Dear Catastrophizer, 

I have recently rented a new apartment in a downtown neighbourhood of a major North American city. The neighbourhood is mostly populated by the city’s vibrant gay community and known for its bon-amie and joie-de-vivre. Earlier this week when visiting the building to sign my lease, I noticed that instead of the standard rainbow-coloured “Pride” flag, the balcony of the unit next to my soon-to-be new home was adorned with a “Gadsden” flag (named for the American revolutionary figure Christopher Gadsden) which bears the motto “Don’t Tread on Me”. I have since read that the Gadsden flag has been recently adopted by Tea Party movement in the U.S. 

My question is: what sort gesture of hospitality should I extent to my new neighbours? I initially thought I would prepare them a basket of vegan baked goods, but now I am uncertain. Any guidance you can give me in this pursuit would be greatly appreciated. 

A Faithful Reader 
I'm not going to lie: you're in an unenviable position. Allow me to explain (at length). 

You may be aware that various French men from the 1970's had adorable theories about how things like the clothes we wear are actually systems of signs invested with profound social and philosophical significance. We "read" the outfits of other people and then use those readings as the basis for invariably harsh, albeit fancy, judgements. 

And it doesn't just have to be clothes. Think of the posters you put up when you were a teenager. They defined you; they were outward manifestations of your taste; they were like a mating call that might be answered by a like-minded individual if you'd ever been fortunate enough to have such an individual in your room.

So your neighbour's flag is important. That flag Says Something. The problem is, what? What, so help me Wikipedia, is that flag supposed to be saying?

The Gadsen flag has indeed been adopted by the Tea Party movement. However, it has also been adopted by a number of other suspicious and rebellious groups. For example (and I quote, as is my wont, directly from Wikipedia):
  • Athletic apparel company Nike uses the image of a snake coiled around a soccer ball for an ongoing, patriotic "Don't Tread On Me" campaign in support of the United States men's national soccer team. The phrase has become a rallying cry for American soccer fans and the Gadsden flag can occasionally be seen at national team games.
  • The Boy Scouts of America frequently fly this flag at campouts, ceremonies, and jamborees.
  • The flag appears in the Disney animated television series Recess, raised above the home of the character Gustav, whose father is a Marine. It is seen in the first episode's segment titled, "The New Kid," which addresses individuality and tyranny.
  • Metallica later used the flag on their self-dubbed "Black Album" as a song name ("Don't Tread on Me"), and on the cover of the album, the snake from the flag is in the lower right hand corner. 311's eighth studio album is titled "don't tread on me" released 2005, and also of significance is the Cro-Mags' track of the same title. 
  • The New Jersey based punk rock group Titus Andronicus features one on the cover of their self-titled album, and the flag is frequently seen with them on tour. 
  • The flag has also been used as a critical prop in several movies and TV shows, such as in the final episode of Jericho, where it was flown to signal the titular town's independence. The flag also hung on the wall of Sam Seaborn's office in the television series The West Wing. Inspecting Sam's flag carefully, you will notice the prop was constructed in error. The bottom stripe is white instead of red.
So. What do all these bullets I couldn’t figure out how to double-space tell us about your predicament? Your neighbour could be: 
1) a rabid fan of American men’s soccer 
2) a proud and public supporter of the Boy Scouts 
3) a rabid and public fan of a Disney child named Gustav 
4) a lover of a) Metallica b) 311 c) Cro-Mags d) Titus Andronicus (hope for this one - they’re really good)
5) a worshipper of the West Wing, or 
6) one of those people who sent all those peanuts to the TV networks to prevent the cancellation of Jericho

If the flag-hanger next door is 1, 4d, 5, or 6, there’s a good chance your vegan treats would be greeted with heart-felt gratitude. If, though, your neighbour is any of the other things, vegan treats would enrage him/her. Boy Scouts and Gustav hate hippies. 

I am ready to speak decisively on this matter, having made lists involving numbers AND letters. Be sly. Manage to run into your neighbour and be spy-sneaky when conversing. Say things like: “It’s funny - that terrifying blond woman from CSI: Miami was really good as a Republican on the West Wing” or “Some Kind of Monster was the reason I started going to therapy” or “I love boy-scouts” (which could backfire, given). Watch your neighbour’s response carefully. If you suspect you might learn to like this person, give him/her vegan treats. If you suspect you'll learn to desperately try to avoid this person, give him/her vegan treats. There. That was easy.

Send the Catastrophizer your requests for advice and/or rationalizations using the form conveniently provided HEREI will publish my responses on the THE CATASTROPHIZER page.

POLITE DISCLAIMER: This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are not entertained, fair enough. Also, I'm not very good at copy-editing, so if something looks wrong, it was put there by accident.
5/17/2012 02:52:28 pm

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