Column Date 2006-05-01

The horse that ran the wrong way

It gets curiousier and curiousier down in Venezuela.

President Hugo Chavez recently decided that his country had the wrong horse on its coat of arms.

Venezuela’s coat of arms, for those of you who don’t follow such things, featured a spirited white horse shown running to the right.

But since Chavez’s government is obviously a socialist/left-wing one, he convinced the National Assembly that the horse was running in the wrong direction. So they voted to replace the current “Imperialist Horse” with one that’s running to the left – a “People’s Horse,” I would guess.

It would be funny, if it wasn’t so bizarre.

But symbolism is obviously important in politics (viz. President Bush strutting around in a flight suit, John Kerry duck hunting, Michael Dukakis riding in a tank with a helmet perched on his head), so I checked on some other countries’ coats of arms.

What pomp! What circumstance! What confusion! Most of them are completely out of touch with our modern world.

The French coat of arms, for instance, has a shield, an olive branch, an oak branch and an axe that (for some reason) is supposed to represent ”justice”.

This is certainly not the France we know and love today. I should think that a French coat of arms, circa 2006, would show students waving strike signs, farmers attacking a McDonald’s, and a defiant wedge of unpasteurized cheese (which the Common Market says France can’t produce any longer).

Then there’s England, whose coat of arms features three golden lions. Lions are nice, I guess. I enjoyed seeing them sleeping in the London Zoo. But one would more closely identify England with symbols like exorbitant traffic fines, ghastly hats worn by Royalty, and perhaps a drunken member of Parliament or two.

Italy’s coat of arms shows us a five-pointed star, a steel cogwheel, an olive branch and an oak branch. What about picturing a Ferrari V-12, a Gucci handbag and a mafioso don? Or perhaps a men's magazine model and ex-Miss Italy contestant like Mara Carfagna, recently elected to the Italian Parliament, to instantly make it the world’s most popular coat of arms??

Germany, as usual, is the exception. Its coat of arms stays true to its Teutonic character, displaying a scowling black eagle with its fists clenched.

Poland’s coat of arms, on the other hand, features a white eagle looking to the west, obviously startled and nervous (possibly a natural reaction to the German eagle so close to its border).

Which brings us to the USA. Our coat of arms (which is actually our Great Seal) has an American eagle with a banner in its beak, its talons clutching arrows and an olive branch, and thirteen stars overhead.

Symbolic of our past? You bet. But to make it more relevant, we should show a pile of IOUs, a Hummer, waving fields of genetically modified wheat, and perhaps a man clear-cutting a forest with a chain saw.

In fact, I’d be surprised if our President and his advisors don’t already have plans to change the Great Seal.

After all, it shows the American eagle looking
to the left.

©2006 Peter Tannen