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irregular times logoRibbons Get Real:
Exposing the Unspoken Demands of the New Propaganda
Sing a song of ribbons -
symbolic scraps of fabric
that people pin on themselves
in place of taking real action.

The Old Yellow Ribbon Gets Drafted

It all began, generations ago, with the yellow ribbon tied around the old oak tree. A sweet little song urged remembrance of those who had left us. There was no special adornment in the song or on the ribbons. There was no slogan telling people what kind of political judgment to take.

The yellow ribbon was a personal thing, and it wasn't necessarily related to war, either. Yellow ribbons were put out and worn for people who had left home in a variety of circumstances. The yellow ribbon was a merely sign that someone who had gone away was still loved.

That all changed with the first Gulf War, when the yellow ribbon was combined with the slogan "Support Our Troops". Soon, the yellow ribbon and the "Support Our Troops" slogan seemed inseparable, so that whenever one saw a yellow ribbon, the phrase "Support Our Troops" came immediately to mind.

The yellow ribbon had become a propaganda device.

Now, with the second Gulf War turned into a quagmire, the yellow ribbon has been given a partner in propaganda: The red, white and blue ribbon. The red, white and blue ribbon turned out to be even more versatile than the yellow ribbon. It could be pro-war, with slogans like "freedom isn't free". It could be anti-dissent with slogans like "united we stand". It could even be a rallying cry for those who sought to mix religion and politics with the slogan "God bless America".

From the 1990s on, however, these two ribbons stood in support of the right wing agenda, and against the interests of political progressives.

The Demands At The Core Of The Ribbon

Just months before the 2004 presidential election, the yellow and red, white and blue ribbons appeared again, this time in mass-produced swarms of magnets sufficient to fill up the backs of cars and trucks across America. Why did this arrival happen so suddenly, and what was its purpose?

The swarm of ribbon magnets was planned, of course, too fast to occur due to mere free market forces. The ribbons and their slogans were identified as the perfect tool to get Americans back in line, to march in support of George W. Bush.

The propaganda power of the ribbons comes in the combination of their harmless appearance with their devastating political commands.

On the surface, the demands of the ribbons seem light. Freedom isn't free, they say. Support our troops, they ask. Well, who wouldn't want to show support to people going into dangerous situations? Who wouldn't be willing to give a little bit of effort to make sure that freedom remains strong in the United States of America?

yellow ribbon support our troops propagandaWhen we examine the unspoken arguments inherent in these ribbons, their demands become much more blatantly partisan, and much less appealing to most Americans.

Take, for example, the "Support Our Troops" ribbons. Well, first of all, who isn't supporting the troops? The answer to this question depends upon one's definition of "support". If support means continuing to value the human worth of American soldiers and hoping that they return home safe and sane, then almost all Americans support the troops, regardless of their political positions.

So then, if almost all Americans already support the troops, why do the politicians who push the yellow "Support Our Troops" ribbons believe that it's so necessary to spread their message all over the country? Well, the thing is that there's a second, more insidious definition of "support" that's gaining influence in conservative circles. For conservative Republicans, it's no longer enough to just support the troops as human beings, hoping for their well-being. No, "Support Our Troops" means a lot more than that. To support the troops now, it's regarded as necessary to support the war. And then, to support the war, it's regarded as necessary to support the President, George W. Bush.

"Support the Troops" yellow ribbons are distributed so widely in an effort to gain political support for George W. Bush, not for the sake of any soldiers. The kind of support these ribbons give to Mr. Bush is extremely powerful too, because it's an unquestioning support. Under the yellow ribbon campaign, Mr. Bush get support for his war no matter what - no matter how many soldiers die, no matter how many people are tortured, no matter how much money is spent, and with no regard to whether the war is actually necessary. No wonder Republicans are so busy putting yellow ribbons on every car.

freedom isn't free propaganda ribbonsThe red, white and blue ribbons that read "Freedom Isn't Free" make an even more dramatic totalitarian demand: Give up your freedom. It's an Orwellian piece of propaganda that tries to convince citizens that the only path to liberation is in unquestioning servitude. If freedom isn't free, then war is the price of freedom. But what are the ribbon propagandists saying at the same time? They're saying that in order to support Bush's war, it's necessary for us to sacrifice freedom, and even put up with the use of torture by our government. So, in the end, the real message of a "Freedom Isn't Free" ribbon is this: The only way to protect America's freedoms is to sacrifice them.


irregular ribbons for peaceWe don't have to take this nationalistic, militant, totalitarian conservative propaganda. Those of us who believe in freedom and informed democracy can stand up to the propaganda of the ribbon crew.

In our opinion, one of the best ways for freedom-loving Americans to resist this new form of propaganda is to fight ribbons with ribbons. Why should the Republicans be the only ones to use ribbons to promote their agenda?

Here at Irregular Times, we've developed a new ribbon project all our own. We're producing a whole series of ribbon stickers, buttons and magnets (soon to be followed with t-shirts to boot) with ribbons to represent the ideas of the progressive resistance: Give Peace a Chance - No More Blood For Oil - Fight Global Warming - Value Diversity. It's our hope that by showing a more progressive side to the ribbon debate, Americans will wake up and start questioning their government once more, asking themselves whether George W. Bush really deserves the blind faith that he's asking for.

A ribbon cannot offer a complete argument. Complete arguments are offered through long discussions, such as the ones that we write about here on our site, and sponsor at our Irregular Forum. However, our own progressive ribbons can alert our neighbors that alternative arguments to refute the Bush team do exist.

By the way, you don't have to buy a ribbon sticker or magnet to participate. All you have to do is take a little piece of ribbon, yes, an actual ribbon, and tie it around a tree in your front yard, or onto your car's antenna. Blue is for peace. Black is in mourning of the deaths caused by Bush. Black and red is to make the demand - No more blood for oil. You get the idea.

Don't let all those conservative lock-step ribbons intimidate you into feeling that you don't have a right to speak up for your beliefs. The First Amendment's freedom of speech is still in effect for now. Use it or lose it.

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