Thursday, June 5, 2008

Flags and scarves

I'm sure we all have heard of the keffiyeh kerfuffle, but for those of you who haven't, here's the short version:

Rachel Ray (the food hostess/chef/whatever) recently posed in an ad for Dunkin' Donuts wearing a scarf that some people found offensive. The scarf was a keffiyeh, a traditional Arabic headcovering, although as you can see, she wore it draped around her neck. The fringed, black and white scarf reminded some of the keffiyeh made famous by Nobel laureate Yassir Arafat, whose black and white scarf became almost a trademark for him. Ms. Ray's scarf certainly resembles the checked pattern of Arafat's, but it is hard to say if it is the same exact pattern. It is certainly not paisley, as some commenters have noted.

So? Well, as I said, some people found this to be offensive, as it symbolized for them Palestinian terrorism. Michelle Malkin, a right wing pundit cut from the same cloth as Ann Coulter, raised a particularly loud protest, and Dunkin' Donuts pulled the ad.

Again, so what? No one's rights got trampled, freedom of speech was expressed, and our republic stumbled forward once again. Well, you would have thought the fascists had taken over, according to the reaction of some members of the blogosphere. The good folks over at BadAstronomy were having a series of apopleptic fits over Michelle Malkin--at least I think they were incensed over her; maybe it was Dunkin' Donuts they were mad at, or Rachel Ray. Most of the sentiment was that those who saw the keffiyeh as a symbol of terrorism were just right-wing reactionary knuckle-draggers who saw evil swarthy terrorists lurking in every shrub and shadow. No, no, no, said the enlightened bloggers--it's just a scarf, how could you be so stoopid, Bush lied/people died, etc. You should read the Wiki entry for "keffiyeh" for some insight as to why it has the terrorist connotation.

Well, I thought the ad was stupid. Why was she wearing an Arab scarf anyways? In front of (apparently) a backdrop of the Oregon state capital building? I'm not sure if this was part of a series of ads featuring Ms. Ray in a variety of fashion accessories or what, but at the very least, it didn't seem well thought out. Surely someone would have thought that in this day and age of easily offended political sensibilities, someone was going to get upset.

Which brings me to this item, about some kids and their Confederate flag. These guys will not be allowed to graduate on stage because they apparently drove around the school parking lot waving their Confederate flag. The school suspended them for three days, which (unfortunately for them) includes graduation day--so no ceremony for them. I find it interesting that the ACLU seems particularly timid in their refusal to defend the teens. "If the authorities can make the claim that the presence of the flag can reasonably disrupt the educational process than they can censor it," said Charles Samuelson with the ACLU of Minnesota. I mean, isn't this the kind of censorship that the ACLU abhors? I also find it interesting that this didn't take place in Alabama (cue the Neil Young song) or in Mississippi or somewhere else in the Deep South. Nope--these good ole boys hail from the progressive state of (drum roll, please) Minnesota. My, how things change . . .

I was born in the South, and although I don't consider myself a Southerner (the big S "Southerner" for me means that whole plantation/mint juleps/moonlight-on-the-Spanish-moss thing), I do understand that whole Southern culture idea, and how deeply the Civil War still affects some communities today, and not necessarily in a racially divisive way. When I was a kid, we didn't just play "Army," we played "Civil War Army," and growing up next to a kid from Arkansas you can bet the bad guys were dressed in Union blue, and not in Confederate gray.

I think how people here in the South regard the Confederate flag has changed dramatically and is still changing. It is still revered in some quarters as a "sign of rebellion," but I believe more and more people widely see the underlying current of racism that seems embodied in that symbol, and are less comfortable with seeing it waved about with patriotic fervor.

So, what's the point here? I don't think those kids in Minnesota (Minnesota for pete's sake!!) are right--the flag for many folks is a symbol of a horrible time in our nation's history; I agree that it should not be allowed in the school, but I wonder if there are other kids at the school wearing gangster clothing, for example. Maybe suspension is a little harsh. But symbols can be very powerful, and inflammatory, and maybe should be displayed (if at all) with some degree of care and concern for the feeling of others.

Kind of like wearing a scarf--I mean, keffiyeh--in a donut commercial.

I'll bet there won't be too many comments about this over at BadAstronomy.


Anonymous said...

Lauren Bush (at a Rupert Murdoch bash), Meghan McCain (more than once, and on the straight talk express) both known to wear the keffiyeh. Wait 'til Malkin hears about this. Will they be interned too?

But MM has always been a class act: here's a link to a picture of her probably wearing one herself:

Also -- if you use her own strict immigration rules, it turns out that she is actually an illegal alien... the horror, the horror.

Did you hear that Obama is a secret Muslim? Even after all of the Rev. Wright stuff, I still believe it!

Your brother (in Christ?),


Petronia said...

'Obama is a closet Muslim' mysterious!

You bring up some good points, Dave. While I personally would not associate terrorism with the scarf, I agree that symbols are powerful and should not be taken lightly, even in a donut commercial.

But what I can't stop asking is why Rachel Ray, supposed cook extarodinaire, is doing a Dunkin' Donuts commercial?! Lucky for her it got pulled!

andrei said...

OMG, terrorists are using Dunkin' Donuts to give everyone heart attacks!

Small Town Doc said...


Andrei--I never thought about it that way--those terrorists are getting smarter everyday. However, if you snitch and eat SOMEONE ELSE'S donut, there are actually NO calories. If you always eat a co-worker's donut, you should be okay. Real science--I swear . . .

Petronia--yeah, what is she doing in a Dunkin' Donuts commercial? I think she has jumped the shark; I think she's got her own little media empire going.

My (not so) anonymous brother--out of all of the scarves and other assorted fashion accessories one could choose to wear, my point is why would anyone (esp. public figures, or donut corporations) choose to wear this particular item? I don't think Malkin was the only one protesting the picture, so it obviously offended many other people, enough that it was yanked. Are those people's offended sensibilities any less important than those who were offended by the rebel flag?