Created By: Tallens on June 21, 2013 Last Edited By: Tallens on July 20, 2013
Troped

Burning The Flag

Someone lighting a flag on fire

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Trope
Companion in Tattered Flag.
The Fire Nation flag, destroyed by fire.

A flag is the symbol of the nation it represents, its principles, its ideal, and its people and leaders. So, how does someone who's an enemy of said nation demonstrate that? You get one of their flags, and light it on fire.

There are a number of ways this can be portrayed. It can be used by political activists to show their displeasure with a particular country, which is how it is most often used in Real Life in recent years. It can also be used to symbolize the defeat of a conquered nation, especially if done by their conquerors. Occasionally, dissidents might burn the flag of their own country.

There is a more positive version as well. In some countries, such as the United States and Denmark, it is customary for old, worn-out flags to be ceremonially destroyed by fire. This is referred to as retiring the flag. The US Flag Code instruction on the matter:
The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.

Given the controversial implications of this trope, No Real Life Examples, Please!.

Examples

Anime and Manga
  • One Piece has Luffy and Usopp doing this to the flag of the World Government -- which in the world of the series amounts to nothing less than a declaration of war against said government -- in a bid to persuade Nico Robin that they and the entire Straw Hat Crew stand behind her as True Companions.

Comic Books
  • In The Punisher #44, the Punisher's Iowa vacation gets cut short when he is forced to rescue a flag-burning protester from his would-be attackers. This act of kindness leads the Punisher deeper into a local fight between protester and rapper Arc Light and a banker with a grudge.

Film
  • In The Rocketeer, a Nazi propoganda film showing their rocket soldiers attacking America has a burning American flag falling to the ground as the Nazi banner rises in its place.
  • Mulan: As the Huns attack the Great Wall, a Chinese soldier lights a signal fire as he is confronted by Shan Yu, and defiantly says, "Now all of China knows you are here." Shan Yu breaks a nearby flag off its pole and puts it in the fire. "Perfect!"
  • In The American President President Andrew Shepherd's Republican opponent Sen. Bob Rumson attempts to smear him with a picture of his girlfriend, lobbyist Sydney Ellen Wade, burning an American flag during a late-'80s anti-apartheid demonstration. (Presumably they were demonstrating against US inaction or something to that effect.)
  • In The Three Musketeers (1993) the Musketeer corps is disbanded, and the Cardinal's guards ask what to do with the Musketeer flag. Rouchefort, the former musketeer turned enforcer for the Cardinal, tells his men to burn it.

Literature
  • In A Rising Thunder, the manticoran ambassador to Earth observes a 'spontaneous' protest against his nation, noting how the crowd is setting fire to manticoran flags as well as badly-made effigies in manticoran naval uniforms. One of the protesters waiting a bit too long to let go of a burning flag adds a bit of humor to an otherwise bleak scene.

Live-Action TV
  • Nazis take over Metropolis in an episode of Lois and Clark, and at the end, after they've been foiled, Superman burns a Nazi banner that had been hung from the Daily Planet.
  • One controversial episode of Seinfeld had a comedic example of this trope. While walking through the Puerto Rican Day Parade, Kramer accidentally sets the Puerto Rican flag on fire with a sparkler and immediately tries to stomp it out. Hilarity Ensues when several Puerto Ricans see him stomping on the still- burning flag...
  • In The West Wing, Penn & Teller "burn" a flag at Zoe's birthday party after stuffing it into a rolled-up copy of the Constitution as an example of the rights given by the First Amendment: the flag is gone, but the Constitution is unharmed. Naturally, this causes something of a PR stir.
  • In the Game of Thrones third season finale, "Mhysa," there is a shot of a Stark flag burning, symbolizing the defeat of the Northern rebellion after the Red Wedding.

Music
  • Marilyn Manson's Burning Flag.
  • The song Lapdance by N.E.R.D. featuring Lee Harvey and Vita includes the lyrics "Burnin' the flag, all in the name of white trash", sung by Harvey.

Other
  • Similar to the above example, Penn & Teller burn an American flag wrapped in a copy of the Bill Of Rights as one of the tricks in their Las Vegas show as seen here. They do the trick to make a point about how American's have the freedom to burn their own flag if they wish. Additionally, the Bill Of Rights is unaffected by the conflagration symbolizing how it is unharmed. No they don't actually burn the flag. Teller has removed the flag before they ignite the flash paper.

Poetry
  • Referenced in this poem by US Marine Corps chaplain Dennis Edward O'Brien:
    "It is the soldier, Who salutes the flag, Who serves beneath the flag. And whose coffin is draped by the flag, Who allows the protester to burn the flag."

Video Games
  • In Skyrim, one of the thieves' guild quests has you assassinating the leader of a rival guild, the Summerset Shadows. You're given the option to set fire to a banner while in the Shadows' headquarters; if you do so, the quest giver will compliment you for sending a message that the guild won't be trifled with.
  • Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood: When you capture a tower, the flag attached to it is set on fire to let the citizens know that the Borgia no longer have control of the area.
  • One of the heroic missions on Nar Shaddaa in Star Wars: The Old Republic involves invading a Mandalorian stronghold, killing their leaders and burning their clan flags.

Western Animation
  • In the Grand Finale of Avatar: The Last Airbender Iroh, after defeating the Fire Nation forces occupying Ba Sing Sae, burns down the Fire Nation flag hanging on the Earth King's palace.
  • Done for practical purposes in Futurama, when Zoidberg burns an American flag to give a heat-seeking missile a heat source to lock onto. The crowd around him boos, but Zoidberg defends himself by arguing that the act of burning the flag preserves the freedom that the Stars and Stripes is supposed to represent.
  • The Simpsons:
    • In a Flash Forward episode Homer & Bart greet Lisa's British fiance by running the UK flag up their flagpole.
    Bart: Here they come: raise the flag!
    Homer does so; it sparks as it touches something electrical
    Marge: Oh, Lisa!
    Homer: Yo, Hugh! Here's a little bit of US hospitality: whaddaya think of that?
    unbeknownst to Homer the flag is now on fire. Hugh gasps
    Lisa: Dad!
    Homer: Aah!
    he and Bart pull it down and stomp on it
    Marge: Now throw compost on it! they do so
    Homer: Whew! hands the flag to Hugh Er, enjoy.
    Hugh: Oh...a tear forms it's still warm.
    There's a lot of flag-burners
    Who have got too much freedom
    I want to make it legal
    For policemen to beat'em.
    'Cause there's limits to our liberties
    At least I hope and pray that there are
    'Cause those liberal freaks go too far.
    • In the episode "Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington" Nelson writes a superpatriotic essay for a contest, for which this is his theme.
    So burn that flag if you must! But before you do, you'd better burn a few other things! You'd better burn your shirt and your pants! Be sure to burn your TV and car! Oh yeah, and don't forget to burn your house! Because none of those things would exist without six red stripes, seven red stripes, and a helluva lot of stars!!
Community Feedback Replies: 54
  • June 21, 2013
    TyeDyeWildebeest
    • One controversial episode of Seinfeld had a comedic example of this trope. While walking through the Puerto Rican Day Parade, Kramer accidentally sets the Puerto Rican flag on fire with a sparkler and immediately tries to stomp it out. Hilarity Ensues when several Puerto Ricans see him stomping on the still- burning flag...
  • June 21, 2013
    Stratadrake
    Time for another awkward GIS query. Hey, it's just for a trope!
  • June 21, 2013
    StarSword
    • Referenced in this poem by US Marine Corps chaplain Dennis Edward O'Brien:
      "It is the soldier, Who salutes the flag, Who serves beneath the flag. And whose coffin is draped by the flag, Who allows the protester to burn the flag."
  • June 21, 2013
    Astaroth
    • Done for practical purposes in Futurama, when Zoidberg burns an American flag to give a heat-seeking missile a heat source to lock onto. The crowd around him boos, but Zoidberg defends himself by arguing that the act of burning the flag preserves the freedom that the Stars and Stripes is supposed to represent.

    • In Skyrim, one of the thieves' guild quests has you assassinating the leader of a rival guild, the Summerset Shadows. You're given the option to set fire to a banner while in the Shadows' headquarters; if you do so, the quest giver will compliment you for sending a message that the guild won't be trifled with.
  • June 21, 2013
    randomsurfer
    In a Flash Forward episode of The Simpsons Homer & Bart greet Lisa's British fiance by running the UK flag up their flagpole.
    Bart: Here they come: raise the flag!
    Homer does so; it sparks as it touches something electrical
    Marge: Oh, Lisa!
    Homer: Yo, Hugh! Here's a little bit of US hospitality: whaddaya think of that?
    unbeknownst to Homer the flag is now on fire. Hugh gasps
    Lisa: Dad!
    Homer: Aah!
    he and Bart pull it down and stomp on it
    Marge: Now throw compost on it! they do so
    Homer: Whew! hands the flag to Hugh Er, enjoy.
    Hugh: Oh...a tear forms it's still warm.
  • June 21, 2013
    nitrokitty
    It should be noted that in some countries, Denmark for example, burning the flag is considered the respectful way of disposing of it.
  • June 22, 2013
    foxley
    In The Punisher #44, the Punisher's Iowa vacation gets cut short when he is forced to rescue a flag-burning protester from his would-be attackers. This act of kindness leads the Punisher deeper into a local fight between protester and rapper Arc Light and a banker with a grudge.
  • June 22, 2013
    MattStriker
    Literature
    • In A Rising Thunder, the manticoran ambassador to Earth observes a 'spontaneous' protest against his nation, noting how the crowd is setting fire to manticoran flags as well as badly-made effigies in manticoran naval uniforms. One of the protesters waiting a bit too long to let go of a burning flag adds a bit of humor to an otherwise bleak scene.
  • June 22, 2013
    StarSword
    Film:
    • In The American President President Andrew Shepherd's Republican opponent Sen. Bob Rumson attempts to smear him with a picture of his girlfriend, lobbyist Sydney Ellen Wade, burning an American flag during a late-'80s anti-apartheid demonstration. (Presumably they were demonstrating against US inaction or something to that effect.)
  • June 22, 2013
    TwoGunAngel
    • One Piece has Luffy and Usopp doing this to the flag of the World Government -- which in the world of the series amounts to nothing less than a declaration of war against said government -- in a bid to persuade Nico Robin that they and the entire Straw Hat Crew stand behind her as True Companions.
  • June 22, 2013
    randomsurfer
    @nitrokitty: in the US too.
    The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.
  • June 23, 2013
    peccantis
  • June 23, 2013
    Tallens
    ^Read the description, please.
  • June 23, 2013
    StarSword
    ^^It's got at least two different story meanings (more commonly displeasure at the group the flag represents, less commonly respectful disposal), which makes it not Chairs.
  • June 23, 2013
    eowynjedi
    • In The West Wing, Penn And Teller "burn" a flag at Zoe's birthday party after stuffing it into a rolled-up copy of the Constitution as an example of the rights given by the First Amendment: the flag is gone, but the Constitution is unharmed. Naturally, this causes something of a PR stir.
  • June 23, 2013
    CrimsonZephyr
    In the Game Of Thrones third season finale, "Mhysa," there is a shot of a Stark flag burning, symbolizing the defeat of the Northern rebellion after the Red Wedding.
  • June 24, 2013
    robbulldog
    In the 1993 film version of The Three Musketeers, the Musketeer corps is disbanded, and the Cardinal's guards ask what to do with the Musketeer flag. Rouchefort, the former musketeer turned enforcer for the Cardinal, tells his men to burn it.
  • June 24, 2013
    peccantis
    ^^^^^ the title and laconic need to reflect the actual trope content then, against misuse
  • June 24, 2013
    Tallens
    Suggestions?
  • June 24, 2013
    StarSword
    Symbolic Flag Burning? Figurative Flag Flaming? Significant Standard Scorching? Symbolic Standard Scorching? (Dug through the thesaurus to find some synonyms for the parts of the trope.)

    As for the laconic, burning a flag is sort of an inherently meaningful act (the meaning varies by context) and I'm not sure it needs any expansion.
  • June 25, 2013
    Tallens
    I don't really like any of the alternatives. Burning the Flag, or even just Flag Burning, instantly brings an image to mind.
  • June 25, 2013
    StarSword
    Yeah, I question what misuse peccantis foresees for this. I find it hard to see how burning a flag can be anything but meaningful.
  • June 25, 2013
    Tallens
    Even calling it Symbolic Flag Burning would be redundant, since flags by their very nature are symbolic.
  • June 26, 2013
    peccantis
    Oh, and if it's two possible meanings, then it's two tropes, and they should have separate pages. In which case, something like Flaming Flag Funeral (ehh?), Shaming The Enemy Flag (would neatly cover all other types to express contempt and aggression towards an enemy via their flag, i.e. shredding, dirtying, etc) eh?

    As for Laconics,
    • Burning a flag to retire it in a dignified and honouring way. (my English is really stiff today)
    • Mutilating or dirtying the enemy's flag to express contempt and hatred towards the nation or people.
  • June 26, 2013
    Paradisesnake
    I doubt there is enought examples of the "retiring of the flag" -variety to qualify for a trope of its own.
  • June 26, 2013
    Tallens
    In the future if this gets to be too big we might start splitting it into subtropes, but for now, I think its fine.
  • June 26, 2013
    reub2000
    I'm wondering if this is really that controversial that it needs the No Real Life Examples Please tag.
  • June 27, 2013
    Chernoskill
    Music

    • Marilyn Manson's Burning Flag.
    • The song Lapdance by N.E.R.D. featuring Lee Harvey and Vita includes the lyrics "Burnin' the flag, all in the name of white trash", sung by Harvey.
  • June 27, 2013
    StarSword
    ^^Considering at least some of the Republicans want to constitutionally ban flag-burning-as-protest, I'd say it qualifies.
  • June 27, 2013
    reub2000
    Still doesn't seems like a real life section couldn't be kept civilized.

    Also, not sure where this example goes:
    • Penn And Teller burn an American flag wrapped in a copy of the Bill Of Rights as one of the tricks in their Las Vegas show as seen here. They do the trick to make a point about how American's have the freedom to burn their own flag if they wish. Additionally, the Bill Of Rights is unaffected by the conflagration symbolizing how it is unharmed. No they don't actually burn the flag. Teller has removed the flag before they ignite the flash paper.
  • June 27, 2013
    maxwellsilver
    I think Exactly What It Says On The Tin is getting overused, and more often than not is just unnecessary.
  • June 27, 2013
    StarSword
    ^^Whose flag is being burned, and why are they using that flag? (I'm not somewhere I can watch videos right now.)
  • June 27, 2013
    reub2000
    Edited my post.
  • June 28, 2013
    Paradisesnake
    ^^^ Yes, that should be removed. The whole point of a good trope name is that it instantly tells the reader what the trope's about, so it's a bit redundant to throw a Pot Hole to Exactly What It Says On The Tin into the laconic every single time the trope name happends to be illustrative.
  • July 1, 2013
    ergeis
    Assassins Creed II Brotherhood: When you capture a tower, the flag attached to it is set on fire to let the citizens know that the Borgia no longer have control of the area.
  • July 5, 2013
    AgProv
    Real Life: It is possible to buy cigarette papers in the form of the American flag. So that every time you roll a cigarette you are, effectively, burning the stars and stripes. As this is possibly aimed at people who might roll more than mere tobacco into a smoke, the gesture might be symbolic of making a gesture of contempt towards American laws about what an individual can and cannot ingest for recreation. Other cigarette papers in the range included representations of the US Dollar, and caricatures of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

  • July 5, 2013
    AgProv
    It has also been seriously suggested that the Islamic outrage against Denmark over publication of cartoons depicting Mohammed was a gift to the Arab flag-making industry. As the Danish flag is a simple cross in red and white, it is so much cheaper, quicker, easier to manufacture for purposes of flag-burning than the far more complex American flag...
  • July 6, 2013
    Tallens
    We're avoiding real life examples for now.
  • July 7, 2013
    maxwellsilver
    Another The Simpsons example.

    There's a lot of flag-burners
    Who have got too much freedom
    I want to make it legal
    For policemen to beat'em.
    'Cause there's limits to our liberties
    At least I hope and pray that there are
    'Cause those liberal freaks go too far.
  • July 11, 2013
    Paradisesnake
    Added bold to The Simpsons example to make the dialogue more readable.
  • July 11, 2013
    randomsurfer
    ^^The "campy throwback" is a parody of Schoolhouse Rock's "I'm Just a Bill." Not sure if that needs to be in the article itself.
  • July 11, 2013
    Tallens
    ^It's not really relevant to the trope, unless that is an example itself.
  • July 12, 2013
    bwburke94
    I'll immediately Image Pickin' this if the ATLA image is kept. It's not exactly clear that it's a flag being burned.
  • July 12, 2013
    Karalora
    Webcomic example: Occasionally used in Scandinavia And The World to indicate one country being hostile or violent toward another. Examples here and here.
  • July 12, 2013
    Tallens
    ^^Suggestions?
  • July 13, 2013
    maxwellsilver
  • July 13, 2013
    Tallens
    I want to see bwburke94 has any suggestions.
  • July 14, 2013
    m8e
  • July 14, 2013
    NESBoy
    In the South Park episode "I'm a Little Bit Country" shows an American flag being burnt by anti-war protesters. And in Part 1 of "Cartoon Wars", some Muslums burn an American flag in protest of Family Guy depicting The Prophet Muhammad.
  • July 14, 2013
    Paradisesnake
    What about this picture from Homefront?
  • July 17, 2013
    Tallens
    I might've gone for that one if it wasn't already the image for the game itself.
  • July 18, 2013
    randomsurfer
    In the Simpsons episode "Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington" Nelson writes a superpatriotic essay for a contest, for which this is his theme.
    So burn that flag if you must! But before you do, you'd better burn a few other things! You'd better burn your shirt and your pants! Be sure to burn your TV and car! Oh yeah, and don't forget to burn your house! Because none of those things would exist without six red stripes, seven red stripes, and a helluva lot of stars!!
  • July 19, 2013
    Tallens
    Any other image suggestions?
  • July 20, 2013
    DAN004
    ^ That image above already works well for a bonus of irony.

    Oh, and Just Launch It Already
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=yyloat3bnsis29jb2h4scxxh&trope=BurningTheFlag