Glastonbury Flags: A Tradition, But Also A Nuisance

The debate continues...

Glastonbury isn’t like other festivals. A summer highlight for over 100,000 people, it’s mammoth in size and scale, but also deep in history and mythology. More than 50 years on from its first ad hoc instalment – where Michael Eavis famously plied festival-goers with fresh milk from the farm – it’s now a gargantuan undertaking, with its own rules and self-regulations. One area remains a bugbear for many, however: what’s with all the flags…?

Yep, it’s flag season. Each year fans will bring massive flags with them, often for varying reasons. They can become an instant meeting point amid the tumult; sometimes they broadcast a cause; sometimes it can be a ‘look at me’ moment for the people watching on BBC. It’s all fairly innocent, but can provoke a backlash – primarily because it blocks the view of those behind the flag-bearer.

In truth, there can be nothing more irritating. An entire day spent waiting for an artist you’ve been desperate to see for more; hours spent massaging your way into the prime position, and all of a sudden… a bloke with a 50 foot Isle of Man insignia flag plonks himself a few steps in front of you.

It’s this ‘flag rage’ that sparked a backlash against Radio X figure Rich Wolfenden overnight. Printing up a massive flag of BBC News presenter Maryam Moshiri hoisting her middle finger, he proudly posted the results on Twitter, and well… it divided opinion.

One person wrote: “Large flags spoil the view for most of the audience and BBC coverage. It’s the main reason we tend to avoid the headliners when we are there. Surely the acts are more important than getting your flag on the telly.”

Another flag-hater wrote:

The truth is, we’ve been here before. Multiple times. In fact, ‘flag rage’ is such a well-worn phenomenon that Glastonbury actually made moves to address it in 2010. 

The issue came to the forefront after a furry of festivals moved to ban fans bringing massive flags on site. Download Festival acted after “an overwhelming number of complaints” – banning flags outright, they said “I hope you all understand that this is to ensure that everyone can enjoy what’s onstage.”

Following a number of complaints during the 2009 instalment Michael Eavis & Co. decided to let festival-goers decide. Launching a poll on the official site, they wrote: “Our gut feeling here at Festival HQ is that they shouldn’t be banned, as we think they add to the magic of a big Pyramid stage performance. But we wanted to find out what you folks think.”

Tragically for the flag-haters, a majority voted to keep the flags – it was slim, however, with 55% voting for their retention, and 45% voting to ban them.

“Big thanks to everyone for taking part. As well as the result itself, it’s been really useful to get an idea of the passion this debate raises among festival-goers, by reading your comments across the web.”

The issue isn’t going away, though. For those suffering from ‘flag rage’ they’re an imposition too many, and complaints often flood social media. In their defence, however, the flags display incredible colour and creativity – little wonder that so many titles offer comprehensive round-ups. After 14 years, though, perhaps it’s time for another poll – in true Glastonbury tradition, conversation should be the way forwards.

Words: Robin Murray

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