News & Politics

DC Flag Tattoo Day: Does it Matter If You’re Not Punk?

Voting rights event attempts to co-opt hardcore symbol

Photo by James Calder, used under a creative commons license.

Today is Flag Day, and later this evening a group of District residents plans to celebrate in a novel way: The first-ever DC Flag Tattoo Day, a gathering of individuals who have inked the iconic three stars and two bars on their flesh, will take place in Dupont Circle from 6 to 8 PM. 

Organizers have framed the event as part fun and part District voting rights event, suggesting that over the years, a DC flag tattoo "has come to symbolize over 600,000 Americans who can not enact their own laws nor elect voting representatives to the House and Senate." DCist framed the concept in much the same way on Monday, following former DC Council candidate Bryan Weaver and Shadow Representative Mike Panetta as they themselves got inked with the flag over the weekend. The Associated Press quickly followed suit, writing: "Flag tattoos reportedly got their start in the District’s punk music scene, but they’ve become more of a political statement in recent years."

But have they really? The DC flag tattoo's roots in the city's seminal punk rock scene are irrefutable. The Washington Post published a decent little history of this fact back in 2004, noting its early 1990s origins among devotees of Minor Threat, Fugazi, and the rest of the Dischord/hardcore/straight-edge diaspora. That same Post story in the end also found a couple of residents with DC flag tattoos who claimed it wasn't about punk for them, that it was more about District pride.

As much as this city has gone through and continues to struggle against in terms of equal representation, residents who wish to express their loyalty to life in the District of Columbia certainly ought to be able to do so with body art, should they so choose. And the DC flag is ripe for the taking: Not only is it an official city symbol, it's also such a strong graphic. As flags go, ours is damn cool looking. 

But I've also long wondered whether getting a DC flag tattoo is really appropriate unless one also identifies with punk. If someone like Mike Panetta (who, God love him, is by any measure the coolest member of the current shadow delegation, but that's a relatively low bar) sports the stars and bars, does it change what the tattoo means to the people who popularlized them, the same folks who know the words to every song on Flex Your Head? Or is it high time the District's long-fought battle for full congressional representation became the new cool?

I'm curious for your thoughts on this one, so let me know what you think in the comments.

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