You’ve probably seen a pink flamingo on a lawn somewhere at least once in your life. So many American households today have a pink flamingo ornament displayed outside their houses, making it close to a staple of American culture.
But what’s the reason behind the pink flamingo craze? In general, it was meant only as a decorative piece. Working-class households used it to beautify and add a breath of life into their lawns.
But over the years, the reason behind its use and its symbolism has changed. More than decorative pieces, pink flamingos on a lawn now hold culturally significant statuses — and even moral standing.
Why People Put Pink Flamingos on a Lawn
Probably the most common reason households are displaying pink flamingos on their lawns is for decorative purposes.
A slim and vibrantly-colored ornament surely adds flare and tropical elegance to a plain yard.
The pink flamingo craze was started by Don Featherstone, a sculptor who was hired by plastic company Union Products. He was instructed to sculpt a pink flamingo and delivered with a 3D lawn ornament using molded plastic, polystyrene, and injection molding.
Union Products then sold these flamingos for $2.76 a pair. And not long after that, people started putting them into their homes — mainly because it was trendy.
The practice of decorating lawns with a pink flamingo was a huge buzz in the 1950s. It became a staple of pop culture back in the day, and everyone wanted to have it.
This is also partly because of the popularity of the color pink. Back then, pink was a symbol of class and was extremely on-trend. And if you think about pink animals, well, there’s only the flamingo.
But the flamingos had some backlash in the late 60s when minimum waste advocates started coming around. People were encouraged to ditch plastic decorations and instead, use natural and eco-friendly products to decorate their lawns.
The demand for pink flamingo ornaments significantly declined at that time. In fact, the company behind its popularity even stopped selling them. But this didn’t last long.
In the 70s, people started putting pink flamingos in their lawns once again to conform to pop culture. Households who had these decorative ornaments were seen as trendy, cool, and hip.
A Symbol of Luxury and Good Taste
Flamingos were a huge deal back in the day. These animals were printed on wallpaper, clothes, dishes, lunch boxes, bags — and whatever other objects you can think of.
This booming trend gave rise to companies using flamingos for their advertisements. During the bright days of Vegas, Florida, and Miami, flamingos symbolize luxury, class, taste, and beauty.
Hence, people started decorating their lawns with pink flamingos as a way of flaunting their impeccable taste and provocatively showcase their pride in being trendy.
At some point, flamingos displayed on lawns were seen as a subtle mockery for the taste (or lack thereof) of the less fortunate.
This idealism was also born a highly controversial 1972 film by John Waters. The film, which was all about highlighting bad taste, was named “Pink Flamingos.”
The film used pink flamingos to personify the bad taste of people in the 50s. From a symbol of class, pink flamingos on lawns soon were labeled as tacky.
2016 YMCA Campaign
But pink flamingos were yet to rise again in 2016. This time, it wasn’t for the purpose of beautifying a lawn or showcasing good taste.
Instead, the 2016 flock of pink flamingos was an effort to raise money for charity.
Spearheaded by the YMCA for their 2016 Annual Giving Campaign, the whole South Jersey region was flocked with pink flamingos in their loans.
The charity event involved putting flamingos in household and business lawns at the request of their family members, friends, or colleagues. The flamingos had signs attached to them, which stated that the effort was for charity and gave the name of the charity the donation would be given to.
The home or business owner would then have to pay a fee to have them removed. And donate an additional $10 if they wanted to find out who flocked them.
The victims can then request to have someone they know flocked. They only need to pay for the flamingos — $35 for five flamingos, $60 for 10, and $100 for 20.
Then YMCA volunteers would then go to the new victim’s address and put flamingos on their lawn.
The charity event proved to be a welcomed one among the residents. They thought of it as a unique way to raise awareness and earn money for a cause.
As people started seeing their neighbors and friend being flocked, they wanted to be part of the fun movement. YMCA ended up generating more than enough of their projected funds, which they donated to charity.
This is not the first time, however, that “flocking” somebody’s lawn with flamingos took place. Several organizations like church groups, advocacy associations, and high school students have used this method of generating funds for their causes.
And they proved to be effective each time.
Pink flamingos displayed on laws has had a very long history. Its purpose and symbolisms changed over time — from the decorative piece that it was in the 50s, the provocative display of trendiness in the 70s, and then a movement to raise money for charity.
Today, we still see a lot of pink flamingos — although not paraded in household lawns.
There are now gigantic pink flamingo inflatables, pink flamingo bags, dishes, jewelry, etc. They also make really funny and trending memes.
It’s safe to say that there has been a change in perception about these plastic toys. From a symbol of class and luxury, pink flamingos are now seen as more apt for children.
Pink flamingos have indeed taken over American culture and have become iconic pop culture symbols.
In fact, several pink flamingo sculptures are currently displayed in the National American Museum at the Smithsonian with the name “Pink Flamingo Lawn Ornament.”