Human Flower Project


Friday, October 15, 2004

Daffodils May Raise Politician’s Profile

An Oakland city council member announces he’s in the race for mayor and mails coupons for daffodils to 9100 voters.

Ignacio De La Fuente came in fourth in his last race for mayor of Oakland. He’s running again, and to brighten his chances, he’s mailed a flyer to 9100 residents urging them to pick up free daffodil bulbs and plant them across the city.

According to an article in today’s San Francisco Chronicle, De La Fuente’s engages in some direct-mail rhapsody: “‘Imagine 25,000 daffodils blooming all over Oakland this spring,’ the color brochure suggests, with a picture of the yellow flowers next to a photo of a smiling De La Fuente.” The article notes that Councilman De La Fuente hasn’t been exactly a ray of sunshine on the city governing board; now the gruff, non-nonsense administrator is quoting William Wordsworth’s poetry.

While some constituents have criticized De La Fuente’s using his council fund for self-promotion just a week after announcing his mayoral candidacy, the flower flyer never mentions his campaign. Reporter Chip Johnson quotes Bob Stern, director of the Center for Government Studies in Los Angeles, about the ethics of the bulb giveaway. “That’s what those accounts are designed to do…. They exist to enhance the image of the officeholder.”

Posted by Julie on 10/15 at 01:05 PM
Culture & SocietyPoliticsSecular CustomsPermalink

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

In Lieu of Flowers—Democracy

The florists’ bete noir—“in lieu of flowers”—takes a political twist in Michigan.

Flowers, especially in predominantly Protestant cultures like the U.S., have always been tinged with negativity. For their association with earlier pantheistic religions, they were considered supect—the emblems of licentious nature gods. Thought of as luxury items, flowers implied decadence—Puritan church appointments were spare and plain; put the Bible on the altar, but God forbid an urn of striped peonies!

In our time, this prudish attitude toward flowers takes many forms, most bluntly the prescription added to funeral notices: “in lieu of flowers donations may be made to Such and Such Charity.” The Society of American Florists has been battling this trend since the turn of the twentieth century. Its campaigns to encourage funeral flowers won national PR awards in the 1950s and again in the late ‘80s for putting money and muscle into the effort. Even so, the trend toward “in lieu of” requests keeps increasing.

To turn from the floral expression of mourning to fund-raising in the name of the deceased signals a major discord in our society’s attitudes toward death and remembrance.  A heart shaped wreath of roses, as perishable as the beloved, is a tribute that publically mimicks personal loss. A donation to the Heart Association or the American Cancer Society is something altogether different—a memorial to progress that would seem to say, “We’re working on this death thing. A few more scientific breakthroughs, and we can dispense with it altogether!”

Flowers bespeak our vulnerability and transience, memorial donations our largesse and power.

As for today’s twist. Pete Petoskey of Peshawbestown, Michigan, died September 2 at age 89. A retired Army mapmaker, lifelong Democrat, and sports buff, Petoskey had donated money to many Indian tribes through the years. In his father’s waning days, Petoskey’s son asked if, at his death, he’d like donations to go to Guatemalan Indians, in lieu of flowers.

Susan Ager of the Detroit Free Press interviewed Petoskey’s son.

“I remember saying, ‘Dad, do you want people to send money to the Guatemalan Indians in your memory?’ He said: ‘That’s expensive. Many of the Indians that we know are families who don’t have that kind of money.’ He said, ‘Better for them to do something more tangible, like vote for John Kerry.’ “

Posted by Julie on 09/14 at 10:58 AM
Culture & SocietyFloristsPoliticsReligious RitualsPermalink
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