I have to say this upfront, I am not an expert in flags. But I have read a lot of opinions of other people who are.
This is the Red Peak flag. The first time I saw this flag it was in the context of other flags on the longlist, flags with silver ferns and korus and Southern Crosses and all those things that jump out and scream ‘New Zealand!’ at you. I have to admit, in that context I was confused by this flag, and that other one like it. They didn’t seem to belong, and when the shortlist was announced I didn’t really miss them.
Then the Red Peak Facebook flag campaign appeared on my radar, and it took a very short time for me to be persuaded around by the opinions of people like Toby Manhire and Rowan Simpson, and probably inevitably Toby Morris at some point as well. A lot of other people who are also not flag experts were convinced by their arguments, which I’m not going to bother repeating here because they do a much better job of it than me.
Suddenly it doesn’t seem so bad that this flag and the other one like it were the odd ones out when I first saw them. The flags in the shortlist look good all clustered together in the context of each other, but when you pick out a single one and place it next to flags of other countries, we only really fit in with the weird, forgotten countries that don’t really do so good at being countries. Other, serious countries like South Africa and Japan and Germany and England have proper, serious flags, of which the Silver Fern is not one.
Why, then, are we being asked to choose between the non-flags when we had plenty of options like the Red Peak to choose from? Because of a thing called tall poppy syndrome. The majority of people who support the Red Peak are made out to be pretentious hipsters who think they are better and more clever than everyone else, but the exact opposite is true. These supporters are the people who are capable of being honest about their lack of expertise in vexillology and can accept the opinions of people who are. And once you read about the thought behind the Red Peak it is very easy to see how powerful it could be as a national symbol.
We are a country of people who reject our experts, we didn’t even have any graphic designers on the Flag Consideration Panel, and now we are being asked to vote for which image will represent this failure on the world stage. Or, we could keep the old one.
The thing is, I don’t actually want the Red Peak to be our official flag. I’m not a very patriotic person, and I don’t think New Zealanders generally are? The only way I would ever display a flag for my country is in an act of rebellion against a system that has given us three flags to choose from when they promised us four, and which insultingly assumes we struggle with ‘abstract design’.
Some veterans want us to keep our current national flag, and I think we should respect that, because they have made a greater sacrifice for this country than most of us ever will. But if for any reason I ever feel inclined to represent New Zealand, I will be using this flag.
And I think others should too. Maybe we have suffered from tall poppy syndrome for too long. Maybe this can be the symbol that finally says, ‘it is okay for me to not be an expert, but it’s not okay for people to talk down to me because of that’. This can be the national anthem that we don’t just speak under our collective breath.