Cashing in on Three-day Patriotism

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All rights mine. © 2019

It’s a rainy Memorial Day Weekend in Oregon. But real estate broker Kathi Jaffe and mortgage advisor Alex Flores, (or some Boy Scouts earning extra money), beat the downpour just in time to flood a quiet neighborhood with some right-of-center advertising.

I don’t know if they slinked along the sidewalks by cover of night with a toy hammer to tap a small American flag into the front yard of every home in the entire neighborhood but by Friday morning the streets were completely lined with identical American flags. And an oversized business card for each of these two making the wrong name for themselves in real estate.

Memorial Day isn’t happy for anyone who lost a loved one.

Not that anything is sacred. If someone can monetize the mints in your grandmother’s purse they will. We will use any holiday to sell anything.

I don’t mean to sound unduly cynical about sentimentality right between Mother’s and Father’s Day but whether some holidays were invented for profit or not wouldn’t have stopped this kind of profiteering. It is an inevitability of capitalism.

But every business walks a fine line when appealing to patriotic emotionalism to sell their wares. Make no mistake, this promotional swag is no coin on a gravestone. Whether you’re hawking product at a street fair or real estate in the suburbs the same strategy that might strike the right nationalistic note for some buyers will be offensive to others — and can trigger painful memories.

It’s apparently convoluted enough to remind people that Memorial Day weekend is not just a three-day barbecuing and boating bonanza. And that it’s different from Veterans Day, that it commemorates those we’ve lost, not the living strangers whose service we like to thank while they wait two years for the VA to rule on their disability rating. And that acknowledging the military service of dedicated veterans within the imperialist context of our country invading countries all over the world is nothing short of politically complex.

Now I don’t begrudge anyone their excitement for the long weekend. Americans work long hours for stagnant wages and fleeting health care. A little R & R goes a long way. Maybe if Americans were in better health or had more time or money or child care they would also have more headspace to reflect on our militaristic past and research candidates that might demilitarize our national budget. But that’s another article for another time.

However, when Kathi-the-realtor is trying to sell homes based on the sloganeering sentimentality of “land of the free because of the brave” and plants an American flag in literally every yard in the neighborhood it feels opportunistic if not outright exploitative. We are already culturally tone-deaf to a holiday that needs to strike a more somber tone — think “moment of silence” instead of fireworks and HAPPY MEMORIAL DAY!!! It is not the Fourth of July for veterans. It is our national attempt to say “I’m sorry for your loss” to the families left behind.

It would’ve been far more reverent to let hundreds of potential customers see one American flag in her own office window than staking hundreds of flags in prospective customers’ homes in a shallow attempt to associate her business with feel-good patriotism. Not to sound too “get off my lawn” but everyone is already inundated with advertising. Who wants more on their own lawn?

And if Kathi the realtor really believes that the military gives us our freedom she should’ve saved her tiny-flag money and donated it to any number of veterans organizations. I recommend the USO, Divide Camp in Joseph, Oregon, Wounded Warrior Project and Vietnam Veterans of America. Do your research to learn more about the specific mission and ranking of each NGO. And check for keyword and closely named scam organizations to make sure that your contribution actually supports veterans.

My grandpa and my great uncles fought in WWII. One of them died as a young newlywed in the Battle of the Bulge. My grandpa also fought in Korea. Several of my uncles are veterans. My dad was in Vietnam and Iraq. He came home. My ex came home from Afghanistan. My best friend came home from Iraq. So did her husband.

My military loved ones are not my qualifications. But I am one of the lucky ones whose loved ones came home. Never underestimate what a deployment does to the loved ones back home holding their breath for an entire year hoping that no one will show up at their door with a folded flag and a “regret to inform”.

For far too many American families, the brave don’t come home. And if I were watching the annual celebratory packing-and-traffic glut that Memorial Day has become the last thing I would want to see when I come home is Kathi-the-realtor capitalizing on the deaths of lost souls to get a competitive edge in the oversaturated real estate market. It’s incongruous. And insensitive. And technically littering.

But I’m still going to keep this little flag— itself not the end of Pax Americana but emblematic of the commodification that will be.

twitter @h_m_edwards unsplash @heathermedwards

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