How Long Has This Been A Thing?
August 7, 2015 3:09 PM   Subscribe

In the last year, I've noticed more people flying American flags from the beds of pickup trucks. I did some travelling earlier this month and also saw this in Arizona and Utah, but not in Washington DC. The reason for that geographic distinction might be obvious; a different demographic lives and works in the DC Metro area than Salt Lake, Tucson or Portland. But it reminds me of the couple of years right after 9-1-1, when people were flying little flags from their driver's windows.

What annoyed me about that was those little flags were always breaking off. I'm ex military and the flag on the ground makes me cringe, so I was always running out into the road to retrieve them. It made me feel like the fliers were posers and didn't care enough to make sure they wouldn't fly off in traffic. I haven't seen any of these big ones breaking off. But what is this supposed to be signifying? And why has it been so relatively recent?
posted by CollectiveMind to Society & Culture (30 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
And why has it been so relatively recent?

Because you're just paying more attention now. I have seen flags flying from cars my entire life. American flags everywhere. Confederate flags all over the south (where I grew up). Mexican flags here in my Mexican neighborhood. Puerto Rican flags when I go to Puerto Rican neighborhoods. Sports team flags everywhere. I've traveled by car all over the US and one thing I can tell you is a constant is that car flags are a just a thing people do.
posted by phunniemee at 3:16 PM on August 7, 2015 [4 favorites]

It's always been a thing but there was a definite uptick after 9/11. What's even tackier is tattered American flag on one side and {favorite sports team} on the other.
posted by nathan_teske at 3:32 PM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Can you provide a pic? I honestly can not picture what you are talking about!

I imagine a full size flag would get you a ticket because of the danger if it flies off unsecured. What exactly are you describing??
posted by jbenben at 3:33 PM on August 7, 2015

I know what you're referring to. These days, I believe that some of those American flags are done as a friendly, unity-showing alternative to the hateful Confederate flags, which some ignorant people have started putting in the back of their trucks in "protest" to it being taken down in South Carolina. (Finally, thank goodness!) While it's not the case everywhere, it certainly is a reason for some people, especially in more rural and/or Southern areas.
posted by smorgasbord at 3:37 PM on August 7, 2015 [5 favorites]

This (full size flags in the back of a pick-up) has been a thing in northern Michigan for at least 20 years.
posted by rockindata at 3:40 PM on August 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

I just saw this in Northern California, with a (yes, full-sized) American flag on one corner of the truck bed and a California flag on the other corner. I was directly behind the car at a stoplight and it was extremely annoying, and I wondered if they had put them there specifically to keep other cars from getting too close.
posted by jaguar at 3:41 PM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

posted by harrietthespy at 3:43 PM on August 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

This press release shows what the company is calling the first flagpole designed for cars, created in 2008. I wonder if that has to do with the increase.
posted by jaguar at 3:50 PM on August 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

Do you mean this? I got that pic from an article about it being saftey issue at a Highschool in South Carolina, although the state highway police there say it's a legal practice.

Holy Sh$tBalls. That looks so dangerous. I would not want to drive behind that in case the flags broke off. But I grew up sailing, so I have practical experience with fabric and wind (as in, this is really really effing dangerous!!!)

Apparently though, it's A Thing. That article/incident is from May 2015, so I think before the latest Confederate Flag kerfuffle. I also found an eHow to attach the flag pole to your flatbed. It contained only the sketchiest directions on how to sufficiently secure the base and pole to keep the wind from dislodginging part or all of the set-up. Because everyone should drive down the highway with a potential javelin/spear ready to launch? IDK.


*shakes head*
posted by jbenben at 3:51 PM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

My sister lives in the southeast, and the little window-mounted team flags are unbelievably ubiquitous to me, a person living on the west coast. It's no surprise to anyone that football is religion down there. My sister flies her team's colors, burgundy and orange, all weekend during football season, though she won't wear orange jerseys anymore now that they've moved to Clemson-country, lest someone get the wrong idea.

I suspect there's a network effect going on with the flag trend in terms of people deciding to buy and install the flag pole devices in their truck bed. It's not, I presume, a standard component (although an enterprising dealer could make it one), but flying a flag in the back is definitely trending upwards. People who like to express their views by flying a flag generally feel better about doing it in full view of people who feel embarrassed by the same activity.

My friend in Pennsyltucky (that is, central PA) pointed out that prior to the recent controversy, he never saw people flying Confederate flags at all, and now they're in trucks everywhere, but it feels like a fashion to him, a gun-collecting libertarian. The only southerners in central PA are either really lost or have already put down roots.
posted by Sunburnt at 3:53 PM on August 7, 2015

Just yesterday I saw one with a huge American flag (about the size of the ones in jbenben's link) in one corner and a huge Confederate flag in the other, and I was stuck behind that fucker for at least 50 miles. This was in eastern Washington. Definitely something I've not seen before.
posted by HotToddy at 3:55 PM on August 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

Here in Colorado I've seen trucks with big American Flag and big yellow Don't Tread On Me (aka the Tea Party flag); there are many businesses with Tea Party flags out, and even a few houses flying the Yellow Snake. It's definitely a thing, here.
posted by jazon at 4:05 PM on August 7, 2015

I grew up and still live in the northern Virginia/DC metro area, and I will admit I have only seen this happen here in recent months. (DC also had a huge post-9/11 uptick in flying or wearing US flags on one's car, which has since died down over all, hence why I noticed the change as of recent). But, it's been way more confederate flags than US flags. Just the other day some asshole drove through the parking lot of my workplace with a gigantic confederate flag positioned in the back of his pick-up bed. (And two African American coworkers happened to be walking by at the time and shouted out "Seriously?" Yep, dude was serious. So serious he was driving at about 5mph to make sure everyone knew he was there.)

In other words, it's definitely about making a BIG statement as opposed to just a statement. Making statements with confederate flags seem to be more en vogue than US flags or even the Don't Tread On Me Flags, these days. I think Sunburnt is probably spot on that buying a proper flagpole for one's truckbed is now considered on trend - they sell them for those who want to feature confederate flags, and so others are buying them and using them to fly US flags, etc too.
posted by nightrecordings at 4:12 PM on August 7, 2015

The full-sized flag is definitely a recent thing for me and I've lived in the not-so-south south (Orlando, Atlanta, SW Florida) for over 15 years. I mean, maybe, once in a blue moon for some sort of rally back before a year or so ago. I saw two today in SW FL. One with both a US and Confederate flag, the other with just the US Flag.
posted by imbri at 4:14 PM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Large flags mounted in truck beds is a very new thing for me. I've seen dixieflag / US flag / snakebaggerflag combos in bits of NC, SC and GA all in the past month or so, in that order of popularity. Only a matter of time before one flaps itself off into the windscreen of someone travelling behind it and causes an accident.
posted by holgate at 4:15 PM on August 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

The psychological term for this is reactance. "Reactance occurs when a person feels that someone or something is taking away his or her choices or limiting the range of alternatives."

A few kerfluffles about restrictions against flying the U.S. flag, or movements to shame those flying the Confederate flag, results in outsized displays of rebellion against a perceived limitation.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:20 PM on August 7, 2015 [12 favorites]

As dangerous as a truck flying usually a pair of full-size flags & flagpoles appears to be, I've also seen motorcycles with (usually a single) full-size flag and flagpole --- just imagine the wind forces THAT creates on a two-wheeled vehicle.

I think we see fewer of these trucks with huge flags here in Northern Virginia mostly because we're a pretty urban rather than rural area. And fortunately, mostly the motorcycles with huge flags are usually connected to things like "Rolling Thunder" and similar huge over-loud gatherings, where besides patriotism a second reason could be the simple attention-grabbingness of an overblown display.
posted by easily confused at 5:07 PM on August 7, 2015

I started seeing/noticing more around here when the Patriot Guard was in full swing combating the Westboro loonies. (They still ride but fortunately don't have to do it in response to that hateful group as much anymore.)
posted by Beti at 5:13 PM on August 7, 2015

Nathan_teske, I forgot to mention how many "tattered" flags I've seen. Proper respect for an American flag includes properly and honorably destroying damaged flags. When I see a ragged flag, I'm thinking the flier is somehow aligning themselves with 1776, or Fort Sumter or something ... rockets red glare and all that.
posted by CollectiveMind at 6:16 PM on August 7, 2015

Saw my first one in Asheville the day after Emanuel AME, with a US flag. Since, they have become very common in NE Tennessee, mostly confed flags and some US that I guess are in reaction to those. Confederate flags have been fairly absent here before, with the exception of the odd dukes of hazard lookalike.

A lot of these guys are driving big trucks around aimlessly to parade their flag, sometimes even in convoys. I'll bet the low price of gas also contributes to this.

Flying flagpoles aside, the sheer unexpected motion and blocked sightlines is certianly a traffic hazard.
posted by joeyh at 6:29 PM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's the norm on sailboats...
posted by cecic at 6:33 PM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

I see it a lot in San Diego around our bases (and from the weird survivalists who come in from the south east border towns). It's a Minute Man thing and a Tea Party/Republican thing here (but I say that as a biased dirty liberal who thinks flying flags from anywhere other than a pole is tacky and disrespectful). I would say I've never seen it in Los Angeles or Orange County though. Not sure why.
posted by Hermione Granger at 6:40 PM on August 7, 2015

Yeah, this has been a thing here in Indiana for many years now. It seems to be an outgrowth of all the post 9/11 hyper-patriotism wave. I believe I first saw the big-flags-on-a-truck thing with monster trucks. Around here, it's huge with the rolling coal crowd.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:57 PM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Saw my first one in Asheville the day after Emanuel AME, with a US flag. Since, they have become very common in NE Tennessee... Confederate flags have been fairly absent here before, with the exception of the odd dukes of hazard lookalike.

Well, eastern TN and western NC were historically on the Union side, and there's generally less dixieflag "heritage" shit on display until you head down the mountain, but they are significantly whiter than the rest of their respective states, and bigots in pickups have ways of flocking together.
posted by holgate at 7:27 PM on August 7, 2015

Saw my first one in Asheville

There used to be many on Patton Avenue on Friday nights back when cruising was a thing there.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 11:33 PM on August 7, 2015

Yeah, this has been a thing here in Indiana for many years now.

Ditto in rural/exurban Illinois. Not so much in the closer-in suburbs or Chicago. But there are fewer pickups there anyway. I see at least one or two a day around here.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:07 AM on August 8, 2015

Here in Chicago, 99% of the time it's a Puerto Rican flag, and it's linked with Fiestas Puertorriqueñas / The Puerto Rican People's Parade (or, in common parlance, "Puerto Rican Pride"). A week before and after the parade, everyone has a flag on their car, and there's constant illegal fireworks going off. I like to sit on one of the boulevards and play "who has the biggest flag on their car;" no matter what, someone will always come along who topped the one before them.
posted by Juliet Banana at 7:08 AM on August 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

harriettthespy, here is what I mean (thanks jbenben) ... link
posted by CollectiveMind at 8:53 AM on August 8, 2015

The firest time I saw this was in the DC area. Sept 13, 2001, waiting at the temporary bus stops near the Pentagon Mall metro. Big, mud splattered truck cruised up and down the street with large US and Marine Corp flags in the back.
posted by saffry at 9:46 AM on August 8, 2015

Bigfoot had one in the '80s.
posted by box at 7:51 AM on August 9, 2015

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