Roger Marolt: Casting doubt in bronze and marble
It has been said that a statue should never be cast, a structure never erected, or a painting ever hung to honor anyone still alive. The reasoning is that anyone with even a single breath left still has plenty of time to accomplish something reprehensible to embarrass themselves and all hoping to honor them.
This perpetual potential for a slip into infamy is a marker of the human condition. That rule of thumb in delaying praise has been enough throughout the ages to keep many would-be erectors of monuments safe, at least until these sycophants themselves were dead, long before historians could eventually read between the lines and archeologists dig through the dirt to discover what scoundrels many marbleized heroes actually were.
The formula for suspended fame has worked until now, when suddenly every human action seems almost instantly discoverable. The state of things in the Information Age is such that it almost seems possible for a person to be able to haunt their family, friends and admirers before they are dead. We can theoretically become ghosts during our lifetimes that come back from the future to haunt ourselves in our own graves. Prove me wrong.
It’s an uncomfortable feeling to visit the Heisman Trophy display at the University of Southern California and see the trophy won by “The Juice” there. Yes, he was a terrific football player, certainly one of the best ever, but he also murdered two people and that makes the football part seem inconsequential. More to the point, it makes the other six trophies sharing the circle of that exhibit seem trivial, too. Times change. We learn things. We need to change, too. But monuments are built to last.
Since we have come to the point of considering the elimination of police departments, I think we should at least have the decency to get rid of honorary monuments first. They are more harmful. If we don’t think it is effective to have armed law enforcement officers protecting us, what sense does it make to have sword-swinging marble warriors inspiring us?
This may sound disingenuous for a guy whose father’s bronze image in a dashing ski racer’s pose adorns the plaza of the local transit center, but I am not a hypocrite. When he is finally resigned to the futility of rolling in his grave, I am sure he will hold a clipboard and start a petition standing in front of the pearly gates to get his statue removed once and for all. It was us who felt the need to honor him in this way to comfort ourselves. The problem is it worked and we are proud it happened. We will be sad if somebody lassos him/it and pulls him/it from his/its marble mogul, skis and all; there’s no safe ejection from his bronze bindings.
One of the problems I see when a statue is erected in your honor is that people look at it and start asking questions. The longer you have been dead and the more thoroughly you have been forgotten, the more questions arise. When there is nobody left living to defend you, when reality steps in for lore, every critique becomes fair game. Inevitably, people looking at your likeness in stone will ask more questions than those who carved it and, more importantly, than those who paid for it. Everyone knows when people start talking behind your back or in front of your immortalized face, as the case may be, that is where problems begin.
Of course there are great statues, paintings and even monuments. The ones worth safeguarding honor no one specifically while touching many. David, Venus de Milo, Mona Lisa; if these and their kind were created to honor, it is through the enduring message they send to mankind, not by trying to immortalize temporary insanity.
We have to get over the idea that it is a shame to tear down statues, remove names and stop singing beloved fight songs with bad back stories that have been a part of our lives and nation’s history since before we were born. This is precisely the reason we have to get rid of it — so that our grandkids don’t have to grow up believing all this shameful stuff should be venerated just because it originated a long time ago and nobody knew any better. That’s not history, it’s baloney! And, yes, removing these offensive artifacts is indeed a process of sanitizing our country. Like the forgotten moldy broccoli in the back of the fridge, when the smell gets bad enough, you have to throw it out.
Roger Marolt has a fear of wax museums. Email him at email@example.com.
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