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More than just material on a pole: The power of a flag

3rd Jul 2018
By sarah-jane grainger |
Flags | History |

Why are flags such an emotive medium? Read our blog to learn more about the power of the flag.


A brightly coloured flag silently ripples in the wind as the rousing musical score begins to rise to its emotional crescendo and the credits begin to roll. Sound familiar? It should do for it is a scene played out countless times in cinematic history. But why? What is it that makes the specific imagery of a flag waving against the bare sky tug so hard at our heartstrings?

The answer is not just because a flag is a national symbol of pride and it isn’t simply about showing your ‘ownership’ or ‘possession’ of your favourite sports team or your membership or allegiance to an arm of the military or business or cause.

Standing aloft in the distance, blowing in the breeze over your head, wrapped around an exultant sports fan, being carried proudly by the sole Olympian from the archipelago of Micronesia or draped over a funeral cortege in silent monument, flags speak to our emotions more than any other symbol. Even if the particular colour or logo used alone reflects something significant, its placement on a flag has the ability to instil an even greater emotional response, the power of a flag is extremely strong.

Flags have become interwoven not only with our emotions, their many varied uses have seeped into our language, discourse and subconscious.

‘I need to flag that up with the supervisor.’

‘That’s a red flag right there. End of discussion.’

‘Excuse me Sir, there is an officer flagging you down.’

“I’ve had a long day and I’m flagging now.’

A flag is far more than a bold, colourful symbol or an expression of support. A flag flying from a besieged building can mean hope, it can mean home, or a small slice of home in a far off place. It can mean long awaited solace and sanctuary and can bring out unbridled pride and a sense of unity, purposefulness and togetherness.

A flag is a rallying cry, a single image to bind you or a single image to separate you. A flag can evoke guttural passions from deep within your soul and its presence in battle is enough to persuade people to lay down their lives for it. A flag can unite a collective group behind a single worthy cause but can also divide that group in a manner that is equally as powerful.

A flag can define who you want to be seen as and what you want to be seen to standing up for. People do not awkwardly or self-consciously wave a flag, they proudly wave it for nothing screams ‘this is me’ better than a flag. A flag can tell 80,000 other fans which team you have spent your lifetime supporting and can be lovingly folded and wrapped and then follow you around the world to let anyone and everyone know just who you are and where you are from.

A flag is the best way to show your national pride, collective unity and the bringing together of like minds. A piece of coloured material attached to a pole it is most definitely not.

To coin a phrase; what have the Romans’ done for us?

As it happens when it comes to flags, an awful lot as it was the Romans who quite literally set the standard for what we would refer to as a modern day flag.

Marching towards their enemies, each Roman legion would have its own symbol, or Roman Standard and this would be held in full view of the entire company by the standard bearer who would be tasked with the somewhat perilous ‘honour’ of keeping the standard raised as high as possible for as long as possible thus giving his comrades a rallying point, a position to fall back to or a base to attack from, should the direction of the battle turn against them.

Further entrenching the emotional ties of the ‘flag’ to the spirits of those that follow it, in moment of dire need the standard bearer would form the centre point of any heroic last stand whereby the survivors would literally launch the standard into the midst of the enemy before making one final glorious charge to defend their colours.

The unbreakable bond between flags and the military has continued ever since from William the Conqueror’s waving of the Saxon flag during the battle of Hastings to the bright and unique development of medieval heraldry. From the English Civil War to the War of the Roses and right up to today’s Army, Navy and the Royal Air Force the symbols alone may be powerful, but attached to a flag those symbols become an awful lot more.

The sight of the RAF ensign raised high evokes stirring memories of brave young men in their Spitfires and Hurricanes, the ‘few’ to whom we owe so much and either the raising or lowering of the flag in any ceremony is when emotions and memories are at their most heightened.

When you travel, or work abroad, or follow your favourite team on an away day the first thing many folks do is pack a flag. And if you are looking to advertise your products, services and businesses to a large audience or event there is no bolder, brighter, potentially larger and more attractive way of grabbing a potential customer’s attention than with a flag. You can discard a flyer, tear down a poster and ignore a cold caller but you cannot escape a ten foot flag towering over you that says ‘Try Me First.’

Raised, placed, draped or laid; if a statement of intent is required there is no bolder, brighter, more distinctive way to say it loud and say it proud than with a flag. A mere glance at your national colours raised in any setting can make you smile or bring a tear to your eye with equal ease while a logo or badge emblazoned across its particular length or width can stir a cheer or groan instantaneously.

Like the Romans intended, (sort of) a flag is still a rallying cry, a call to arms, a symbol of togetherness, a sign of friendship and camaraderie from fans of Manchester United to Mickey Mouse, nothing says it quite like a flag.

Feeling inspired after reading about the power of a flag? Why not browse our full range of flags here.


Photo credits:
Athlete with flag by Erik van Leeuwen, attribution: Erik van Leeuwen (bron: Wikipedia). (www.erki.nl) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Roman battle [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
RAF flag ceremony Sgt Ralph Merry ABIPP RAF via Open Government License

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allwavingflags Commented:

16/02/2019 @ 12:44

thanks. interesting.