rough notes

Yellow Ribbons and signification

with 2 comments

Toronto the Good is in the news again. The cosmopolitan media and cultural centre of Canada has been cited in the national press for another moral/ethical/principled argument: whether or not its employees representatives of the City can wear and/or drive in vehicles which feature the dreaded Yellow Ribbon decal on its bumper.

The Ribbon, and all that it stands for – whatever it is that it stands for – has a way of consuming precious front matter on newsprint, as well as precious time out of our days. As The Globe and Mail reported on June 20, 2007, Toronto City Council, its Fire Department, and Emergency Medical Service (i.e ambulances) are at odds over the meaning and gravitas of the Yellow Ribbon. Parties are at odds over its meaning: does it show support for the war, or does it show support for the troops? This argument between the war or the troops is a very blurry distinction at best, which is often served as a rhetorical trap to rouse emotions and sway opinion. Despite the well-meaning intentions of EMS attendants and fire fighters in Toronto, their unauthorized display of a highly divisive symbol has made a large number of people, in both high and low places, uncomfortable with their bravado.

There are two issues at play here. The first is the right of City employees to express their opinions by placing decals on municipal vehicles. The second is the actual decal and its emotionally charged symbolism. The former issue should prevent this small scratch from turning into an open sore. Decals are not to be placed on municipal vehicles by employees, regardless of the message, unless authorized by council. Until Council decides to promote Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or “Let’s Go Blue Jays!” or Yellow Ribbons of any kind, employees must not place the decals on the vehicles. Municipal employees – especially emergency personal such as fire fighters or EMS attendants – are often the public face of the municipality, and must not ever use their position of authority to express their own opinions beyond the normal capacity of their job. Yet, the yellow ribbon, being as emotional charged as it is, finds its way onto city cars and trucks. But it is this very divisiveness that is inherent in the symbol that should prevent the city, let alone the employees, from even allowing the decal to be attached to the cars in the first place. Recent press and public opinion has shown that there is not yet a common consensus to the meaning behind the yellow ribbon or the war in Afghanistan amoung Canadians or Torontonians, so it is foolhardy to suggest that a simple decal should be only a minor issue and therefore easily allowed onto municipal vehicles.

I have muted my own opinions on the Yellow Ribbon and the false debate over support for the troops v. support for the war in deference to decorum, and Toronto firefighters and EMS attendants should do the same. The yellow ribbon should not be expressed on municipal vehicles until a consensus is made on its signification, council agrees with its meaning, and then votes to express this opinion. Just as the back-end of a fire truck or the bumper of an ambulance is not the place for debate on the war/conflict/zone-of-no-peace in Afghanistan, municipal employees do not enjoy the right to express their own opinion as if it is the opinion an the entire city.

You are commodified.
n.b.: The header imager file has been cropped from an old pic of a yellow ribbon super-imposed onto a peace sign, found here, to give inight on how easy it is a symbol for different causes.

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Written by mitchellirons

June 21, 2007 at 7:32 pm

2 Responses

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  1. The yellow ribbon is a symbol of the political impotency of the American public

    In the early to mid 2000s the American people accepted the yellow ribbon because they literally had no other way to “support” our soldiers. We tried to “support” our soldiers by preventing their deaths, but hey, what can you do? Despite the fact that the vast majority of the American population did not support a war in Iraq, our elected officials completely ignored us and started one anyway. And since the average person couldn’t “support” our soldiers by preventing them from going to war and being killed (as they tried to do), they did the only thing they could…and stuck a magnet on their car.

    What Noam Chomsky said about yellow ribbons

    We created the Anti-Ribbon to express our opinion that the yellow ribbon and “Support Our Troops” slogan is a form of propaganda, and pro-war propaganda at that. Whether they know it or not, people who put yellow ribbons on their car are telling the rest of the world that war in Iraq is okay, and that war, in general, is an acceptable, viable solution to our problems.

    We read a Noam Chomsky quote dealing with yellow ribbons as propaganda a long time ago that became one of the inspirations for the Anti-Ribbon:

    “Americanism. Who can be against that? Or harmony. Who can be against that? Or, as in the Persian Gulf War, “Support our troops.” Who can be against that? Or yellow ribbons. Who can be against that? Anything that’s totally vacuous. In fact, what does it mean if someone asks you, Do you support the people in Iowa? Can you say, Yes, I support them, or No, I don’t support them? It doesn’t mean anything. That’s the point. The point of public relations slogans like ‘Support our troops’ is that they don’t mean anything. They mean as much as whether you support the people in Iowa. Of course, there was an issue. The issue was, Do you support our policy? But you don’t want people to think about the issue. That’s the whole point of good propaganda. You want to create a slogan that nobody’s going to be against, and everybody’s going to be for. Nobody knows what it means, because it doesn’t mean anything. It’s crucial value is that it diverts your attention from a question that does mean something: Do you support our policy? That’s the one you’re not allowed to talk about.”

    Noam Chomsky

    From “Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media”, edited by Mark Achbar, p. 79

  2. Thank you for bringing Chomsky back into the picture. Although much of America(tm), I believe, has begun to understand how empty a symbol the yellow ribbon is, I haven’t always been able to find the right words to support my own opinion on this matter.


    August 9, 2007 at 9:48 pm

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