That Piece of Cloth and That Song

Published by Rick on Tagged Uncategorized

21 years ago, I was working a series of gigs at US military bases in South Korea and Japan. On one of my off-nights, the other comedian and I went to the cinema on the base we were staying. What I remember most, certainly above what film we actually saw, was before the film started, instead of ads for coming attractions, there was a video version of the US national anthem. All of us were required to stand while the anthem played. I remember thinking, “Gee we’re not at a ballgame, we’re not even in America, what’s this about,” but then had to agree that nearly everyone in the room but me was there to serve that piece of cloth, so it sort of came naturally to them. I stood quietly and let it pass.

I was not one to create that kind of scene though I remember too, back when I was in my early teens, I was listening one night to the Tucson Top 40 radio station during its Sunday night mandatory public service broadcasting, and an interesting question was posed: “If you had to choose one, would you rather spit on the American flag or the bible?” I posed that question to my mom, who being from Christian upbringing and politically to the left, immediately said the flag. In retrospect, since both have suffered from misinterpretations of their significance to allow hypocrisy, hatred, bigotry, and ignorance to justify some horrific actions supposedly in their names, I have only minimal respects for both. Ultimately, the bible is at least a work of literature which has survived thousands of years, so it would be more likely to be spared my salivary salute.

Last week, San Francisco 49’ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, only a few years after leading his team to a Super Bowl, chose, during a recent pre-season match, not to stand for the national anthem. To some, that was equivalent to spitting on the flag. His reasons for sitting were related to the “Black Lives Matter” cause, but he didn’t get to express those sentiments until much later, after he’d already shocked and offended the many who saw his one-man protest. Most jocks, probably more so American football players, but likely any pros who approach that top 1% income level doing what they love, are among the last people you’d expect to get up in arms about political issues, which was probably the most surprising aspect of all this to me. Fortunately for him he plays for a team representing the most liberal city in America, even though the team itself plays their home games in the suburb of Santa Clara, 40 miles south and a bit more degrees to the right. If he played for a team in say, the midwest, he’d probably get death threats. Perhaps he has.

The flag is what it is, and what it stands for is up to the individual. I doubt that I would ever burn one, or spit on one, or do anything else to deface it, but I obviously don’t hold it up as anything sacred, either. One of my vivid memories of my protest days was when a large group of us decided to show up at one of those wonderful “Love it or leave it” rallies in Redlands, California, where I graduated high school. This was in 1969, only two months after the moon landing. And there was this pathetic near-mantra coming from every guest speaker about how “We’ve put someone on the moon, therefore we’re the greatest nation in the world.” We weren’t exactly welcomed to this function, and in retrospect, I’m amazed none of us got our asses kicked. I also remember as we were assembling in one corner with our protest signs et al, the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag was being recited, and I heard one of the crowd murmur, “I wonder if they even KNOW the Pledge of Allegiance.” I wanted to say, “Yes, I do, for like anyone else who went to public school, it was ingrained in our heads from primary school, along with the National Anthem, apple pie, hot dogs, you name it,” but chose to just keep walking. Only a few months after this protest, I came very close to being forced to serve my country in the very conflict against which our protest had been assembled. Happily I found a mostly legal way out that I’ve detailed before.

Meanwhile, over here, the current leftist leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, is still getting raked over the coals for noticeably not singing the national anthem during a parliamentary session (I may have the function wrong). Really, does keeping the lips tight during the singing of one of two of the least exciting national anthems in the world make mssrs. Corbyn and Kaepernick traitors? Well, there’s an emerging voting populace in both countries that seems to think so. England has voted Brexit, even though many who voted in favour, as they spell it, have expressed second thoughts, plus it’s still looking a couple years down the line before the whole process can really happen. Will America really go for that “Make America Great Again” malarkey? I wouldn’t bet against it now, especially since Brexit’s chances didn’t look that great either. Trump keeps shooting himself in the foot, and his supporters still stand by him.

The one thing Colin Kaepernick can garner out of all this is his NFL-licensed jersey is one of the hottest selling football-related items on the market, more so than many of the established stars of the game. Good for him, as his abilities as a quarterback kept slipping away to where it wasn’t even certain that he’d make the roster. He’s the back-up quarterback for the imminent future on a 49’ers team that this year looks to be one of their worst ever. His jersey is certainly the biggest selling for any back-up player in any sport. For him, probably the other issues matter more.

I might have more to say later as we approach the 15th anniversary of 9/11, when respect for the flag and the national anthem, and ultimately George W. Bush, probably were never higher.



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