June 12, 2012

David Brooks on why can't we get an Ike memorial built

David Brooks writes:
The monuments that get built these days are mostly duds. That’s because they say nothing about just authority. The World War II memorial is a nullity. It tells you nothing about the war or why American power was mobilized to fight it. 
As Michael J. Lewis of Williams College has noted, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial transforms a jaunty cavalier into a “differently abled and rather prim nonsmoker.” Instead of a crafty wielder of supreme power, Roosevelt is a kindly grandpa you would want to put your arm around for a vacation photo. 
Frank Gehry's CAD proposal for the Eisenhower Memorial
The proposed Eisenhower memorial shifts attention from his moments of power to his moments of innocent boyhood. The design has been widely criticized, and last week the commission in charge agreed to push back the approval hearing until September.  ...
Why can’t today’s memorial designers think straight about just authority? 
Some of the reasons are well-known. We live in a culture that finds it easier to assign moral status to victims of power than to those who wield power. Most of the stories we tell ourselves are about victims who have endured oppression, racism and cruelty. 
Then there is our fervent devotion to equality, to the notion that all people are equal and deserve equal recognition and respect. It’s hard in this frame of mind to define and celebrate greatness, to hold up others who are immeasurably superior to ourselves. ...
But the main problem is our inability to think properly about how power should be used to bind and build. ... The old adversary culture of the intellectuals has turned into a mass adversarial cynicism.  

Let me suggest a simpler explanation: our culture has a problem less with authority than with acknowledging the contributions of white male authorities to our history. Dwight Eisenhnower is the epitome of the competent white male authority figure who got a lot of stuff done. He didn't even suffer in combat or from childhood sexual abuse or whatever, so nobody is interested in him these days. So, Frank Gehry has to emphasize that he was an underprivileged farm boy. It's pretty thin gruel for the Age of Oprah, but you have to work with what you've got.
In contrast, the recently unveiled Martin Luther King Jr. statue on the National Mall exhibits no cynicism about black authority whatsoever. The artistic conception would have appealed to Ozymandias.

Brooks, who isn't stupid, knows that the existence of the new MLK-as-Mike Tyson statue undermines his point, so he tries to hand wave it away:
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. memorial brutally simplifies its subject’s nuanced and biblical understanding of power. It gives him an imperious and self-enclosed character completely out of keeping with his complex nature.

Occam's Razor would suggest, however, that the dominant opinion could be reduced to 

White male authority bad
Black authority good

35 comments:

Anonymous said...

MLK's nature was about as complex as Gehry's buildings are beautiful.

Anonymous said...

I'm still disappointed that no one has followed through with looking into whether the same sculpter behind the MLK statue had a Mao statue erect in Tibet.

1. Lei Yixin was born Changsha, has a studio in Changsha[1], and traveled to St Paul as part of an art exchange for sister cities[2].
2. Mao was born in Changsha. [3]
3. Changsha gave the largest Mao statue ever created to Tibet as a "gift"... that looks exactly just like this MLK statue.[3]
4. Lei Yixin was the sculpture of the MLK statue. [4]

I've sent this as a tip to a couple conservative publications and nobodies done anything with it...

Compare and Contrast:
MLK Statue vs Mao Statue erected in Tibet from Changsha.

--------

[1] http://chineseculture.about.com/od/artinchina/a/MLKMemorial.htm

[2] http://www.stpaul.gov/index.aspx?NID=3998

[3] http://blog.studentsforafreetibet.org/2006/03/the-bigger-they-come-the-harder-they-fall/

[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lei_Yixin

Anonymous said...

Even Eisenhower's historical role in integrating the Army (putting black soldiers in combat assignments in 1944) and desegregating America (after the Brown decision in 1954, Eisenhower issued Executive Order 10730 and sent the 101st Airborne to Little Rock to protect black high school students entering Central High) hasn't saved him from the nibblers.

I think your analysis is spot on: the powers that be just can't stand to honor anyone of pale skin.

Anonymous said...

Steve,

One of the more unintended humorous occurrences near the MLK statue are all of the blacks who illegally park near the statue.

Middle aged and older blacks almost never go to any of the other monuments or museums on the mall. But many of them want to see the MLK statue. So they just drive into the area where there is almost no parking and double or tripled park near the monument. I also liked the blacks illegally parking in handicap spots.

I always find it odd when blacks do not care that they are acting like the worst type of stereotypes.

Anonymous said...

Imagine what Rushmore would look like if it were created today.

scoobius dubious said...

Man, the more I look at that MLK alleged-sculpture-thingy, the uglier it gets. Not only is it bad sculpture from a technical point of view (just look at the non-existent "fall" of the clothing), not only does the material look cheap, but it's terrible composition. From the middle distance, roughly where the spectators are standing in the photo, if you look up at it, you're pretty much staring directly at his crotch.

Then again, maybe it's a smarter piece of work than I've given it credit for...

FredR said...

I agree with Brooks that there's been a decline in class authority, and you could even shoe-horn your revision in by observing that the elite is mostly made up of white men. I think Charles Murray was talking about this decline of class authority in Coming Apart.

The most interesting book I've read on the subject is Baltzell's "Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia" where he points out that an elite without class authority tends to care a lot more about making money (and less about public service) so as to insulate themselves from the lower classes.

Anonymous said...

maybe it's

fascist art cool

post-modern art boring

gehry... ugh

Anonymous said...

http://andrewprokos.com/photos/washington-dc/war-memorials/fdr-memorial/

rotfl

Anonymous said...

if sailer were architect...

memorial would be giant golf course with a 50 ft Ike

G Joubert said...

Actually Ike has 4 strikes against him in today's world: the first two, as you noted, he being white and male, the third is he was a definable leader of America's victorious war effort, and fourth he was a Republican president.

Harry Baldwin said...

I wonder what the MLK statue would have looked like if they had given Gehry the commission. Obviously, they wouldn't have dared. Gehry is a joke designer. A little of him goes a long way.

Ed said...

I think Occam's Razor suggests a simpler explanation. Present day architecture and design, and particularly monumental architecture and design, just isn't very good. You are lucky if you what you get isn't completely awful.

There was really no reason to abandon the statue-on-pedestal-rotunda-obelisk classical vocabulary of monuments. For cases where people had mixed feelings on the subject, the World War I memorials provide a good guide to the solution.

I agree that if you are trying to memorialize defeats and disasters you need to use a different vocabulary, but World War II hardly qualifies as that for the U.S. and the World War II memorial is by far the worst of the ones on the mall.

Incidentally, I mildly disagree on the MLK and FDR memorials. The MLK memorial is bad, but Steve keeps highlighting the worst part of it, the statue. Most of the memorial is quotations on granite that work fine. The memorial can be fixed by getting a new statue, this time carved by an American artist.

I don't think the FDR memorial quite works, but the concept is interesting if a bit involved.

The World War II memorial is boring, aesthetically awful, in a prominent location, and unfixable without removing the entire thing and starting over in a new location.

Anonymous said...

"We live in a culture that finds it easier to assign moral status to victims of power than to those who wield power. Most of the stories we tell ourselves are about victims who have endured oppression, racism and cruelty. "


Did he get this from you? I recall you posting something pithy about the shift from the heroism of accomplishment to the heroism of victimization.

That's one of your little insights that immediately struck me as true and possibly profound. I think it engenders a deep and abiding cynicism. People my age (20s) were educated in a way that makes them think of Thomas Jefferson as first and foremost a slaveowner and hypocrite. It's depressing and ultimately exhausting to think this way about history. My guess is this is also has something to do with the mystery of the decline of boys in educational achievement.

Steve Sailer said...

"Did he get this from you?"

I got it from Cochran.

Steve Sailer said...

I'm not going to name names, but it's not unobvious that among the dozen or so most sophisticated right of center public intellectuals, there has been an on-going effort over the last decade to figure out how to A) Have a career while B) Somehow assimilating the insights of the underground realists.

Anonymous said...

Steve's heroes of achievement vs. heroes of suffering dichotomy has similarities to Nietzsche's aristocratic morality vs. slave morality stuff as I understood it when I read The Genealogy of Morals. I'm not saying that that's where Steve or Mr. Cochran got this idea, just that people have been noticing this for over a century. I would bet that lots of people besides Nietzsche, Cochran, and Steve have independently described this dichotomy over the years, giving their own names to the two mindsets.

Mr. Anon said...

"It gives him an imperious and self-enclosed character completely out of keeping with his complex nature."

Maybe not.

Aaron in Israel said...

"Occam's Razor would suggest, however, that the dominant opinion could be reduced to...."

I don't think so, actually. From the quotes, Brooks' explanation is as parsimonious as yours, and his MLK comment is not hand-waving. You seem to have missed a key word: just authority. It's not clear how "just" differs from "legitimate," if at all, but a putative authority that is "imperious and self-enclosed" is not a just authority. So Brooks' explanation is parsimonious, whether or not it's correct.

Anonymous said...

I'm not going to name names, but it's not unobvious that among the dozen or so most sophisticated right of center public intellectuals, there has been an on-going effort over the last decade to figure out how to A) Have a career while B) Somehow assimilating the insights of the underground realists.

Have you talked with some of these guys, or is this just your surmise?

Cennbeorc

jody said...

the new mario lemieux statue in pittsburgh sucks. it's total garbage. they should just take it down, now, before it has a chance to become entrenched, and start over and put up a better one.

could be the US is heading into a decline on all artistic fronts, not just in pop music.

TGGP said...

I disagree, I think the media's take on race is informed by victimology rather than the other way around. Blacks don't seem particularly organized or competent to achieve much without whites feeling bad for them, that's why there's no problem boosting them. Asians are relatively successful, making them honorary whites rather than minorities and okay to discriminate against.

Anonymous said...

It's all rather simple.

In previous ages - in every prevous age that we have knowledge of, it was always but always the 'heroic man' who was celebrated.By heroic it is meant, of course, the man who was a champion in warfare and combat. Originally this applied to the warrior of renown, later it was applied to the general of master-stroke and genius. Never actually got his hands dirty, mind, but through his intelligence, cunning and 'feel' for battle, he saved the nation from many a narrow scrape.
It's all pretty alpha male, caveman, phallic stuff going back countless millenia - perhaps it's purest vestige (it is so ingrained as to be instinctive like language), is found in schoolboy fighing leagues in elementary school and the boyhood adulation of pro-wrestlers.
I would go as far to say that only a degenerate, feminized, ultimately doomed society would elevate mere flabby talkers and professional loudmouths - who childishly - and shamelessly - scream and whine about being a distinctly unmanly 'victim' as if it was a badge of honor, as the 'heroic' man.
The 'hero' is Hercules, the man who slays lions with his bare hands, not the man who carried his bags - and then moaned like an old granny about that fact.

scoobius dubious said...

"could be the US is heading into a decline on all artistic fronts"

Nah, talent exists in every generation, it's just the class of taste-makers who are in decline.

Although a lot of us suspect that they aren't even in "decline," strictly speaking, it's just that they cling jealously to their new gatekeeper status, despite their lack of deserving, the way Gollum clutched his ring.

A smaller subset of us believe that, per the devious tactics of vile beings like Gramsci and the Frankfurt School et al (and it's rather a big "al/ia"), that the culture is being deliberately coarsened and degraded by its new overclass of gatekeepers, in order to demoralize and discredit the majority who still speak the former cultural language. For instance, when was the last time you saw good Christian religious art?

There is a story of a Chinese emperor (it may have been Shih Huang-Ti himself) who, in order to discredit and erase all opposition, gathered all of the scholars and prominent men of the time. Each was shown a painting of a black horse, and was asked, "What do you think of this white horse?"

Anyone who pointed out that the horse was not white, was immediately executed. The message got around.

"In order to have great music,
We must commission it.
In order to commission it,
We must have great commissioners."
--Frank O'Hara

Instead of great commissioners, we have... well, you know.

Anonymous said...

"Instead of a crafty wielder of supreme power, Roosevelt is a kindly grandpa you would want to put your arm around for a vacation photo."

He's not kidding. When the memorial was still relatively new, my 8th-grade class visited the FDR memorial. One of my zany classmates, seeing the statue of FDR in his wheelchair, hopped up onto the President's lap and said "For Christmas, I want a bike, and a red wagon, and a fire engine..."

Anonymous said...

The funniest comment about the MLK statue came from my foreign-born wife, who innocently asked why the marble around him wasn't cut away and said it looked like he was backed up against a wall and refusing to be frisked!

Anonymous said...

There's one difference between MLK and FDR/Eisenhower. MLK was very forceful in his style. He bellowed with his soooooulful voice.
FDR, though very powerful, never projected power, not least cuz he was in the wheelchair.
And Eisenhower seemed rather 'out of it'. He was no Patton but had a kind of laconic style. He could be angry but behind closed doors. Publicly, he just acted like a grandfather.

So, a BIG MAN statue of MLK seems right but a BIG MAN statue of FDR and Eisenhower doesn't seem right or true to their character. To be sure, the FDR memorial is pathetic; it looks like FDR wants someone to come and take the dog out to pee.
But I looked at the Eisenhower memorial design, and it seems about right(thought far from great). Eisenhower was about getting things done, often behind the scenes. He was low-key. He wasn't BIG EGO man. His era was known for stability and order. Eisenhower, though 5 star general, didn't let power get to him during WWII--as with Patton and McCarthur. Eisenhower as president preferred compromise and incrementalism over bold action. He didn't make himself bigger than the world but worked like a worker in a giant factory called the world. There was no hubris in him.

He did work on the world stage, but it seemed as though the values of his 'small America' upbringing stayed with him, informed him, and kept him in touch with America's roots.

So, the memorial seems to capture the essential spirit of Eisenhower and his era. It's no masterpiece but it's no horror either.

Btw, I would say the Anglo-American self-restraint in regard to projection of personal power has generally been to its credit. Unlike Hitler or Mussolini or others, Anglo-American leaders believed in doing things without bragging about it. Even Teddy Roosevelt, big ego man among American presidents, said 'speak softly and carry a big stick'.
FDR could be eloquent but as an American, not as human god. He didn't play it like Hitler or Mao.
Some call this 'bland' and 'white bread', but I call it caution about power and knowing one's limitations.

Indeed, most Hollywood heroes of old were not superduperman types that later hogged the screen--Schwarzenegger, Stallone, etc--but human types. Even Wayne, despite his swagger, didn't play superduperman. Compare him in SANDS OF IWO JIMA with later gungo action movie heroes. And consider Jimmy Stewart with his stammering. Or gentle Gary Cooper in HIGH NOON. Or Alan Ladd in SHANE. They were not power-mongers.

Ironically, the power-mongering style came to prominence in the rock n roll with Elvis imitating Negroes, Muhammad Ali in the 60s, and Rock Stars playing gods, and 007 and Eastwood's spaghettis. It was during this time that PATTON was made--general as rock star.

Traditionally, the Anglo-American ideal was for a man to be good and do good but not call too much unwarranted attention to oneself.
So, the problem of 'white male authority', if it is a problem, is rooted in Anglo-American ideals of restraint in the projection of power. Washington stepped down after two terms and didn't want any cult of personality around him. He was the opposite of Napoleon. And it was to his credit.

yes, there is PC anxiety about white male power, but there is also the long tradition of white male ideal that a real man shouldn't be a braggart or be worshiped as a human god.

C. Van Carter said...

A case can be made a Lei Yixin statue in the Socialist realism style would be appropriate for Eisenhower.

agnostic said...

If they want to honor little-guy heroism, they should erect a Bernie Goetz memorial.

Anonymous said...

Eisenhower was the one who prolonged World War II by an unnecessary 8 months because he refused to give up his stupid "Broad Front" BS.

Eisenhower is also the one who handled Berlin, and therefore the honor of winning world war 2, to USSR by ordering the US army to halt at Elbe.

If anybody wants to build that dude's statue, it should be Putin. He should have enough money to raise the statue of the man who did more than anyone to help the Soviets capture Berlin at Moscow.

Anonymous said...

We need an Ike memorial like we need an extra foot.

Ike handled Berlin to the Soviets, and unnecessary prolonged world war by more than nine months.

If that is an 'achievement', it should be commemorated by Putin. He can raise as many statues of Ike at Moscow as he might please, but Americans have no business honoring the guy whose stubbornness contributed to the deaths of millions including Anne Frank.

David Davenport said...

Eisenhower is also the one who handled Berlin, and therefore the honor of winning world war 2, to USSR by ordering the US army to halt at Elbe.

That was a joint decision made by Eisenhower and George Marshall. They were carrying out Franklin Roosevelt's intentions, or what they thought were Roosevelt's intentions. If you want to blame somebody, blame FDR, who died March 29, 1945.

U.S. Army Chief of Staff Marshall -- as in "Marshall Plan" -- was the boss behind the scenes of the U.S. Army in WWII. Eisenhower was his protege.

Would you have had Marshall and Eisenhower stage a coup and press on to Berlin?

Coincidentally, I was channel surfing last night during a break in the Miami-Oklahoma City b-ball game last night. Momentarily clicking over to CNN, somebody was criticizing George Marshall for not wanting to recognize Israel as a nation in 1948, when Marshall was US Sec. of State.

Anonymous said...

Sheeeeet.

The more you think about it, the MLK memorial is all wrong. What was the special thing about King? His looks? He wasn't all that good looking. His stature? He wasn't that tall. NO, it was his voice. And that voice had the magical power to connect with a lot of people.
But the MLK memorial presents a big black guy who's all image. We sense big silence, especially with arms folded and lips shut tight. Add a baseball bat and he could be that black principal who got notoriety for being tough.

The memorial shows Ming Ling King the Merciless, imperious badass dude of Negritude, not the soulful prophet whose spirit soared, uplifted, and healed the masses and washed away sins.

So, making the statue really big was stupid. It turned MLK into an image than a sound. Also, MLK's sound was special cuz it touched so many hearts. So, the emphasis should have been on King's magic sound and its effect.
So, the statue should have been smaller and more animated, as if MLK is making a speech. And instead of a lone figure, there should have been some men behind him to emphasize that he was a leader of men. As for the voice, how do you convey the sense of sound? How about a rippling water pool before King. As wind or some mechanical device will cause ripples on the water, and that will convey the sense of sound spreading. And maybe there can be statues of ordinary Americans of all races half-submerged in water to signify baptism, healing, rising from depth toward the light, etc, with water rippling all around them.

But some punkass Chinese guy turned MLK into a Negro bouncer of the Mall, as if he's thinking, 'if mofos mess around and don't behave theyselves, I's gonna whup their ass.'

OTOH, I despise that MLK, and so I don't care if his memorial sucks.

RHep said...

Why do you keep telling us how smart David Brooks is even though what he writes is stupid? Why don't you apply Occam to Brooks?

David Davenport said...

If that is an 'achievement', it should be commemorated by Putin. He can raise as many statues of Ike at Moscow as he might please, but Americans have no business honoring the guy whose stubbornness contributed to the deaths of millions including Anne Frank.

Yes, yes, the most important thing in WWII was freeing the Chosen. All other suffering and killing or being killed was secondary.

In regard to not springing little Annie, complain to the British. The liberation of the Netherlands was an explicitly British and Commonwealth sector and responsibility.

//////////////////////////////


Russell F. Weigley, Eisenhower's Lieutenants, 1981 ed., p. 685:

... The political considerations most relevant in Eisenhower's judgment [ in March 1945 not to try to take Berlin ] were the zonal boundaries for postwar occupation of Germany already drawn up by the Europena Advisory Commission of the Allied powers meeting in London and approved by Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin at Yalta.

In drawing the boundaries, the British had taken the lead. In November 1943, President Roosevelt had stated emphatically American troops should race to be the first of the Allies to enter Berlin, and that German capital should lie within the American postwar occupation zone.

Thereafter, however, American diplomacy somehow had fallen into almost indolent passivity when occupation zones were discussed.* The American representative to the European Advisory Commission received no adequate instructions, and well before the Yalta decisions Roosevelt had succumbed to illness and lethargy only fitfully broken.

The occupation zone boundaries drawn under these conditions placed Berlin 175 kilometers inside the Soviet zone. ... Thus, even if Anglo-American armies might still have raced the Red A rmy into Berlin and won the race, their military success would make no difference to the political issue of the postwar status of Berlin. …


*In large part because the U.S. State Dept. was infested by Communist sympathizers back then. Sen. Joe MacCarthy was not
altogether wrong.