America this week entered into its Reign of Terror phase of the Great 2017 Revolution Against Evil Statuary.
One hoped that ESPN’s removal of Asian play-by-play announcer Robert Lee from its UVA-William & Mary football broadcast lest viewers confuse him for the 147-years-dead confederate general worked as that senseless moment that inevitably brings everybody back to their senses. Alas, no. Thermidor remains a long way off, as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s modern-day Committee of Public Safety protecting the citizenry from the statues indicates.
De Blasio refused to rule out that statue of Christopher Columbus in Central Park and Grant’s Tomb in Morningside Park as targets of his committee’s work. One sees the revolutionaries, like all revolutionaries, first become drunk on the blood of their victims and then fiendishly scouring the streets for fresh blood to quench their sanguinary thirst.
First, they came for the Confederate heroes. Then, they come for just plain heroes.
One could see Manhattan, with its gridiron numbered-named street system and bland PS218 and PS59 schoolhouse monikers, go full brown-paper-bag, Repo Man, acme generic through the crusades of the Jacobins.
Madison Square Garden? Slavery. Just call it “Sports Arena.” Carnegie Hall? Homestead Strike. Name it “Concert Venue.” St. Patrick’s Cathedral? Cruelty to animals. Say “Big Church.” Washington Square Arch? Warmonger. It’s now “Giant Upside-down U.” Trump Tower? ‘Nuff said. “Tall Building.”
City council member Eric Ulrich, a Republican from Queens, wondered: “When will NYC Democrats call for the renaming of FDR Drive. Didn’t he inter[n] Japanese in camps in WWII?”
Along the same lines, Henry Hudson observed in Native Americans “a great propensity to steal” and responded intolerantly to this local custom. Giovanni da Verrazanno kidnapped a boy to bring to Europe as proof of his close encounters with the Occidentals who reminded him of Orientals. Peter Stuyvesant called Jews a “deceitful race,” “usurers,” and “hateful enemies and blasphemers of the name of Christ” in seeking to bar them from New York City (he did not succeed).
Rename the river, Bridge-over-the-River-Kwai the bridge, and erase the dead guy from Bed-Stuy.
Perhaps we should give thanks that, for now, contemporary lynch mobs limit their activities to killing statues and not humans. One can’t help but imagine this as a practice of sorts, in which the politically-incorrect simulacrums play the tackling dummies until gameday when the mob goes full contact against the politically-incorrect people.
One can tell the progressive lynch mob throwing nooses around the necks of statues that they lack a sense of irony, self-awareness, and humility. Or, alternatively, one could walk into the Guggenheim and do to a Mapplethorpe picture what Bill de Blasio wants to do to that Columbus statue. As every writer knows, showing beats telling.
This is public art that the mayor of the capital of the world seeks to destroy as though he lords over Goths and not Gothamites. He casts an intolerant crusade as one of tolerance. He imagines himself on the right side of history in destroying memorials to history. But Savonarola, Comstock, and Bowdler, and, yes, Danton, Robespierre, and Marat, who all, even if but for a time, won the applause of contemporaries, lost popularity when history got a hold of them.
If only Bill de Blasio, the big commissaire politique of the Big Apple, studied the past instead of censuring it, then he would surely know that history doesn’t erect statues to leaders who knock them down.