It’s the Union, Jack!

triumph-twins-union-jack-key-holder-bonnie-thruxton-scrambler-thunderbird-storm-4058-p[1]The Union Jack is the sacred icon of certain sects of bikers.  Café Racers, Rockers, Hooligans, and Brit Iron Rebels.  Different denominations, they are all floggers of speed and crankcase crazies.  They have owned the symbol of empire and made it a banner of rock, punk, and junk, and they wear it on jackets, hang it in their garages, and tattoo it on their bodies.

The Union Jack is a great piece of design: beautiful, balanced, and bold.  Its powerful graphics make it equally strong as a flag of the realm and a Sex Pistols album cover.  It can be both a protest and the thing that it protests.  Bikers and rockers have done more to spread the Union Jack around the world than the Royal Navy ever did.

Soon our beloved icon may be in peril, as the Atlantic reports.  You see, every other Thursday or so, Scotland holds a referendum on whether to secede from the UK, and the white diagonal cross and blue field in the flag represent St. Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland.  So if the Scots do succeed to secede, the Jack will represent a Union that doesn’t exist.  Read the Atlantic article for a concise background on this.

Since hating the British is second only to eating sheep entrails in the hierarchy of manliness in the Highland home of my ancestors, many people think this referendum may pass, and discussion of revising the flag is generating a lot of interest.  Since Wales is not currently represented on the flag, some people see this as an opportunity to incorporate either the Welsh red dragon flag or the yellow-on-black cross of St. David into the design.  The problem is that most of these well-intentioned attempts at inclusiveness result in just terrible design.

As bikers, we have invested enough into the Union Jack that we need to weigh in here.

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This design looks like a sickly, jaundiced version of its former healthy self.  This flag looks slightly caustic, like it could be the international warning sign for some particular kind of hazardous substance.  If you see this on the back of a tanker truck, do not shoot it with a bazooka.

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Another uses the white-over-green background of the Welsh flag.  This one looks a little less corrosive than the previous one but looks tepid and anemic compared to the current UJ.  It is half-full, like we are waiting for the rest of the image to load, and vaguely looks like it might be the flag of an obscure former British colony island in the South Pacific.

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Of all the bad designs, this one is the worst, which I call “Going into hyperspace with H. R. Pufnstuf.”  This clanking visual collision could hardly inspire loyalty or rebellion, but merely noisy annoyance.  How can a design with so much white area have absolutely no negative space?  This says neither “United” nor “Kingdom.”  It says “Agitated.”  To get a sense of what a terrible flag design this really is, imagine it actually waving in the wind.

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There is one design, however, that is truly worthy of both Queen Elizabth and Queen.  Simply replacing the blue field of St. Andrew with the black background of Wales’ St. David, a relatively subtle change, creates the bad-assingest flag since Oliver Hazard Perry hoisted “Don’t Give Up the Ship.”  The Black Jack (Hey!  What a great name for it!) is both regal and punk.  It takes the Union Jack up to 11.  It might even bring back Rock and Roll from the dead.  It is perfect.

Updating a great design is tricky, tricky work, especially one so widely beloved by such diverse people and with so much historical freight.  When the right idea comes along, it looks obvious and inevitable in retrospect, but good design is anything but inevitable.  Great design ideas are in fact few and far between.  Just look around you.  See what I mean?

Personally, I hope Scotland stays in the UK for many reasons, but if they pull out, this must be the design of the new flag of the United Kingdom of England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

All you Rockers and Racers, let’s pull for the Black Jack.

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Are Russia’s Bikers the New Cossacks?

For hundreds of years, the Russian Cossack troops defended and expanded the Russian empire.  Part regular guards, part terror troops, part horsemen marauders, they were an important weapon in the arsenal of defense and enforcement, even if many of the ethnic Cossacks were the victims rather than the instruments of Russian oppression.  The Cossacks were the troops that stopped waves of Tatar invasions, harried Napoleon’s troops, and helped make Stalingrad a living hell for the Germans.  They were both outsiders and central to power.

 22._Kozak_z_golovoju_tatarina[1]Cossack with the head of a Tatar

This week, the Night Wolves, a Russian outlaw motorcycle gang who also happen to be Vladimir Putin’s riding buddies, have entered the Crimea and participated in the takeover of the peninsula.  This shows A: that anything that can possibly happen is happening in this increasingly chaotic situation, and B: that is it still possible for a group to be anarchically outlaw and ultranationalist.

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Night Wolves leader Alexsander “The Surgeon” Zaldostanov

This has the bizarre feeling of an emperor sending his personal guard who are above the law into an unruly quarter of his empire.  It is indeed a darkly clever move to utilize existing outlaw biker rage against his enemies, to turn a problem into a tool of the state.  Of course, it is unclear how much the Night Wolves are acting on their own or under orders.  The evolution from criminal gang to irregular troops to inner circle seems bizarre but is not unprecedented and certainly not beyond the pale for Putin.

It is unlikely that a handful of outlaws will prove decisive in what looks like it may quickly become a shooting war.  But this is psychological, too.

Small towns may fear an incoming horde of bikers just as they would fear the horsemen 500 years ago, and that fear is many times worse when they have the imprimatur of the state.  Anarchistic destruction is bad enough without a petty tyrant behind it.