The Inflatable Lee, Jackson, Grant, Lincoln…

Since I am so tired of reading story after story about Confederate flags and statues I thought this commentary by John Kelso was just what the doctor ordered.  Kelso, who writes a weekly column for Austin American-Statesman, has come up with a solution to the problem of the removal of Confederate statues:

Oh, yeah, I almost forgot. UT has been trying to decide what to do with four
bronze Confederate figures on campus, among them Jefferson Davis and Robert E.
Lee. The House debate got so contentious that Reps. Senfronia Thompson,
D-Houston, and Beverly Woolley, R-Houston, nearly went roller derby on us and
had to be separated.

Why is Robert E. Lee’s statue at the University of Texas anyway? Lee never gave money to the
athletic department. Was he ever a member of the Longhorn Foundation? Rich
lawyer Joe Jamail rating a statue inside Royal-Memorial Stadium I can
understand. He keeps writing checks to keep the football team in the Top 10.  Until Lee gets his own skybox, I’m not sure why he rates recognition. They
should put a Jamail bronze on horseback on UT’s South Mall and stick Lee in
front of Posse East. 

OK, so here’s my main plan. Instead of statues, why not switch to big blowup
dolls? When the public decides it’s time for some notable to disappear, you just
walk up with a pin and, pop, they’re history. Besides, inflatables are a lot
cheaper than a $400,000 statue.  I know because I called Alvimar, a New York company that makes inflatables,
to ask about prices.  "A 15-foot-tall what inflatable?" the gal on the phone asked. "A Robert E.
Lee," I said. She didn’t seem to recognize the name.  A minute later, this guy named Dan got on the line.  "A ballpark figure, probably $7,000 or something like that," said Dan, when I
asked him how much a 15-foot helium Lee blowup would cost. "And it would take
five to seven weeks to make it. You’d have to send me all the pictures and

So would it be a realistic Robert E. Lee? "They would be more cartoonish
characters," Dan said.  OK, so it’s a Robert E. Lee that looks like Elmer Fudd. I’m cool with that,
as long as it keeps the Legislature from squabbling.

Thanks John.

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7 comments… add one
  • Clio Bluestocking Mar 31, 2007 @ 15:01

    Well, I’m thinking that, if their location was just a random location, as in “we need a statue to spuce up this square,” then moving them in the interest of balancing the interpretation isn’t such a bad idea if done well. If, however, the location is appropriate, and a re-interpretation is required, then moving them might not be so wise. Civil War monuments on battlefields, regardless of personally feelings, are at least in an appropriate location, as was the John Mason statue that I mentioned before. They are commemorating an event on the site of the event by the descendant of the participants in that event. The interpretation of the monument may be one-sided, plagued with the wiggly passive voice, or hagiographic, but the interpretation is what should be changed. My biggest objection to the whole John Mason thing was that, in order to satisfy both sides of the controversy, they eradicated the memory of the event at the place that the event occurred. Somehow (and I could be wrong) I don’t think that is the case at UT.

  • Adam Mar 31, 2007 @ 13:12

    So, I’m curious: who are the other statues portraying? I mean, I can come up with some viable (albeit tenuous) reasons for Davis and Lee through their involvement in Texas history, but I’m wondering about the other two.
    I know that a lot of this is not the point, but I would hate to see monuments that could be considered offensive removed to an area where they would be “better interpreted.” This may be stretching the situation a bit, but I wouldn’t want to see monuments relegated to the sort of statue parks that they have in the former Soviet Union, with the Lenin and Stalin statues all dumped in one area.
    Besides, at what point does it stop? Are memorials to Confederate troops on Federally owned battlefields inappropriate? While the discussion of appropriate context and location may support the removal of the four in Texas to a museum or other area, you’re losing the context from when they were put up. If they don’t fit as monuments to former Confederates, how about fitting as part of the discourse of the Civil Rights movement, or whenever they were placed?
    Just my two cents…

  • Jim Mar 30, 2007 @ 14:32

    Clio makes an excellent point here. Do we remove anything that some people find offensive and effectively remove the truth and real information of our past, or do we teach people to deal with their perceived offenses through toleration and education? The argument of moving historical and cultural monuments “to a place where they can be properly interpreted” is another way of saying, yes, we would rather have an artificial, sterile environment that does not reflect any true regional character than possibly offend anyone with a lack of tolerance and understanding of historical context.

    Should we remove the statue of Sherman at the corner of 5th Ave and Central Park South in Manhattan? Should we remove or relocate Lincoln statues throughout the country? Should we put plaques up at historical northern and British textile locations that made profits owing to low cost slave supplied cotton? Where does the silliness end?

    Basically, arguments to remove and homogenize historical and cultural monuments equates to the boring conformities that result from globalization such as one language, one dress code, one set of measurements, etc. until we have lost all regional distinctions.

  • Clio Bluestocking Mar 30, 2007 @ 12:34

    I think you have hit on an interesting item there about the role of statues in interpreting history. Statues seem to function almost as religious icons, occasions for hagiography rather than as occasions for historical interpretation and understanding.

    Although not Civil War-related, I think of a statue of John Mason in Mystic, Connecticut. He led an assault on the Pequots there back in 1638. In the late 19th century, the townsfolks erected a statue in his honor. A century later, the Pequots in the region wanted it removed because it glorified a masscre of their people. A local controversy ensued, and the statue was removed, but nothing replaced it. Now, there is absolutely no memory in the landscape of that incident in the town’s history.

  • Kevin Levin Mar 29, 2007 @ 19:25

    Hi Will, — Nice to hear from you. I think it’s clear that that author is having some fun with this suggestion. It’s important to keep in mind that no one is talking about “tearing down those statues.” One of the plans is to move the statues to a place where they can be properly interpreted. I would also suggest that whether you believe that Lee was God’s gift to this earth is not necessarily the issue. The issue is whether a sizeable population at the University of Texas finds the statue offensive, etc. The meaning of any statue is not static through time, but changes in response to any number of conditions.

  • Will Mar 29, 2007 @ 18:36

    I think blow up dolls sound ridiculous personally. Those statues are American history, even if they represent a view that is taboo now days. Tearing down those statues would be like tearing down our past, its not like the statue of Saddam, Lee was one of the greatest men to grace this earth in my very humble opinion and to tear him down just seems like an act of treachery

  • Clio Bluestocking Mar 29, 2007 @ 10:24

    Blow up dolls would be so cool! And Texas is quite familiar with them what with that Big Tex thing at the State Fair.

    Seriously, I’m certain that there is, somewhere, actual blow-up dolls of historical figures. I’ve seen little “stuffed animal” dolls, hand puppets, action figures, and even those biting heads on sticks.

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