If you drive through enough American neighborhoods, you are bound to come across yards adorned with plastic versions of an iconic bird. What does the pink flamingo in the yard represent, if it represents anything at all?
They can represent several things, from birthdays to charity fundraisers. The meaning of pink flamingos in one’s yard has evolved drastically since the tradition began in the 1950s. They started as simple yard décor and were popularized by the era’s demand for pink objects.
Join us as we take a brief history lesson on this less-heralded American tradition, as well as the modern meaning of plastic lawn flamingos.
What does a pink flamingo in your front yard mean?
America is home to some strange and, sometimes, downright ludicrous traditions and practices. Having a flamingo (or 50) in your front yard is one such tradition, and enquiring minds would like to know what that is all about.
Well, truth be told, the meaning of this practice is somewhat subjective as it depends on what the owner would like it to represent. When plastic yard flamingos emerged in the 1950s, it was the climax of America’s post-WWII obsession with the graceful birds. Then, plastic flamingos were kitsch items, cheap décor that added a dash of fun to the garden.
Flamingos also represent Florida, a popular retiree destination. Individuals living the American dream (at least in the mid to late 20th century) intended to spend their golden years on the state’s sun-soaked beaches, surrounded by flocks of pink flamingos. These dreams of ultimate relaxation spread throughout the country, and plastic flamingos were identified as the easiest way to turn homes into “beach houses”.
After a period of mainstream irrelevance, yard flamingos are back with a bang…this time for charity. Many charitable groups and organizations use plastic flamingo “flocks” to raise funds for different causes.
One popular strategy used by these groups is an overnight “flocking” of an unsuspecting victim’s home. The charity groups wait until nightfall before invading selected yards and planting a ludicrous number of plastic flamingos in the front yard. A sign that identifies the charity group and cause is also put in place.
When the homeowner discovers the “flock” and the signs in the morning, he or she can contact the group and be informed about the charity, as well as how they can help. At this point, the charity group will ask for a donation in exchange for the removal of the flamingos. Each removal will cost the homeowner a certain amount. In the end, the homeowner can nominate a neighbor or friend’s yard for the charity group to target.
There are a few other alleged meanings behind the front yard flamingo. A sizeable number of people believe that the ornaments are also used to signal that a home’s residents are active participants in the swinger community. Unfortunately, we were unable to reach any swingers to confirm or deny this.
Flamingos in the yard for birthday meaning
Flamingos in the yard are also a popular birthday surprise for loved ones. The approach is quite similar to the charity flocking prank we discussed earlier.
Usually, one would order a number of flamingos that corresponds with the age of the birthday boy or girl (so if they are turning 60, you get them 60 flamingos). The look on the recipient’s face when they wake up to it is priceless.
Pink flamingo in the yard origins
Pink flamingo ornaments are a fun way to spruce up your home or bring joy to friends and family, but how did they become so popular?
As we have already discussed, pink flamingo ornaments first appeared on American lawns in the late 50s. At that point in time, the nation was in something of a flamingo craze. We’re talking flamingo plates, wallpaper, posters, paintings, coloring books, you name it.
Pink was the en vogue accessory color at the time, and the flamingo’s unique hue paved the way to insane levels of popularity.
In 1957, American artist Donald Featherstone designed the world’s first lawn flamingo, Diego. To say Diego was a star is a criminal understatement. The design and popularity of the ornament later earned Featherstone the Ig Nobel Prize for Art in 1996.
The lawn flamingos were an instant hit with the public, and their giveaway introductory pricing ensured they sold like hotcakes. In the book The Original Pink Flamingos: Splendor on the Grass, Featherstone is famously credited with “making affordable bad taste accessible to the American public.”
Of course, no great success story is without detractors. The 1960s saw the first signs of anti-flamingo rhetoric, like “cultured” homeowners and social critics, lambasted lovers of cheap plastic garden ornaments. Cultural publications and other media tried, by all means, to discourage the public from the favored gnomes, idols, and birds.
The sentiment gained so much momentum that even Sears dropped the pink plastic flamingo from their catalog.
Pop culture has also played a significant role in the history of the lawn flamingo. One of the earliest depictions of the ornament was in John Water’s popular 1972 film Pink Flamingo’s. SPOILER ALERT…the movie wasn’t about flamingos.
However, the film did help America fall in love with the ornament again, as they were celebrated ironically as a lowbrow icon.
The movie’s success spawned a radical readoption of the pink lawn flamingo as America’s unofficial bird. The ironic wave was in full swing, with flamingo (now a recognized design theme) at the heart of the momentum. Flamingos returned to every decorative item you can think of in the mid-70s and through to the 80s…vases, tablecloths, etc.
The 2011 animated film Gnomeo& Juliet was another major pop culture moment featuring the lawn ornament. Jim Cummings stars as the heavily accented Featherstone (a clear nod to Don Featherstone).
Popular TV show ALF features recurring jokes about garden flamingos and the tastes of people who would choose such decorations for their yards. Also, Electronic Arts’ The Sims videogame series features pink garden flamingos as some of the more affordable garden ornaments.