In all the furor over What Is the Proper Way to Display the U.S. Flag? by Dread Scott (or Dread Scott Tyler, as he was then called), one key element of the installation always seemed to be overlooked: the response book, positioned on a shelf in a way that invited the public to stand on the notorious flag-on-floor while writing their comments. (Not that the flag was always on the floor–veterans were pretty vigilant about folding it up and placing it on the shelf next to the book.) Scott intends to publish all or most of the messages in a volume to be called Burn This Book. Here’s a representative sample of what the people wrote:
“Go fuck yourself Dread Scott Tyler. You are lucky to be living in this country. See you in hell.–Chicago Police Officer”
“Dear Mr. Dread: Stop sucking your dick for so long–its warping your tiny brain.”
“Proud to stand here on Old Gorey.”
“This is America the constitution says that we are free to say what we want, we can publicize what we want–we are a free people! So how can anyone say that we can’t step on a stupid piece of cloth?”
“If your so unhappy with America go back where you came from and see how much respect you’ll get. ‘America Love It or Leave It’.”
“THE ISSUE IS CENSORSHIP!”
“I think it’s a very important move because it makes people think. It feels somewhat blasphemous at first but in reality its just a symbol with a lot of decay behind it.”
“If you don’t like this country and you don’t like our flag then get the hell out of here and go back home!”
“Scott unless you served you don’t know what it means to cover a body with the flag. I’ll get you Scott.”
“The American flag, like any flag, is a symbol of narrow nationalism. It is a manifestation of the primitive mammalian psychological heritage we all carry around with us–the ‘us vs. them’ attitude. There was a time in evolutionary history when such orientation was necessary for survival, but, fortunately, today, most people are evolving into a higher consciousness. However, we must still be tolerant of those pathetic souls who must hide behind the security of something as silly as a flag. Excellent work, Dread.”
“FUCK U & your ART!!!!!”
“The Flag is greater than the 1st Amendment.”
“Dear Dread, It is a disgrace to display America like this. Who do you think you are? A small time minority looking for attention–you asshole! If you don’t love this country leave it. FUCK YOU.”
“I think it’s ridiculous that our entire country is symbolized in a flag, an idiotic piece of cloth. It’s time people start questioning a country that says it supports freedoms of all sorts when one can’t even step on a piece of cloth.”
“In all due respects Dred you are a jagoff. If you believe this is art, you are BLIND. Our country symbolizes peace and justice for all–and you have absolutely NO right whatsoever to display our flag this way.”
“I think your exhibit is very interesting–the trouble/fuss over it makes me curious. All sorts of people are rallying over this supposed injustice–Why don’t they rally around the social injustices of this country and other countries? I do hope people don’t trample on it though out of hate.”
“I think that picking up the flag and folding it is tampering with the piece, like taking a painting off the wall. The participation that is part of the piece as I see your intentions is the writing in this book. I’ve laid the flag back down and someone with an army jacket is giving me an evil eye. I think there are many ways to display the american flag and this is sure one of them. I support you all the way!”
“Wednesday 8 March 1989
“State Senator Angus MacWhitehog, suds from wash basin sloshing around his wingtips, arrives with his entourage @ the Art School. Glare of camera lights. Security is heavy and the scene borders on the truly ugly. Senator MacWhitehog is a True Patriot, he lifts the flag off the floor and his Right Hand Man, an exMaffiosi and PR flack, helps him fold it (after they gently scrub footprints off).
“Around the corner it is Internat’l Women’s Day @ the Federal Building. Angry women, friends, relatives of Puerto Rican POWs, block the street. Police shout, shove. Laconic male voices burst from walkie-talkies with static.
“In a scene that reminds one of ‘Help Is On the Way’ from Duck Soup, 16 cops leap into cars, speed round the corner, little elderly people scramble to avoid being struck. A day in the life of Amerikkka.”
“I bet you haven’t met my uncle! He is a great man–a veteran, having lost both his legs. He braved a lot & is still proud to defend our flag. I cry with him when I see the flag on the floor. If you are such a mediocre artist to need publicity like this–quit now–Wendy’s is hiring to clean toilets!”
“To whom it may concern:
“One day the middle classes of America will come to the shocking conclusion that they are the problem in a self-perpetuating, implicitly oppressive society. I just hope it’s not while they’re waiting for the blade to fall.”
“Why do assholes like you try to destroy one of the only pieces of symbolism that represents this country? You don’t need to ask what the proper way to display the American flag is. Americans already know!”
“If you don’t appreciate & respect the U.S.A. Get Out Fag.”
“Hey, it’s not my flag!”
“The fact that anyone is even worrying about this whole thing when there are homeless people 20 blocks from here is the height of idiocy. Your point is made, albeit with a great deal of unnecessary sensationalism.”
“I flew in from N.Y. to come protest this great desecration to the American Flag. I am amazed at your audacity. Another person flew in from Toronto, Canada and he feels the same way. I hope you regret what you did for the rest of your life–and I hope you pay for it.”
“Art, NO. Disrespect for the American Flag, yes. As a teacher, I find this project unacceptable for any kind of a grade but ‘F’. What would you expect when desecrating the American Flag, but negative reactions.”
“You can properly display the flag when the U.S. stops paying for Death Squads in Central America & does something about the homeless.”
“My mom once said, ‘Profanity is the effort of a feeble mind to try to express itself forcibly.’ Mom was right.”
“Who the fuck you think you are
“Why don’t you get the hell out of the country you unpatriotic bastard.”
“I am angry that veterans have rolled up the flag & deprived me of seeing the exhibit as conceived by the artist. Hands off!”
“I am a Black Man born in America. Unfortunately my standard bears the colors Black Red and Green. If this flag Red White and Blue were on the floor I would step on it. It’s lunch time, I cannot go to Gage Park or Cicero for lunch. I can’t get a promotion on my job. Black Red and Green–Don’t step on it.”
“How would I like to see the U.S. flag displayed? Shoved up the tight asses of those self-righteous defenders of the flag. I’m with you all the way.”
“I think that it’s really great that you’ve created something that makes people think and feel. It shows that art is a necessity and not just something that is aesthetically pleasing. Even the people protesting, even though I don’t agree, are responding to a need.
“On behalf of my uncle, my father, and all who fought in Vietnam, FUCK YOU! I’m proud to be an American!”
“A son of a bitch like you should be shot and make you pay for the bullett.”
“Your views and your display show that you do not wish to be an American or that you are really a communist PIG. The coffins you show are draped in the flag because that’s what symbol of free society they fought for. GO BACK TO RUSSIA!!”
“Brother Dread Scott Tyler,
“The proper way to display the American flag is to put the flag next to large capital letters–W.S.
“The U.S. flag has led invasions into countries where people of color have been killed, oppressed, and exploited.
“White Supremacy is responsible for the genocide of the Indians, the enslavement and continued oppression of Blacks, and is currently maintained through vicious white nationalist patriotism.
“The U.S. flag is a tool for continued oppression of People of Color throughout the world.
“Thanks for taking a stand–Black Man.”
“Veterans, cops, etc . . .
“(To whomever it may concern)
“Didn’t you fuckheads ever hear of freedom of speech? This man was only expressing his views–which I thought was every Americans right. Obviously not, you fascist pigs. I’ll spit on the flag if I want . . .”
“I hope you die a slow death fuckhead.”
“Freedom of Expression!!”
“I understand that the purpose of art is to provoke a thoughtful reaction, but was this really the most effective way? I support your right to produce your own artwork, but there are still the confinements of good taste for all.”
“Get a clue on life buddy!”
“You have no conception of art.”
“You should be castrated and hung from the highest flagpole in the U.S. You unpatriotic Bastard.”
“Whatever U do, don’t let the bastards get U down. People who don’t understand art usually vote Republican.”
“It should be wound up and wrapped tightly around the neck of the ‘person’ who created this ‘art.'”
“Mr. Tyler, or to whom it may concern,
“Freedom, True Freedom, is having the choice and knowing that the choice is yours. What you or anyone else does, then that you become, thereby, you are nothing more than what you invest in. But for everything you do there is a price to pay. I have watched and listened to you. You’ve done your homework well, before you put up your display, knowing there were no current laws upon putting the flag on the floor, and you could not be arrested, thereby laughing it off. But now people are putting death threats upon you for your anti-American views and what you have done. How does it feel to be scared for your life, now that you’ve done what you have done? Is or was it worth it? You have pissed off a lot of people from WWI, WWII, Korea, & Vietnam. I’m a Marine Corps Veteran of the Vietnam War. I’m not threatening you, but provoking you to think of the consequences of your actions. I watched good men die & get hurt, physically & emotionally, with a bullet wound of my own, to protect the very principles of the freedoms that allow you to get away with what you’ve done. How does it feel now–Think about it–Pay the price.”
“I am sorry I did not get to see your exhibit displayed in toto. I believe that the whole intention was to get people thinking about their flag. And it worked. Congrats . . .”
“To Brother Scott Tyler from Brother Steve Cokely.
“Brother you have provoked ‘White Supremacy’ to reveal itself and that is a very special mission and reveals your ‘special role’ in our ‘victory’ over the murderers of
“–millions of Native Americans
“–[can’t make out]
“–and especially Africans
Hampton & Clark
Martin King Jr
& the thousands of other revolutions they have sought to suppress in their satanic attempt to overthrow ‘righteousness.’ Thank you Brother.”
“Scott–As a Black American woman, I can understand if you intended for people to view the flag in a negative light–especially considering there are those who have been so disadvantaged in society. People who have been killed because they wanted to exercise the rights & freedoms the flag represents also thank you (I’m sure). Thank you for provoking so much thought on freedom & liberty (the two are different) and thank you for bringing out of the woodwork those who would rather not see the people at large have certain freedoms. More power to you, brother!”
“You are obviously the lowest of the low scum of the earth to possibly think that such a thing could be considered a work of art. Fortunately as of 3/17/89 such a travesty will be against the law of the city of Chicago. It is better late than never I guess.”