John Chuckman

I thought I knew every twist of American popular culture, but apparently not. It is an inventive society, and war is a creative force that brings new impulses. There’s a program in the state of Maine, supported by the fun-loving, public-relations folks of the local National Guard, called Flat Daddy, unlike anything I’ve heard of before.

On first hearing the name, I thought the program must involve a roving jazz band, perhaps one from New Orleans, but a moment’s reflection reminded me that George Bush had assisted in removing New Orleans from atlases of the United States, Jehovah taking care of the buildings and Bush taking care of the people.

Readers, I am sure, have seen street hawkers in large American cities who have life-size cardboard cut-outs of celebrities and offer to take your picture standing as though you were with someone famous. I suspect this provided the creative spark for Flat Daddy.

Flat Daddy involves taking a picture of one of “the boyz” over in Iraq, enlarging it to life-size, and mounting it on cardboard. When a family back home goes to a pizzeria or bowling alley, perhaps even to a revival meeting, they simply drag along Flat Daddy and position him (the pronoun it is not used) in a prominent place among the smiling faces. More photos are taken and sent back to Iraq and perhaps to Aunt Helen in the old folks’ home. The miracle is that everyone feels part of the family despite the awkward inconvenience of war.

There were a few points left unclear by the undoubtedly fresh-faced officer enthusing over the program on the radio. Does Flat Daddy have to pay admission at the movies? Is he included in the minimum per-head table charge at restaurants?

Probably not, but when America goes to war, the nation’s two strongest impulses tend to become a little confused, preening patriotic feathers and making a quick buck.

You might expect an idea like Flat Daddy to have come from Texas or the Midwest, places where beehive hair-dos and prayer in the locker room before football games are still in vogue. But, no, it came from Maine, which despite its reputation for sensible, traditional values, is where, several years ago, I observed a donut shop’s gigantic, ugly over-head sign, normally given over to two-for-one breakfast specials, challenging passing cars to “HONK FOR THE TROOPS!”

At the same donut shop, there was a huge display of flags in the parking lot you might have assumed were part of the patriotic outburst, but then you noticed an attendant approaching car windows with one fist full of flags and the other grasping a huge wad of dollar bills. It reminded me of the man selling balloons on a stick at the circus decades ago. Here was a celebration of invasion as only America can do it.

What about others at the casino or sports bar who have their views blocked by Flat Daddy? The program is new, and this potential kink may not have been worked out yet, but I can’t see it becoming a problem. Quibbling about something like a life-size cardboard cut-out of a smiling soldier in uniform slapped down in front of you anywhere in America could well be hazardous for your health.

You might wonder why there isn’t also a Flat Mommy or Flat Sissy program, and I wondered about this myself, but many parts of America have not got past the idea that it’s “the boyz” who go abroad. Never mind that White House crap about women in Iraq. In much of the U.S., the standard for female etiquette was set when Eisenhower was president.

I discovered on the Internet that people in Iraq know this program, perhaps learning about it from the drawling chit-chat between laughter and machine-gun bursts at American check points. Iraqis apparently have started their own version, necessarily rather low-tech in view of the lack of electricity and running water in so many places. After allowing the sun to bake them for a reasonable time, the bodies of Iraqi men crushed by American tanks or flattened by 500-pound bombs are gently peeled from the pavement. They are lovingly brought to what remains of the family home and propped against a wall in the basement bomb shelter, an important family-gathering place in George Bush’s Iraq.


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