In defense of Milwaukee's flag
"You know what? It's been 222 years since there were 13 states in the Union. Isn't it time we got rid of those outdated stripes on the American flag?"
… said no one. Ever.
Far be it from me to suggest that the absurdity (and possibly sacrilege) of such a statement is even approached by suggestions that the City of Milwaukee should look into designing a new city flag. I do believe, however, that notions like those highlighted in Jeff Sherman's recent blog post to OnMilwaukee.com lose sight of the point of having a city flag in the first place.
Critics of our regal city flag say that it's "ugly" and "outdated." I say, "exactly."
I first laid eyes upon "Ol' Blue" a little less than a year ago. I was a Milwaukee neophyte, recently transplanted to our fair city and a little unsure of what to make of my newly-adopted hometown. A native Wisconsinite returned from far-off lands, the city's rich history, stubborn pride and uncompromising sense of obtuse individuality all appealed to me greatly, but I had yet to find a symbol for these feelings and emotions.
That changed when I was given my first tour of the Milwaukee Common Council chamber in our iconic, historic City Hall. Hanging at the front of the chamber, house right of the president's dais, I spied a faded, gold-fringed blue banner. I unfurled it, and honestly, I chuckled a little bit. This was Milwaukee, summed up for me.
Like the city, it makes no pretense at simplicity and is a little rough around the edges. Like Milwaukee's population, it's unconcerned with being fashionable and proudly holds dear to the icons that define the city – even icons like County Stadium and the Milwaukee Arena that have long since disappeared.
But most importantly, Milwaukee's flag is in-your-face in its authenticity. I remember gazing at it for the first time and thinking, "Someone, sometime, for some reason wanted this thing to represent their entire city, and that is mind-bogglingly awesome." Maybe it's a little bit of the East Side hipster in me, but I think Milwaukee's flag is beautiful in its absolute scorn for the modern concept of beauty.
Look at it this way. In 1994, the Milwaukee Brewers made the oft-panned decision to do away with their beloved mitt and ball logo for the soulless, cold gothic abstraction that represented them for the duration of the '90s. Critics said it was time to do away with the blue-and-gold glove because it was "outdated" and "hokey," but almost 20 years later, a stroll around Miller Park will reveal more of this "classic" Brewers apparel than any of the more recent iterations of the team logo.
We're Milwaukeeans. We don't give two hoots about someone else's "rebranding" or their concept of what's "in." We crave what's real, and we can spot imposters like the 1994 Brewers logo and the "new" Milwaukee flag Jeff Sherman's blog featured for exactly what they are – the watered-down product of committee-process, nose-in-the-air groupthink that's high on cutting-edge hype and low on substance.
Just as the Brewers' mitt and ball are retro enough to appeal to our sense of what's fun and functional decades later, so too is Milwaukee's crusty old flag right on the verge of making the leap from "old" to "vintage." With a little more love and attention, the flag stands to become as iconic a symbol of the city as any of the monuments it features.
Heck, I'd wear it on a T-shirt, proudly. And obstinately. Say what you will about its appearance, but it stands for something real.
Like Milwaukee's Third Ward and the renaissance that has taken place there – like the neighborhoods of Bay View and Riverwest and Bronzeville and Walker's Point and every other deeply-rooted place that stubborn Milwaukeeans have dug their heels into and called "home" – the city's flag doesn't need to be burned to the ground and rebuilt from scratch.
It needs to be rediscovered, dusted off and celebrated as a part of our history, a part of what makes us unique and a part of us that we're too proud and obstinate to ever bury.
There are a lot of great designers in Milwaukee....let's have a design the new Milwaukee flag contest!
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