Renowned cultural critic Kurt Andersen recently decided to stir up some gay dust in honor of New York City’s pride weekend on Studio 360, the media, arts, and culture show he hosts on NPR. The New York magazine columnist, novelist and co-founder of the acclaimed Spy magazine proposed a redesign of the Gay Pride flag, and was met by a thankful welcome and extremely pissy opposition -- both sides unsurprisingly being gaggles of gays. After hiring design studio Worldstudio to design a new flag, and opening the show to viewer submissions, Andersen and fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi will choose their favorites to be announced this weekend on the show. PAPERMAG recently chatting with Andersen about his proposed redesign.
So what inspired this all?
I was just walking down the street in New York and saw a rainbow flag, I thought, “that’s kind of dated and kitschy,” and I wondered if gay people felt the same way. So I asked some gay friends, and two out of the three said “Yes! It’s slightly embarrassing.”
I mean, it’s not as if we’re the gay government and we’re going to raise this new flag after we redesign it -- it’s just an exercise to see why things are the way they are.
This is not the first redesign you’ve proposed, in fact; you redesigned Christmas on your show.
That was a lot of fun to do, and what’s interesting about this is you’d think, "well, how many millions are going to be upset?" I mean it’s slightly tongue in cheek but we’re redesigning their central holiday. We didn’t get any complaints; there was virtually no controversy as opposed to this one!
Quite a few commentators have been upset about your proposal to change the symbol, while others welcome it. Why do you think that is?
The reaction is surprising. I read this piece in New York magazine about the gay generation gap and I wonder if that’s a part of it, because so far it’s people over a certain age who are pissed off about it.
I was discussing with Mark Randall, the Worldstudio designer who is gay, and Mizrahi about how the attitude of these gay people is ironic -- I mean, if the gay sensibility is about anything, it’s about accepting every flavor and every stripe as well as subverting icons and serious symbols of America. It’s like they can dish it out but they can’t take it! Not every listener-submission was serious.
Some of the listener-submitted redesigns are pretty funny, like the Romulus and Remus suckling
h, we showed them on the Brian Lehrer show and that one got a huge laugh. Which shows you that not everyone is so serious about this I like the one with several stars on stripes in the big dipper shape [representing the U.S. states that legalized gay marriage].
What do you see is the point of proposing a redesign of a gay flag, and why your interest in design?
I think it’s an interesting way to make people look more closely at the things they take for granted, which is something we do on the show anyway.
As opposed to visual art, design is a thing that is very easy for a large audience to connect to -- why does my telephone look the way it looks, why does my car look the way it looks -- the way that you talk about a painting.
In terms of the cultural subjectivity we can tackle on the show, there’s a kind of populist accessibility to design.
How did Isaac Mizrahi get involved?
I was originally talking to him and I happened to mention that we were doing this idea and he said “Oh I’d pay to be the judge of that.” And I told him, "you don’t have to!"
He said that among his friends they argue about which of his friends is the king of the gays and this is chance to prove it.
What does the fact that you can debate such a post-gay issue say about gay rights and the community?
Most of our show this weekend is devoted to that discussion in various ways, and to me -- and perhaps its self-serving to say so -- the fact that we were able to do this relatively innocuous, pro-gay thing is emblematic of how celebrating gayness is a fairly unremarkable thing at least, in New York City and other cosmopolitan places like LA, San Francisco, etc.
If you sent someone from now back a dozen years ago to say “this is going to be the state of play in 2009, and there are going to be this many states where you can get married and these TV shows were on ” people would be overjoyed.
How we’re doing this show, and what we’re doing in the culture is a snapshot in a moment of time that’s pretty hopeful -- not every second of the conversation has to be serious and earnest, some of it should be, sure, but crack a smile -- and chill!
It's not just post-gay, but it’s kind of meta-gay to propose a gay flag redesign.
Yes, it’s funny, I mentioned on the Brian Leher show the fact that I asked “could this be designed better?” to my gay friend, and he was like “Kurt, that is such a gay question!”
I’m not sure that people understand the degree to which gay people and gay sensibility has been embedded in their lives. And so I think that’s interesting to remind them.
Studio 360 airs at 10 a.m. Saturday mornings on WNYC 93.9 FM, and reruns 7 p.m. Sunday on AM 820.