Friday, June 11, 2010

Mount Rushmore

So, I’ve finally visited Mount Rushmore. I’ve heard quite a bit about it, and I must say that I’ve always found it a bit overreaching. I mean, anyone who needs to go that far to show how patriotic one ought to be is taking things way over the top. But I’ve largely been in agreement with the point that Penn and Teller made on their Showtime program, ‘Bullshit,’ which is basically that these four heads, carved in the middle of sacred Indian lands, is tantamount to a great big “fuck you” to the native American tribes, and a pat on the back to white supremacists everywhere.

You see, the original plan for the black hills was to carve the faces of Lewis, Clarke, and Chief Red Cloud. But the sculptor they found to do the work, a guy named Gutzon Borglum, was a bit of a racist shit. This member of the KKK was fresh off the project known as Stone Mountain, commissioned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1919, which featured a gigantic frieze of Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, and Jefferson Davis, carved into a mountainside near Atlanta, GA. (You can still find this sculpture today. This bastard had some nerve doing a giant sculpture of Lincoln after that stunt!) Borglum chose Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Teddy Rosevelt largely on the principle that these four helped best to forge America and “win the west.” In other words, conquer the Indians. Talk about an insult to history!

Well, maybe so, but that’s at least not the official story proffered behind Mount Rushmore today.

Today, the officials in charge of the Mount Rushmore monument go out of their way to extend good relations to the Indian tribes of the Black Hills. They tirelessly work to extend the hand of friendship to local tribes, and the “lighting ceremony” done each night, is often officiated by a park ranger who is also a native American. These days, the official rationale behind the faces of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt are these: that Washington represents the founding of our nation, Jefferson, who wrote the Declaration of Independence, helped write the Constitution, and doubled the nation’s size with the Louisiana purchase, represents the building of our nation, Lincoln represents the preservation of our national unity, and Roosevelt represents the preservation of our nation for tomorrow – particularly with founding our National Parks.

It’s a pretty explanation, and one which resonates much better than that of Borglum. So I must say, I’ve softened my position on Mount Rushmore just a bit. After all, which is a greater insult to the native lands? Four heads in a mountainside, or a coast-to-coast infestation of Shopkos, Home Depots and Wal-Marts? Certainly the golden arches are a greater insult to the Indians than Mount Rushmore ever was! Native tribes who express their angst at these sculptures in the Black Hills are directing their time and energy at the wrong thing.

I guess by that standard, Mount Rushmore is okay. Not great, just okay. But I must also remember, even as I inform all of you, that nationalism is the evil cancer at the heart of nearly all wars – second only to religion in terms of causation of human violence. And Mount Rushmore is, if nothing else, nationalist. For that reason alone, I must still frown upon this icon of the American West. It remains, not an emblem of America’s greatness, but a tribute to our tendency to steamroll over nature and put up a parking lot.

And I look forward to the completion of the Chief Crazyhorse Monument, located just a few miles south of those four big heads.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Beauty, unaccompanied by virtue, is as a flower without perfume. ....................................................