Monday, September 07, 2015

‘Red Peak’ raises a red flag

I hate that NZ politics has made me so suspicious and cynical, but it has, and I can't stop wondering why there's all this talk about the "Red Peak" flag (image above). The same questions pop into my head every time I see a news story or Facebook post about the design or the “campaign” to add it to the referendum. The questions boil down to, “why?”

Is someone promoting “red peak” flag behind the scenes? If so, who? And why THAT design and not any of the other 10,000 designs that didn't make the final four? It just feels like we're being manipulated, and every time I see yet another news story or a post on Facebook talking about the "Red Peak" flag and the "campaign" to add it to the referendum, those same questions pop into my head.

Stuff said the other day that the campaign began with Nelson-based venture capitalist Rowan Simpson, whose blog post on the “Red Peak” flag I read at the time. But Stuff also said that Simpson didn’t “set out to start a movement”, yet that’s what there is.

If Simpson isn’t promoting it, who is? It seems it may have become a genuinely organic campaign now, but it happened awfully fast, and a little tidier than we usually see with grassroots campaigns.

There’s a Facebook Page for it and a Tumblr that links to all sorts of high-resolution images of the flag free for the downloading (including the one above), along with the detailed story about the design (and nothing much at all about the designer). The Tumblr says “The Red Peak flag was intended to be a ‘new’ symbol that expressed our NZ identity while avoiding the use of Southern Cross, Koru, Kiwi, Fern motifs (that many others have explored),” yet the designer also did several other flag designs, some with the traditional motifs used by others, and some designs were abstract like Red Peak.

So, again, why THIS flag?

To be sure, much of what they say about “Red Peak” on its Tumblr are true about flag design principles generally (such as, it should be simple, it has to look good small, a child should be able to draw it, etc.). And, I don’t hate the design, so for me it’s not actually about the design itself.

It’s just that to me, the campaign for “Red Peak” doesn’t feel entirely genuine or transparent. Maybe it is, maybe it’s one of those rare times when an idea has caught the public imagination and just taken off—maybe, but I’m suspicious.

I don’t have any idea what will happen, but John Key has a history of doing an abrupt change of direction when the public is leading in a different direction than he wanted, so if this campaign and the several petitions about it continue, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him add it one way or another.

Whatever happens, though, I don't expect to see my questions answered.

Update: There's a brief update to this post (second item).


Northandsouth said...

It happened fast because there was so much pre-existing angst and dissatisfaction yearning for a positive form of expression. If the movement had been planned, I'd expect them to have got their merchandising platform up a lot faster than they have!

AmeriNZ's Sis said...

I certainly don't know the who and why this flag design was created, but I don't care for it. I agree with you. My favorite is the red, white and blue flag with the fern and the stars in the formation of the Southern Cross.
I viewed the four designs you had previously posted, including how they would look on the flag pole as they would be flying alone, hanging limp, and flying with the series of other flags. As someone "on the outside looking in", I felt happiness as I viewed each photo of my favorite design. This is partly because of the colors themselves (black is too somber for me) and also that we can see the various parts of the design no matter how it is hanging. To me, this flag shows me, a potential visitor, a sense of national pride and unity and that makes me happy. It says, "Welcome. Come on in and enjoy your visit". Those with black in the design looked tired and worn out, like something that needs to be replaced with a more vibrant design. I don't feel welcomed at all by those flags.

Arthur Schenck (AmeriNZ) said...

It's interesting how someone outside the county see it. There are many criticisms of the four final (?) designs, and some of them are valid. The koru one has been compared to a money butt, which when seen cannot be unseen. The other designs all have a silver fern on them (well, technically, they ALL do, since a koru is an unfolding fern frond…). Many people say the silver fern, while endemic to New Zealand, doesn't mean anything to people in other countries, many of whom will assume it's a feather.

Black is an important colour to New Zealand, and has been for at least a century, however, it's in association with our national sporting teams: The All Blacks (rugby), Black Caps (cricket), Tall Blacks (basketball), Black Ferns (women's rugby), Black Sticks (hockey—what Americans call "field hockey"), Wheel Blacks (wheelchair rugby)—and on and on and on.

The connection with sport—the All Blacks in particular—is the main reason many people don't like black OR the silver fern. We are more than sport, after all. However, the silver fern has a long association with New Zealand outside of sport: Look at the war graves in Commonwealth cemeteries and there's a silver fern on the headstones (all of them as far as I know, but certainly a great many of them). Arguably, the silver fern is more "New Zealand" than anything else OR the colour black.

While I like the red, white and blue fern flag, I do admit that it violates all the rules of flag design: It's busy, not especially good at a small size, would be difficult for a child to draw, etc. The story of the flag that I shared on my earlier post is a good one, though, better, in my opinion, than the one for "Red Peak".

To be completely honest, though, at the moment I doubt very much that New Zealanders will vote to change the flag, no matter what alternative design it's put up against.

Arthur Schenck (AmeriNZ) said...

You may be right. The spread on social media was fast, and that's the place where that angst and dissatisfaction you mentioned were living. It's also true that sometimes the news media just runs with "OMG! People on social media are saying this thing, so it must be huge!" when, in fact, it's just people on social media being all social media-y again. If so, it really could be one of those times when something grabbed people's attention and just took off, as I said in the post. But that doesn't mean it's NOT being orchestrated.

It felt orchestrated to me, in part because the Tumblr with all the related high-resolution images and photos was available almost immediately. That same Tumblr also does a LOT of marketing for the design, talking about it's story and so on. I'm sure much (maybe most) of that was from the original submission and was just being re-used.

And, to be clear, I don't have any problem with the design or the marketing campaign promoting it; it's just that it does feel artificial to me, and I know—from social media, of course!—other people are as suspicious as I am (well, actually, some are far MORE suspicious than I am, but I get cranky when I read yet another comment promoting conspiracy theories!).

Anyway, this all may be moot if John Key digs his heels in, but if he's convinced the campaign is real (or real enough…), he'll cave. It'll be VERY interesting to see how this plays out!

Arthur Schenck (AmeriNZ) said...

And this is the earlier post we were talking about: http://amerinz.blogspot.co.nz/2015/09/the-flag-alternatives-and-my-choice.html

Gathadair said...

I ran across that Red Peak Tumblr, with all its high-res imagery, several weeks before the Final 4 were announced - it definitely didn't follow Rowan Simpson's & Toby Manhire's various postings. It may well have been around for some months.

Though I like Red Peak (my first choice from the Top 40, which is when I started seriously considering the matter, was the similar Wā Kāinga) I'm as surprised as anyone that it has gotten so big so fast. I can't see the referendum changing now; and any substitution would in any case engender a backlash no doubt, so I guess Red Peak adherents will need to fly it themselves and take it from there.

Arthur Schenck (AmeriNZ) said...

Thanks for that! I only found the Tumblr when the Facebook Page started (it links to the Tumblr, or did when I found it), so I had no idea how long it was around. To be honest, I thought it read a bit like promotional text for the artist as much as the flag.

I liked the Red Peak well enough among the top 40, and I was surprised when two nearly identical flags made the final four. My husband liked the red, white and blue fern all along, partly because of the story that went with it. I was kind of unmoved by all the 40, to be honest.

Now that we have the final four—and I agree with you, I don't think the referendum will change—I like the red, white and blue fern best of the four best, though it wasn't quite what I was hoping for when all this began.

Thanks again for letting me know about the Tumblr—I'm not sure I could have found that out otherwise.

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