USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘flag’
Customs
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Kicking the Flag Pole

“When USC students go to football games, as they head off of campus they kick the flagpoles on the edge of campus. It’s suppose to be for good luck. It’s supposed to help the team win. I heard about it when I was at orientation and the guide pointed at the poles and told us that ‘All the students kick theese poles on the way to the Collesium.’ It’s like a superstition thing. I have done it once during freshman year when I went to a game and sure enough when I did it I saw tons of other people doing it too. It’s definitely caught on.”

As a fellow student at USC I know this tradition to be true. It is interesting to note that this was taught during the orientation process to the university. During orientation at USC students are not only taught official protocols of the university but they are also taught about the unofficial culture of the campus, through an official medium. The kicking of the flag pole could even be considered a ‘right of passage’ for students attending football games. As if only the true fans and devoted students partake in this good luck ritual. This tradition is not only to ensure success for the football team during the game, but also an initiation into true fandom.

Customs
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Gestures
Protection

Kicking the Flagpoles

Item:

“Oh my family would kill me if I didn’t kick it. I know when I was younger and obviously just distracted, I’d forget, and they’d make me go back and kick it.”

At USC, it’s a tradition to kick the base of a specific set of flagpoles as you move from the tailgating portion of a football game day to the Coliseum. As told by the informant, a member of the Trojan Knights, there’s a history to the tradition. When the flagpoles were installed and large crowds moved past them, the sound of feet accidentally hitting them was very distinct. Because they are placed right in front of the most logical exit toward the Coliseum, this repetitive sound became so commonplace that the crowd began intentionally doing it. Now, it serves as a necessity for true Trojan fans to kick the flagpoles. Not doing so brings bad luck for the team that day.

 

Context:

The informant began following this tradition when he was 6 years old. He learned it from his grandfather, who attended USC about 60 years ago. He says that it’s very important to it’s family — if he neglected to kick it, they would give him flak for it. If the team lost after that, he would be considered partially at fault by his family. As a Trojan Knight, this is especially important to him.

 

Analysis:

It’s interesting to see where people think traditions start, especially in cases where the reason it started is relatively arbitrary but the tradition itself has gathered so much meaning over several decades. The idea of flagpole placement leading to people bumping into it and making a distinct sound against the metal turning into a long-standing tradition that determines the success of a team is, arguably a bit ridiculous. But perhaps it develops from confirmation bias — if the team wins and you kicked the flagpole, then people like to make the association. But if the team loses, there are a lot of other factors than the hypothetical flagpole correlation to blame. So, people lean toward associating success with the action they took to wish for it. Whether or not the origin story is true or not, it’s fascinating to think about what will happen as the geography changes. What if the school moves the flagpoles in a construction project? Or if the road is closed and an alternate route has to be taken? The degree of the tradition’s importance is hard to gauge when it is so physically convenient to participate — you almost HAVE to walk past it. That’s why it developed. So what happens when the convenience isn’t present?

Folk Beliefs

The Flag and Luck

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“When I was younger, at my school we would have flag duty, which meant that every morning before the start of classes we would have to go take the American flag and put it on the flagpole and hoist it up and apparently its bad luck if it ever touches the ground. So we had to make sure it never touched the ground.”

The American flag is one of the symbols of our country and should be respected. There exists a formal United States Flag Code in Chapter 1 of the United States Code that outlines how the flag of the United States should be treated. According to this document, the flag should not ever touch the ground or anything beneath it, as it is considered disrespectful to allow that to happen. This might be where this piece of folklore stems from. It certainly does seem like disrespecting something as symbolic and important as the US flag would invite bad luck. Perhaps the teachers at the school felt it may be difficult for young students to comprehend treating the flag with such respect, and described the consequences as “bad luck” as a more universal reason not to accidentally disrespect the flag. Furthermore, this piece of folklore might help to ensure that young flag guards take extra care when handling the flag.

A related urban legend states that the US flag must be burned if it ever touches the ground. This is actually just a combination of the two United States Flag Codes. The other flag code is about how a worn out flag must be destroyed respectfully, most often in fire. The urban legend sounds plausible as a flag dirtied by the ground might be considered ruined and fire is often thought to be a purifying force.

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