Saturday, June 23, 2012

Can the swastika be rehabilitated?

Some silly UFO cult called the Raelians has proclaimed June 23 to be Swastika Rehabilitation Day. You can follow the link to a story from the increasingly depressing Huffington Post.

I'm sorry that such a silly group is championing this movement because I've always liked the swastika. When I was a kid, I used to doodle it. Teachers would get upset and I would superimpose an X over it, then fill in the resulting triangles to create a pinwheel.  After getting into enough trouble for this, I changed my typical doodle to three triangles that shared a middle vertex, which looks something like the radioactive symbol.

I remember my interest was piqued because of old editions of Rudyard Kipling's work we had in our library.  If I recall correctly, our Kipling books were grey with green circles, a gold swastika embossed inside it.  All I knew about the swastika was the Nazi connotation, so I asked my father if Kipling was a Nazi sympathizer.  He told me no, that Kipling's books were about India and the swastika was a symbol of life in the Hindu religion. If you look online, you'll see that the great majority of Kipling's most famous works were written prior to 1920, the year the National Socialists appropriated the symbol used by cultures around the world as their own. This is not the only thing the Nazis stole and sullied. They decided the word "Aryan" was a synonym for Nordic, when the original Aryans were people from the region we now call Iran.

It makes little difference to me if the word Aryan is rehabilitated or not. The people who call themselves Aryan now tend to be on the stupid side, and I have to laugh when they take pride in their non-existent pure Iranian heritage.  On the other hand, I've always thought the swastika was an interesting looking symbol.  It has rotational symmetry, and the eye is naturally drawn to symmetrical things. I wrote a comment to this effect on the Huffington Post and while several people appreciated it, someone also blamed the swastika for millions of deaths.

The symbol didn't kill the people. The symbol existed long before Adolph Hitler claimed it as his own. I would like to see it accepted for what it is and for people not to assume it must a sign of kinship with the scum who lead Germany to ruin, but I'm not holding my breath waiting for the rehabilitation to happen. The most obvious lesson about humanity today is how much energy people put into hating things. Nearly as obvious is how most people cannot divorce symbols from the things they represent. Those two flaws in human nature mean the swastika will have no place in "decent culture" for the foreseeable future.


Peteykins said...

Oh! I tried! Seriously, I tried my darndest. I made a whole series of paintings in the late 1990s which all featured swastika shapes and arrangements. One of them sold to a prominent cartoonist, which was great, but at the show I had of them I found that I had to talk about and defend the swastikas so constantly and laboriously, that it was clear that the swastika's baggage was simply too heavy. It was kind of a bummer because I thought the paintings were really beautiful.

Matty Boy said...

Bless you for the brave artist you are! Of all of these, I think the rounded shapes and the Lapland design that can be looked at first as four arrows have the best shot of being accepted.

And thanks for stopping by. It means a lot to me.

dguzman said...

Um... I feel some kinda way about this.

But hey, PSP stopped by--you must be doing something right!

Emphyrio said...

There are some words in need of rehabilitation too. For example, the Victorian nonsense writer Edward Lear wrote a poem called "The Dong With the Luminous Nose", in which -- ok, I'll wait until you're done chuckling -- the Dong was a creature who attached a lamp to a nasal prosthesis in order to be able to see at night to seek his lost love.

Perhaps we can all agree that the meaning of a symbol (including a word) depends on its context. Unfortunately the human mind seems unable to keep different contexts completely separate.

Matty Boy said...

Emphyrio: Interesting point. With "dong", it can be innocuous in the context of the sound of a bell like "ding-dong", but once a word takes on a sexual meaning, most notably gay and queer, I very much doubt they are ever going back to their original meanings.