Friday, September 6, 2013

Outside Lands and vexilology (Or: the importance of having a flag)

Last summer I went to Outside Lands, the great big music festival held in Golden Gate Park. I had not really been to a major music festival before. Stepping into the sea of humanity friday evening, I rapidly came to the following observations:
  1. My subjective geography of the park had been massively altered by filling it with people. A plain that once took a minute to cross could now take half an hour to scoot and elbow through.
  2. Everyone was making a futile effort to call their friends, taxing the cell system and making it impossible to get a call through. SMS was an option, but it might take 20 minutes for the text to get through, assuming your friend even has their phone charged.
  3. My friends seemed to be in various altered states, and not necessarily good at finding needles in haystacks.
  4. Standard methods of finding your friends are therefore woefully inadequate.

The crowds had increased the amount of time needed to traverse a given area, effectively expanding space within it, and requiring more landmarks to navigate with. I started to notice flags, but also other objects: inflatable sharks, glowing pumpkins on sticks, sunflowers: Anything tall, recognizable, and able to guide someone in a crowd. It was then that I made the connection to the aquila, the "eagle" standard of the Roman legions.

A quick visit to wikipedia taught me the term vexilloid, which is basically an object that functions as a flag, but is not a flag. But they're remarkably common in pre-gunpowder battles of sufficient size and complexity across all cultures, which makes sense. It may be a lot more dangerous than a music festival, but a large melee has similar properties when it comes to disoriented participants having difficulty rejoining friends after major action. (It's not as though you can say, "hey, I'll text you after the battle.")

Flags are important in a confusing situation.
So, I did what most people would (maybe?) do in that situation. I made myself a flag. I grabbed an irish flag that was laying around from a shoot at work, covered it with some quick duct tape heraldry to distinguish it from any other irish flags that might show up, and tied it to a curtain rod I found at my local hacker-space. 

As a result, my friends (as well as some confused irish fans of Passion Pit) were able to rally around me, even in the welter of full-on chaos.


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