Peace Moving Upscale

Remember the peace sign from the sixties? Well, you may have gotten it wrong all along.

July 4, 2000

Remember the peace sign from the sixties? Well, you may have gotten it wrong all along.

It is hard to imagine how to pack more people, more peacefully, on the grounds in front of the U.S. Capitol. Despite the mass of people, every group of friends or families has its own little space preserved, clearly marked off by their outstretched picnic blankets.

As the orchestra plays, people are everywhere munching on their pâté and camembert and sipping their chardonnay and champagne. Finally, at dusk, the great moment arrives that everyone has been waiting for — the fireworks.

In a particularly memorable Fourth of July celebration a few years ago, the special attraction was fireworks that exploded in the shapes of popular national symbols. Rockets exploded in the shape of the stars and stripes. This being America, of course, there were Mickey Mouse-shaped fireworks. The audience cooed “oohs” and “aahs” in appreciation.

But one of the crowd’s favorites was the explosion that looked like an inverted “Y” inside a circle. It seemed obvious that is was a 1960s-era “peace sign.” But many people in the crowd were not making this association and began to debate what the display was supposed to be.

Then a rather exuberant woman in her fifties declared that she had it figured out. “Oh, look honey,” she said confidently to her husband, “they’re exploding Mercedes stars!”

Whether she stopped to consider why the event’s organizers would choose to honor a German automaker during a celebration of U.S. independence, we cannot say. But what is remarkable about her mistake is that, for her generation, the peace sign should have been so easily and readily identifiable.

But she was obviously too absorbed by the country’s relentless commercial spirit to sort through all of these associations immediately. It is easy to imagine her some nights turning to her husband to remind him that Mercedes had a beautiful new car out on the market.

Inadvertently, perhaps, the Fourth of July concert had prompted her to bug him for a new car — another object of her everyday distractions.