The Burning Question

Illustration by Mike LeeAPART FROM THE AUTUMN OF 1984, when I shared an apartment with three young Republican white women, I haven't spent much of my life reading so-called women's magazines; however, I do judge their covers while in line at the grocery store. One such cover, that of the August issue of Jane, bears the following light verse:


3,000 of your wildest sex confessions Our writer gets supernaked For Playboy 10 cheapo tricks That will make your skin look expensive Wear jeans To work without getting fired What kind of reject would throw acid In a woman's face? Courtney Love On celebrity dating, threesomes And why fatter is sexier  

"Supernaked for Playboy" invites me to pages 116 and 117, a spread composed almost entirely of one image, upon which I'm immediately transfixed. Cristina Estadella's transcendent photograph depicts two women in one office; one seated, one standing. In the left foreground, Jane reporter Sue Carpenter sits in profile in a pale tight sweater, a short dark skirt, boots and a bright red chair. Her hands are clasped prominently in a classic, sexually suggestively embrace. Beyond the desk she's facing, far to the right, Playboy photo editor Michael Ann Sullivan stands in a severe dark suit, hair slicked back, the blur of her left fist slamming into an open right palm.

But that wasn't what had drawn my attention. It was the walls. Ms. Sullivan's walls are covered -- coated, thick, like Betty Crocker -- with hardcore Americana-fetish novelties: I count right around 100 threateningly wholesome desecrations -- Yankee Girl Chewing Tobacco ad; some sort of 16x20-inch certificate from the Something Something Betsy Ross Memorial Association; possibly hand-woven God Bless America 11x14-inch framed . . . thing; Uncle Sam; My Country Right or Wrong (framed); ad infinitum -- almost all of which include at least one bastardized American-flag facsimile.

Captivated, I buy the entire magazine, isolate the photograph with scissors and tape, and present it to colleagues for evaluation and response: "Someone's interview with an armed-service recruitment adviser." "Or to work at a museum of Americana." "The warden at a federal women's penitentiary is firing someone." "Someone volunteering to work for a political campaign." "Is it a dyke thing?"

THE ONLY TIME I'VE SEEN MORE FLAGS outside an overtly political gathering was three Independence Days ago, when coalitions of real estate mercenaries arose before dawn, put their boots on and marched on the sleeping city, planting unsolicited flags, one per yard, exactly halfway between sidewalk and front door. Later that morning, my roommates and I emerged from our unit to find our section of the city harpooned by hundreds of these Malaysian dowels upon which little plastic American flags made in Taiwan had been stapled and tagged with pro­American Revolution propaganda. The flags disappeared surreptitiously over the ensuing three nights -- first in twos or threes, then fives, then tens; no neighbor dared risk being caught uprooting their "gift" in daylight. Then there was the issue of what to do with it after the harvest.

(The following is an actual-size 911 transcript: "Oh please come quick! He's here!" "Ma'am, is he in the house with you?" "No! No! He's in the street and . . . OH MY GOD!" "Ma'am? Are you still there?" "HE'S . . . [screams] . . . HE'S BURNING IT! HE'S AAUUUUGGHHHH!!!!)

The Flag Protection Act of 1999 will, as its name implies, protect United States citizens from the three or four American flags overcooked by textile-torturing ruffians every decade or so, by creating the first constitutional amendment since Prohibition to eliminate a specific individual freedom. Shortly thereafter, the federal government will add a fourth branch, Advertising, which will superintend, with impunity and for the purpose of profit, the destiny of the only logo on the planet that may not be fucked with, sport. While it's still legal, visit The Flag Burning Page ( for information both historical and topical, a forum for debating or opining ("free speech"), and the ever-popular Burn a Virtual Flag page (, the mere browsing of which should fill your cache with enough subversive GIFs to send you up the river and straight to hell, where your roommate will quite possibly be Playboy's photo editor.

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