If you’re on Twitter, you must have seen flags in the profile names of many people. You can guess that those are their national flags or the flags of the countries to which they owe their allegiance. I’ve made an unfortunate observation: most of these flag-flying fellas are 1) men, 2) easily angered, and 3) humourless. (I know, I know, it’s just a correlation. But doesn’t a correlation call for further investigation to uncover the causation?)
It got me thinking: What does having a flag in your profile name do? Is it possible that the flag helps you feel a greater sense of love, loyalty, and commitment towards your nation? If that is what you seek, then why make a show of it on Twitter, of all places? Why not just be nice to your colleagues? Or stop littering? Or actually vote in elections? Or is it that you’re virtue signalling precisely because you’re running a little low on virtue?
But I think the way stickers and tattoos help us feel like we’re part of an alternative, unachievable reality, these patriotism-proclaiming flag emojis make us feel like a significant stakeholder of a greater, glorious enterprise—that of an entire nation. They make us feel a sense of power because maybe in our actual lives we feel too powerless, too defeated, too cheated—by the people closest to us, or by society, or by fate itself (or all of them). We bite down on our bitterness with a demi dose of the glory pill. The flag is a densely packed capsule of various values—culture, history, aspirations, potential, and even economic and military strength. How lovely is it to have it all so easily and to proudly show it off to my Twitter adversaries?
Even though I subscribe to internationalism, I too feel utterly patriotic when crossing the India Gate. But I don’t feel the need to buttress my credentials by copy-pasting a tiny graphic to my profile. The nation and the flag are better served by small, real acts of kindness than by virtual chest-thumping on a faceless, digital medium. And emoji service is no alternative to actual military service.
Anyway, the thing that I really want to ask all the flag-bearers of the world is, why can’t you take a bloody joke?
Photo by Engin Akyurt: https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-holding-black-flag-1571734/