SF COLUMBUS STATUE GOES TO HELL; SATAN UNPERTURBED
A few days ago, the city of San Francisco removed a 12-foot tall, two-ton statue of Christopher Columbus that had sat next to Coit Tower for over 60 years, hoisted it onto a truck, and, presumably, shipped it to India in an elaborate statement on historical irony.
Officially, the removal was a public safety measure, in response to anonymous flyers calling for civilians to pull down the towering edifice and drop it into the bay.
Since that would involve dragging it several thousand feet to the waterfront, I doubt this was a serious bid. Although it wouldn’t be the first time Columbus fell victim to a dire navigation error.
The Columbus statue was non sequitur and also quite literally fascist art, so I personally won’t miss it. But a confederacy of confused fundies is seizing this moment in history to wage war against Satanic monuments–which is going to be a short and unsuccessful campaign. As befits their heritage.
The Columbus embarkment is the latest front in a decades-old culture clash about public symbols of white supremacy. You could call it a kind of American civil war…although you probably shouldn’t, that name is taken.
Chip Coffey, a fundy from Kentucky whose name sounds like something I want to order from Specialty’s, decided this week that enough was enough. Brandishing a photo of the Mark Porter-designed Satanic Temple Baphomet monument that I suspect he did not pay for, Chip chirped on Facebook:
“Since we are removing offensive statues, I want all the Satanic and Baphomet statues and monuments removed. They are very offensive to me! This is a picture of one used at the Arkansas state capital [sic]! There is one in Illinois, Salem, Massachusetts, Detroit MI, and in Sabrina New York [sic]! Take them down NOW!!! The Civil War monuments are offensive to some people, and this thing certainly is.”
“Sabrina, New York?”
Since he apparently doesn’t keep up with the news much, helpful Satanists have already blocked Chip by pointing out that there is actually only one (1) large-scale Baphomet monument in the entire world, and none on public property.
But this sidesteps the better, faster, stronger question of what, precisely, these are monuments to?
At its public unveiling in 2015 (which, yes Chip, happened in Detroit), then-Temple spokesperson Jex Blackmore told TIME that the Porter piece “contains binary elements symbolizing a reconciliation of opposites, emblematic of the willingness to embrace and even celebrate differences.”
In legal filings and other public forums, the Temple usually refers to the monument as an expression of religious pluralism. And there are potentially interesting discussions to be had about the image’s historicity, its style, the decision to include three figures instead of just one, etc.
The Porter monument is religious expression, but it’s also art, and if it were displayed in public its various advocates (including me) could present any number of arguments about its merits and why it, ultimately, represents positive values.
You might say that we could make this same claim for any artwork–and yet, people don’t. When it comes to figures of Confederate traitors or slave traders or colonizers like Columbus, I find it very conspicuous what people never seem to say.
Nobody ever tells us that they think the statue should stay because it’s beautiful. Nobody praises the design or composition or the pose or the finish. Nobody talks about the craftsmanship or the detail or even how well-preserved it is.
Nobody has a story about how that image inspired them personally or what they learned from it or how it influenced their own artistic style or tastes, or how it reflects the development of the artist. In short, nobody seems to appreciate any of these figures as art. Instead we’re always offered the HH special: “history” and “heritage.” The concept of valuing the image itself seems wholly foreign to supporters.
Which is a pretty serious error, since the history associated with these figures is NOT a strong bid. “Most of the people who were involved in erecting the monuments were not necessarily erecting a monument to the past but were rather, erecting them toward a white supremacist future,” associate professor of history at the University of Chicago Jane Dailey told NPR in 2017.
The Southern Poverty Law Center estimates that the majority of Confederate crapulence cropped up in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement. People, do we have to spell this out for you? The “history” is the whole problem: There’s not a lot of it, and what’s there is stupidly terrible.
On other hand, Telegraph Hill’s Columbus monument is supposed to be, of all things, an antidote to discrimination against Italian immigrants. But the fact that a noted fascist designed it leads me to suspect some ulterior motives.
In any case, Italy’s an old country, I remain confident we can find at least one prominent Italian who did not sexually enslave entire populations. I hear there’s a statue of Coppola that needs a good home.
Some Twitter jokes aside aside, I don’t know if it’d be wise to replace monuments to white supremacy with figures of Baphomet or any other Satanic imagery. Religious imagery in public spaces is a very sensitive prospect.
However, if we did, I’m confident that the results would be an easy net gain for society. Simply, a thoughtful artwork conveying constructive values is always going to trump a junk piece boostering the worst of America’s worst.
Chip and the similarly cracked may disagree. But not all opinions are created equal.