Monday, 28 September 2015

The stupidity of New Zealand Flag Idol

Sometimes I write posts about things that are art-related, but aren't my sculptures.  The great farce that is the New Zealand Flag Referendum is both vaguely art-related and too good to miss.  It's a comedy of errors worthy of Shakespeare or Aristophanes, and we haven't even got to the voting yet.

Changing the flag is essentially a vanity project for the Prime Minister.  He wants a new flag to be his legacy and he's determined to get it, even though everybody else would rather he left a legacy of better legislation and maybe one of those surpluses he keeps promising.  The Labour party, eager to show voters they can provide more sensible leadership, vigorously oppose changing the flag - even though changing the flag is a Labour party policy

Later this year there will be a referendum in which we all get to vote on a shortlist of alternative flags, then next year the alternative with the most votes will go up against the current flag and we vote again on which one we want.

It's just like a reality TV show, and it's depressing because it's a waste of a good opportunity.   From a design perspective our flag is clunky, and it looks too much like Australia's.   Changing it for something better and more recognizable is a good idea,  but the process has been managed so badly that this is not going to happen.  

The problem stems from the way the alternatives were chosen.  The government put no effort or resources into finding an alternative flag, they simply invited the public to submit designs and then got a panel of bureaucrats to choose a shortlist.  

Predictably, this approach generated some quality joke candidates (the kiwi with laser eyes, for example), but no truly brilliant designs.  Nothing that inspires us to say "THIS is what our flag should be".  For that they would have needed to commission entries from experienced professional designers, and they didn't.  That's our government all over.  They don't understand that if you want a high quality result, you have to get a professional who really knows what they're doing, and you have to pay them.  It made sense to invite public submissions, but they should also have commissioned a couple of designs from an expert. 

The whole process might as well have been specifically designed to produce mediocre flag alternatives, and it has.  Ye gods, but it has.  These are the four finalists:

Four promo v2
Image from the Flag Consideration Project website.

They aren't bad as such, but they're boring.  They're exactly the kind of flags you would expect to get if you invited public submisions and then had a committee of bureaucrats choose a shortlist.  Unsurprisingly, the New Zealand public is unimpressed, and a recent poll by 3 News Reid Research indicates only 25% of kiwis want to change the flag.  I think a lot of this is because the choices are so uninspiring.  There are plenty of people who like the flag we have, but also a lot of people who would be open to changing it if there was a really good alternative.

Now, however, we have a fifth option.  Red Peak, shown below, didn't make it onto the shortlist, but a few people obviously like it.  They started an online petition and got 50,000 signatures, so the government has agreed to include Red Peak on the ballot.  The Prime Minister seemed happy enough to include it and has said that while he would prefer a silver fern, he likes Red Peak better than our current flag.  Those who want it will now have the opportunity to vote for it.

NZ flag design Red Peak by Aaron Dustin.svg
Red Peak.  Image from Wikipedia.

This isn't as democratic as it sounds.  50,000 is less than 1% of the population.  In fact, Red Peak is a consistently unpopular design.   A UMR Research study which investigated what people thought of the 40 possible designs found that Red Peak featured in the top five least preferred designs for every demographic they surveyed.  None of that matters.  A small but vocal minority got a petition together, so on the ballot it goes.  

If it wins the PM will get more than he bargained for, because look what happens if you take four copies of Red Peak and arrange them with the corners together:


Oops


It will be great fun for students and drunk people at sports events.  It is guaranteed to get international recognition.  But is it really the type of legacy the PM had in mind?