Symbolism

Earlier this evening Zack posed a question to me. He said he had been thinking about symbols of history. The cross was once a Roman symbol that was used to oppress Jewish and Christian folks to show them that they would be crucified if they defied Rome. The Star of David was used by the Nazi regime to mark and oppress the Jewish folks. Then posing the question about the confederate images that are being taken down.

I study symbolism. I approached my answer from an art historian view. Over the centuries great men (and some really shitty ones) have been made into monuments. Whether it is a statue of Robert E Lee or the Emperor Trajan, at some point the men of the past are no longer appropriate to memorialize in public. You don’t still see all the statues of people who were once in charge. Napoleon isn’t displayed all around France, he is in museums but he is no longer appropriate in public. He asked me when people decide to take these things down, and the only answer that I can come up with is when society sees a reason to take them down. Sometimes you need to melt down the metal and make bullets, other times is because the image of certain people is out grown by society. At one point in this country the symbol of Robert E Lee and other confederate soldiers were seen as commemorative. Hitler had statues of himself too, but once he was no longer acceptable, those images came down. Robert E Lee is not okay anymore. The confederate monuments across the south are not acceptable in society anymore. They will be replaced with other imagery, that one day a few hundred years from now will no longer be appropriate and will be removed again.

My ultimate argument with his original discussion is that the images he brought up, the cross and the Star of David, are symbols, not people. Yes, I realize that the people are symbols of a lot of things, but generally they don’t have the same pull as the symbols he brought up. The Star of David was already an important symbol in Jewish religion. The Cross became an important symbol because of the oppression that it caused Jesus. Had he been stoned to death, our symbolism would be much different.

Those who wish to argue with me about how statues are history, no they’re art. Art becomes out dated. At that point it goes into a museum and is no longer in the public. At that point you’ll have to pay to see it. However, if it doesn’t go into a museum, that is simply because the person that made it didn’t become popular enough to warrant a home in a museum. At that point they will probably be melted down and used for musket balls. The reenactment battlefield soldiers might need more.

Here’s the kicker. The people of America are not attached to these statues. They no longer hold any power as themselves, but only because someone threatened to take them away. That is the only reason anyone cares. Someone is taking them away, and for good reason. The country that this once was is still here. There are plenty of racist bigots running the show and keeping minorities in their place. Thankfully time is quickly ending.

Taking down a statue doesn’t mean the history didn’t happen, because it did, obviously. Not having a statue that supports the confederacy, a group who wanted to destroy America and break it apart, really isn’t that bad. Some people might associate a statue with their home town because it has been there for over a hundred years. Some folks are upset about that, but honestly, why does it matter? Your city isn’t identified simply for the existence of one statue, or a couple statues. Your city/town/etc is identified by a zip code, by groups of people, by a name. A statue does not make the city, it is simply a memory that you have associated with your city. Memories fade. Art changes. Objects and things aren’t that important. What matters is that you treat your neighbor with kindness and compassion. What matters is that you say nice things to people and behave in a manner in which you would expect your children to behave. Follow the golden rule and things will be fine. Keep fighting about insignificant bullshit and things will continue to be the ridiculous back and forth that it has been.

Take a step back and assess the situation before you begin to speak. Do some work and find out what is going on. Don’t be upset when people want to change the landscape and the conversation to something more positive and less oppressive.

I hope everyone has a great rest of your weekend. Those who are out protesting, please stay hydrated! And spread love not hate.

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