Until very recently, my response to the flag ballyhoo swithered between indifference and annoyance. Mostly annoyance. It might have something to do with the fact I fractured my fibula and no one offered to fly me to Fiji to smear leaves on it. But mainly it's because the debate has been so annoying.
The current flag is definitely annoying. It is annoying that it is almost indistinguishable from Australia's. It's annoying and outdated that a Union Jack sits there, haughtily, taking up a whole quarter. Why not stick another flag in the corner of the British flag and then another in the corner of that, and so on and so on? That would be annoying but at least interesting.
But the case for change has been annoying, too. It's been annoying to feel infantilised, herded into a nationwide social studies project. Actual grown-ups holding aloft "I stand for ..." sheets of paper and smiling mawkishly, annoyingly.
The Prime Minister's call for more "overt signs of patriotism" has been annoying. He has explicitly said he wants us to be more rah-rah about NZ in the style of the United States and Australia, but I just find their rah-rah nationalism annoying. The PM wants a new flag so we can wave it at rugby games more enthusiastically.
In my experience people who wave flags at sports events, at least when they're sitting in front of you, are annoying.
Opponents of change have delivered much cause for annoyance, too. If I had a dollar for every time someone has said the $27 million flag budget could have been better spent on this or that, I'd have about $27 million. I'd be rich, but still annoyed.
The tin-foil hatters, meanwhile, detect in the flag project an almighty Machiavellian scheme by tyrant John Key to tattoo TPP upon our foreheads, or whatever it is. Such theories are fun for a moment, and then go back to being annoying.
The "joke" flags that every teenager with an internet connection submitted are annoying - with the obvious exception of the lazer kiwi, which is transcendent. The international media snorting at all the "joke" flags that every teenager with an internet connection submitted were even more annoying.
The idea the silver-fern-on-black design had to be abandoned because some moron might confuse it with Isis is both silly and annoying, although there is something to be said for John Oliver's alarm at a flag that looks like it belongs to vegetarian pirates.
The lack of any actual designer or graphic artist on the flag panel is annoying in a bang-your-head-on-the-wall sort of way. Don't blame the panel themselves, blame the MPs that selected them. As someone annoyingly wiser than me has pointed out, just imagine a panel tasked to select alternative national anthems without a single musician.
That guy Kyle Lockwood submitting about eleventy billion flag designs is annoying. People writing the word "ensign" because they want a change from saying flag are annoying. Paul Henry's flag suit is annoying.
But my annoyed malady did begin to lift, and that began, believe it or not, with a man who is very capable of being annoying, Gareth Morgan. Morgan ran his own competition for the flag, with the winner, designed by Studio Alexander, "Wa kainga / Home", sporting a central black isosceles triangle, and two right-angle triangles, one red, one blue, in the corners, all separated by a chevron of white. I didn't think much of it at first glance. But the more I looked and reflected on it, the more it felt right.
The Alexander flag was on the longlist of 40, along with another, similar flag, Red Peak, by Aaron Dustin. I like that even more. Both have a grace, a meaning, a clarity, a strength. These are proper flags. My cynicism began to melt.
But then, astonishingly, neither made the shortlist of four announced this week. Instead we have one that is widely regarded as depicting a marsupial's backside. There's another that appears to have been sawn off the back of an Air NZ jet. And the other two look like variations of a logo for a budget chain of motor inns.
The panel has made a mistake. It is absurd to have the two Kyle Lockwood fern-slash-Southern-Cross designs there. Squint and they're the same.
By including twins, albeit one with a suntan, in the last four, each gets an unfair leg-up. They in effect get double the exposure.
In a heartfelt and constructive blog post, Wellington startup guy Rowan Simpson makes a cogent argument for the missing Red Peak (bit.ly/redpeak). He notes that it looks like a flag, not a logo, and illustrates the point by placing it, and the officially shortlisted options, alongside some other great flags. It is simple enough to be drawn by a child - one of the criteria emphasised by the panel - yet there is genuine substance; the historic, cultural, mythological and even topographic references are there if you want them.
And it just looks right. In one photograph at aotearoaflag.tumblr.com, Dustin shows it floating in the breeze at sunset. Spectacular.
Red Peak has won me over. I love it. And I'm not alone - a Red Peak groundswell is building. Team Red Peak. Unfurl the fifth flag.
Red Peak should be added to the shortlist.
Even if it is deemed too late to ditch one of the Lockwoods, it at least shouldn't be too late to add the Red Peak, even if it requires a legislative tweak. After all, our elected representatives have in recent weeks proven they can change the law in a great hurry for matters of national importance, such as breakfast pub-opening for rugby (see you there).
Include Red Peak and I'll promise to politely applaud whichever design tops the referendum. I will even smile when the flag, whatever it looks like, is waved in front of my face at Eden Park.
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