Perhaps this past week’s most groan-inducing question was the one about the North American Vexillological Association’s choice of top state and provincial flags. The NAVA, as it turns out, is the world’s foremost (only?) organization devoted to the study of flags. They selected the flag of New Mexico as the best flag in North America as part of their famous 2001 survey:
It’s a symbol of the sun from the Zia people of New Mexico, and I’ll admit it’s a pretty decent flag. But before we get carried away with the rest of the rankings let’s consider our source. You see the so-called flag authorities at NAVA have an annual meeting, and they create a special flag for each one. Let’s have a look at some of their very own flags, to see if we trust their judgment…
This subtle offering is from the 1979 meeting. Can you guess which American city played host that year? It’s a pretty obtuse reference, but I’ll give you a hint: WITCHES. That’s right, Salem! I really like that this town can continue to attract scholarly conferences and tourists on the strength of murdering people (but in a fun and zany way!). It’s a kind of ridiculous flag, but I kind of like it. Next offering is this one…
This one comes from the 2012 meeting in Columbus, Ohio. I don’t know about you but it makes me feel strangely thirsty. But not just thirsty… also, youthful, and full of pep, like I could go out, buy a product, and assert myself as part of the next generation or something (take that, dad!). Hmm. And finally, let’s have a look at:
This one is from the 1988 meeting in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. You know when you were a kid, and you used to draw random squiggles in MS Paint, and then colour them in with the fill tool? Those were better than this flag. So, North American Vexillological Association, j’accuse! Bad news for me, though, because the next annual meeting is in Ottawa! Come October, then, I may have a host of angry flag enthusiasts after me. Guys, I’m just kidding, please, let’s be reasonable…
While doing this research I took occasion to peruse many state flags, and there are some interesting ones. Let’s take a quick tour. One thing you notice quickly is that a stunning lack of creativity. Seriously, here’s four states whose best idea was: put a picture, in a circle, on a blue flag. And then they showed up at the United States Flag Expo and realized “dammit, they stole our idea” and so chose to distinguish themselves by writing the name of the state on the flag in big letters. Check it out:
And there are more examples. Not very original, guys! Though I suppose more than a few people would be less confused if Ontario and Manitoba took a similar approach. Say, here’s a fun fact. One US State actually features a large Union Jack. Want to guess which? Scroll slowly. Here it is:
And what state is it? Hawaii. Click the link to find out why. Looking at the various flags you also learn things, like valuable wilderness survival skills. Number one thing to know? If travelling the American backwoods, do NOT bring any sort of ribbon with you. Why? Freedom loving eagles hate ribbons, and are always swooping in and tearing them to shreds.
Note how, again, the designers couldn’t resist writing the name of the state in really big letters on all three flags. This isn’t just any eagle, it’s the North Dakota eagle! I like Iowa’s flag, even if it is a little over the top, and it was cool that Illinois allowed their flag to be designed by a committee of talented fourth graders. Next up we have Massachusetts:
This flag should win the NAVA Historical Accuracy Award, since it features a brave Native American hunter while from the background emerges a friendly colonist come to stab him with a sword, steal his land, and honour him on a flag.
The extra obvious design award has to go to Washington:
Moving over to Canada, this great wikipedia list provides a whole pile of cool and regrettable flags. First the good:
Respectively, we have the city of Regina, the Haida Nation, and the western separatist flag. Nice designs, all! I thought the separatist one was clever. Now how about the bad ones:
The city of Laval just couldn’t decide whether they wanted to look like a city, or a third rate construction company, but after several votes a tetris-loving city council opted for the construction company look.
Lethbridge’s design team was charged with putting together something suggesting “we are American!” but also something that said “we love rectangles”. Seriously, how bad is this flag? Wow. NAVA, where are you when someone really needs your help? Still, the worst of all Canadian flags might just have to go to our own fair city of Ottawa. Just look at this thing:
Blue and teal? A weird whirlpool vortex thingy? Huh? Did you know that those parts of the vortex symbolize the peace tower and east and west blocks? Apparently they do. It’s still a lame flag. But the original city of Ottawa flag was at least funny. It was this:
And why? Purple for the monarchy, red for the Liberal party, and blue for the Conservative party. It’s the ultimate “hey, we don’t want any trouble here” flag, which in its way was actually perfect for our town. Nonetheless, we deserve something cooler than a swoosh. Actually, my homies at NAVA have come up with one:
And there you have the conclusion of our lengthy tour of the vexillological world. And for the record, my vote for top subnational flag in North America is New Brunswick. Please do post your favourites in the comments.