been sadly lacking here.

posted by koeselitz at 6:11 AM on August 31, 2009


... but—I understand where you're coming from, and I know that it seems in some ways appallingly insensitive for someone to ask 'how can you judge me just because I have this horribly offensive thing on my wall?' I guess I'm only trying to challenge Phyltre to think about that—to think about how it'll hurt people when they see it, to embrace the role of looking out for other people's feelings, to keep them from being hurt or insulted before it happens.
posted by koeselitz at 6:15 AM on August 31, 2009


Ah yes, I'd forgotten. Many of you prefer to switch your souls off when you go to work.

I like your learn-in idea and I agree that would be a responsible way to go. However, Phyltre is just as likely to have his co-workers go to HR with their problem as to look for an enlightened discussion of semiotics. This being the case, then is it ethically responsible to deliberately conduct behaviour in the workplace that will lead people to have a legitimate grievance with you? It's not that our souls are switched off so much as that our social antennae should be set on HIGH so that everyone can just get on with their job and not have to deal with someone else's soul being shoved into their eyesockets.

Also, I don't think Phyltre can make it stand for whatever he wants, he can argue for it standing for whatever he wants but at the end of the day it will still symbolize for a lot of people that (a) Imperial Japanese badness (b) Phyltre not supporting Imperial Japan but nonetheless putting his aesthetic above my feelings and (c) Phyltre most likely being a bit of a dick if he does this.

That is, his interpretation does not run rings around anyone elses, no matter how hard and sincerely he may try.
posted by Rumple at 7:33 AM on August 31, 2009


That flag has always been about perspective to me. In a few different ways:

First, literally, the central circle is individual perspective, and each ray is the "line of sight" available to the center, with the blank fields being blind spots. The width of each ray represents the precision with which the center can apprehend whatever it falls upon. Presumably, if this model continued, one would end up with vast swaths of solid colors that would not appear meaningful from a small scale. This always reminds me just how little of the world a single person can truly grasp, I'm sure we've all heard the adage: the more you learn in life, the more you realize you know very little. Extrapolating this, one might assume that multiple points of consciousness occur far away from the starting dot; that in fact, the central dot is merely another segment of a larger pattern not indicated solely by the content of the flag itself.

Of course there are the cultural connotations. To me the flag has always been a reminder of the dangers of not evaluating one's motives and taking cultural norms for granted--specifically, the flag reminds me of the Milgram experiment. War is just a huge Milgram experiment, I have never understood why people would be shocked by its results with even a cursory knowledge of history. We tend to ignore the psychological inconvenience that there is nothing unusually evil about a country that perpetrates what would be almost universally considered an evil war. Rather, it is the tendency of people to do what they are told, to listen, to be content to allow motivation and responsibility for their actions to rest on leadership, whether it be charismatic or despotic or even expressly democratic. People generally assume that authority figures or laws are correct and should be followed, and this is always a dangerous assumption.

The parallel, I hope, is obvious. Any group of people is capable of great evil. (I am most closely a non-party libertarian because I believe that artifacts such as our national parties create more artificial power structures that negatively affect the ability of the individual to make their own choices. I cannot believe that public sentiment would not be very different in the US if a two-party system was not the inescapable status quo.) So the flag has always been a reminder to me for how things can go south in the absence of perspective.

Especially given that the Japanese navy is now a Defense Force by name. The same flag flies over a navy strictly forbidden from acting against other nations. The contrast had always been rather strong to me, from war to peace, even if it was externally forced initially. I think this is especially significant given that Japan is an island, and therefore seafaring would have been their only way of interacting with the rest of the world for much of their history. It is also worth mentioning that the Japanese navy is a great testament to their strategy of "copy, improve, innovate." The imperial initiatives are regrettable at best, obviously, but the fact remains that they had probably the most advanced navy in the world at their height. A navy that is now dedicated to peacekeeping and support missions. For me the flag represents what can happen after a war, what positive changes can be made and how quickly they can occur.

I'm sure some of this comes off as disjointed or perhaps obtuse. But that's at least a part of what the flag resonates with to me.
posted by Phyltre at 9:37 AM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ah yes, I'd forgotten. Many of you prefer to switch your souls off when you go to work.

It's not a matter of "switching off your soul", Koestelitz. It's about being sensitive to what those around you think, and respecting the fact that you're not in your home, you're in a place where you are being paid to perform a certain function.

The people you work for are not paying you to be the Ambassador On Behalf Of A Given Cultural Symbol -- they are paying you to manage business accounts, type letters, file paperwork, teach children, or what have you. If part of your office environment rules stipulate that you may not hang certain things in your office, you may not hang those certain things in your office. But this also means that you can hang other things that are not those forbidden things in your office. And you are perfectly free to "engage your self-expression" by just picking some other damn thing. That's all a lot of us are saying.

There is a middle ground between a soulless work environment and complete and total freedom in your choice of wall art. I promise.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:06 AM on August 31, 2009


Phyltre: If you do decide to hang the Rising Sun flag in your office, you should also maybe print out your explanation and tack it up next to it, like the accompanying preface to a piece in an exhibition. I think Rumple's right that you might get people going straight to HR without a discussion on collective vs. personal meaning, but you'll at least have your rationale standing next to the flag beforehand.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:34 AM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm just going to commission the creation of my own flag rather than use that one, as stated previously.
posted by Phyltre at 10:39 AM on August 31, 2009


Alright, I must've missed that. Could you post design mock-ups when they're done? I think the idea of a "personal flag" is pretty interesting.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:45 AM on August 31, 2009


I was probably not clear earlier, I indicated that I would commission my own flag but it would have been reasonable to infer that I meant commissioning my own cotton naval flag rather than commissioning the creation of a flag based on my design.

Also, where should I post the design when I finish? In this thread or in its own metatalk post? I don't want to remind anyone of this thread that might not have fond memories of it.
posted by Phyltre at 10:58 AM on August 31, 2009


If you're getting the Japanese naval flag then I guess posting a design won't be necessary.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:08 AM on August 31, 2009


Post in here if you'd like to. Do not start a new metatalk post to do so.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:10 AM on August 31, 2009


where should I post the design when I finish? In this thread or in its own metatalk post?

Eh, I'd just leave it alone. If you want to follow-up with the MeFi-specific part of this which is how it went over at work, that's fine. Otherwise, this thread has been a bit too much about your personal philosophy about this particular issue and not so much about stuff that's germane to the community. I don't feel the need to belabor this point, but it's a site of 45K members give or take and each person's office decoration choices aren't really a topic that the entire community needs updating on.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:11 AM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think we're misunderstanding each other, I'm not using the Japanese naval flag.
posted by Phyltre at 11:13 AM on August 31, 2009


I think you misunderstand both of us: it doesn't matter particularly what flag you chose.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:14 AM on August 31, 2009


jessamyn, I think you misunderstand :-P He was probably addressing Marisa Stole the Precious Thing.
posted by Dysk at 11:16 AM on August 31, 2009


This whole court is out of order!
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:19 AM on August 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


I agree, jessamyn. I only asked where to post the design because I had been asked by others to post it; it was not my initiative to do so. I do not frequent MetaTalk and therefore was uncertain of etiquette. I have only posted about my personal philosophy because multiple posters have asked me to post it. I apologize for any inconvenience.
posted by Phyltre at 11:20 AM on August 31, 2009


I'm totally lost. It's not the Rising Sun flag, it's not a flag of your own design, and it's not the Japanese naval flag. Maybe I'm particularly thick today, but what am I missing here? Can you link to a picture of the flag in question?

Sorry, don't mean to flog a bleached-white horse skeleton, but this is driving me nuts. All I can say is, if it resembles the Rising Sun flag, I think the statement you posted here would go well next to the flag. I wasn't being jokey about that suggestion, either. People might see the text next to the flag, read it, and be introduced to your personal take on the flag's broader implications. Or they might not bother and just go straight to HR. Either way, if you want to avoid having the same explanatory conversation with each person who asks (presuming they ask instead of just filing a complaint), having some gallery-style text next to the flag might be something to consider.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:23 AM on August 31, 2009


The way I see it, Phyltre *was* going to get a Rising Sun/Naval flag initially, was then convinced by us it was a bad idea, and now he has decided to commission a flag with some of the same aesthetic elements to put up. So he won't be putting up any Japanese flag, but something inspired by the things he likes in it.

I may be wrong.
posted by knapah at 11:32 AM on August 31, 2009


To sort this out, MStPT:
I posted "I was probably not clear earlier, I indicated that I would commission my own flag but it would have been reasonable to infer that I meant commissioning my own cotton naval flag rather than commissioning the creation of a flag based on my design."

Meaning that I indicated previously in the thread two or three times that I would commission my own flag, but some might have misinterpreted that in the context of the original ask.meta question (in which I was looking for a cotton Japanese Imperial Navy flag). So someone might have read that as"I am commissioning someone to make me a cotton Japanese Imperial Navy Flag because I can't find one." However, the actual truth of the matter is that I have abandoned the idea of placing that flag on my wall for the many reasons detailed in this thread, and have instead opted to generate a flag of my own personal design with the radial sun as a loose theme and then commission someone to create an actual cotton flag based on that. I intend that the final design will be very different, and will not be generally possible to confuse with the flag I had initially intended to post.

I hope that's a little more clear. Sorry it seems to be so easy to miscommunicate in this thread. :)
posted by Phyltre at 11:42 AM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


"I don't feel the need to belabor this point, but it's a site of 45K members give or take and each person's office decoration choices aren't really a topic that the entire community needs updating on."

I was thinking of putting up this awesome Metallica poster above my desk in the home "office" but my girlfriend was like, "Really? Really?" and now I can't seem to find the poster.

Just keepin' y'all in the loop.
posted by klangklangston at 12:09 PM on August 31, 2009


Won't somebody think of the children?
posted by chinston at 12:27 PM on August 31, 2009


OK, so it is a flag of your own design then, got it.

And Klang I think it really all depends on what Metallica poster we're talking about here. You're not going to insult the memory of Cliff Burton by putting up some tacky And Justice For All poster, right?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:05 PM on August 31, 2009


A poster of this photo would be pretty awesome.
posted by Rumple at 1:12 PM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


It was from some shitty metal magazine that LFP used to publish (Rage? Riff? Something like that) and I want to say that it was Master of Puppets era, because the other side of it has a picture of Dave Mustaine and talks about his "new" band Megadeth.

I found a fair number of posters around the old offices, and now I can't seem to find any off them here at the house.
posted by klangklangston at 1:19 PM on August 31, 2009


War is just a huge Milgram experiment

Actually, no. In war, people die for real.

I'm glad you've chosen to design your own flag, Phyltre. That seems like a respectful and appropriate choice.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:41 PM on August 31, 2009


Also, where should I post the design when I finish? In this thread or in its own metatalk post? I don't want to remind anyone of this thread that might not have fond memories of it.

I see what you did there.
posted by headnsouth at 2:05 PM on August 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


I found a fair number of posters around the old offices, and now I can't seem to find any off them here at the house.

She's a smart one, she is. Hang on to her!
posted by rtha at 2:36 PM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Klang, I think your best bet is to forget the Metallica poster and go with Che Burashka.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:45 PM on August 31, 2009


EmpressCallipygos: There is a middle ground between a soulless work environment and complete and total freedom in your choice of wall art. I promise.

I agree with that, and sort of regretted my snap response; I hope that's clear. My sense, however, is that the Imperial Japanese flag isn't on the level of rank offensiveness that it's worth a complete and utter ban on principle. It's not like a picture of somebody getting shot or a tortured or a propaganda poster; it's a bit more ambiguous, and my feeling is that it's only in the absence of context that it's so offensive.

And after all is said and done, Phyltre's explanation of his motives actually resonated with me, I have to say. To the extent that, if someone had a small Rising Sun flag in their office, and if they explained it to me by saying (as I take Phyltre to be saying) 'I think it's a beautiful and mesmerizing design, and I think it's a powerful reminder that any great society can make terrible, terrible mistakes if we aren't careful,' then I probably wouldn't have a problem with it.

I know this thread is winding down, and probably doesn't need any stirring or anything like that, but for me the trouble with taboos isn't the moral implication; it's a damned important and heavy thing, the Japanese heritage that the second world war carries, and not something to be tossed around lightly. But the trouble with taboos is that they put things out of sight and tend to encourage people to forget things that really have to be remembered and talked about, and they tend to soak up outrage that should probably be directed elsewhere. Swastikas didn't kill six million Jews; to pretend swastikas aren't a symbol of that act is to trample history, but to hide them and never speak of what they represent is to risk forgetting and letting it happen again.
posted by koeselitz at 4:20 PM on August 31, 2009


There's a story by Percival Everett called "The Appropriation of Cultures" about a black man in Dixie who buys a used truck from a good old boy with a confederate flag in the back window, and decides to keep the flag in the truck because it's his history too, right? It was read on Selected Shorts and it's in this story collection. It's a really good story, well-told.
posted by headnsouth at 4:45 PM on August 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


Enough with the autism cracks.

So says the parent of an autistic child....


I know I'm three days late here but as another parent with an autistic child, I couldn't agree more. Asking the OP if he has Autism or Aspergers is inappropriate and insulting.

It's the 21st century version of "What are you, retarded?"

And, like Phyltre's proposed flag, it doesn't matter whether or not you meant to be offensive. You are being offensive.
posted by cjets at 6:27 PM on August 31, 2009


I know Phyltre has decided against hanging the flag, so this is a moot point now, but:

The idea that one could sit down and have a nice thoughtful conversation with a coworker who questioned the display of such a flag is great and all. However, that's only going to happen if the coworker vocalizes an objection (or at least gives the flag some very pointed and uncomfortable looks). Some people are shy, or they just want to get along (and if you've got your own office, not just a cube, that suggests to me that you maybe outrank some of the other people you work with, which would make them even less comfortable challenging you to explain/defend yourself), so they aren't going to say anything to you. And I don't think you can really blame them for that, especially if you're in some position of authority. So they're just going to be sitting there every day feeling intimidated/insulted/whatever (unless they take it to HR). You could be creating a hostile work environment without even realizing it.


Also, I noticed nooses mentioned about. If anyone's wondering how a noose in one's office might be interpreted, please remember the fate of noose-happy George Allen.
posted by naoko at 6:28 PM on August 31, 2009


I would like to apologize for my remark about Aspergers. It was not meant disparagingly, but that is no excuse. If I offend unknowingly, the burden falls on me to be more considerate in the future. I am very sorry. It will not happen again.
posted by Diagonalize at 7:09 PM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


tons of thread skipped

Putting this flag in my office would not be an endorsement of anything negative. Why are so many people comfortable being totally wrong about the situation?

It seems like you should be more worried about people getting the right impression, rather than a wrong one. A coworker puts up an old historic US flag, and your thought is to both immediately one up the person, and to do so in a symbolically adversarial manner. And yes, you are being adversarial; why else is a Rising Sun Japanese Flag the immediately obvious choice, versus the civilian red dot, or any of the USA's allies? The impression people might get from this is that you're a vapid person who puts things on display to make a counterargument, and fascinated by Japanese cultural exports but (willfully?) ignorant of Japanese history. Making a mock Japanese flag only confirms this hypothesis.

Frankly, the whole problem would be solved with one of these. I prefer the union jack version.
posted by pwnguin at 9:18 AM on September 1, 2009


pwnguin, you might want to actually read the thread. You are categorically wrong on several fronts; the most egregious owing to the fact that my coworker is the one that actually suggested the specific flag under discussion.
posted by Phyltre at 9:45 AM on September 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm glad that Phyltre posted the original question, because it has been an interesting thread. But I am calling bullshit on your justification. Why, if you simply want it because the rays are aesthetically pleasing, are you also interested in distressing it? Frankly, you are coming across as a wanker hipster wannabe, but hey, maybe that is the effect you are going for.

Only time I have ever seen such a flag displayed in a Western context without condemnation is in a Sargeants Mess in Australia. It had been captured in WWII. It was hung right next to a captured Nazi flag. In that context it was appropriate - yes, there was the shock of the flags but in this case the back story (and because of where they were it was immediately apparent there was a back story) changed/subverted the symbolism.
posted by Megami at 4:18 PM on September 4, 2009


Megami: that's because you didn't actually read his final justification.
posted by koeselitz at 4:46 PM on September 4, 2009


So why did he change his mind half way through the thread? (but apologies for missing one of the many, many replies in this thread)
posted by Megami at 5:03 PM on September 4, 2009


Probably because of the stuff that was said in the thread.
posted by Ms. Saint at 5:43 PM on September 4, 2009


Megami, he didn't change his mind. He said in the beginning that he had 'personal and aesthetic' reasons for liking that flag; he just never gave the personal ones. Until I asked near the end of the thread. That's all.
posted by koeselitz at 11:00 AM on September 5, 2009


Just wanted to say that I saw someone wearing one of these (with 'fun, eye-catching graphics') yesterday, and it reminded me of this thread.
posted by Kiwi at 1:44 AM on September 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


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