Friday, April 11, 2003

Personality cults

Scott Wickstein talks about all the statues of Saddam Hussein in Iraq - or at least all the statues of Saddam Hussein that were in Iraq, and comments that there is nothing wrong with statues done in moderation, and that in Australia they generally are done in moderation, and sometimes even with a little humour.

In Sydney, there is a large Victorian building (actually an arcade full of posh shops) which is imaginatively named the "Queen Victoria Building". In a square near the building there is a nice large statue of Queen Victoria. The plaque on the statue states approximately that "This statue was unveiled at this location on such and such a date by so and so, after being presented as a gift to the people of Australia from the Republic of Ireland. It previously stood outside the parliament building in Dublin.

I still find this hard to read without laughing. (Presumably somebody thought it would be nice to have a statue of Queen Victoria near the Queen Victoria Building, and then wondered who might have a spare one that they weren't using. "Ah yes. Let's try the Irish").

More seriously, before erecting statues, it is generally best to wait until the person being commemorated is dead, or at least very old, or as a very minimum is out of power. When you visit a country and discover that the country is filled with statues of the same person, and most of the surface of the coins and banknotes are devoted to pictures of the same person, and the stamps all carry pictures of the same person, then it is time to worry a little.

A slight exception can sometimes be made if the person portrayed is a constitutional monarch. Normally, though, more restraint is shown in such cases. The Queen of England may have her picture on all English money and on all English stamps, but the pictures are often quite small, and there are pictures of other people as well. And again, while there are no doubt one or two statues of Her Majesty, there are lots of statues of other people as well. And I still haven't quite figured out why there is a statue of George Washington in Trafalgar Square. There are with very good reason statues of Roosevelt and Truman and Eisenhower (and others) in pride of place in other locations in London, but Washington in a square otherwise devoted to great British victories baffles me somewhat. Perhaps someone can explain it to me.

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