Saturday, February 27, 2010

More Rushmores?

I was born into a world where Mount Rushmore has always existed. I have never been to Mount Rushmore, and I don't feel that my life would be unfulfilled if I die without ever seeing Mount Rushmore in person. I guess you could say that I have always taken Mount Rushmore for granite.

But lately (in part because my baby boy reminds me of a Mount Rushmore face when he cries) I've been thinking more about this national monument, and I've come to a conclusion: Mount Rushmore is mind-blowingly unbelievable. And I'm not talking about the engineering feat (though I'm dutifully impressed by the work that went into it). What blows my mind is the fact that the concept was ever accepted in the first place. Let's say that Doane Robinson's mother and father never met. Since he is the guy that came up with the idea for the presidential carvings in 1923, that means that the project never would have been proposed. It's actually pretty easy to imagine a United States of America circa 2010 in which presidential carvings don't exist on Mount Rushmore. There would be less of a tourist economy in South Dakota and the run time of Superman II would be about five seconds shorter, but overall, the world would look pretty much the same as it does now. Now imagine, in such a world, someone coming forward with the idea of carving giant sized heads of presidents into mountain rock in South Dakota. They would be laughed at, to the extent they would be acknowledged at all.

And if you think that scenario is unlikely, imagine a world where the Statue of Liberty doesn't exist, and try to picture a French official in 2010 attempting to persuade his government to build a giant-sized statue of a female holding up a torch, in order to give it to the United States as a token of goodwill. And even if it were built, would the U.S.A. even accept such a white elephant?

It's not that America doesn't want to commemorate anything anymore--quite the opposite. Many sports stadiums have statues that honor legendary players, there are countless plaques around this country denoting historically significant events, and mass media continues to pay homage to the past. Even large-scale monuments still have the potential to be built (though it is interesting to note the lack of alacrity regarding 9/11 memorials).

But I think what has changed over time is our willingness to memorialize, celebrate, and venerate abstractions. Statues are geographically tethered to locations where the honoree is most associated. Memorials mark specific events. But abstract concepts like leadership, liberty, and exploration are less likely to be reified. There are a couple reasons why this might be so. One theory would be that postmodern suspicion of ideology would restrict enthusiasm for such projects. But on the other end of the political spectrum, one could make the case that a political climate suspicious of government spending would also limit possibilities (as monuments of a certain scale almost necessarily require public funding).

Yet I wonder if the conditions that would favor monument construction aren't coming back into play. Analysts are telling us that our younger generations are less cynical than their predecessors. Our economy needs jobs, and just as Mount Rushmore was a depression-era public works project, a series of new monuments could put lots of people back in business. The popularity of American Idol and reality TV indicates that a national contest for ideas and proposals could become a phenomenon. And can you imagine the ratings success of a show called: Extreme Makeover: National Edition? Finally, I've got to think that the fact that monuments like Rushmore and the Statue of Liberty already exist helps to soften potential opposition. Perhaps all we need is a Doane Robinson.


Blogger timelord said...

... And to get more young people interested in voting, every time an election comes around, we could make a killing by having an Extreme Makeover: Government Edition. (haha!)

5:19 PM  
Blogger Sandii_Mina said...

I've seen some movies that includes Mount Rushmore, it's inspiring. :)

11:16 AM  
Blogger The Hungary Traveler said...

As nations industrialized during the 19th and early 20th centuries they tended to demonstrate to the rest of the world their new found abilities. In countries like England, France, Germany, and the United States there was a fascination with all things large: buildings, ships, parks, bridges, statues. If a nation could muster its resources to produce an Eiffel Tower, a Titanic, an Empire State Building, just imagine what it could do to YOU! Later, when the Soviet Union and China modernized their economic capabilities, gigantic projects soon followed (called socialist architecture by historians).
But in August 1945, and again in July 1969, new standards were set in this global game of "top this." No longer could buildings, monuments, or anything terrestrial strike fear in the hearts of competing nations. Structural engineering had given way to chemistry and physics.
So why is there so little political will to create a modern-day Mount Rushmore? Because it's too easy.

8:42 AM  

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