Friday, July 23, 2010

Flag Friday XI

Flag Friday is a periodic discussion of the world's national flags; the project is explained and indexed here.

These discussions are about graphic design, and perhaps about nationalism and national symbolism in general. They should not be taken as critical of the countries, ideals, cultures, or people that the flags represent.


Parsons: Without comment, he gives it an "B", 74/100.

Michael5000: The flag of Djibouti does its job of being a recognizable symbol pretty well, taking fairly conventional elements and combining them in a distinctive fashion. This is in part due to the unusual pastel tint of its blue and green fields, and in part to its use of white in the left-hand field -- fields abutting the flagpole are generally darker than the rest of the flag, but that pattern is reversed here. Too, the red star looks a little too small for the space it occupies. So yes, the flag of Djibouti is distinctive and recognizable. But to an extent, it arrives at that effect by looking just slightly, just subtly, not quite right.

Grade: B-


Parsons: "Do not put a picture of a parrot on your flag!" demands Parsons. "(This goes for you too, Guatamala)." For this, and "bad colors," "graven images," and "it being "too busy," he assigns a "D", 40/100.

Michael5000: Hmm. It's fussy, it's figurative, and it fails the Betsy Ross test with flying colors. Seven distinct flying colors, to be precise. The three-tone stripes create an inherent asymmetry that I find deeply unsatisfying. And, it's in the long, stretched-out 2:1 ratio. There's not much to love about this flag qua flag, and I could hardly disagree with Parson's "Do not put a picture of a parrot on your flag." However... I will go as far as to confess... he's kind of a cute parrot...

Grade: C-

Dominican Republic

Parsons:Without comment, he assigns a "B", 70/100.

Michael5000: Without comment? Really? Because, although Parsons and I are generally on the same page regarding fussy figurative detail on flags, I'm usually a little more flexible and forgiving. But the flag of the D.R. is pretty egregiously fussy. The white cross through blue and red fields are, sure, terrific. But that bit in the center! Here's a description, from the Wiki:
A small coat of arms featuring a shield with the flag design and supported by a bay laurel branch (left) and a palm frond (right) is at the center of the cross; above the shield, a blue ribbon displays the national motto: Dios, Patria, Libertad (God, Fatherland, Liberty). Below the shield, the words República Dominicana appear on a red ribbon (this red ribbon is depicted in more recent versions as having its tips pointing upward). In the center of the shield, flanked by three spears (two of them holding Dominican banners) on each side, is a Bible with a small cross above it and said to be opened to the Gospel of John, either to chapter one or chapter 8, verse 32, which reads Y la verdad nos hará libre (And the truth shall make you free).
Heavens. This would be a preposterous level of detail for the flag as a whole, let alone for the little patch in the center. If you've got such specific flourishes in your design that they are not visible to the naked eye -- the Bible is "said to" be open to a special verse? -- it's safe to say they are not contributing to the overall effect. Purely conceptual elements in a flag design are not going to help you rally to your side on a chaotic battlefield.

Do not put a Bible flanked by three spears and tops with a small cross on your flag! And don't YOU get any ideas, Guatemala!

Grade: D

East Timor

Parsons: Dr. Parsons was either writing before, or using a list compiled before, 2002, the year that East Timor joined the happy community of recognized states.

Michael5000: The flag of East Timor, which if memory serves is still our youngest country, is distinctive, highly visible, and satisfyingly flaggy. It very nicely pulls off the trick of distinguishing itself from the other 200-odd flags without leaving the tradition of easily made, easily recognized whole-cloth banners. Two complaints, however -- the East Timorans, like the good people of Dominica, have made the unfortunate choice of the 2:1 ratio (at least officially, anyway; I believe most 2:1 flags are generally corrupted in general use into something closer to the more comfortable 5:3 ratio). Secondly, somebody seems to have gone to a great deal of trouble to establish that the star is rotated so as to not conform to any obvious symmetry. That drives me a little crazy.

Grade: B


Parsons: "The Colombian flag was not very good to begin with, fine effort from Ecuador making it worse." Charging "plagiarism," that it has "graven images," and that it's "too busy," he assigns a "C+", 64/100.

Michael5000: Sigh. We might as well start with the "plagiarism" bit. Yes, the flag of Ecuador is similar to those of Colombia (which Parsons calls "original") and Venezuela. Behold:

This shouldn't be too surprising, though, seeing as how they used to be three parts of the same country. Nowadays we call it Gran Colombia, but at the time (1819-1831) it was just "Colombia," a loose federal state that eventually got so loose that Ecuador and Venezuela calved off as independent countries. All three remnants of Gran Colombia took that country's flag as the starting point in coming up with their own banners, and there you have it. Their flags look similar, just as you'd expect. History is not plagiarism.

Now then, what of the "graven images" and "too busy" accusations, applied to a simple tricolor? It is not, as it might at first appear, an instance of good Dr. Parsons neglecting his medication, nor do I think it is his reaction to the Dominican Republic's issues, applied to Ecuador due to a compositor's error. No, I think that Parsons must have realized -- despite using a graphic of the plain civil flag on his website -- that Ecuador is one of several Latin American countries where the more elaborate state flag is in common use.

...and while it is certainly handsome -- I think the primary colors of the Gran Colombia flags look pretty sharp against a clear blue sky -- it is certainly as fussy as any flag burdened with an official seal.

Photographic evidence suggests that there are quite a few Ecuadoran flags that have had the state seal sewn onto only one side of them. You can tell, for instance, that there is a seal lurking on the reverse side of this one:

Which is pretty cool, in a flag-geeky sort of way: it yields a banner that is a state flag on one side, and a civil flag on the other. Two for the price of one!

I gave the flag of Colombia a B+. Essentially the same, but like Dominica and East Timor stretched into the elongated 2:1 ratio, Ecuador gets a...

Grade: B

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