From Maggie Barron. You can reach her at maggie[AT]borderstan.com and follow her on Twitter @maggiebarron.
It’s been a tough few weeks for monuments. Secretary Ken Salazar has instructed the National Park Service to fix the rather dimwittedly abridged “drum major” quote on the side of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. And Congress will hold a hearing on March 20 to discuss the much-loathed plans for the Eisenhower Memorial.
How is it that stone can inspire so much flesh-and-blood passion?
The Eisenhower brouhaha began when Ike’s family didn’t like the design put forward by architect Frank Gehry and approved unanimously by the Eisenhower Memorial Commission.
The design includes two huge stone bas reliefs depicting Eisenhower as a statesman and general, but what seems to have offended the family and a slew of conservative critics are the parts that evoke Ike’s humble upbringing as a “barefoot boy from Kansas.” (Lydia DePillis at Washington City Paper has a fantastic rundown of different articles on both sides of the debate).
First, I’d like to address the critics who are up in arms that the Eisenhower Memorial is somehow disrespectful. For example, the Heritage Foundation blog said that the memorial “plans to strip him of his moral discovery, his convictions, and his accomplishments.”
Whoah, people. He is getting a memorial on the National Mall. That is an honor reserved for the smallest group of presidents, men much more famous and beloved than Eisenhower. People are spending millions of dollars to honor this guy in perpetuity. So let’s get off the “Eisenhower is being grossly mistreated” kick.
I am not in love with the Gehry design either, but for entirely different reasons. I see it as part of a larger trend overtaking our monuments. I don’t mean any disrespect towards the people being honored. My issue is with the increasingly Disney-fied ways we end up honoring them.
Have you ever noticed that walking through the FDR Memorial is strangely similar to meandering through the line for Thunder Mountain? Or that MLK protruding from the “Stone of Hope” looks more like a parade float than a human being?
Our monuments today (I’m thinking the Korean War Memorial forward) seem hyper-eager to provide people with an “experience.” Every character facet or event related to the subject has to be completely spelled out with quotes, pictures, and usually some sort of water fountain. The Eisenhower Memorial and its surroundings, with its photographs, quotes, sculptures, and tapestries, is just one more example.
Monuments used to be about making a singular statement for people to interpret. They could be simple, or even abstract. Now they’re about hitting people over the head with the obvious while ticking off boxes for different interest groups. It’s a mentality that leaves you with 56 columns around the WWII memorial rather than 50 (lest ye forget Guam!)
Maybe the monuments have become so scattered because we really only expect people to “skim” them, anyway. Ed Jackson, the Chief Architect for the MLK Memorial, said he decided to abridge Dr. King’s quote because “By the time the visitor engages with the Stone of Hope…they’re beyond the point where they’re interested in reading a lot of detail.”
That pretty much says it all. “Four score and seven years ago, yada yada yada…” People are so exhausted by the time they reach the main part of the monument that they can’t be bothered to read more than ten words.
Our successful monuments, the ones that give you chills on approach, don’t need to be skimmed. The artists’ singular vision and ability to edit a big idea to its essence give the monuments their power. Without that vision, — which not everyone will like — you get the little-bit-of-everything approach typified by recent designs.
In fact, I have a feeling that none of our best monuments would pass muster by today’s “standards.”
If Lincoln’s memorial came up for approval today, critics would say “Wait! You are only representing him with a beard. What about all of his accomplishments when he had no beard? You are denigrating his memory!”
For Washington: “How are people going to know what Washington did from looking at this?” or perhaps more likely, “Why are we representing our first president with a symbol from the Middle East? Why do you hate America?”
For Jefferson: “Why is there no mention of Sally Hemmings?”
By trying to please everyone, we’ve reached a point where our monuments have no center. Instead they are scattered with different snippets, images, and messages, all meant to keep us stimulated, but not engaged — and unoffended, but not moved.
Whitman-Walker Open House
Formerly known as a clinic, Whitman-Walker Health has undergone a name change and a renovation, and is inviting the public to come and see the results, according to MetroWeekly. This Friday, October 21, stop by the facilities at 1701 14th Street NW and enjoy the Whole Foods snacks while checking out the updated space and learning about the services that they offer, beyond STD screenings. For more information visit their website.
Git Along Little Doggies
Say it ain’t so! After an impressive 18 years of wowing us with their
shirtless bodies dance moves, the DC Cowboys are officially closing shop. Kevin Platte, the group’s founder and the only cowboy to have been in the troupe continuously since its inception in 1994, said that it was time to move on. 2012 will be the final year — but rest assured they’ve got plans for a farewell tour that everyone can go see. Read more from Washington Blade.
Since the first attempt was washed out thanks to Irene a few weeks back, DCist gave us the heads up that the District finally got everything back together for the official dedication of the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial yesterday. Despite a smaller crowd — 50,000 instead of the originally planned 250,000 — the dedicatation was attended by President Obama, Aretha Franklin and several civil rights icons including Julian Bond and Congressman John Lewis.
Trick or Treat
Not sure you want to participate in the usual Halloween debauchery? Greater Greater Washington has you covered. Check out their plans to screen Urbanized and post-consumed happy hour at Rocket Bar after the show. Get your tickets now!
Get to Know the Folks at Greater Greater Washington
Since we’re all trying to find a happy hour to go to, here’s an idea. The folks at Greater Greater Washington are setting up a time for you to join them for drinks in the near future as part of their regular series of happy hours. Check it out tomorrow, August 23, from 6 to 8 pm downstairs at the Laughing Man Tavern at 1306 G Street NW. They’ve even got drink and $4 app specials!
Sneak Preview of MLK Memorial
Tomorrow will give you a chance to get a sneak preview of the newest memorial, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial before it officially opens to the public on August 28. No, not everyone can go check it out, but you’ll be able to get a special look because Mayor Gray announced it to be D.C. Resident Day. The Post has the full scoop on the full events for the memorial. Don’t worry, Gray officially scrapped his plan for requiring you to get a ticket for tomorrow’s festivities.
In case you’re looking for a cause to support, DCist tells of two that are worthwhile. Certainly the more admirable of the options is the D.C. Central Kitchen‘s effort to open a second kitchen, their Nutrition Lab. But if transportation is more your cup of tea, then think about helping the Dulles Rail Expansion, which is somehow in need of more money.
DHS Making Strides
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is “implementing changes to enable the government to focus its resources on high-priority immigration cases involving crime and other public safety concerns.” In other words, they’re going to focus on cases that are actually causing problems for the community, rather than whatever comes around. Notably, immigration cases in which one member of a same-sex couple is facing deportation will be dropped, allowing same-sex couples to remain as a unit in the states (Immigration is part of DHS). Read the full story from MetroWeekly.
What did you miss while you were out doing fun things? On Saturday, a plethora of volunteers went out as part of the DCPS Beautification Day to clean up D.C. public schools. I saw a bunch of folks at Ross Elementary, all of whom were doing a great job to make the school shine. And speaking of shining, yesterday was National GoTopless Day, which did have a happening in the District by the Reflecting Pool. How could you miss that?
Parkmobile Parking App Reviewed
As we all learned in Borderstan etiquette class, there are many drivers/parkers in our area. Presumably, you are occasionally forced to leave the hood and/or pay for parking in it. So you may find We Love DC‘s review of DDOT’s Parkmobile app, which will allow drivers to use their mobile phones to make payment to the meters. Early reviews? Plenty of room for improvement.