It is kind of special, watching them, one after another on TV news, falling gracefully from their pedestals to meet with either mother-earth or, just as likely, mother-concrete. I should be dismayed, appalled even. Instead I am surprised to discover how little I really care about the crashing future of the nation’s statuary.
I mean, as Americans, we probably should hang onto at least a few of the old favorites — the Statue of Liberty, the Lincoln Memorial and at least some rockwork dedicated to George Washington. But face it, there are statues dedicated to everyone in this country with the possible exceptions of Larry, Curly and Moe. You can bet if those guys were alive today, they would be seen on the evening news trying in their inimitable way to destroy statues of Einstein or Madame Curie.
That our monuments have managed to get themselves on the wrong side of history is a testament to the power of TV combined with modern political correctness. I mean they are only rocks or pieces of metal, but they do pack a symbolic wallop that some folks just can’t tolerate. And their destruction certainly makes for attention getting video. When these proper thinking people first started destroying statues, especially those depicting southern slave owners, most of the democracy seemed to be okay with it.
Then someone, probably a southerner, had to ask someone, probably a northerner, the inevitable question, “What if your ancestors were being painted almost solely as buyers and sellers of human misery?”
That question, or the meatiest part of it, should have been answered more than a century and a half ago. Instead at that war’s end we were left stuck with pretty much the same old attitudes (minus the physical slavery) about skin color, innocence, guilt and the in-between. Tearing down statues of people we would disagree with is probably not much of an answer, but face it, denying history is always deeply gratifying.
As a child I knew that slavery was indeed wrong and that I, as a descendent of slave owners, should probably just keep my mouth shut. And for the most part I did, despite the confusing fact that in my South Texas grade schooling I was taught to revile slavery and at the same time revere Robert E. Lee. Hypocrisy was not a big problem in the Lone Star State back then. And, I had heard somewhere that in ancient days the ability to hold and believe in opposing doctrines was the sign of an advanced mind. I felt vindicated. Go figure.
So should we destroy sculpture and other art works because the people depicted in them held views we now disapprove of? I don’t think so. That is unless we really won’t mind if someday our revered ideals and leaders (think civil rights, JFK, MLK) somehow get bumped off their pedestals.
David Frank Dempsey