Talk Description to Me

Episode 39 - Flags of the World

February 27, 2021 Christine Malec and JJ Hunt Season 2 Episode 39
Talk Description to Me
Episode 39 - Flags of the World
Chapters
5:40
Canadian Flag
8:26
American Flag
10:36
Australian Flag
11:42
Union Jack
Talk Description to Me
Episode 39 - Flags of the World
Feb 27, 2021 Season 2 Episode 39
Christine Malec and JJ Hunt

Responding to requests from several listeners, Christine and JJ take a look at flags from around the world and describe their symbols, colours, meanings, and histories.  Can a simple design inspire patriotism and pride? How literal are the symbols? And can there ever be too many Welsh dragons?! 

Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/TalkDescriptionToMe)

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Responding to requests from several listeners, Christine and JJ take a look at flags from around the world and describe their symbols, colours, meanings, and histories.  Can a simple design inspire patriotism and pride? How literal are the symbols? And can there ever be too many Welsh dragons?! 

Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/TalkDescriptionToMe)

JJ Hunt:

Talk description to me with Christine Malec and JJ Hunt.

Christine Malec:

Hi, I'm Christine Malec.

JJ Hunt:

And I'm JJ Hunt. This is talk description to Me where the visuals of current events and the world around us get hashtag in description rich conversations.

Christine Malec:

We had an email request from David recently, and other listeners have requested this too, to talk about flags. And, of course, as blind people, we all know that flags are multifaceted and they have different things that they represent. And for the most part, maybe we don't know all that much about them. Well, okay, I'm speaking for myself there. But when we started talking about it, it turned out to be a lot more complex than I had had thought and who has flags and and why and what they actually represent. So, JJ, maybe that's a good place to start is what's the purpose of flags? And why do they exist?

JJ Hunt:

Yeah it's really interesting. I mean, from a design perspective, how do you convey a sense of place a sense of people identity, using a fairly standardized set of design principles and commonly understood symbols? It's, it is really quite fascinating. Right off the top? Which flags are we going to be talking about which flags that we're going to describe? I mean, there are 200, almost 200 countries in the world. Plus there are states and provinces. And then there are rallying flags for groups seeking independence there at all, a lot of different flags out there. We talked about this, Chris, obviously, we are an English language podcasts so our listeners are Canadian, American. They're from the UK. They're from Australia. So we're going to talk a bit about those flags. Because those are the flags of our listeners, but also because those flags work well together. Because they're from countries that share a common history, common colors, common symbols, common design elements, right? It's important to acknowledge though, when we're talking about those common histories, that the common history that those countries share is colonialism. These flags are intentionally designed to inspire nationalistic pride for some people, but they can also be symbols of oppression, too. So obviously, that's getting into territory that's beyond the scope of this podcast, but I did still, you know, I did want to acknowledge that.

Christine Malec:

And when we talked about it before, the topic came up of are there flags for indigenous peoples? And it JJ, you did a quick internet search. And apart from the images, one of the things I thought was most interesting is that there are and they are quite recent, it's a very recent phenomenon to have like, so there's lots of reasons for that. But that fact really highlighted for me that it's it's a lot more complex as patriotism is much more complex than you might think on the surface.

JJ Hunt:

Yeah for sure. I mean, the use of flags has been around for centuries, like I read that it goes back as perhaps as far as the Bronze Age that people have been using flags, particularly in military situations, flags were used as military standards during battle, both on land and then later at sea, you would have flags to identify your group of people. And so these flags are designed to be viewed from a distance. They're designed to inspire and identify your troops, and maybe even intimidate your enemies. And so these flags, they include heraldry symbolism color Association, and some of these might go back hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years. So really quite fascinating. A little bit of technical information. Before I go on with the descriptions, that flags are typically house flags that we see in North America are typically like three feet tall by five feet wide. So they follow a three to five ratio, some follow a one to two ratio, so they would be maybe two feet tall and four feet wide. Roughly speaking, that's more or less like a cell phone in landscape mode, right? That's kind of what we're talking about for flag dimensions. And I'm often going to be describing To right and left when I'm describing the flags, because that's how flags are represented in drawings and photos and illustrations. They have a visual right and left. But in fact, flags are viewed from both sides right when a flag is on a flagpole, it's double sided. So technically there is no right and left because it's flipped, it's reversed on the other side. So in technical terms, that's a hoist side and a fly side. So the hoist side, that's the flagpole that's the side that the flagpole is on. That's always on the left in my descriptions, and the fly side, that's the unattached side. That's on the right.

Christine Malec:

Awesome. So since we're in Canada, can we start with Canada?

JJ Hunt:

Absolutely. Let's start with the Canadian flag. This is the the flag known as the maple leaf, it's a relatively young flag was adopted in 1965. Officially, it is considered a vertical tri band of colors. So that would be a one to two to one ratio. So that's equal rectangular panels of bright red on either side. So on the right side, in the left side, you've got these rectangular vertical panels have very bright like a scarlet red. And then in the middle, you have a double width panel of white, so red, white, and then red. And right in the middle on that white panel is a stylized red maple leaf. And the red panels on the on the on the sides. Those represent the oceans, the Pacific Ocean on the left of the Atlantic Ocean on the right. And the idea that Canada stretches from sea to sea, that's been an important one in our understanding of self. But in fact, Canada actually stretches from sea to sea to sea, right, we stretch all the way to the Arctic Ocean. But that's not represented on the flag just the two panels right and left representing the oceans. The leaf, the red maple leaf has actually been used to represent Canada since the 18th century. It's on the coat of arms for Ontario and Quebec, and was later put on the coat of arms for Canada itself. It's been on all coins since 1901. And it's actually a regimental symbol, going back to the 1860s and is used in regimental symbols in the First World War and Second World War. So the leaf has been associated with Canada for quite a while the leaf as it appears on the Canadian flag has precisely 11 points. So three of those points are pointing to the upper left, three of them are at the center pointing up, and three of them are pointing to the upper right. And then there are two points at the bottom one on either side of the stem. Now some people try and squeeze some symbolism out of those 11 points, right? Those 11 points represent unity and confidence and blah, blah, blah. It's actually not true.

Christine Malec:

Ha ha!

JJ Hunt:

In truth the 11 points are there because they did some wind tunnel tests with different flags with different Maple Leafs on it. And the 11 point configuration was the one that was least blurry in high wind situations.

Christine Malec:

Perfect.

JJ Hunt:

So I kind of like that. Canada, the evidence based country.

Christine Malec:

Ha ha! Oooh, science! Shall we move on to the US?

JJ Hunt:

Yeah, absolutely. So the American flag, and a lot of my information on the American flag comes right from the US government website. I mean, everyone knows the red, white and blue as an idea. This is a field of 13, alternating red and white horizontal stripes. So these represent the original 13 colonies. The red represents valor and bravery. And the white represents purity and innocence. In the upper left, so that's on the hoist side, there's a rectangular panel of white stars on a blue background, and the blue that represents vigilance, perseverance, and justice. And the stars. They represent the number of states in the union. And so that number has changed. That's the that is the classic American flag. And then there's the Confederate flag, which should only be discussed because it's in the news a lot of late, right? This has been discussed, this has been brought to the Capitol building as part of the insurgency. And actually it was specifically referenced, I think, in the request [for this topic]. So the Confederate flag, what we know is the Confederate flag is, of course, widely recognized as a symbol of the Confederacy. But I learned as part of my research, that it was never actually adopted as their official flag. It was proposed, but it was rejected. This is not the flag of the Confederate States of America. It's a battle flag that was used during the Civil War. This is a war flag. It's a red background. It's got a blue corner, the corner X with a thin white border. And then there are 13 white stars that are spaced out inside that blue x. So red background, blue corner, the corner x, white stars inside the blue x, that's the Confederate flag.

Christine Malec:

Let's talk Australia, what is Australia's look like?

JJ Hunt:

So the Australian flag has a dark blue background. And it's actually got a full union jack in the upper left, that's on the hoist side. And the rest of the flag is six white stars. In the field of blue in this dark blue background, the largest star is directly below the union jack on the left, this is a seven point star, this is the Commonwealth star. And then there are four mid size seven point stars and one five point star that are on the right side. And they're arranged like the the Southern Cross constellation, the four mid size stars are the points of the cross. And then the little guy is kind of down and off to the center of the to the center, right? That's where the little guy is in that constellation is a very distinctive constellation that's visible in the southern hemisphere. And it's apparently been used to represent Australia since the early days of British settlement.

Christine Malec:

So let's talk union jack. Let's break that down.

JJ Hunt:

Yeah, the union jack really is kind of like the grandfather of all of the flags we've already been talking about, right? This is the colors you'll repeated over and over again. Of course, the Australian flag actually has the union jack in it. But the Union, the union jack is the flag of the United Kingdom. It's not the flag of England. This is an important point, that the whole idea of the union jack is that it takes the symbols of multiple countries their crosses, and puts them together in a united flag, a Union Flag, the union jack, the English flag is a red cross that centered on a white background. So one vertical band of red one horizontal band of red that cross that meet in the center. This is the Cross of St. George, who's the patron saint of England since I think something like the 1270s. The Scottish flag is a white X on a blue background. So this is a corner to corner x. White on a blue background. This is the St Andrew's cross. This was adopted in the 16th century. The former Irish flag is a thin red X on a white background. So again, a corner to corner x in red on a white background. This is the Cross of St. Patrick. And it dates back to like the 15th or 16th century. So this is not the Irish flag that we know today with the green, the white and the orange tricolour flag that was adopted in 1916 the that that flag is not part of the union jack. When you take those three flags, the English, the Scottish and the Irish, and you put them all together, you start with the blue background and the white x from Scotland. And then you take the thin red X from Ireland and you layer it inside Scotland's white x. So now you've got a red X inside a white X on a blue background. And then on top of that, you add a thick Red Cross that's bordered by white you take that from the English flag, and then you've got a united flag with the English, the Scottish and the Irish. But I have to say, as the grandson of Glyndwr, I have to ask, where's my red dragon?

Christine Malec:

Where is the Welsh?! Where is Wales! Ha ha.

JJ Hunt:

Where is the Welsh dragon? The Welsh flag is gorgeous. It's fantastic. A horizontal band of white atop a band of green. A giant red dragon with scales and an arrowhead tongue and tail I mean their details in this dragon claws and scales and wings it's glorious. I want my dragon! Give me a dragon!

Christine Malec:

How dare they! No imagination at all, eh?

JJ Hunt:

Oh my goodness. Just put a giant dragon on the whole thing. Ha ha!

Christine Malec:

Really they should just replace the whole union jack with a dragon. I mean, come on. It's obvious.

JJ Hunt:

Ha ha ha!

Christine Malec:

I'm interested in the union jack in in a sense of bringing things together. And when we were talking about this episode, I was wondering about flags like the the EU, the European Union, or the African Union and whether they come up with something new or do they like the union jack try to incorporate some though not all of their component parts.

JJ Hunt:

So the the European flag that the the EU uses is a blue background with a ring, a circle of 12 gold stars. And the idea here is that those stars, they stand for the ideals of unity, solidarity and harmony among the peoples of Europe. So I don't think... There were just so many countries that were coming into the European Union, they couldn't do the same type of thing from a design perspective that the union jack did taking elements from all of these flags, it just would have been chaos. So instead, they took the concept of a whole being made up of parts; a circle made up of these individual stars. It's golden stars on a blue background, that's the European Union Flag, the EU flag. So the flag of the African Union, the most recent one, was adopted only 11 years ago in in 2010. And it's got a ratio of two to three. So it's a bit squat. And it is a dark green background, a ring of gold stars, again, this ring of gold stars. And then in the center, you've got a map of the African continent, plus some offshore islands. And this silhouette of the continent is backed by a white sun with lots of shafts of light. So you get this white, brilliant sun with shafts of light in white, bursting forth. And then on top of that, you've got the silhouette of the African continent, and that is all encircled by 53 five point gold stars, that's the flag that has been used since 2010 for the African Union.

Christine Malec:

Lovely. Is there a United Nations flag?

JJ Hunt:

There is. So the United Nations flag is the emblem of the United Nations in white on what they call a smoke blue. So this is kind of like a sky blue background. And so this is a view of the earth of the continents of Earth, but with the North Pole at the center. And then there are some concentric circles around that, that kind of look a little bit like a bull's eye. But those are really like latitudinal lines, I suppose from a map makers perspective. So you're looking down on the on a stylized version of the planet, with the North Pole at the center. And then around the outside of this circle, you have olive branches that cross at the bottom. So these are stylized olive branches that cross at the bottom, and they're kind of like cupping this representation of the map of the earth in the middle. So that's the United Nations logo, and flag.

Christine Malec:

All of branches are as many people no symbol of peace. And I wonder in the general sense, what proportion of flags are a simple arrangement of vertical or horizontal stripes of different colors? And and what proportion of flags are representational or symbolic?

JJ Hunt:

That's a really good question. So, I mean, it's a very, very, very broad mix. So there are lots of flags that are just vertical bands of color, lots of flags that are horizontal bands of color, usually threes, sometimes twos and with different ratios, right? Often they are equal, but sometimes they are not. And then sometimes you have flags that have that as a background, and then you put a specific symbol or a coat of arms or something on it, either centered or in the upper left or sometimes off center as well. So it really is quite varied, but drawing on a lot of the same symbolism. So sometimes the colors mean a similar thing from one country to another, sometimes they mean something very specific to the region that they are representing. And then sometimes the symbols are themselves densely packed with, with symbols that go back hundreds and hundreds of years. So if you've got a coat of arms, like I'm thinking of the flag of Portugal, that's got a coat of arms that is quite dense, quite rich. The symbols there could be unpacked and you could probably spend half an hour decoding just that.

Christine Malec:

When you talk about the union jack, there was lots of Christian imagery. Are there other parts of the world where you see different religious symbols?

JJ Hunt:

Yeah, yeah, definitely. There are lots of crosses used around the world. And if you trace those back, historically those would be decidedly Christian. There are other parts of the world where crescents are used. And and I'm sure you can trace those back to religious roots in in in many, many cases.

Christine Malec:

I think we had lined up a little Tick Tock type version of a flag rundown. Can we do that? I can clap, you know, if you want me to. Ha ha!

JJ Hunt:

You know, I was looking at all these flags, and there are some fantastic flags out there, some really wonderful ones that that just didn't fit into the kind of breakdown we were doing with the union jack as the as the grandfather and all the other flags that kind of came from that. So I did want to do a shout out to some other cool flags. So why don't I just riff, I'll just throw them out there kind of quickly. Some Why is that your favorite? of these are kind of fun. Ok y, so Bhutan has a white Thunder dragon on a gold and orange back round that split diagonally from lower left to the upper right Cambodia has a blue horizontal panels. So these are blue horizo tal panels on the top and bot om with a red panel across th middle. And then there's a hite illustration of Angkor Wat the world famous Kh er temple, right in the center. ebanon, has a thin stripe of ed at the top and the bottom. And then there's a green cedar t ee on a white background to s mbolize immortality, th t's right in the middle of this reen cedar tree. On the white wi h a red stripe at the top of b ttom Nepal has non-quadrangula flags. So this is not a rectan ular flag. As far as I know t e only one that's like thi , it's in fact to flat back tr angles. So pennants, there s a slightly smaller one, a op, a larger one. These are ed pennants with blue borders. A d there's a white symbol of a star inside the bottom flag that represents the sun, and th n a white symbol of a star insid of a crescent moon. This is t e crescent moon as seen from Ne al, so it's shaped like a s ile. And that represents the oon, then my favorite, the f ag from Kenya. So these are ho izontal stripes of black, red a d green. These are separated b thin white lines. And all f this is symbolic. The b ack represents the people of t e country. The red represents he blood spilled while fighting olonialism. And the green repre ents the natural wealth of the c untry. And then the fact that t ey are separated by these thin w ite lines is very intentiona . The white lines seal the lag with peace. And right in th center of this flag is a red M asai shield that is backed b cross spears. And that represe ts the defense of freedom. I just love that it's not only the three colors, the black, red and green, they're very specific. Like the black to represent the people, the red to represent not only blood spilled, which is very common, but blood spilled fighting colonialism. I liked how specific that was. But then the fact that they're separated by white lines, which is quite unusual in most flags that just have bars of color. It's just one bar beside the other beside the other, there's nothing separating them. And this one having the thin white lines that, in there in the mind of the the designers who came up with this flag, they're not separating them, they're sealing them. These white lines seal the flag with peace. I quite liked that. And then the shield and crossed Spears, representing the defense of freedom quite specifically, I just loved the ideals that were being put forward with this flag. I loved the the the symbolism and and it's just a beautifully designed flag. There's something very aesthetically appealing and clear to have a shield like this. It is clear and easily identifiable without being so intricate that it's no longer a good flag when seen at a distance. You know, that's that's really important in a flag. It's just beautifully designed. Lovely symbolism. I just found it really appealing.

Christine Malec:

This may be impossible to answer. But in general, as you know, your average sighted person - I'm making air quotes - how many flags do you think you would know by sight before you did this research?

JJ Hunt:

Great question. I would probably know and could clearly identify, easily identify, a dozen. I would just know at a glance, that's a union jack, that's the flag of the UK. That's the American flag, I know all of those. And then there'll be a tier where I'd be like "Ah, okay, is that one? Is that is that France? Or is that Ireland?" You know what I mean? They're like three bands of color, and I'm pretty sure it's one of the two. But it might be the other one, because there are a lot that are very similar. So there'll be a whole group that are recognizable, but I wouldn't be 100% confident walking up to someone and saying"Hey, you're German!" I wouldn't do that. An then there are a whole bunch th t I could guess, but would pr bably be wrong on. I mean, 1 5 countries plus things like th United Nations and the African Union.... there are a lo of flags out there.

Christine Malec:

I could be totally out in the weeds here. But if you saw a flag that you didn't recognize, couldn't identify, would you have a guess at what part of the world it

JJ Hunt:

Oh, interesti g. There would be some, but most you wouldn't be able to i entify unless it had a v ry specific symbol on it. Lik , for example, this shield on th on the flag from Kenya. The he shape of the shield, the des gn of the shield... Frankl , I'm gonna guess that's from an African country. I might be w ong, but I'm not gonna think th t it's from Sweden, right? The shape of it is is a shape tha is recognizable. But if it's ju t three or four bands of color who knows?!

Christine Malec:

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Canadian Flag
American Flag
Australian Flag
Union Jack