Is historical revisionism acceptable
January 11, 2002 1:17 PM   Subscribe

Is historical revisionism acceptable in the name of "inclusiveness" (or "political correctness" to be less polite)? (More inside)
posted by Steven Den Beste (107 comments total)

 
Sometimes a photographer is in the right place at the right time and captures an event for the ages. On Mount Suribachi a photographer took a picture of some Marines who raised an American flag after the summit had been captured. It is in some ways the picture of WWII, and it was later turned into a statue in Washington DC. The men are portrayed as they really looked.

In NYC, at one point a firefighter found a flag and though he was bone weary he decided to take it back to the disaster site. As he walked back, two others joined him. They found a flag pole somewhere and raised it, and unbeknownst to them a photographer saw them and took a picture which in many ways is as important to this disaster as the Iwo picture was to WWII. And now a statue has been made from it.

The three actual firefighters were all white. It's just how it happened; it wasn't planned and it doesn't prove anything whatever about racism in America. The NYC fire department is integrated; but the three who did this just happened to be white. It's clearly evident from the picture, and their names are all known.

But in the statue, one has been made African American and one has been made Hispanic. Should the statue distort history for a greater goal? Should there be revisionism for the sake of inclusiveness?
posted by Steven Den Beste at 1:19 PM on January 11, 2002


"Given that those who died were of all races and all ethnicities and that the statue was to be symbolic of those sacrifices, ultimately a decision was made to honor no one in particular, but everyone who made the supreme sacrifice," Fire Department spokesman Frank Gribbon said.

The sculpture isn't honoring the guys who raised the flag, it is honoring the guys who died. I think it is appropriate, but perhaps a bit silly.
posted by phatboy at 1:22 PM on January 11, 2002


In that case, why use this particular image for the statue? If they wanted it to represent something symbolic, why not make the statue portray something else?
posted by Steven Den Beste at 1:26 PM on January 11, 2002


I have a problem with rewriting history. I think that if you say "yes," it's the beginning of a slippery slope. When documenting a real-life event, accuracy should be paramount. If it's a metaphorical/imaginary depiction, there's room to consider issues such as inclusiveness. Do it accurately or don't do it.

I agree that honoring the dead is not the first thing I would think of when seeing this statue, based upon the description and the photo that we've all seen. If that's really their goal, try a different design.
posted by pmurray63 at 1:30 PM on January 11, 2002


SDB:

What image is there of the dead firefighters? Like it or not, this is the image of firefighters from the WTC. They were just being corny, and taking the easy way out by using a sentimental and well known image. They get instant public empathy.

To be honest, I heve never liked this picture. What is the point of the WWII connection? I never really saw firemen as fighting for their country, but rather fighting for humanity etc. But whatever, if people like it...
posted by phatboy at 1:34 PM on January 11, 2002


Historical revisionism is never acceptable. Especially not in the name of "inclusiveness."
posted by John Galt at 1:36 PM on January 11, 2002


the three who did this just happened to be white.

That is exactly right. Had the statue been created to honor those specific firemen, it'd be silly to change their race. However, the photograph was a model for use in the creation of the statue, which represents more than just those three firemen. Those men happened to be white, but the statue wasn't created to honor those men.

Unless we've gotten to the absurd point where raising a flag qualifies one for hero status.
posted by Doug at 1:37 PM on January 11, 2002


In that case, why use this particular image for the statue? If they wanted it to represent something symbolic, why not make the statue portray something else?

Because the act was highly symbolic. If a historian wrote that the three firefighters were white, black, and Hispanic, it would be historical revisionism. If a photo had been manipulated to change the image to make the firefighters white, black, and Hispanic, and then put into a history book or newspaper without explanation, it would be historical revisionism. Statues are most often symbolic (that is, they are not used to record history). Certainly, in this case, the statue was meant to be symbolic. The article claims that the statue was "based on the Sept. 11 newspaper photo of firefighters raising the American flag on about 20 feet of rubble" (italics mine). Based.
posted by jacknose at 1:40 PM on January 11, 2002


On the one hand it is appropriate to represent the diversity of New York.As someone who has never been within 3000 miles of the place but has grown to love it through films and books and music it is this diversity that makes it special.The original melting pot.Here in the Uk it came across over and over again that the tragedy had led to a reordering and that the diverse cultures had come together and cooperated as never before;identyfing themselves first and foremost as New Yorkers.
Less has been said about the rise in crime however,so it might all be a bit of a myth I suppose.
This statue though leaves my armpits prickling a bit.Enough is written about the collective heroism and there is still much to be written.Much art will be produced and the artists can put whatever interpration they like on events.Much of it no doubt will be great.This statue ,however is a misrepresentaion and does noone any credit.It does the 3 individuals concerned a great injustice.It should represent those 3 as individuals not those 3 as white men ,or any other race.
posted by Fat Buddha at 1:40 PM on January 11, 2002


Unfortunately by doing this, I think the NYFD is changing the meaning of what those three men did, and bastardizing it to fit as some sort of symbol to honor the dead. Not necessarily a bad thing, except for the fact that it is misleading. Because these firemen are not famous, it is apparently not important that their identities be remembered. This would never fly for any statue commemorating the U.S. presidents.
posted by insomnyuk at 1:41 PM on January 11, 2002


I agree with John. This kind of thing can only get worse if we ever allow it to happen.
posted by phalkin at 1:42 PM on January 11, 2002


This is why:
In New York City, fewer than 6% of FDNY's 11,000 firefighters are men of color and women are 0.3% of the total. NYC's overall population is 30% Hispanic, 25-30% African American, 10% Asian and 51% women.
From PBS's "Test of Courage"
posted by panopticon at 1:48 PM on January 11, 2002


How inclusive can a three person statue with no women and no Asians or Native Americans be? Perhaps they could've satisfied everyone by making the statue abstract so that the figures' race and sex could not be discerned -- something like bodies and limbs fashioned from metal beams in the style of those that composed the twin towers' exteriors.
posted by mlinksva at 1:48 PM on January 11, 2002


from the article: "It's not a racial thing. That shouldn't even be an issue."

Bullshit. The only reason people have a problem with this is because they're different races. Would people be complaining if the figures in the statue remained white, but didn't really resemble the guys in the photo? No way. This is people bitching because they hate "political correctness".

It's a symbolic statue. They're not making it to honor the three guys.
posted by jpoulos at 1:49 PM on January 11, 2002


When the firemen were killed, I was sad because American firefighters died, not because white firefighters or black firefighters or any other race died, but because Americans died, giving their lives for others. We don't need a statue to tell us that our country is diverse; and on some levels, I find it insulting. The statues are bronze, so to identify race that must mean certain characteristic facial features will be included on the different firemen. If anything, it will merely call attention to our differences in what I consider a negative way.
posted by insomnyuk at 1:50 PM on January 11, 2002


It's a statue, not a history book. You may be shocked to learn that "Hogan's Heros" took some liberties as well in its portrayal of Nazi POW camps :)

I agree that it's stupid, though....
posted by electro at 1:55 PM on January 11, 2002


I agree, jpoulos. The important point is that a tired group of firemen raised a flag to honor their dead and their nation, not that a tired group of white firemen raised said flag......

...and if anyone thinks history is about facts, read Herodotus or Thucydides.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 2:02 PM on January 11, 2002


I agree with John. This kind of thing can only get worse if we ever allow it to happen.

Um, this is not historical revisionism. The statue is "based" on the photo. Based. Based. Based. In other words, it is not claiming to be historically accurate.
posted by jacknose at 2:03 PM on January 11, 2002


mlinksva: I like your idea. They should have made the faces obscured so that race wasn't an issue at all. Including minorities was bound to aggrevate frustrated white men.

I also agree with electro. This isn't historical revisionism. It's a work of art. Do people who visit the museum of natural history wind up believing that Teddy Roosevelt rode around with an indian and a black man following him? For those who care about such things, history will remember the men who raised the flag. The picture still exists.
posted by Doug at 2:04 PM on January 11, 2002


Bruce Ratner says, "Questions about race or ethnicity played no part in the brave deeds firefighters performed on Sept. 11, and it does a disservice to the memory of the thousands lost on that day to raise such issues."

But he's one of the people who made the decision to alter the portrayal. He can't have it both ways: if ethnicity played no part, and if raising the issue of ethnicity is a disservice, then why did he do so when he helped with the design of the statue?

He's trying to pull a fast one; he and the others involved in making the decisions introduced ethnicity into it, and he's now complaining because others have noticed and are calling him on it.

He's a hypocrite.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 2:06 PM on January 11, 2002


I have no opion worth stating but note two things: 1. how many women are in the fire dept as active fire fighters (not desk jobs),2. Why is it said that though the firemen involved had no comment they do have a lawyer (to represent them for what).
All history is revisionist after a time and by losers on the one hand and winners on the other. This statue it seems is "based on a true story."
posted by Postroad at 2:08 PM on January 11, 2002


Sometimes a photographer is in the right place at the right time and captures an event for the ages.

I recall hearing that famous WWII picture was not quite so spontaneous. Something along the lines that--it was a neat seen and some said we ought to get a picture of that, so let's do it again for the camera this time. Am I correct in remembering this? Or am I revising history. Or has someone revised it for me? Anyway, the statue idea seems maudlin, but that is to be expected.
posted by piskycritters at 2:10 PM on January 11, 2002


Er, scene (though it still kind of works).
posted by piskycritters at 2:26 PM on January 11, 2002


I was listening to Sean Hannity on the radio today (sue me, I live in Utah and conservative talk radio is all we get) and one of his callers wondered if, in the interests of "inclusiveness and diversity" that maybe we should change the memorials honoring the Tuskegee Airmen or maybe the Buffalo Soldiers to include a white soldier and an Hispanic soldier. After all, they were just Americans who "happened to be black", but they were all fighting for America, right?

I don't know. I don't really care one way or the other. I just thought it was an interesting way of looking at it.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 2:27 PM on January 11, 2002


Am I correct in remembering this? Or am I revising history. Or has someone revised it for me?

I had the same vague recollection, but a quick Google search turned up what I believe to be the actual facts of the case: Marines had raised a smaller flag on Mt. Suribachi; higher-ups wanted to impress the Secretary of the Navy, who was observing, so they sent another group of Marines out (while still receiving enemy fire) with a bigger flag. (One of those Marines was Ira Hayes, a Pima Indian from Arizona.)
posted by snarkout at 2:29 PM on January 11, 2002


After all, they were just Americans who "happened to be black"

No, they were Americans who were segregated into their groups by a white government based entirely on their race. It was no coincidence.
posted by jpoulos at 2:32 PM on January 11, 2002


Piskycritters, your information is wrong. That's an urban legend.

There were two flag raisings but they were not staged. The guys on the peak had a small flag with them and raised it -- and were photographed while doing so. Someone down at the landing site saw this and had a larger flag sent up and it was raised in its place, and that, too, was photographed. It turns out to be the second raising that was turned into the statue, but it wasn't done to pose for the photographer.

There's never been any secret about this.

Both photographs, and both flags, are prominently displayed in the Marine Corps Museum, by the way.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 2:37 PM on January 11, 2002


Thinking about it some more, it just seems like a bad idea for a monument regardless of how you depict those three firefighters. Three of the men who raised the flag on Mt. Suribachi didn't make it off of Iwo Jima. How does showing three of the survivors honor the more than three hundred firefighters who died in the WTC rubble? I'd find, I don't know, 343 fire helmets or 686 pairs of boots more of a testimony to mass, anonymous bravery of firefighters and the sheer magnitude of the losses the NYFD suffered.
posted by snarkout at 2:38 PM on January 11, 2002


You know, George Washington didn't walk around in a toga with a wreath of laurel on his head. Yet there are plenty of statues of him in same. Statues are symbolic representations of ideas, not detail-for-detail recreations of actual events.

It sounds like the planned statue is meant to represent three ideas: a) the bravery of the NYFD; b) the patriotism of the NYFD; and c) the racial unity of the NYFD. Each is a worthy sentiment. The fact that there exists a photograph of three individual NYFD firefighters raising a flag in imitation of the photograph they saw of the flag raising at Iwo Jima, and that those three firefighters will not be depicted in the statue is irrelevant.

Are you suggesting, Steven, that if the firefighters depicted on the statue do not look like a photo-exact replica of the three firefighters in the famous photograph, that the statue is somehow 'dishonest?' That seems untenable to me.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:41 PM on January 11, 2002


a statue which purports to accurately represent an historic event or figure should remain true to its origins; a statue that claims to be of frank smith, bill jones, and horatio calduzzi had better look like them (though painters and sculptors have been know to alter even these images to flatter their patrons).

a statue which is designed to perform a symbolic function (a memorial for a large group of people, for example) has license to alter fact in order to represent the larger reality or even to create a new myth.

does anyone think that washington really stood up all the way while crossing the delaware? we know that the artist took considerable artistic license with this photograph (the actual crossing was done in the dead of night during a driving snowstorm ). does that make it "historical revisionism"?
posted by rebeccablood at 2:42 PM on January 11, 2002


There would've been no need for the Buffalo Soliders or the Tuskeegee Airmen if America really lived up to it's ideals of liberty, freedom and justice for all.
I find it interesting that in 2002, we can't find a way to do something as simple as put up a fucking statue.
Maybe there should be a separate memorial for the black, hispanic and female firefighters that died in the WTC attack.
I'm so disgusted right now...
posted by black8 at 2:43 PM on January 11, 2002


excuse me, with this painting, of course.
posted by rebeccablood at 2:44 PM on January 11, 2002


jpoulos:

I didn't say I agreed with the caller, or looked at it as coincidence. I said I thought it was an interesting take.

However, is it coincidence that the three firemen were white? As others have pointed out, the FDNY is overwhelmingly white.

Not to thread-hijack, but I'm interested in knowing why that is so. Is it because of the history of the Irish firefighting brigades? I find it terribly thought-provoking that in a city as diverse as New York that the numbers are skewed so.

As I preview this, I see black8's comment, and I agree. This does seem to be a lot of time wasted over what should be a simple memorial.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 2:45 PM on January 11, 2002


I don't consider this too much of a big deal, its not like they edited the photo. The photo represents a real event. The statue does not. The real downside here is that once you get on the PC road there really is no end. What if one of the firefighters in the original photo was visibly wearing a cross? Whould they have to make the black guy Jewish and the Hispanic guy Muslim in some ostentatious way? Probably. Imagine if one guy was really fucking attractive. You'd have to make him a little uglier not to make the other two look so bad. Sounds a lot like that Vonnegut book. Perhaps toss in an eyepatch?

What bothers me the most is the economics of the situation. $180,000 could have bought you some really nice reprints and frames of that photo for every firestation in NYC. Or perhaps a Vietnam Memorial like list of names near the old WTC towers. Oh well, your taxes at work New Yorkers. Write some letters.
posted by skallas at 2:50 PM on January 11, 2002


But he's one of the people who made the decision to alter the portrayal. He can't have it both ways: if ethnicity played no part, and if raising the issue of ethnicity is a disservice, then why did he do so when he helped with the design of the statue?

...He's a hypocrite.


Steven, I'm not for historical revisionism, but I do believe this statue is another issue. He altered the portrayal because the statue was meant to be symbolic (again, not a historical record). If you're creating a symbolic piece, you consider what you want to convey. If you're recording history, you consider what actually happened. (Now, choosing men to symbolically represent the heroism of that day is an altogether different issue; one that I won't defend.)
posted by jacknose at 2:56 PM on January 11, 2002


Jack Nose, he added ethnicity into the scene, and then when people complained about it he criticized them for being concerned about ethnicity. That's hypocrisy.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 3:01 PM on January 11, 2002


The problem isn't so much with the racial issue, as the fact that this really isn't a very good idea. These guys want to have a statue that is simultaneously historic (in that it portrays an actual event) and symbolic (in that it represents more than just the event its depicting). Simply put, they should have just picked one or the other.

Since statues are, by their nature, symbolic, I don't really see this as "historical revisionism". But that doesn't make the idea any less mediocre.
posted by Shadowkeeper at 3:01 PM on January 11, 2002


it is a memorial sculpture. More something to focus emotional outpouring at than a work of art. It is an art-directed, comittee approved representation of a hazy image the public has in its head. This is a big huge thing to tie to the end of your heartstrings.

now, when someone makes a made-for-tv movie of 9-11, and they depict that event with anything other than what is in the picture...then pull out the revisionist arguement again and i'll stand by you on it.
posted by th3ph17 at 3:02 PM on January 11, 2002


Its not historical revisionism to make a symbolic statue based on a real event. Furthermore, I don't see how its insulting to the real firemen involved (you would think it would be an honor!). I don't mind really either way, though it is a shame that people have to get bent out of shape becuase of it.
posted by xammerboy at 3:09 PM on January 11, 2002


Everyone was praising the Roosevelt Statue for being historically accurate and now in the case of the firefighters they are saying it doesn't matter.

This isn't about representing history in a literal or symbolic manner. It's about being sensitive to underrepresented groups, a well meaning effort that can easily become misguided.
posted by johnjreeve at 3:16 PM on January 11, 2002


now, when someone makes a made-for-tv movie of 9-11, and they depict that event with anything other than what is in the picture...then pull out the revisionist arguement again and i'll stand by you on it.

Why? Movies don't get to take artistic license like paintings or statues? Do not movies include the word "based" when they credit actual events? Based on actual events. Based, based, based...
posted by David Dark at 3:21 PM on January 11, 2002


Well, if they had made one of the firefighters a woman...
posted by cx at 3:28 PM on January 11, 2002


I think that historical accuracy is a factor, because the statute is based on an historical document; namely a photograph. We're all aware of the photograph right now, but I think that it is possible that by introducing a conflicting the source of information the question arises as to which image--the photograph or the statute--will persist most strongly in the minds of future generations. If in fact the statue becomes the object that our children's children associate with the actual events, even if the truth of the matter is still known to the educated, we will still be guilty of some level of historical revisionism.

As humans I think we have a tendency to simplify multiple sources into one for easier memorization. I know I'm guilty of it. If there is the smallest chance that the true image (the photograph) will be neglected in favor of our symbolic representation of it, I'd say the statue's little white lie poses some danger.
posted by Hildago at 3:40 PM on January 11, 2002


If historical revisionism is the real bogeyman, then there are far more important battles to fight than this one. This thread was seeded with disinformation, as panopticon pointed out, and is poisoned throughout by the racist proposition that there was no "ethnicity" to be found in a gathering of three "white" firefighters.

That said, altering this iconic photograph by changing the race of those present was a really stupid idea.
posted by sudama at 3:52 PM on January 11, 2002


With all due respect, the Mt. Suribachi photo positively vibrates with energy, movement, and purpose. The WTC photo is of three firemen standing around. The composition doesn't compare. Maybe it will work better as a statue.
posted by Ty Webb at 3:53 PM on January 11, 2002


Now I'll take my artsy fartsiness and go home. Nyah.
posted by Ty Webb at 3:55 PM on January 11, 2002


Interestingly, SDB introduced the Iwo Jima flag-raising -- but that wasn't a coincidence. It was the second flag-raising. There was a stink a few years ago that it was "staged", a periodic charge that has been around since the beginning; but really, it was more a matter of a temporary flag being replaced by one more sturdy, and the photographer knowing in advance to follow this expedition.

The historical revisionism about this statue is silly, but so is the controversy. It would have been inappropriate to show the living men, and this way it does get to stand in as a memorial to the dead. For my money, it should have been left as a photograph; it's maudlin and not as affecting as this grief-inducing firefighters' memorial that was donated to NYC in the wake of 9/11.
posted by dhartung at 3:55 PM on January 11, 2002


It would have been inappropriate to show the living men

How so?
posted by Hildago at 4:13 PM on January 11, 2002


When the firemen were killed, I was sad because American firefighters died, not because white firefighters or black firefighters or any other race died, but because Americans died, giving their lives for others.

s/American/human/g

Looking forward to the day when nationalism is as gauche as racism.
posted by mlinksva at 4:39 PM on January 11, 2002


"Looking forward to the day when nationalism is as gauche as racism".

Why?

Looking forward to people explaining these kinds of toss-away statements.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 4:44 PM on January 11, 2002


Race shouldn't have even been considered in the creation of the statue. The firefighters happened to be white.

As long as race is even considered as a major issue, we will have racism.

Nuff said.
posted by trioperative at 4:48 PM on January 11, 2002


When defending his decision to commission the statue, Bruce Ratner said about the brave deeds of the firefighters that "Ethnicity played no part..." And so, I'm wondering out loud if the following question is appropriate here.

Is a situation or social construct in America devoid of ethnicity when only "white" people are involved?

This is a personally challenging question for me because in many cases I'm jarred from my involvement in a narrative while watching a movie or T.V. show that depicts, for instance, a scene set in a contemporary American city and is populated with only "white" actors/actresses. Since it doesn't represent the view outside my window, or my personal and professional life, it feels, momentarily, somehow less real.

So I notice, and it feels like ethnicity. Or perhaps race. But is that true? Is it just what happens in every case, that the farther removed a racial/ethnic representation is from our experiences, then the more we see it as having racial/ethnic overtones?

I ask because the idea that race or ethnicity gets injected into certain situations can confuse me at times, since there are many times when, because of my personal surroundings and experiences, it seems that there is an ethnic/racial question that is self-evident.

For instance, I've only met three firefighters in my life. And when I first saw images of firefighters in the WTC footage and related in a real way to carnage and panic there seemed something so different...so new about the faces of these real people streaming across the screen.

I realized later that the cause of my cognitive dissonance was that I've never seen a "white" firefighter in real life.

And suddenly race was "injected" into the situation. Though no one intended it to be.

Aside: Someone at worked joked that I need to watch "COPS" more. :)

That said, I think that attempting any sort of racial representation in an artistic effort based on real events is always going to bring controversy. Based on the quote from the Post where he suggests that it's other people that are raising issues of ethnicity, Ratner certainly seems naive.
posted by massless at 5:23 PM on January 11, 2002


I think that this whole issue is full of misdirected energy from both sides. The significant historical event that took place is the destruction of the WTC, not that firefighters managed to save a few people and searched for the bodies. Sure, they worked hard, and they're important, but so, to use one of the analogies above, were the medics who cleaned up and healed after the battle at Iwo Jima. The Japanese could put a statue at the epicenter of the Hiroshima explosion to honor those who helped the radiation-poisoned survivors on the perimeter, but years after the fact it would seem pretty strange, and it would by its very presence misrepresent the nature of the event and the effect that it had on the country. Holocaust memorials could depict the brave allied soldiers entering the death camps at the end of the war and rescuing the relatively few survivors. Funerals for people in hospitals could honor the doctors who tried to save the deceased, and who have in fact managed to save so many others.

The WTC attack was a very bad thing. It killed a lot of people. We (most Americans) wish that it had been somehow prevented, but it happened anyway, and we're sad about that. That's what a statue at the sight should convey. To put all this energy into issues surrounding the statue of firemen is to put a Spielbergian twist on an event that did not have a happy ending. And I think that's an unhealthy way to deal with that event.
posted by bingo at 5:38 PM on January 11, 2002


Jack Nose, he added ethnicity into the scene, and then when people complained about it he criticized them for being concerned about ethnicity. That's hypocrisy.

Looks to me like there are only a very few who are all that exercised about the "ethnicity" of this particular statue and the particular "ethnic group" of the three firefighters photographed. And SDB is one of them. I wonder why in this particular case he sees it as so important. Such emotion about "historical truth" in this particular minor sideshow of a vast and terrible tragedy. I wonder why.

Maybe its a general historical outrage that just happens to have been given particular vent in a situation where the maligned firefighters just happened to be of the same ethnic group as the poster...a mere coincidence. Let's be patient, all. Do let us know when further posts are planned to express outrage about statues commemorating Columbus discovering America, about monuments celebrating southern civil war heroes, and about the slaveholder "Fathers of our Country" immortalized on Mount Rushmore.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 5:47 PM on January 11, 2002


F&M, I object to people hijacking a national tragedy, or a national symbol of hope, to push a particular agenda.

I also objected to it when Falwell did it.

There's a time and place to concern ourselves with inclusiveness. This isn't it.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 6:01 PM on January 11, 2002


To all those who have defended the changing of the picture by asserting the symbolic attributes of the statue: does it make a difference if the power of the symbol is largely derived from it's historical basis? In other words, it's likely to be a powerful symbol only because it "actually" happened. But it didn't actually happen, because the Ratner guy wants to change what happened.
posted by prodigal at 6:07 PM on January 11, 2002


Columbus might not have discovered America, but you don't have to be on the winning side (or the right side) of a war to be a hero, and Washington and Jefferson may have owned slaves, but they were still founding fathers. Incidentally, the other two faces are Roosevelt and Lincoln, who were not.
posted by bingo at 6:13 PM on January 11, 2002


But... where's the lesbian?
posted by HTuttle at 6:20 PM on January 11, 2002


Jack Nose, he added ethnicity into the scene, and then when people complained about it he criticized them for being concerned about ethnicity. That's hypocrisy.

How did he add "ethnicity into the scene"? He created a symbolic statue to give tribute to the firefighters of 9.11 based on a photograph. (Based. Based. Based.) Did he add ethnicity because the firefighters in the statue were white, black, and Hispanic? You do know that ethnicity is not just a black or Hispanic thing. A symbolic statue of all white firefighters could also be interpreted as adding "ethnicity into the scene." You need to stop imagining that this statue was meant to be a historical record. If you treat it as a symbolic piece, you'll be able to see that this statue was meant merely to be a tribute to the firefighters who risked/gave their lives.
posted by jacknose at 6:21 PM on January 11, 2002


prodigal, what the statue symbolically represents actually happened. "Given that those who died were of all races and all ethnicities and that the statue was to be symbolic of those sacrifices, ultimately a decision was made to honor no one in particular, but everyone who made the supreme sacrifice," Fire Department spokesman Frank Gribbon said.

You're certainly not suggesting that statues must literally capture what happened in history? Check out the Liberation Monument in Liberty State Park. I've often enjoyed gazing at this monument. Now, would I be disappointed if this particular scene did not actually happen in this exact manner? No, because I know something like this did happen. It's not representing one unique moment. It's representing many moments like this one.
posted by jacknose at 6:26 PM on January 11, 2002


Its not historical revisionism to make a symbolic statue based on a real event. Key word here being event, the event being honored here is not the flag raising, yet the flag raising somehow has become the symbol. The first few times I saw the flag raising it was powerful; later, I thought it so reminiscent of Iwo Jima that I hoped it wasn't staged. Now, the three heroes have an attorney? About the race/revisionism thing, it never occured to me to notice their race, WTF did that have to do with it? The problem with feelgood crap is regardless of how you do it, you cannot make everyone feel good at the same time. Please yourself...
posted by Mack Twain at 6:30 PM on January 11, 2002


Just to add to panopticon's point with some detailed numbers:

Of the approximately 15,000 Black professional firefighters nationwide, only 321 are in New York. They are joined by 341 Hispanics, 20 Asian, 9 Native American and 29 women in FDNY. With less than 7% minority representation in a force of 11,344, it is statistically impossible to get racially diverse photo of New York City Firefighters in action, unless it was a staged photo-op. There are half as many Blacks in FDNY now than was in 1965, when Mayor Lindsay appointed Robert Lowery as the first Black Fire Chief of New York.1

Nepotism being the driving force in recruiting, and the Cadet recruiting program benefiting "the sons and other close relatives of several high-ranking supervisors in the department and one senior official in the union that represents the firefighters,"2 has kept FDNY 94% White. Unless anything changes with Bloomberg, revisionist political correctness maybe the only way to portray the "diversity" in New York. But we all conveniently forget that tragedy strikes everyone, regardless of race, color or creed.
posted by tamim at 6:59 PM on January 11, 2002


fold_and_mutilate: I don't think it's an isolated group of people who take objection with this. I think the real point is that race has been introduced when it didn't need to be, thus the act of introducing race is in and of itself racist. There were literally thousands if not hundreds of thousands of images, emotions, ideas, etc. that the artist could work with that would have been symbolic and could have included people of every race. Instead he took probably the most well known image of this event and then altered and it called his work "based on" the original photo. I'm with SDB on this one, the guy is a hypocrite.

For me this isn't about racism. If the picture had been of of two hispanic men, an African American, and a peg-leg pirate, a statue "based on" that photograph should have two hispanic men, an African American, and a peg-leg pirate. If the artist wants to capture another scene, one not so well burned into our collective minds, and wants to create something original that honors all people regardless of race or gender or ??, that's ok. Because by inserting other races into a real event, that many people have seen on television, in the newspapers, and all over the internet, it really is saying, to me at least, that every event now has to be homoginized for public consumption. It means that race matters so much to some people that they are willing to create lies to push a politically correct agenda. Had it instead been three African Americans who raised that flag, I can honestly say that I wouldn't have even been able to formulate the idea of changing the race of the men in order to create a more encompassing memorial. Literally, I see these men, regardless of race, heros and I always have (as in I've always respected the job that the firefighters, paramedics, rescue workers, and law enforement do every day, not just on the Sept. 11'ths of history). So perhaps it is for that reason, I find anyone who wants to change historical events to suit their politically correct agenda, racist. And those of you who argue that Washington or Roosevelt were not always portrayed as they were in paintings and statues, I would only ask if you feel it would be ok to have a memorial with two trains crashing into the WTC? It's symbolic. According to your previous arguments, symbolism gives you license to change historical events, right?
posted by billman at 7:55 PM on January 11, 2002


I would only ask if you feel it would be ok to have a memorial with two trains crashing into the WTC?

Are you saying, Billman, that the race of those firemen is as significant an attribute of that event as the weapon used to murder all those people?

See, the point is, the race of those firemen is insignificant. Those men, in fact, are insignificant. The artist was trying to portray a diverse people coming together, as a nation, to help each other. He decided to do this by making the firefighters differing races.

Would you or Steven be as outraged if they were all white, but didn't look like the men in the photo? I seriously doubt it. Not because I think you guys are racist, but you're hung up on "PC Equals Bad!" Plus you're racist. Ha ha, just kidding.
posted by Doug at 8:45 PM on January 11, 2002


Doug, you're still trying to have it both ways. If the race of the firemen is insignificant, then why change it?
posted by Steven Den Beste at 8:53 PM on January 11, 2002


Doug: Steven said it all (damn you Steven for stealing my thunder). If race is not an issue, then only a racist would even have the notion to alter a historical event. Of course, I'm using a pretty broad definition of racist. I think anybody who goes out of their way to introduce race into a situation is racist deep down inside.

Like I said, I don't care if the statue was of three African Americans, three Latinos, three Asian-Americans, whatever. If they were the ones who raised that flag and I had their images burned into my mind, that would be the statue I would want to see. I would still mourn, reflect, and pay tribute regardless of the color of their skin or the physical features the artist created.

PC is bad. PC means (the way it is practiced) that you are constantly bringing race into the equation of human interaction where it normally wouldn't be. In my mind, it means you're telling someone they are inferior by way of demonstrating to them that you have to take overt actions to demonstrate the fact that you're willing to treat them as equals.

The artist is trying to capture a moment in history. A real moment. A moment everybody is fully aware of. To then alter that moment to make it PC is absurd. If the idea is to potray a moment of all races, genders, etc., being brought together, then pick a different moment. Don't try to hijack one and then tailor it to your political and social leanings. I would be making the same argument, and just as strongly if the artist was attempting to insert a white guy. The point is, this isn't Washington crossing the Deleware. There were but a handful of people who witnessed it and the artist is simply trying to convey the feeling of the moment. Nor is it good ol' Teddy with an African American and an Indian by his side because the message was that he was a friend to all (or whatever the artist's message was). When you take a photograph. A moment in time that everybody is familiar with and then start altering it to fit your social and political beliefs, then you're just a hack. You're trying to ride on the coat-tails of the guys who actually raised the flag and made that moment in history. Like I said, there are a million different possibilities on how the artist can convey the message of racial unity but taking that moment is simply an attempt to abandon the artist's responsiblity for creativity. How about a racially diverse group of firefighters running into Tower I? How about a racially diverse group of firefighters helping someone out of the building? How about a racially diverse group of firefighters, policemen, and citizens engaged in a massive group hug? To me, altering this moment in time would be like putting up a monument to astronauts and making Neil Armstrong [insert a race he isn't here].
posted by billman at 10:16 PM on January 11, 2002


The artist is trying to capture a moment in history.

No he's not. He's trying to create a monument to 343 dead firemen; if that happens to take the form of replicating (however accurately or inaccurately) well-known photograph, so be it, but it is secondary to the creation of that memorial to the dead. I agree with you about the lack of creativity shown by the artist, and I think he's creating a much less effective monument than if he did something that didn't reference the far more effective Iwo Jima photograph and monument, but this is sculpture, not journalism.
posted by snarkout at 10:22 PM on January 11, 2002


snarkout: Hmmmmm . . . I'll give you that. His intention is to create a monument to 343 dead firemen. That said, he's still hijacking the flag raising in an attempt to tug at the heartstrings. He didn't decide to use that photo as the basis for his sculpture because it was the best way to transfer his message, it was because he knew people would remember the original photo (which sort of cuts down the symbolism arguments as it was not a symbol but an actual "thing" that people are remembering). Which is why using it to portray racial messages is as wrong as if the statue had been designed by Microsoft and had the firefighters all using XP laptops (Where do you want to go today?).
posted by billman at 10:30 PM on January 11, 2002


Steven, I'm trying to express that the race of the men in the photograph is insignificant. Clearly the race of the men in the statue IS significant. Significant in that it was the artists intention to demonstrate the racial diversity of New York City.

I guess the problem had (looking at Billman's post) is that the artist used a real photograph for his statue, but then changed some aspects of it in order to further a personal agenda. But memorials always service agendas.

But this isn't revisionism. You can disagree with the artists intention (not sure why one would), but it isn't trying to convince anyone that an asian and a black help raise that flag.

I'll even agree that is is kind of tacky to use this as a platform for advancing an agenda. But what, since 9-11, hasn't been tacky?
posted by Doug at 10:54 PM on January 11, 2002


Based. Based. Based. Monuments are not supposed to be taken literally. No one goes to a monument and asks, Is this exactly how it happened? Are these the exact same people? One day people will forget the photograph, but the monument will convey something more. By the way, Did you know that the depiction of George Washington crossing the Deleware River is not historcially accurate? A year ago I visited the Park where he supposedly crossed and, lo and behold, they had a monument/statue symbolically depicting this event. I knew that it wasn't supposed to be taken literally. The event happened, but not in the way the statue presented it. (Of course, you're aware that the depiction of the Last Supper by da Vinci is also not historically accurate? You do know that da Vinci portrayed Jesus and his disciples as Europeans?) Based. Based. Based. The issue boils down the following: Do you think monuments (or other pieces of art) that reflect an actual event must capture the event with strict exactitude? I think not.
posted by jacknose at 11:12 PM on January 11, 2002


Artists are not historians.
posted by jacknose at 11:18 PM on January 11, 2002


Doug: There are three major issues:

1. The whole PC agenda which I personally think is patronizing.

2. Anytime you take a historical event and alter it, that's pretty much the definition of revisionism. Your argument against is like my statement about Neil Armstrong. Have there been Asian-Americans in space? Yes. If they had a monument of the astronauts and the guy doing the famous planting the stars and stripes was an Asian-American person, wouldn't that be revisionism in a sense since it was Neil Armstrong who actually did it? Of course you can always say that it was the artist's intention to show world unity but if I was Neil Armstrong, I might take strong objection to someone portraying someone else doing what I did. Despite the fact that historical records show that I raised that flag (speaking in the NA sense), a memorial showing someone else doing it is just fundamentally wrong.

3. How did they hire such a tired old person, who can't even come up with an original idea, to head this?

I also wonder how many people would be speaking up if the situation was:

1. The original photo was of three non-whites and they wanted to insert a white guy (as I said before, I would prefer this if that's the way it happened).

2. A hispanic, an African American, and a Jew were the heros and they wanted to add a white guy, an Indian, and an Eskimo [and/or Native-American] (I'm sure the Eskimo [and/or Native American] community also felt bad about the attacks, why should we leave them out?).

See one of the big problems I have with revisionism like this is that what does it say to the other ethnic groups not represented? People have posted some numbers that indicate hispanics and african-americans don't represent the NYFP in a 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 ratio so where does that end? So was Sept 11 only important to whites, hispanics, and african-americans? What about the asian-americans? I guess it's F-you to them because they don't have a big enough lobbying group, right? Not enough self-loathing liberals give a crap about them.

Jacknose: Yes, I realize some historical paintings are not completly accurate. I was at the Vatican and I'm pretty sure none of the artists personally witnessed God touch the hand of Adam. I'm also pretty sure that da Vinci was not at the last supper since it occured several hundred years before his birth but I am sure that he didn't have any photographs to go by. See, da Vinci didn't say, "oh, here's a Polaroid of Jesus munching down with a bunch of hosers, I'll paint that. . . except I'll throw in a couple of black guys because . . . dammit, what kind of message would it send if Jesus didn't grub down with Africans too?" Instead it was probably the case that he painted a story that was told to him. See, this is much different than if I ask you to paint a picture of Clinton to hang in the White House and you give me back a painting of an Asian (or African American or Hispanic or ??) guy. The paintings of Jesus, Lincoln, Washington, etc. etc. were mostly made from memory. Also, a statue or painting was more of a vanity piece than they are today. Photos didn't exist then. I'm fairly sure you're aware of that fact so I question why you would throw out such a weak argment, unless that's the best you've got. Ok, da Vinci was not at the last supper, Raphael probably did not witness God and Adam hanging out together, in fact, I'm pretty much willing to bet that most painters of Christian art didn't have a snapshot to go by (as I understand it, Christ had very few 35mm photos taken of him).
posted by billman at 12:02 AM on January 12, 2002


All I can say, Billman, is that in the example you are giving, the person in the image (Neil Armstrong) is signigicant, as is the accomplishment. These guys raised a flag. It's meaning is completely symbolic. Armstrong actually accomplished something unique, and significant. That being said, I wouldn't care if someone made a statue comemorating man on the moon which featured a black woman, even though to the best of my knowledge, there have been no black women on the moon. It doesn't seem like a big deal to me.
posted by Doug at 12:18 AM on January 12, 2002


It wasn't just firefighters who bravely faced this tragedy, and went into the buildings when others were trying to flee. Police officers, and EMT's were also risking their lives. Instead of altering race, the sculptor could have as easily changed the original from all firefighters to a tribute to all of those who help others in time of crisis. It would still be based upon an actual event. But would it be right? Race isn't the issue here as much as honesty.

Should artists be free to interpret actual events like a flag raising in the midst of devastation? Was the decision to represent multiple races based upon political correctness? Should honesty be secondary to symbolism for the sake of art? How sincere is this attempt to manipulate emotions? How would you feel if a photograph of a black, a hispanic, and a white firefighter was the one released originally, and then you found out that scene was staged when the original photo was uncovered?

A statue that honored the bravery of firefighters of all races, and exhibited unity is a great idea. But to model it upon the event in question and change the underlying facts to make it stand for something other than what actually happened is to invite criticism, and reasonable criticism at that.
posted by bragadocchio at 3:08 AM on January 12, 2002


Last night I received two letters from people with completely opposite points of view. One asked me to post his letter here (because registrations seem to be shut off again; he wanted to use the name "adameft"). Rather than do that, I appended both letters and my own later comment to my log entry about this. (Scan down to where the text gets smaller.)
posted by Steven Den Beste at 7:39 AM on January 12, 2002


Billman, you're missing the point. Even if da Vinci did have photographs of Jesus at the Last Supper he would not be responsible for painting the event in a historically accurate manner. (What a bore it would be if artists had to function as historians.) The fact is, he didn't need a photograph to realize that Jesus and his disciples were Jewish. Jewish. Not Europeans.

You write: See, da Vinci didn't say, "oh, here's a Polaroid of Jesus munching down with a bunch of hosers, I'll paint that. . . except I'll throw in a couple of black guys because . . . dammit, what kind of message would it send if Jesus didn't grub down with Africans too?"

And yet, you don't seem to have a problem that he did know that Jesus was Jewish but decided to give them a European look. So, you would have a problem if the Last Supper had depicted "black guys" but don't seem to have a problem that it depicts "white guys." I personally don't have a problem either way, because artists are not historians.
posted by jacknose at 7:41 AM on January 12, 2002


correction: ... that Jesus and his disciples were Jewish ...
posted by jacknose at 8:32 AM on January 12, 2002


Jack, the situations are not comparable.

The power of that photograph was that the men in it were completely ordinary. And yet they did an extraordinary thing. A small thing, but a very important thing.

The power of that photograph is to tell us all that we, too, ordinary as we are, can also do extraordinary things if the circumstances arise.

But to idealize them, to make them into gods, takes that away. We all expect gods to do extraordinary things. (And Jesus was a God, they tell me; so it's OK to idealize him.)

This flag raising was done by ordinary men, not gods. The deep message of that photograph was that ordinary men can do extraordinary things when challenged. If they are changed, idealized, genericized, turned into icons then that message is destroyed. They would be changed from ordinary men into demigods.

"Ordinary men can do extraordinary things" is a lot more important message than "Gee, we sure got a lot of different races living here in the US", and this sculpture can't deliver both messages effectively at the same time. But the only way to deliver that more important message is to depict them exactly as they were, warts and pot-bellies unmodified. The most powerful message that this sculpture can deliver would be by making it as absolutely realistic as it could be. Any change weakens that message.

There are other places and times to deliver that second message. It's a good one, too, but it doesn't have to appear everywhere.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 9:07 AM on January 12, 2002


Steven, I appreciate your comments. Your case is more compelling because you are no longer dealing with the issue of historical revisionism, but what image would best convey the message "Ordinary men can do extraordinary things."

You write: The most powerful message that this sculpture can deliver would be by making it as absolutely realistic as it could be. Any change weakens that message.

I might be able to buy that. But now we're dealing with the medium and the message (forgive my McLuhanism), not the issue of historical revisionism. Of course, I might suggest that making the firefighters white, black, and Hispanic does not make them any less ordinary (nor does it idealize them). I might also question your interpretation of the message of the monument (not necessarily the photograph). I certainly don't think the alternative message is "Gee, we sure got a lot of different races living here in the US."

One more thing, you say that it is okay to idealize Jesus. Does idealizing Jesus mean turning him into a European?
posted by jacknose at 9:30 AM on January 12, 2002


In that case, why use this particular image for the statue? If they wanted it to represent something symbolic, why not make the statue portray something else?

Hear hear. Unfortunately, other images wouldn't play well with the mindless patriotic fervor that replaced those precious ten minutes of soul searching that happened after the attacks.
posted by holycola at 10:01 AM on January 12, 2002



Wow...look at all the energy pouring into fighting the horrible evil of an statue that misrepresents the fire department and may be historical revisionism. Consider the reality ..a horribly rascist fire department that has actually gotten less diverse in recent years. Everyone here is tilting at a windmill when there is a far more real problem..
posted by srboisvert at 10:06 AM on January 12, 2002


Can we ban the pharase "tilting at a windmill" on MeFi? Every thread on MeFi contains at least on person throwing that one out as a witty retort.
posted by billman at 10:25 AM on January 12, 2002


not
posted by jpoulos at 10:46 AM on January 12, 2002


Also, srboisvert, we're just having a conversation--an enjoyable one at that (whether we agree or disagree). Does everything need to be compared to the "far more real problem"? Should MeFi members only passionately discuss serious issues? I think not. I find this conversation rather stimulating because it is not merely about this one particular statue but about art and historical revisionism (not an issue people discuss much around here). So, a toast to Steven for an interesting post.
posted by jacknose at 10:47 AM on January 12, 2002


Jack Nose, since I'm not a Christian I don't feel I'm entitled to judge how Christian artists portray Jesus.

But I'm an American and I'm entitled to comment on how American firefighters are portrayed.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 10:52 AM on January 12, 2002


Based. Based. Based.

This keeps getting repeated, as if it means something. How would a statue not be based on something...what would that mean was the relationship between the statue and the thing depicted? That it was an exact duplicate?
posted by bingo at 11:06 AM on January 12, 2002


bingo, it is a difference between a monument that seeks to be a historical rendering of an event/person and a monument that is working off of some actual event/person. The latter is not claiming to capture something that actually happened. It's claiming to represent something more, based on a particular reality. It is a difference between someone writing a historical fiction, based on some real event, and someone writing a history book, seeking to capture the real event as it happened. "Based" gives you leeway to be fictitious.
posted by jacknose at 11:21 AM on January 12, 2002


Bravo to the artist! He's found a brilliant way to make the the point that the racist propaganda we used at the time of Iwo Jima just doesn't cut it anymore. Unless you've seen the repulsive, racist stuff the US used for propaganda in WWII, you can't realize how bad it was. When I was a kid, someone goofed up at a GE Christmas party, and didn't preview the cartoons. We saw a very non-Christmas sprit, angry WWII Hollywood propaganda cartoon full of rotten Krauts and slanty-eyed dirty Japs. The kids were shocked. A few of the foreign employees walked out. I suspect, from the reactions afterwards, that the company came pretty close to losing some of its scientists over the incident. Change those faces on the statue, I'm all for it. No more racist crap in my name. Like my buddy who tends bar in Manhattan said, "All of a sudden, after 9/11, it became obvious to me walking down the street that we Black folks weren't the enemy anymore." Unity is the only way to deal with the threat of suitcase nukes, so go ahead and put up a flag sticker. (It lets the folks with the anthrax know you're watching.) Bravo to Bush, who I disagree with on almost everything, for saying a few kind words to Allah for the little Muslim kids. Let's get past this business of being all uptight about what race people are. We're Americans, we come in all colors, and we have a big urban area called New York that will fall apart, fast, if we go back to the old days of race hatred. Remember 1968, anybody? Ever drive through the urban war zones back then? Multiculturalism isn't just an annoying bunch of whiners, it's a survival strategy for all of us. "E pluribus unum - out of many, one."
posted by sheauga at 6:46 PM on January 12, 2002


Wait a minute, you lost me. Are you suggesting that making the statues represent the three men who actually are in the photograph would somehow be racist?
posted by Steven Den Beste at 7:25 PM on January 12, 2002


I think that re-writing history sucks.
posted by RobertLoch at 12:29 AM on January 13, 2002


It is a difference between someone writing a historical fiction, based on some real event, and someone writing a history book, seeking to capture the real event as it happened. "Based" gives you leeway to be fictitious.

I guess I just feel that if you're going to erect a statue at the site of a tragedy, the statue should correspond more to the analog of the history book than the work of historical fiction.

That's setting aside that I think this whole argument is stupid; see my first post in this thread.
posted by bingo at 2:51 AM on January 13, 2002


I guess I just feel that if you're going to erect a statue at the site of a tragedy, the statue should correspond more to the analog of the history book than the work of historical fiction.

For my part, I feel that if you are going to erect a memorial, the memorial should correspond more to a work of literature than to a history text. The statue will be more significant if it strives to leave the audience with something greater than the original photograph. That's art's role: to sing the real, and to endow it with something more.

This is not a monument to honour the three men who erected a flag. It is a memorial to the 343 firefighters who perished at the World Trade Centre.

The role of monuments is to remember. The role of memorials is to never forget. An all-white depiction that is meant to symbolise the bravery of the firefighters forgets that they were not all white. (Similarly, a black/hispanic/white depiction forgets that not all of the dead firefighters were b/h/w. The best solution, as suggested elsewhere, would be a non-realistic depiction [as with the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial] IMO.)
posted by Marquis at 9:51 AM on January 13, 2002


"Wait a minute, you lost me. Are you suggesting that making the statues represent the three men who actually are in the photograph would somehow be racist?"

That depends what the purpose of this statue is. If it's going to be our primary public memorial to the WTC disaster, then yes, it's racist.

Art is free! What's to stop sculptors from making multiple statues for the firefighters? I have no problem with someone making a statue that duplicates the photograph. If the friends of those 3 firefighters want a memorial that commemorates them individually, that makes perfect sense. If people feel bad about the white guys in the fire department, by all means make them a statue. If purpose of the statue is commemorating a largely white fire department, this one is realistic, and will no doubt bring comfort to many. However, given the racial composition of NYC, this statue will also be a reminder of a rather troubling question- why didn't the good-paying firefighter jobs go to people of color back in 2001? (My personal experience with watching men of color attempt to get into the building trades suggests to me that construction and firefighting remain a very tough business to get into if you aren't white. Given their record in past wars, nobody can fault men of color on their courage in uniform. Why then wouldn't men of color be good candidates for firefighters?)

I do have a problem with making our official memorial to the WTC disaster something that commemorates only the tradition of white guys in uniform. The WTC disaster hit people of all races, religions, and nationalities. And in my opinion, the effectiveness of our response depends on us not taking the bait of escalating this attack into a racist war or a counter-jihad.

The reason I like the artist's concept is that he's making the point that America is no longer going to travel the racial enemy path we took in WWII. I like making the point that we don't care what these firefighters look like, as far as we're concerned, anyone willing to rush into the WTC and help with the rescue effort counts as American. I also like making the point that this isn't WWII, where we sent the Negro soldiers to clean up the concentration camps. This time everyone is in it together.

Maybe young people don't care about the shameful racial propaganda of WWII. Personally, I think they need their eyes opened. This statue represents a good opportunity to explain how things have changed, and to provoke reflection on why we are choosing a war for religious and racial tolerance.

Most likely, the firefighters will get their own memorial, and we'll look to a larger memorial to the whole WTC disaster to present a message of unity.

My underlying concern here is that the terrorist agenda seeks to destroy American unity by heating up the multicultural debate, by racheting up racial tensions and violence, and by establishing a linkage between attacks on Black Muslims and attacks on Black America. Think how pleased the terrorists would be with the following outcome: "America is racist, but here in the Islamic world we aren't racists. And just look, now America is dying by its own hand in these terrible race riots! Clearly America deserves it ..."

I do think it's unfortunate that an artist who came up with a way to bring so many challenging ideas into a single statue might not be able to make a physical copy of his work, because people are only willing to fund a safe, non-controversial version.
posted by sheauga at 12:53 PM on January 13, 2002


Just for some clarification, sheauga, according to the linked article, the proposed statue is a memorial to the firefighters that died at the collapse of the WTC [etc.], and not to the whole of the dead.

This debate reminds me very much of the discussion that raged over Maya Lin's design for the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial in Washington DC. Her non-representative 'wall' design was found by many to be impersonal and unskilled. Although it has since become very well thought-of (regardless of what Christian teen mag Boundless may think), the acclaimed sculptor Frederick Hart was comissioned to add a realistic depiction of soliders nearby (he chose to invent a scene featuring a white, black, and hispanic soldier). After the addition of this sculpture, an association of female vets felt the need to construct an additional memorial to the women who died in Vietnam. At the time, representatives said that had it not been for Hart's all-male sculpture (that is, if Lin's design had been left alone), there would have been no need for the addition of a women's counterpart.
posted by Marquis at 1:31 PM on January 13, 2002


I agree with bingo's first post. The continued focus on firefighters is misdirected. I guess I'm really out of it, but until I went to Steven's site, I didn't know what picture everyone was talking about. After seeing it, I'm a little surprised so many think that is the most moving photo from the disaster. It's very static, not very emotional, and the third guy kinda reminds me of cliff claven (I guess a combo of mustache and useless onlooking). I can see why the "raising a flag in the wreckage" idea appeals to people, but if a statue were going to be made of this, I would absolutely give the artist license to change it around a bit.

I live in lower manhattan (chinatown/LES) and spent a lot of this fall breaking into tears. I don't think an "ordinary men can do extraordinary things" monument should trump a "america welcomes all kinds of people" monument in this case, because ordinary men didn't really achieve all that much. We lost. Very few people were saved - people who were able to get out, got out, but no one expected the towers to fall (as surprising as that seems in retrospect, but really, everyone was completely and utterly shocked by that, even architects & engineers, and no doubt, even the terrorists). Firemen rushed in to fight the fire. Maybe they helped some tired or disabled people who wouldn't have made it otherwise, but if so, it was a very small number.

A lot of firemen died, and that was very sad. But an even larger number of regular citizens died, and that was really sad too. And two members of our skyline fell, which was also terribly sad. Whatever monument goes up should be along the lines of commemorating loss, grief, and inclusiveness. The "america's so tough" sort of reaction is just missing the point.
posted by mdn at 2:02 PM on January 13, 2002


History is constantly revised from the first description of an event onward to serve a particular perspective, including an artist's personal one.
But "political correctness" corrupts language and science, and the integrity of a whole society by discouraging free speech, the speaking of factual truths as they appear to the individual. It's an enforced "mass-think" that built and destroyed the nazi as well as the communist systems.
posted by semmi at 3:20 PM on January 13, 2002


A lot of firemen died, and that was very sad. But an even larger number of regular citizens died, and that was really sad too. And two members of our skyline fell, which was also terribly sad. Whatever monument goes up should be along the lines of commemorating loss, grief, and inclusiveness.

I hate to be Mr. Thread-Monitor, but just to restate: what's being discussed here isn't the big ole' memorial for the WTC disaster. It is a memorial intended by the FDNY to honour the firefighters. There will be (a) subsequent monument(s) with greater scope.
posted by Marquis at 3:22 PM on January 13, 2002


Weighing in, at first, I agreed with the arguments against this picture. Most obviously, I think, if they had left the picture alone, they would have gotten no flack for it. And in all honesty, as many of you have observed, I think that if this was the other way around; if it was three black guys in the picture whose ethnicities were changed, this would be a big, inflammatory headline.

But my sentiments have been swayed. First of all, I think we should probably reserve judgments on the unnamed artist or his unseen work until the work in question is completed. This sounds like the FDNY kind of like the ideas suggested by the picture, but aren't too keen on a straight reproduction of the photograph itself. Which is perfectly understandable, I think, 'cause it's a pretty sorry photo from an artistic viewpoint, as many of you have also pointed out. They want to add artistic and symbolic resonance to the ideas of the picture.

'So what does this statue commemorate, exactly?' is the question I imagine they asked themselves in the process of coming to this decision. Somehow, I don't think it's the mere act of raising the flag; which I think is an ordinarily beautiful gesture that's become a bit hackneyed and trite in recent months. Well, for one thing, it's intended to commemorate the firefighters. But again, it's not to congratulate them on their successful raising of a flag, is it? So I feel like the act itself and the people involved here are kind of un-statueworthy in these regards. Victory at Iwo Jima had power for completely different reasons, not least of which was the strength of the image involved.

My thought is that perhaps by diversifying the ethnicities of the men portrayed, the FDNY is intending to suggest that the firefighters (not just the three in question, but those comprising the department itself) are a mirror of melting pot America, and that what the flag stands for is not merely America as a geographical delineation, but a promise of equality for all? Yes, of course, the arguments persist — why not Native Americans? Or Asians? Or Arabs? And I agree with that, and I think that it was stupid of them to base the statue on this photograph in the first place. But I think this may be at least an effort to transcend the kind of vacuous simplicity of the photograph. A worthy effort, considering the heightened racial tensions the attack elicited.
posted by grrarrgh00 at 8:47 PM on January 13, 2002


I don't think there's any confusion about the message they're trying to communicate.

I think there's an argument about whether this is the right place and time to communicate it.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 9:00 PM on January 13, 2002


As I've said, I agree that the photograph was a misguided source for a commemoration of the fire department. But as far as the place and time is concerned; if the message I'm drawing from this is indeed the message the FDNY is intending to convey about itself, I think now and here is as good a time as any to do so.
posted by grrarrgh00 at 9:18 PM on January 13, 2002


"...by diversifying the ethnicities of the men portrayed, the FDNY is intending to suggest that the firefighters (not just the three in question, but those comprising the department itself) are a mirror of melting pot America"

I had a friend who's much better at math than I am run the numbers. It appears the "diversified" photo is not a mirror of melting pot America any more than the original photo is, much less a mirror of the FDNY.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 9:25 PM on January 13, 2002


what's being discussed here isn't the big ole' memorial for the WTC disaster. It is a memorial intended by the FDNY to honour the firefighters.

right, sorry about that. I guess if it's just for firefighters, I don't care all that much what they do, but the idea of making it more racially inclusive makes a lot more sense when it's focused around the fire department as opposed to the city. For the whole city ( /country), it would seem a little corny and unnecessary, but the fire department is way behind on racial issues and a monument like this actually sounds like a good idea.

The "being true to history" argument just seems extremely silly in this scenario. It's not like raising a flag was an incredible burst of originality or something - lotsa people put an effort forth to display american flags down there, whether by draping them out of windows or off roofs, or by raising them on flagpoles. There is absolutely no reason to memorialize those particular firefighters or this particular photograph.
posted by mdn at 9:34 PM on January 13, 2002


"I don't think there's any confusion about the message they're trying to communicate."

Steven & grargghh00: What do you think this message is?
Do you agree that FDNY might be making a much more serious point here, namely that the USG really needs to think hard before it attempts to replace the incident response model with a military command structure?

"Hey Washington, we're the ones carrying the flag here at FDNY, we are your first line of defense in the post 9/11 world ..."
posted by sheauga at 9:44 PM on January 13, 2002


The message should be "Don't let the bastards grind you down!"

The message actually is "Boy, do we have a lot of races living in the US in peace and harmony and brotherhood."

The message should have to do with standing up for our nation against foreign aggression. It's being co-opted instead as a message about race relations within the nation, something what has nothing whatever to do with the events of September 11.

And because those two messages are so unrelated to each other, the attempt to deliver both messages at once dilutes them both. Nobility is being transformed into kitsch.

James Lileks says: "As you’ve probably heard by now, a sculpture has been commissioned to commemorate the firefighters who perished on 9/11. It’s based on a picture of three ordinary guys raising a flag in the ruins of the World Trade Center. But since the firefighters in this image are all white, this would send an exclusionary message. Never mind that this moment in time actually happened; the race of the participants will be changed to reflect what should have happened."

An attempt to preserve something that really happened is being changed into a way of preaching. History is being changed to fairy tale. It won't be a memorial, it will be a political message draped with a flag.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 11:01 PM on January 13, 2002


"Don't let the bastards grind you down!" is as political as anything else, isn't it? This statue is not a history textbook, and it is not meant to commemorate a historical event. It is celebrating people and their values. The FDNY is obviously not trying to commemorate whatever oblique relationship that not-particularly-inspiring photograph has to anything.

I don't think the message should be "Don't let the bastards grind you down!" at all. I think that mentality is part of what the statue is meant to combat. It's not about them; it's not commemorating the bastards who killed our people. It's about us; it's celebrating the heroes who uplifted our people. And furthermore, I argue that it's attempting to celebrate the ideals that they are trying to uplift. It's about our ability to remain a united community of diverse minds and cultures, and the firefighters' commitment to upholding that. That is, after all, the legacy of New York, isn't it? And if it can be considered a political message, then I think it's one worth being reminded of.
posted by grrarrgh00 at 12:47 AM on January 14, 2002


The message should be "Don't let the bastards grind you down!"

you don't live in New York, do you...

Before september 11th, I had never seen an american flag in my neighborhood. Afterwards, they were everywhere, big ones, little ones, stickers, cloth, t-shirts... Everywhere, in an area that usually likes to think of itself as "a little island off the coast of america" (spalding grey). Those flags meant different things to different people, but "don't let the bastards grind you down" was not a phrase I heard or would have related to.

Most people were full of sorrow and love. Most people were seeking connection and comfort. Strangers talked about the events with each other, people they knew, things they saw. Here and there, perhaps there were some angry people focused on revenge, but I never came across any myself. I don't think raising a flag in the wreckage was about war. I think it was about community, and hope. Giant burly firefighters were crying in the subways that week. There were lots of flags, but very little adrenalin.
posted by mdn at 3:00 PM on January 14, 2002


"It's about our ability to remain a united community of diverse minds and cultures, and the firefighters' commitment to upholding that. That is, after all, the legacy of New York, isn't it? And if it can be considered a political message, then I think it's one worth being reminded of."
posted by sheauga at 9:41 PM on January 14, 2002


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