Is the American flag’s true meaning at risk of being compromised?

June 25, 2013

There are times when the flag is displayed at half-staff eliciting a reaction where we would wonder, if we had not already heard the news, which prominent official had passed away? Who is ultimately responsible for managing the American flag and what it truly represents?

The American Flag is one of the nation’s most widely recognized symbols. More than any other symbol or icon the American flag stands for Americanism, freedom, democracy, and equality for all. Perhaps there is no other symbol or icon that still commands immediate respect in this country whether on the battlefield or ball field. Those times when the flag is displayed at half-staff elicited a reaction where we would wonder, if we had not already heard the news, which prominent official had passed away? That is until recently where New Jersey Governor Chris Christie issued an order that the American flag be displayed at half-staff on June 24, 2013 in honor of James Gandolfini aka Tony Soprano. As a reminder Governor Christie also honored the passing of Whitney Houston with the same order when she passed away last year.

In listening to a popular New Jersey call-in radio show on my drive home from the train station yesterday evening, Governor Christie’s half-staff order to honor New Jersey’s celebrities was the primary topic of the show. Ten out of ten callers were appalled at the Governor’s orders thinking that not only is he diluting our American symbol, but also the symbolism behind flying the flag at half-staff. According to the United States Code Title 4 Chapter 1 – The Flag, Section 7, letter M as found on USHistory.org:

“By order of the President, the flag shall be flown at half-staff upon the death of principal figures of the United States Government and the Governor of a State, territory, or possession, as a mark of respect to their memory. In the event of the death of other officials or foreign dignitaries, the flag is to be displayed at half-staff according to Presidential instructions or orders, or in accordance with recognized customs or practices not inconsistent with law. In the event of the death of a present or former official of the government of any State, territory, or possession of the United States, or the death of a member of the Armed Forces from any State, territory, or possession who dies while serving on active duty, the Governor of that State, territory, or possession may proclaim that the National flag shall be flown at half-staff.”

It seems to me that the Code’s principal intent is to display our flag at half-staff to show respect for those who have either fought for or defended our Americanism in one form or another. Should such an honor also be bestowed upon celebrities who have obtained their celebrity status as a result of everything our flag symbolizes? In this case are we honoring the person - James Gandolfini, a celebrity who was born and raised in New Jersey or his fictitious character Tony Soprano who embodied just about every negative stereotype associated with Italian Americans?

Actually, the bigger question for me is about who is ultimately responsible for managing the American flag and what it truly represents? Any brand with a deep heritage, strong history and such profound equity in its symbol is managed daily to be sure that the brand’s equity is not compromised, diluted or damaged in any way. My biggest fear is what would prevent Governor Christie or any governor for that matter from considering displaying the American flag at half-staff as a money making opportunity for the State selling rights to anyone willing to pay a day rate (at a premium, of course), ½ day and or by the hour to honor anyone and everyone? Some may think that this is not such a bad idea. But a better idea would be to maintain the original integrity of one of our country’s best symbols. What do you think about Governor Christie’s order to fly the American flag at half-staff for celebrities?

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