09 May 2008

Racists still don't get it.

It's bad enough, I suppose, that racists had to swallow the federal holiday for Martin Luther King, Jr. Dick Cheney sure wasn't happy about it. But then again, he felt the Apartheid South African government was doing a fine job and voted against a resolution calling for the release of Nelson Mandela from prison.

Now that "massive resistance" has proven an utter failure, the racists have had to regroup and couch their objections to the lessons the rest of society has learned in more reasoned, if still ultimately indefensible, terms. So we have it that the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts is now complaining about the statue of Martin Luther King, Jr., that will go at the planned King memorial along the Tidal Basin.

Sure, they're pretending their objections have something to do with a similarity between the statue and statues in former and current "communist" states, but you can bet that a similar style statue of Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush would have no problem passing muster with the commission. In fact, I'm willing to bet that somewhere in America -- perhaps not specifically commission certified, I'll grant -- a statue of Reagan in similar style exists. Just a hunch. Anyway, here's what Thomas Luebcke says:

The U.S. Commission of Fine Arts thinks "the colossal scale and Social Realist style of the proposed statue recalls a genre of political sculpture that has recently been pulled down in other countries," commission secretary Thomas Luebke said in a letter in April.

So he makes it pretty clear that he sees MLK's statue as reminiscent of Lenin's statues. As if Martin Luther King didn't have enough problems with the FBI and right wing lunatics' attempts to tar him -- and the entire Civil Rights movement -- as a front for Communism, now forty years after his death we have this moron falling back on the same tired slanders.

The Post, in its entirely unhelpful way of making poor and leading comparisons, notes that the statue of King -- 28 feet tall -- would be "eight feet taller than the statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial." Well, Honest Abe is sitting down.

At bottom, though, the sculptor, Ed Jackson, Jr., and artistic consultant James Chaffers got it right in their response:

The sense of confrontation in the sculpture is not a coincidence. "We see him . . . as a warrior," Chaffers said yesterday. "We see him as a warrior for peace . . . not as some pacifist, placid, kind of vanilla, but really a man of great conviction and strength."

King was a powerful man, a man who was killed not because he melted into the background, but because he took stands that powerful people opposed: he fought for the rights of the racially and economically oppressed. Therefore lies the discomfort of the commission and other critics, who are not interested in being reminded that King's struggle was against their complacency, their resistance, their inability to take responsibility for the inequalities being perpetrated and perpetuated in the United States of America.

And they're still turning their heads away.


Lonnie Bruner said...


I do not think this issue is due to racism on the part of the Arts Commission.

Since King is commonly considered a left wing leader, the Commission is more sensitive to him being portrayed in a style that was common --- or appears reminiscent --- with other statues from former totalitarian Communist states. Read this from the Wash Post (bold mine):

"Commission members said the sculpture "now features a stiffly frontal image, static in pose, confrontational in character," Luebke wrote. They 'recommended strongly that the sculpture be reworked, both in form and modeling" and cited "precedents of a figure emerging from stone in the works of sculptors such as Michelangelo and Rodin.'"

If they were requesting that the project be scrapped, I would be suspicious, but that's not the case.

Also, maybe if Reagan or Bush were sculpted in this manner they'd have the same objections. Honestly, this style of statue doesn't appear generic to me --- don't think I've ever seen one like it.

I think that since you are a Marxist and the Commission was critical of Communist regimes, this has struck a cord with you.

Side note: let me be clear. I've studied Marx and I in no way make moral equivalencies between his theories and the terrible regimes that existed in the 20th century. Marx is more like enlightenment philosphy, I believe.

Anyway, good analysis as usual, but I think you're a bit hasty to pull the race card on this one.


cuff said...

Thanks, Lonnie. I suppose I may have pushed the point a bit far, but I can't help but see in their objections to his "confrontational in character" pose a lingering desire to emasculate King and elide the confrontational strength necessary to combat the dogs and water cannons and thugs unleashed on civil rights advocates. I do think the Commission is scared of the Socialist Realism style that was prevalent in the 1930s -- and not just in the Soviet Union.