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Designing the Mad Pride Flag

November 14, 2011

Can you believe it?  The Mad community does not have its own flag!

Here’s comic artist and survivor extraordinaire Sarafin‘s proposal, prepared in advance of Toronto’s Mad Pride 2012.  Let’s take a closer look!

© 2011 Sarah Griffin

First off, you’ll notice that in its overall structure that it’s readily identifiable as a community flag.

Here are some community flags you may or may not recognize:

They’re not just pretty as hell, but denote affiliation with vital cultures and subcultures.  I myself am a member of at least two on here (not saying which!).

But we Madders are a community which has lacked the flag we have so long deserved.  It was about time somebody addressed that, and what better time than during the current planning for Toronto’s 2012 Mad Pride celebrations, and what better person than Sarafin?

First, what’s Mad Pride? 

Well, it’s our time to shine.  The Mad Pride movement started in Toronto in the early 90’s and spread around the world, taking off like wildfire in Europe, the US and in Australia (among others).  It’s an affirmation of who we are as people (anyone who has had an experience of any kind with psychiatric treatment, and who so chooses to self-identify, is among our number).

We may not all share common values and experiences — indeed, a more heterogeneous lot you will never find — but we all have one thing that unites us: the need to be acknowledged, respected and listened to by those in the medical community and indeed by anyone in a position of power.

And so our celebration, Mad Pride, is usually not all fun and games, even though the spirit is one of levity.  We stick to our political roots, holding discussions and working groups on lobbying, policy and current issues — not the least of which concern the horrible conditions in metropolitan subsidized housing.  In Toronto Mad Pride week is crowned by our parade, wherein we defiantly push a gurney down Queen Street, symbolically escaping the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health grounds (formerly the old Provincial Lunatic Asylum, which was built, in part, through the forced labour of “inmates” [patients!]).  (Click here for a look at the poster from 2011.)

In an effort to broaden our scope, this year the planning committee has decided to include more arts and entertainment, and emphasize the cultural festival component.  Planning is in full swing, so you’ll have to watch this space for a fuller picture.

And so, the flag.

There’s currently a contest on to design the Mad Pride logo.  Sarafin, enterprising artist that she is, was excited to tackle the project.  She and I (and my contribution here was principally as a sounding board) bounced around a variety of ideas and principles.

  • It had to be readily identifiable and distinct.
  • It should if possible suggest other community flags.
  • It would require iconography that emphasized the psyche without any references to pathology.

The colour yellow seemed like a given.  Not only does it looks good in various shades from eggshell to canary, as the brightest and most visible of colours it refutes the notion that we are an “invisible” minority.  We’re everywhere, and you all know more than one of us.  It’s optimistic and cheerful (as we often are), but it is also a colour which can apparently cause people to become irritated and uncomfortable (once again, as we often are).  Best of all, yellow has a history among us.   In 1892 the American author Charlotte Perkins Gilman published “The Yellow Wallpaper,” a short story that has become a landmark work in the Mad cultural canon.

The number of stripes was an issue.  Should we base it on the international ICD 10 classification of 10+1 categories?  Or the DSM-IV’s 17-and-change?  Either would have been unwieldy.  And wrong.  We’re not who we are because of some pseudo-empirical 3rd-party system of categories and rubrics.  We simply are.  Thus, the number of stripes was established essentially on aesthetic grounds.  But note the way the bars lighten and deepen.  This is a depiction of how some conditions may be comparatively severe, mild, or intermittent.

Then there’s this guy:

This is the Greek letter Ψ (psi).  The psychological profession has pretty much adopted (co-opted?) it, though the symbol has long held broad associations with mind, soul, spirit, intellect, emotion, and parapsychology.  Nothing in life is value-neutral, and so the closest thing we could find was something that could be fully reclaimed.  Maybe this is our pink triangle?  Or lambda?  The red Sarafin selected doesn’t just show up well against the yellow ground, it’s also the universal colour of struggle and bloodshed.  And let’s face it, many of us have bled.  Finally, look at how the symbol is oblique, off-kilter, askew.  Pretty self-explanatory, no?

All right, then!  We need your input!  Is this our final design, or can we refine it?  What should we add or remove?  What are we missing?  Let’s open this up so we can perfect our symbol!  We want this to go worldwide!

Address your concerns here or at Sarafin’s main blog, Asylum Squad Side Story.  (You’ll note that she’s rather modest about what is a damn fine piece of design!)

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