Tag Archives: statues
Did you know that animal-loving British families killed an estimated 400,000 household pets—cats and dogs—in the first week after Great Britain declared war on Germany in September, 1939? Neither did I, and now a new book by Hilda Kean, “The Great Dog and Cat Massacre,” sets out to remind us of that ugly episode.
As the New York Times review of the book notes and Kean explains, the mass euthanasia was “publicly lamented at the time,” but has since been erased from memory. But why has it been erased from memory, and how? This is a disturbing cultural phenomenon that Ethics Alarms has covered before, notably in the post about dance marathons in the U.S. during the Depression. One of the definitions of culture is what we choose to remember and what we choose to forget. Forgetting, however, while often psychically soothing and an easy way to avoid guilt and accountability, is a pre-unethical condition. That which has been forgotten can no longer teach us, and a society that collectively decides to pretend something cruel, horrible or traumatic didn’t happen risks allowing it to happen again.
This, of course, is one more reason why the recent progressive mania for historical airbrushing is dangerous, irresponsible and unethical. Keep that statue of “Joe Pa” on the Penn State campus. Leave King Andy on the twenty dollar bill. Don’t take down that bust of Bill Cosby in the TV Hall of Fame. All civilizations have fallen heroes, moments of panic, times when they forget their values and betray their aspirations. Of course it is painful and embarrassing to remember these things, but also essential if human ethics are going to progress instead of stagnating, or even going backwards. We associate the elimination of cultural memories with totalitarian regimes, and for good reason, for they are blatant and shameless about it.
No nation is immune from the process’s appeal, however. When I was going to grade school and studying the Presidents of the United States, Jackson and Woodrow Wilson were routinely hailed by (mostly Democratic) historians as among the greatest of the great. The first Jackson biography I read barely mentioned the Trail of Tears. I read four well-regarded biographies of Wilson that ignored his support for Jim Crow, and the degree to which he deliberated reversed advances in civil rights, being an unapologetic white supremacist. The influenza epidemic that killed millions was excised from my school’s history books. Thomas Jefferson’s concubine, Sally Hemmings? Who? Continue reading
The Wall Street art ethics controversy pitting a nearly 30-year-old sculpture of an angry bull against the upstart statue of a defiant little girl has fascinating cultural implications. The ethical solution to the confrontation are simple and undeniable, however, though the legal issues a bit less so. “Fearless Girl” has got to go.
Arturo Di Modica created “Charging Bull” in response to stock market travails during the late 1980s. The three-and-a-half-ton sculpture was placed near Wall Street in the dead of night, and was embraced by the financial ditrict and New Yorkers as iconic public art. The artist copyrighted and trademarked his work, which he has said was meant to symbolize “freedom in the world, peace, strength, power and love.”
I don’t get the love part, but okay: the point is that the bull is a positive metaphor, not a sinister one.
The “Fearless Girl” statue was positioned this year, the night before International Women’s Day, in a direct stand-off with the bull. It had been commissioned by State Street Global Advisors, a financial firm based in Boston, as a public relations and advertising move and classic virtue signalling. State Street Global’s home page trumpets the new statue’s message of “the power of women in leadership” and uses it to urge “greater gender diversity on corporate boards.” The metal girl’s cynical and self-serving origins don’t seem to bother the work’s fans though.
The problem is that the message of “Fearless Girl” requires the participation of the bull to make any sense and to have any power at all. Otherwise, it might as well be Pippi Longstocking. In essence, the new statue appropriates Di Modica’s work, and violently alters it. The artist is a furious as a charging bull that what he intended as a symbol of capitalist power and national vigor has been transformed into a sexist representation of male domination. Di Modica and his lawyers demand that the statue be moved away from its bull-baiting position, arguing that State Street Global commissioned “Fearless Girl” as a site-specific work conceived with “Charging Bull” in mind. It thus illegally commercialized Di Modica’s statue in violation of the artist’s intent and copyright. They also claim that the city violated the artist’s legal rights by issuing permits allowing the four-foot-tall tyke to face off with the bronze bull without the artist’s permission. Letters to the Mayor DiBlasio, Ronald P. O’Hanley, the president and chief executive of State Street Global; and Harris Diamond, the chairman and chief executive of McCann Worldgroup, State Street Global’s marketing agency demand the removal of “Fearless Girl” forthwith.
Ethically, “Fearless Girl” doesn’t have a leg to stand on. Continue reading
“The answer is no. Once a star has been added to the Walk, it is considered a part of the historic fabric of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Because of this, we have never removed a star from the Walk.”
—Leron Gubler, Hollywood Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, answering a question about whether Bill Cosby’s star would be removed from the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Cosby was formally charged with sexual assault today in Pennsylvania, the first time allegations of any of his nearly 50 accusers have resulted in a court appearance. The Cos is out on a million dollar bond.
Variety also quotes the late Johnny Grant, a former chairman of the Hollywood Walk of Fame Committee, who once addressed the status of another fallen star’s place on the walk, saying:
“Stars are awarded for professional achievement to the world of entertainment and contributions to the community. A celebrity’s politics, philosophy, irrational behavior, outrageous remarks or anything like that have never been cause to remove a Walk of Fame star.”
On this matter of ethics, at least, Hollywood gets it, unlike Disney World, Harvard Law School, Princeton, the University of Kentucky, the World Fantasy Award, Connecticut Democrats, the National Park Service, Saltzburg University…and many others.
Not journalists, surely, based on what we’ve seen so far. Will you? That’s not a rhetorical question. The rush to airbrush history, distort the historical record and strangle art and culture in pursuit of ideological indoctrination and constriction of dissent, imagination and thought itself is well underway in the United States, not yet as furious and violent as related movements that occurred during China’s cultural upheaval and the French Revolution, but still driven by the same kind of irrational fervor.
It certainly is frustrating sitting here on a tiny island of rationality, lamely pointing out where cultural perils lie, knowing that the net effect of my analysis is somewhere between nil and the societal influence of the local nut case carrying a placard in the park. I cautioned against a rush to avoid the ludicrous and cynical effort by civil rights leaders, Democratic politicians trying to somehow panic African-Americans into trusting Hillary, and social justice censors by pulling down Confederate flags now, as if the emblems had a smidgen, a wisp, an atom’s worth of culpability for Dylann Roof’s crime. I even launched a new Niggardly Principle to show the way, remember? Here it is again:
The Third Niggardly Principle
When suppressing speech and conduct based on an individual’s or a group’s sincere claim that such speech or conduct is offensive, however understandable and reasonable this claim may be, creates or threatens to create a powerful precedent that will undermine freedom of speech, expression or political opinion elsewhere, calls to suppress the speech or conduct must be opposed and rejected.
Never mind. Politicians have little integrity or courage, and certainly no ability to foresee the inevitable. If Nikki Haley and her fellow Southern governors legislators past and present had any of these qualities, they would have known that continuing to associate their states with the symbol of the Confederacy and all–-ALL—it stands for was a ticking cultural time bomb that should have been defused long, long ago. The flags should have been taken down when a fanatic, censorious mob of ideological zealots wasn’t in the ascendance, and wouldn’t take a belated decision to do what should have been done years—decades— before to mean that they are in control, and could finally dictate cultural conformity, because that’s what authoritarian leftists do.
Business is soulless and often without principle. It is the last entity that we should ever expect to do what is necessary to protect the flanks of free speech, will and thought. Anyone who wants to have a Confederate flag in a collection, on a jacket, or on a wall of their room should be able to purchase one. The disgraceful statement by Walmart’s CEO immediately tossed kerosene on the left’s flaming censorious passions. Good people—you know, like the people who run Walmart– don’t want to offend anyone, he suggested. Perfect. Let’s see, what can we send down the memory hole now?
Whatever they can find and think of that is connected in any way to slavery, racism and the Confederacy, apparently. And more.
The flag mania has already beyond reason: the National Park Service is pulling all items that include the Confederate flag from its gift shops , even at the battlefields. So if a 10-year old who is fascinated with the Battle of Gettysburg and wants to set up a diorama of the pivotal battle complete with little flags, the store at the battlefield itself can’t nourish his interests, because “Black Lives Matter.” What sense does it make to ban the flag and not toy soldiers of the men who fought under the flag? Well, it doesn’t, right? “Black Lives Matter.” And surely selling photographs of the generals who led those men, and books that contain photos of them, and films, like Ted Turner’s epic “Gettysburg,” that portray those generals as human beings and not racist killers who have been secretly whispering to Dylann Roof in his fevered dreams, can’t be permitted either.
I am not exaggerating this slippery slope, or how far the carnage may reach if rational people try to hide until it blows over.