Never has unadulterated hypocrisy marched itself to the forefront on a silver platter more efficaciously than on Independence Day in the United States — that is, until 2017, when my online friend decided to test the public mettle — by urinating on a Chinese-made American flag.
Oh, yes. She did.
And thankfully so — exercise of rights ultimately staves off their evisceration. Without occasional tests of the protections granted all U.S. citizens, those boundaries of protection shrink, unabated — because, if you don’t value freedom of expression, just wait until expressing yourself freely cannot be achieved without a consequent stint behind bars.
In that spirit, my friend, Emily Lance, placed a flag on the rim of a toilet on the 4th of July, and — using a device allowing women to stand and urinate — let loose, unleashing a torrent of urine against the Stars and Stripes as a friend videotaped the immediately-viral act.
“Fuck your nationalism,” the dedicated activist narrated, as the song, “Night Moves” by Bob Seger and The Silver Bullet Band, played in the background. “Fuck your country. Fuck your stupid fucking flag.”
Offended? You should be.
You should be offended that the U.S. military maintains a presence in 150 of 196 nations on the planet. Offended the CIA employed the grossest human rights abuses known when it psychologically, emotionally, and physically tortured detainees — even though that method has been proven utterly ineffective. Offended the Authorization for the Use of Military Force granted a blank slate for perpetual war anywhere on the globe. Offended the most heinous terrorist organization yet to manifest only did so because the West sought and hoped for a caliphate of terrorists. Offended millions of people abandoned their homes for flimsy life rafts, risking their otherwise uneventful lives to escape relentless American and allied bombs.
You should be offended our prisons incarcerate more per capita than any other nation — fascist dictatorships, included — on the planet. Offended the police, with seemingly endless authority over our daily lives, kill with nary a consequence, even in questionable situations. Offended free speech has been forgotten to cater to those too sensitive to bear it. Offended protest is being criminalized in a growing number of states. Offended medical choice isn’t an option in a nation claiming to value choice. Offended acceptable expression has been narrowed so severely, your right to redress grievances has been summarily erased from the books — and from the hemp-based paper on which those rights were putatively enshrined.
You should be offended with your own damnable hypocrisy — calling for the bodily harm of someone committing a nonviolent act against a symbol — rather than voting out the pols excusing the wholesale murder of innocents inside the bounds of sovereign lands.
This hypocrisy — not our farcical shreds of freedom — is why we’re so hated around the planet. In fact, it’s why blowback — not terrorism — comprises our greatest threat.
Those indelible impressions the U.S. has effected on the world — not to mention innumerable other unnamed iterations — comprise just a fraction of the motivation to carry out the one act an otherwise helpless citizen might choose to force the spotlight on the issues: desecration of the flag.
So, that’s what Emily Lance did — she chose the symbol of pain for millions around the planet who experience the full brunt of American exceptionalism to focus the rage of living only symbolically free in the one nation pompously regurgitating liberty, but failing to live up to the hype.
To call the act inflammatory would belie the altogether appalling backlash instantaneously generated the moment video of the July 4th stunt was posted to Facebook — a reaction so horrifically hypocritical, the exercise of free speech has since extended into death threats to Lance’s family members.
Threats to dissect Emily with knives, bludgeon her body, and even a $3,000 bounty for her head, rumored to be posted to Craigslist, now dot the activist’s Facebook timeline — as if she injured each individual in cold-hearted glee.
But she didn’t — she exercised an albeit fraught freedom and catapulted an astonishing hypocrisy into the world spotlight. As furious former and current service members, their families, and other devotees to the symbolism in Old Glory crawled out of the self-aggrandizing, misbegotten cracks to wish death upon an otherwise unknown person on the Internet, Lance — obviously no shrinking violet — wrote in a post to Facebook,
“Freedom (of speech/expression) means that I’m entitled to do and say as I please, EVEN if you don’t like it, so long as I am not physically hurting someone – and no, your precious feelings don’t count, that’s your own problem. What don’t you people understand? You’re celebrating freedom while damning me for doing the same. You can’t have it both ways. FREEDOM OR NONE. Practice what you preach or shut the fuck up.”
She has a point.
Indeed, while the bulk of condemnation centered around disrespect for the flag, critics widely missed that Lance’s act not only falls under constitutional protection, desecrating the symbol of the nation embodies the freedom putatively defended by the military. Those threatening death and mutilation against the woman bold enough to express displeasure with the direction of this hopelessly self-serving government would do well to re-examine what the United States allegedly stands for — freedom.
Perhaps a nation born of the blood of the land’s original inhabitants and built upon the involuntary toil of enslaved Africans and others could never comprehend freedom as a concept on which to base its existence — though, perhaps, it should.
In propaganda — advertisements, corporate news, and Hollywood cinema — the United States can do no wrong. In reality, it rarely does right by those under its control — much less, those under the bombs dropped so readily.
Testing American mettle means teasing the bounds of acceptability and tolerance — what better way to test its willingness to stand for the ideals of freedom than by destroying the symbol so dear to so many.
Instead, Lance merely proved the laughable hypocrisy in Americans’ claiming the nation the freest of all while calling for her murder for expressing a freedom apparently untenable to the national conscience.
We must face, as citizens of these once-United States, the crimes of our government for the brazen reduction of people to commodities those wrongs encompass — failure to do so engenders only militancy in the cause of knocking the imperialist empire from its self-appointed pedestal.
This nation is not exceptional — it’s ordinary. Worse, it’s complicit in the misery of billions, and — no matter how extraordinary the somnambulant American public finds itself — this shameful fact cannot be extricated from our national identity.
We are not gods. We haven’t mastered life. Our government and military commit the worst atrocities in our name — yet, people are enraged about a piece of cloth — one not even manufactured in the United States?
To say priorities have been compromised would be gross mischaracterization and understatement.
“People are wishing illness, harm, and suffering upon me over a piece of fabric,” Lance later tellingly asserted online. “People are willing to MURDER someone over a flag. It’s so sad that people don’t realize how brainwashed they are. I’m gross for peeing on a symbol? LOOK AT YOURSELVES. You people epitomize all that is foul.”
No matter how much so many wish it so, the American flag is only a symbol — however imbued with personal meaning for any individual — the flag is just a symbol. You cannot equate military service — even the ultimate price — with a piece of colored cloth.
Not when the provocative among us aren’t offered the same platform to express distaste as those expressing pride.
The true beauty of our protected freedoms in this land are most clearly seen when someone expresses themselves in a way or on a topic on which we don’t necessarily agree — then, and only then, is its foundation and strength actually proven.
This experience proves that foundation — and the flag flying emptily above it — deserve to be condemned.