Lileks has some fun with Stein's column:
On a related note, as long as I’m feeling screedy: It’s the hapless and jape-free Joel Stein, writing about finding a flag planted on his lawn. (Via Villianous.) It’s called “Eek! A flag on my lawn,” which suggests that the entire column was dictated from a chair on which Mr. Stein stood, shifting from leg to leg in panic. Anyway, he dithered about how to dispose of the flag, until
my wife, Cassandra, got sick of this conversation. So she plucked the flag out of our planter and threw it away, not even in the recycle bin. This is a woman who hates both political parties.
I’d say she hates a bit more than that. We continue:
It threw me into a moral tizzy. Why didn't I want a flag in front of my house? Why didn't I ever have one before?
Substantial moral issues rarely manifest themselves in a tizzy, but we are in Eek! Territory. In any case, he probably didn’t want a flag in front of his house because he regarded them as the rightful property of gray-haired buzz-cut men named Ed with watermelon bellies and white T-shirts who gave Joel a friendly nod, but always made him feel as though they knew he couldn’t tie a decent knot, and only shined his shoes for funerals.
Would it be wrong to, late that night, assume that my next-door neighbor would enjoy two flags outside his house?
If a blunter axe ever split an infinitive, I’ve never seen it. We learn next the mysterious origin of the contagion; it’s from a realtor with a name that’s feelin’ fresh:
Massengale told me that in the town she grew up in near St. Louis, most people kept a flag up all year. Even though I've seen tons of neighborhoods that do this, I've never actually lived in one. I've also never lived in a neighborhood that had those flags reminding you of the holidays and seasons.
Note: they don’t remind us of the holidays, they exemplify the holiday. And as far as I know, no one puts out a flag on behalf of a season. Not even wabbit season.
In fact, I've always looked down on those places.
That’s the key line, right there. Not because he admits to looking down on people who put up a flag on the Fourth; that’s hardly unusual in the thin moist demographic stratum he occupies. It’s not that they don’t like the flag, necessarily, and it’s not that they don’t enjoy the Fourth, but put the two together and people might get the wrong idea. No, what amused me was the sight of a writer who’d burrowed so far up the aperture of his warm narcissistic cocoon he has no idea how he comes across. I have liberal friends who fly flags without apology or worry, because they’re Americans, because it’s the Fourth, because they love their country, and because they don’t believe that trinity is the property of the other side. Which it isn’t. When it comes to struggling to get the flag on the pole just right, we’re all in this together. But to Mr. Stein, these are people to be looked down upon. Places deserving of a sniff and a snort. Cringe, O Banner-deck’d exurb jingo-huts, at the withering Looking Down Upon, exacted with bone-dry scorn by a professional thinkerator.
If you need semaphore to inform each other that it's going to get hotter in the upcoming months, nobody is putting a magnet school in your community.
I can imagine the patented Hugh Hewitt death-by-literal-interpretation radio interrogation:
HH: My guest is Joel Stein! Joel. you said people put up flags to tell each other that the weather’s getting warmer. Do you really believe that?
JS: Well, no, it was, a joke, maybe not the greatest, although -
HH: But that’s what you wrote. Tell me, why do they put them up on Labor Day? To tell neighbors it will soon get cooler?
JS: Again, no, it was a joke. I suppose they put them up to celebrate socialists getting them a new three-day weekend, or something.
HH: But you think people who put up flags are stupid, because they won’t get magnet schools. Do you think magnet schools should only go in neighborhoods were no one puts up a flag?
JS: Again, Hugh, you’re reading too much into it –
HH: I’m just reading what you wrote. How many houses have to put up flags before you assume the neighborhood is too stupid for a magnet school?
And so forth. He concludes:
So the reason I didn't want to put a flag outside wasn't because I disapprove of our international policies. It was because I didn't want to associate myself with the other people who put them up, and with their unquestioning, tribal, us-versus-them, arrogant mentality. Though I love being American, I don't want to proclaim it as the sole basis of my identity.
I suspect, perhaps unfairly, that “I love being American” is as deep and profound a statement as “I love the warm feeling of freedom I get when I pee in the pool.” Not that he would want public urination in a communal locale to be the sole basis of his identity, of course, but that’s how I see him now: one guy bobbing in the water, alone among many, a private smile on his face, thinking: like I’m the only one.
Hanging a flag is a sign of an unquestioning, tribal, us-versus-them, arrogant mentality, eh? FDR would have stood up from his wheelchair just to walk across the room and slap you silly.