Monday, August 08, 2005

Ferguson on the Mall

Andy Ferguson's long piece on the many problems afflicting the National Mall is smart, sad--and funny! To wit:
The Park Service's ultimate desire was made public, indiscreetly, by John Parsons, associate regional park director for the mall. In 2000 Parsons told the Washington Post he hoped that eventually all unauthorized traffic, whether by foot or private car, would be moved off the mall. Visitors could park in distant satellite lots and be bused to nodal points, where they would be watered and fed, allowed to tour a monument, and then reboard a bus and head for another monument. "Just like at Disneyland," Parsons told the Post. "Nobody drives through Disneyland. They're not allowed. And we've got the better theme park."

Anyone who has tried to visit the Mall recently will experience a shudder of recognition at these words. But then Ferguson moves onto a cultural problem:
When the [Vietnam] memorial was finished, the interest groups only metastasized. The sculpture, once installed, faced charges of sexism. Why, among the three soldiers, were there no women? The memorial's sponsors pointed to the granite inscription, which dedicates the structure to the "men and women" who served in Vietnam. Some nervy officials even dared to mention that of the 58,000 military dead in the war, only 8 were women, and that the 10,000 women who served in Vietnam constituted 33/100 of 1percent of the total American force. Needless to say, there is now a Vietnam Women's Memorial too, in a stand of trees thirty yards off to the side.

Place this profusion next to the Iconic Law of Longevity and you've got real problems:
These things are eternal. A memorial placed on the mall nowadays, no matter how initially offensive or widely criticized, can never be undone. Before too long it takes on the neutrality of the familiar. Then it becomes popular, then beloved, and then, inevitably, beyond criticism; the unavoidable word is "iconic." In time, the original criticism will even be used as proof that any criticism of a new project must be misbegotten, too. (Hard to believe, but even the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was controversial when it was first proposed . . . ) Both the World War II and Vietnam memorials are fully as obtrusive and tasteless as their early critics feared. But they're here to stay.

It's a wonderful piece of work when a writer can educate you, paint a picture of unavoidable catastrophe, and still give you laughs along the way.

That's Ferguson for you. God bless the mainstream media.

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