That Burning (Jamaican) Flag

Flags and Hurricane sandy 2012 002Does anybody but me think the excessive excitement we created over the VW ad, which I wrote about here,  led to the Saturn commercial featuring the burning of a Jamaican flag which is now being reviled? After all, the VW ad to date has received over 13 million views on Youtube, and was a talking point in the United States and Jamaica.

To digress a bit, have we gone a little, just a tad, overboard though? I mean the actor is now a VIP?  The red carpet is being rolled out, and it’s got him a trip to Jamaica and more work – so this white actor with the fake Jamaican accent is going to be promoting Jamaica now. Maybe we are trying too hard. Just a thought.

Anyway, is it any wonder that the Saturn people thought, “Let’s jump on board the Jamaica train. But we have to up the shock value. What will get people talking again? I got it! Let’s burn their flag!” Maybe to go from getting people talking, to burning our flag wasn’t a leap that most people would have made. But here we are again…ironically, discussing another German ad featuring Jamaica.

According to Wikipedia – sorry, couldn’t find another reference right now – it is illegal in Germany to burn the German flag. In relation to flags of foreign countries:

“…it is illegal to damage or revile them, if they are shown publicly by tradition, event or routinely by representatives of the foreign entity (§104 StGB –{ Criminal Code}). On the other hand it is not illegal to desecrate such flags that serve no official purpose (especially including any (that) the one willing to desecrate them brings by himself for that purpose).”

That is, it would be illegal to burn the flag at the Jamaican embassy, for example, but it would not be illegal to burn a random Jamaican flag – as in the coffee shop ad.

Should they have burned the Jamaican flag? Well, what were they aiming for? Controversy? Well, they’ve got that. Attention? They have ours. As of today, they have received nearly half a million views on Youtube. A far cry from the VW ad but we’ll see if that number climbs dramatically in the next week.

Flag burning is usually seen as an act of political protest, against a government’s policies.

Just this month alone, a political activist in Hong Kong was sentenced to nine months in jail for burning the flags of China and Hong Kong to protest government policies and positions. In Belgrade, criminal proceedings are being taken against deputy leader of the Serb radical party for allegedly “setting flags of the United States, the EU and NATO on fire” to protest against the Hague Tribunal’s decision to acquit someone accused of war crimes against Serbs.

Last September, thousands of people in Lahore participated in protests where the American flag was burnt to protest against a movie trailer said to insult Islam (in an ironic twist, one protestor died from inhaling the fumes from the burning flag, according to reports.)

But in the United States, that bastion of patriotic red, white and blueness – the flag can legally be burned, as it was in protests during the Vietnam

United States flag being burnt in protest, in ...

United States flag being burnt in protest, in New Hampshire on the eve of the 2008 election. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

War. That’s not to say everybody is happy with the state of the law. Congress has tried to pass laws banning desecration of the flag but these have been struck down by the court. The Supreme Court in 1989 in the case of Texas v Johnson ruled that flag burning is an expression of free speech protected by the constitution.

So the legal treatment of flag burning varies from country to country. But everywhere, it is recognised that  flags are usually burned to protest important, political issues in a dramatic (and offensive) statement of contempt. It is the very fact that the act is one which most people find deeply offensive that makes it such an effective form of protest.

You can’t convince me that this was a misguided attempt to praise Jamaica. Not with the political context and significance world-wide of flag burning. They knew exactly what they were doing.

Be offended. Don’t be offended. That is up to you. But don’t be fooled by assertions that the intention was good and it is actually a compliment to Jamaica. This was a cynical attempt to use a controversial device to get attention, while cloaking it in pseudo-respect for the Jamaican flag and people.

That the makers of the Saturn ad understood the political issues is clear from the storyline of the ad. I assume they thought the attention to the commercial would override the very real risk of offence it would cause. The motive was clearly to get attention. And we are certainly giving it to them.

17 thoughts on “That Burning (Jamaican) Flag

  1. petchary

    Dionne, I’ve discovered it is not Saturn the car manufacturer but an electronics firm! I think you are right, they did jump on the Jamaica train, thought some cool reggae music and a couple of stoners messing around in their cafe would be fun, and took it from there… Really too far, I think. But I also think we went completely overboard on the “positive” aspects of the VW ad and commented on it in my blog. He’s a nice guy and all that, but really… The “everyt’ing irie mon” image is old, tired and patronizing I think!

    My thought is that we spend too much time looking at how others (especially developed countries) see us from the outside, and start seeing ourselves that way. Hence the over-reaction and sensitivity to anything like this. I am personally uncomfortable at seeing ANY country’s flag burned and stamped on… I am sure they thought it was clever (and in a sense it is, showing the power and speed of social media – the satellite – etc) but I don’t like it. Even though the Jamaican flag “triumphed” in the end… And it’s a little weird considering Germany’s ultra-nationalistic past.

    But, when all is said and done, these are only ADS!

    1. Charles Owens

      I found the advertisement to be immature, for it aroused feelings of anger in Jamaicans; it was an attempt to cash in on the attemtion caused by a previous commercial featuring Jamaica; and this commercial did nothing to promote the qualities of whatever product it was attempting to sell.

      1. willing citizen seeking a country

        I just have one question to ask, has there been , in any movie a scene depicting a flag of any nation being burn, and how did you feel about it? We need to be a little more mature and open minded when it comes to artistic expressions. There is nothing wrong with the ad, there is no political statement being made by the flag burning, it is actually a play on misunderstandings, but once again we are stuck on, “bwoy dem a bun we flag”. While I “try” and respect peoples opinions, it is thinking like this that i see little hope of Jamaica……caught up on the burning of a flag…….and not seeing the bigger picture…..Caught up on NDX and not asking about what is the plan for growth for the next 7 years. God so many of us have our priorities twisted, fight for the flag, (which in fact didn’t have the correct dimensions) but let the country and our people burn……….Grow up.
        Fight Back…..Demand More

  2. Audrey M Beckford

    Hi Dionne

    I’ve see the advert and thought it was very OTT. The Jamaican flag should not be disrespected or defaced in any context – full stop. Jamaican symbols needs to be preserved and respected globally. Remember the 50th commemorative bookmarks that the department of education had to be pull because of it had the ministers superimposed on it. It caused discussions about protocol for national symbols.

    When I first saw the VW ad I liked it because it challenged all kinds of stereotypes about who is Jamaican, although some prominent American blogs saw it as racist, but I think it challenged social political ideas about who is Jamaican, and those from Jamaica know the history of “white” Jamaicans on the island.

    The VW ad was given a prominent platform and shown during the Superbowl, and followed by Beyoncé’s including the “dutty wine” in her Superbowl routine with Sean Paul vocals, the Jamaican brand was definitely, represented well in terms of exposure. I was pleased.

    But the VW ad actor was recently interviewed on Smile Jamaica and he was embarrassed to keep up the façade of speaking in a Jamaica accent when Neville was trying to encourage him to speak it during his interview. Clearly this was an actor, who went for a job and could distance himself from any national pride, we as Jamaicans feel when Jamaica is promoted. It is we as Jamaicans who are left to analyse and defend our culture, heritage and mannerisms in search of some, acceptance and self-worth in a global gold fish bowl.

  3. Lexie

    I do get understand your point. However, are you suggesting that in an effort to lower it’s viewing we should not speak of the offense?

    We do need to give importance to how we are perceived and whatever we accept is what we will continue to get. People are always saying on a personal level you have to show persons how to treat you. It is the same way on the national level. As a Jamaican in the diaspora, I advocate Jamaicans at home spending time to ensure our international image is in the right order because persons like myself have to go out and face it on a daily basis at work and school and it is not easy to defend a nation that’s not defending them self.

    I do agree that we have internal issues to address but that does not negate the need to set people straight on an international level. If you let it slide you never know what other offensive things will be said and done

    It is NOT “just an ad” !

    1. djmillerja Post author

      Not all all saying we should not express disapproval if that is what we feel. Just saying this is exactly the outcome the makers of the ad were counting on. Controversy sells.

  4. Jayjay

    Dionne, I agree with you that the company sought to use something controversial enough to stir many viewers to attention. However, as with the VW advertisement, the tone of the entire ad was one of salutation and honor and because of this I’m less inclined to be offended by their actions.

    To be frank, law or not, the indecency of burning a flag and indeed a flag in itself is a mere human construct and there are greater things to worry about. I don’t see the merit in wasting emotion by being offended by the burning of a flag. This is taken so seriously in the east that people lose their very lives over it, and for what? I believe our response should be sober, in that we let the public know we don’t take lightly the burning of our national flag & while it is not to be condoned, we appreciate the sentiment (and subsequent good publicity) that the German producers intended.

  5. Maria Smith

    I think the burning of the flag is them protesting against our stance on gay rights. The message is quite hidden but you don’t burn a flag for fun….

  6. Maria Smith

    why I came to the conclusion! Germany is a forward moving country as it relates to gay rights. I can see why they would be pissed that VW was giving props to Jamaica and inturn it is meant to protest. They knew exactly, what they were doing. To add the song Murderer in the back drop is even more suggestive. If this ad was meant to be positive they would have used another song! By the way B Levy is a joke u give rights to use ur song and don’t question it? W/E B Levy!

  7. ainsworthshakes

    I must agree with the notion that this is just another attempt to capitalize on brand Jamaica. While it may appear as ‘good publicity’ (and it is) as posited by Jayjay, I must agree with Lexie’s view. I totally understand and agree that we as a country have a myriad of issues to deal with but does that mean that we should ignore an issue as ‘trivial’ as this?

    I am not suggesting that we create a big stink or stir up any controversy but a clear message of discontentment needs to be conveyed to those who intend to follow suit. As suggested by Miss Olivia Babsy Grange, this is an issue which should be ventilated via the diplomatic channels but it should not be ignored.

  8. Mark

    Neither the law of England and Wales nor the law of Scotland has a concept of “flag desecration.” I imagine that this is also true of Jamaica.

  9. Jean

    Could I get some help before I proceed? Could someone translate it so I know what they are saying…so that I can figure out 1) why the Jamaican flag and 2)why the use of the song ‘Murderer’?

  10. Yushaine

    Dionne, I have always stayed clear of controversial issues but I feel compeled to add my voice to this latest 9 day wonder. I take no issue with the ad. If anything I am of the view that the ad shows the high regard that persons in the ad have for the most recognizable symbol of our sovereignty. The Flag was in the kitchen out of love for Jamaica and the protest was out of love and respect for Jamaica. I understand why persons would be upset, we are a passionate people and we are “touchy” when it comes to stereotyping, criticisms or anything we consider as disrespect from other peoples towards our policies, infrastructure and surely our athletes. Seeing that we are so sharply focused on our symbols at this time let me charge us to abide by the words of our National Pledge, to me the most important of our national symbols, if it can be categorized as such, which is a call to action and personal commitment to Country and fellow man. If the words are to be strictly adhered to by those who repeat them we would be a near perfect State. The Anthem is beautiful but it’s a prayer asking for God assistance (which is good). The Pledge is a personal vow that can only represent the person who repeats it. Can you Imagine what it would be like if we got 2.7 million people to make such a serious commitment? What yuh think?


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