HGTV: You Can Use a Flag as a Tablecloth

service member saluting flag in the background
(Christopher Cameron/DVIDS)

“The last time I saw an American flag draped on anything was a coffin returning a fallen troop to his/her family.”

That’s what gold star mom Karen Meredith, whose son Lt. Ken Ballard was killed in Iraq in 2004, wrote to HGTV after they ran the post “Classic Fourth of July Table Setting Ideas” on their website.

"HGTV, boy did you mess up when you used the American flag as a tablecloth," she wrote. "As the mother of a fallen soldier, I am offended that the American flag means so little to HGTV."

The post, which has since been removed from their site, featured an American flag draped over the table as a table runner with a festive spread of colorful plates, food and flowers on top.

“Drape a large American flag over the table as a bright and festive table runner. Use a nylon flag so spills can be easily wiped off and the flag can later be hung with pride on a flag pole,” they advised.

Anyone familiar with American flag etiquette will immediately know what is wrong with this picture. Not only are they using an actual flag as decoration -- but bonus! -- they find it’s virtually spill proof and – double bonus! - it can be repurposed as a festive front yard decoration.

This is the same flag that is so sacred that a team of service members in dress uniforms and white gloves trains for countless hours just to fold it exactly right -- so that they can present it to the family of someone who died defending it.

It is not to touch the ground. You have to shine a spotlight on it at night. Damaged ones must be disposed of in a dignified manner. It is a symbol of unity, bravery, freedom and the blood of patriots.

It is not the perfect touch for your picnic.

Those who have been talking about this both on blogs and on Facebook have wondered how, exactly, HGTV let this one slip in. What could they have been thinking? Why would they so dishonor the flag? How many stylists, photographers, editors and writers approved that picture before it went live?

But we are pretty sure we know what happened. First, let’s take a look at HGTV’s apology, posted to Facebook June 12.

“HGTV Fans, regarding the recent article that appeared on our website...This was a regrettable use of our flag and it never should have happened. We sincerely apologize and have removed the post from our website. We want to assure our fans that HGTV is proud of the American flag and everything it symbolizes for our people,” they said.

They are proud of the flag. That’s why they wanted to display it.

Which is why I’m betting that somewhere in an HGTV cubicle, that same group of stylists, photographers, editors and writers are scratching their heads in utter confusion. "What is wrong with those readers???" they ask each other.

Because they just don't understand. What is so wrong about using the flag as a table runner anyway? At least until you wipe the food off and hoist it up a pole, it’s just a normal piece of cloth, right?

Even writing those last two sentences made me wince. That’s because you and I know that it is not just a piece of cloth. When those stars and stripes are sewn, painted or placed together something happens that we can’t quite explain – but suddenly they become the symbol of something higher than us, something worth fighting for … something worth dying for.

The problem is, then, that the average American doesn't understand that. They haven't sacrificed. They haven't lost friends or family. To them it is an easy symbol love of country and freedom -- but not a symbol due the utmost respect.

But perhaps they believe that because that is what they’ve been taught. After all, the flag is in front of them everywhere -- on flip flops, beach towels, bikinis, swim trunks, throw pillows, doormats, paper plates, t-shirts, dog bandanas, folding beach chairs, napkins. No one bats an eye at those things. They're all in good fun and patriotism, right?

In the United States, we generally accept that flag prints and the actual flag itself are two different things. Yet when things like this HGTV blunder occur, I wonder if expecting Americans to recognize the nuanced differences between “flag-like” and “actual flag” may be asking too much.

We are raising generations of Americans who don't really get the fuss over a flag. They think the flag at Iwo Jima was a decoration on a pole. They think a flag in a shadow box is a tchotchke to sell at a garage sale. They think a flag that used to fly outside the American home on Flag Day is a flea market find, a vintage scrap, a charming antique.

But the flag isn't an antique at our house. It never will be.

Around here, we remember all too well what the flag is meant to do -- and who it covers when he or she is transferred home.

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