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July 5, 2006

Going 4th


“I can’t see anything wrong with it.

This is the Bible Belt.”

Independence Day was generous with the images this year.

It might just be me, but the icon seems to have a gender-bending quality.  Maybe it’s the hoisting (or, foisting) of that big, bold (and copper) cross in place of the scaled green torch.  Maybe it’s because, in my head, I’m mashing Lady Liberty with the holy son.

However, I’m as much interested in the megachurch parishioners in the foreground.  In speaking of his $260,000 statue (see: Lady Liberty Trades In Some Trappings), Pastor Alton R. Williams of the World Overcomers Outreach Ministries Church in Memphis envisions the monument as not just a symbol of Christian liberation, but of black emancipation as well.  Of course, the fact he ties both into one neat package can only bring joy to right-wing fundies courting ‘06 and ‘08 votes.

What’s your take?

(hat tip: Stan. image: Rollin Riggs for The New York Times.  Memphis.  July 4th, 2006.

  • Stiff Mittens

    Holy crap! is all I can think to say at the moment.
    Every day is see some new image or read some news item or blog post that makes me think: “Today’s the day. Today there will be a swarm of angry villagers with pitchforks and rakes surrounding the castle and demanding an end to the monster’s reign of terror.”
    Maybe those malcontents at the Dixie Queen food counter will get something going this weekend.

  • mr. memento

    To me, it just looks like Lady Liberty is trying to ward off some big-ass vampires.
    Hey, Christ did supposedly rise from the dead, after all…

  • Biff Usually

    Ah, how special.
    They have turned Lady Liberty into a whore for their church. And in they process, they have trampled everything She is supposed to stand for.

  • Jerry Holtaway

    To co-op such an iconic image of universal liberty is a crime against the dreams of the oppressed.
    I now live in France (I guess for my sins) and after 18 years away from “home” I’ve never felt less American.

  • emerson

    The Ferris wheel in the background makes the point that this is for entertainment value only.
    What’s really throwing me about the photo, though, is the brown cloth covering the lower half of the statue. Does it allude to the kind of robe Jesus might wear? Or is the statue being unveiled, just now?

  • Kevin Hayden

    It’d be more apropos if they lit the cross.

  • Kevin Hayden

    I just noticed she’s carrying the Ten Commandments, too. Which would make her an overdressed oxidized Jewish Christian gift from France.
    I’m not sure she exists, but I bet Lynne Cheney will write a lesbian western romance about her.

  • Marysz

    Does the fact that this statue was put up by a church with a predominantly African-American congregation give it a different significance than if it were a church whose members were predominantly white? I think it’s important to read these images racially. The brown robe on the statue is even more interesting than the cross–and here the church is making a perceptive point. The plain brown robe Liberty is wearing suggests America’s need for more humility and a longing on the part of these black churchgoers for the country to recognize them and the values that are important to them. The Republican party is desperate to exploit the religiosity of African-Americans but, as Coretta King’s funeral showed, black churchgoers are not as easily fooled as evangelical whites. This church is trying to re-make an America that includes instead of excludes them. According to the article, the statue has a tear on her cheek. This is a Lady Liberty with the capacity to grieve. This statue is sending a more complex message than the usual white, right-wing religious buffoonery.

  • putnam

    Why’s that dude wearing a dress?

  • Mark Spittle

    Guess they scratched off that commandment that said not to build graven images.

  • lib4

    Whats next……Jesus’ face on Mount Rushmore???….
    Isnt the reproduction some sort of copyright infringement as well?????

  • Lynfidel

    I particularly like the half-burka she’s wearing over her robe.

  • acm

    it makes me think of pogroms and fascism — a cult that conflates its religious principles with the national state/government. totally creepy, and makes me worry muchly for the future of our country!

  • readytoblowagasket

    I’m trying to think where I’ve seen an overscaled cross visible for miles and serving as a symbol of oppression and bigotry. Oh, yeah! The crosses of the Ku Klux Klan! Nice touch that this cross is where the torch would be.
    Welcome to Tennessee, birthplace of the Klan and other group-hating spin-offs throughout the ages.

  • Annoying Old Guy

    I think it’s interesting that so many commentors here can see a crowd of black people expressing their religious faith and think “They’re all Ku Klux Klan supporters”. Marysz is the only who seems to have looked closely at the picture.
    Religion, and Christianity in particular, has always been a major influence on the USA and its politics. The idea that this time, for some accountable reason, it will lead to fascism is completely ahistorical. After all, how can you look at that and not think of William Jennings Bryan and his populist rhetoric?

  • Darryl Pearce

    …too derivative. Ugh.

  • GSD

    Is this a promotional for the new Night Stalker movie?

  • readytoblowagasket

    AOG said: “I think it’s interesting that so many commentors here can see a crowd of black people expressing their religious faith and think ‘They’re all Ku Klux Klan supporters’.”
    I think it’s interesting you interpreted the comments that way. I also think it’s interesting you didn’t read the article.

  • RomanticOtaku

    That did it.
    No god.

  • dday

    Who’s going to tell that pastor that the State of Liberty was a gift from France?
    “Hmm… love America… hate France… love the Cross… hate croissants…”

  • crikkett

    Wow! Looks like she’s gonna bludgeon me with it.

  • crikkett

    To readytoblowgasket: this blog is about the influences of images, and that’s what I’m commenting on. I didn’t read the article. I heard about this story somewhere else.
    So anyway, what does it say about our society when brandishing a cross associates one with hate?

  • Stiff Mittens

    “what does it say about our society when brandishing a cross associates one with hate?”
    It says that we are acutely aware of the history of cross-brandishers and their tendency toward hatefulness.

  • Stiff Mittens

    Main Entry: bran·dish
    Pronunciation: ‘bran-dish
    Function: transitive verb
    Etymology: Middle English braundisshen, from Anglo-French brandiss-, stem of brandir, from brant, braund sword, of Germanic origin; akin to Old English brand
    1 : to shake or wave (as a weapon) menacingly
    2 : to exhibit in an ostentatious or aggressive manner

  • PTate in MN

    I’m late to the conversation, but I think that Marysz’s point is an excellent one. We’ve seen too many glimpses into the literal, cluttered minds of the (white) right wing (I’m thinking of the “new Christian flag” or some of the sets for Bush preaching, e.g.) to not cringe at what appears on the surface as another promotion for a theocratic state: America the Christian!
    But in the context of an African-American congregation, the symbolism means something different. The statue of Liberty can be interpreted as the American state. The cross represents the suffering of God’s people and hope of change, and the ten commandments remind us of justice. In this context, the elements can be interpreted as a call for America to return to our national values of liberty, justice and equality for all.

  • jtfromBC

    Manipulate the language or this image as we will, its helpful to remember, how this little morality tale began in American, before the slaves and the French came bearing a second hand gift, for history has a way of shattering contemporary illusions, and cutting through rhetoric and well intentioned bullshit.
    This article concludes with:
    “We need to assert our allegiance to the human race, and not to any one nation.” to which I would appropriately add, or * religion*. I think allegiance to the human race covers all the commandments, covenant or rituals of all religions combined.
    Unable to conquer or convert others we simply carry on killing ourselves as well, the Gods must be laughing, or at the very least taking turns.

  • readytoblowagasket

    To crikkett: Yes, this blog is about the influence of images, and the first thing *I* thought of when I saw this image was KKK crosses. The association for me was so strong that I was stunned a black Southern church would present the cross in this way, when its display in this manner is affiliated with a hate group (my association still). So I read the article to learn more. What I learned was that the minister of this church is bigoted toward gays, secularists, humanists, residents of New Orleans, and non-Christians, and thinks abortion should be abolished (of course) and there should be prayer (Christian prayer, no doubt) in school. Not that he’s unusual in his beliefs, but I found many of them to be ironically oppressive. (Lady Liberty is supposed to be a symbol of freedom of oppression, and she doesn’t discriminate.) The backstory influenced my comments.
    This blog is also about how images are used to dupe people, as well as yank our heartstrings, influence public opinion, and any number of manipulative tricks. We can assume that the people gathered in the foreground are “expressing their religious faith” (as AOG proposed) rather than just stopping by for the unveiling and the free burgers and grape soda — but that would be an assumption, not a fact.
    And btw, there’s been plenty of blood shed in the name of the cross, which people tend to forget. It’s got a rather sullied history, in fact. The KKK consider themselves Christians. That’s *why* they use the cross.

  • Zach

    My initial reaction to the photo was extremely negative. This is a nightmare, regardless of the color of the audience or the sponsor.
    After reading the comments, I had some doubts, so I read the article.
    Try as one might to put a nice face on it, Apostle Williams’ own words (as reported in the article) do not permit anything but the most frightening interpretation.
    We survived William Jennings Bryan so maybe we’ll survive this. But we should be past having to worry about it.

  • Quentin

    Through their history, christians have always actively gone to great lengths to dump on each other by religious disputation and violent repression. I’m sure there are christians who would find this image ‘blasphemous’. I feel like someone has stolen something from me. I’d have preferred that they turned Betsy Ross into the Virgin Mary saluting the flag!

  • itwasntme

    Do anything you want with symbols. That’s what symbols are for, to be used and confused. My favorite is Santa Claus praying over The Baby Jesus.

  • KansasKowboy

    I would like this sculpture better if it were made out of fiberglass and painted with red and white stripes a blue field and some stars. I think it would have greater impact and wouldn’t have cost the church as much as a steel sculpture.

  • Cactus

    I could be wrong here, but I seem to remember that one of the methods the white plantation owners used to keep the black slaves under control was religion. I know they (selectively) used the bible to justify the ownership of slaves. But for the African slaves it was the promise of pie in the sky when you die that kept them docile (but not without exception).
    It is doubly sad that the white power structure today is still using xianity to promise Black-Americans a rosy future they have no intention of providing. In fact, they are ripping it out of their hands as they stand there and worship lady liberty as Moses cum Paul.
    OTOH, I can’t help thinking how many poor black kids could be helped with the money that was wasted on this statue, which is ultimately just a glorification for one man (and I don’t mean Jesus).

  • Rafael

    I care not, either way. It is a valid expression of faith and politics. As long as they are not fostering their belives on me, regardless of wether they are black, white or any color in between, I really don’t care. Yes, at first blush it might seem creepy, but hey, it not like a stadium full of teenagers chanting passages from Revelations and waiting in line to play the new Left Behind Game or something….

  • Geoduck

    As others have said, what stood out for me was the brown wrapping. Is that really a permanent part of the statue?

  • Kansaskowboy

    I just wonder how long this statue will last. Not that I think anyone will tear it down in some angry protest, but I think this statue will be removed in a very short time (for statues) due to lack of interest and the fact that it is so rediculous.

  • Simon

    First I thought was “ooh a christian ellis island”. But something looks wrong with the picture.
    after reading the actual story this looks like they are using the Statue to promote sectarianism, which runs totally counter to what the statue of liberty was about.

  • Trudi

    “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image” – The second of the ten commandments.

  • gasho

    This image is a feast of contradictions:
    – If Jesus died for the sins of mankind by being hanged on a cross, why is the cross used to symbolize the “way of Jesus”? Doesn’t it really represent the unjust torture of a innocent man, persecuted for his religious beliefs? When I see the cross used in oppressive ways like this – that meaning stands out.
    – Lady Liberty represents freedom from religious oppression, so wielding the cross overhead negates her meaning completely.
    – An American statue holding the 10 commandments in 2006 is ludicrous, since “Thou shalt not kill” is hard to reconcile with the War of Terror, shock and awe, extraordinary rendition, white phosphorus, usable nukes and everything else for which we are becoming famous.
    – Christianity can no longer be defined as “those following in the footsteps of Christ”, but rather — “those who use the name of Christ as a dogmatic weapon to impose their personal will upon others”. Forcing Christian prayer and rules on others through collapsing church and state — while not understanding the meaning of those prayers (brotherhood, peace, humility, contemplation, morals, compassion, charity, etc) — is supremely ironic and sad.
    – The visual strength of this image is overshadowed by the weakness and confusion it represents. The separation of church and state is a founding principal. Seeing it abused (and with this visual, abolished) is painful – especially in conjunction with the loss of other cornerstones of the American way of life, such as the separation of powers, Habeas Corpus, right to privacy, rule of international law, freedom (and independence) of the press, and confidence in our electoral system.
    The creators of this statue obviously had too much cash on hand, limited imagination and a strong will to express themselves. Predictable result.
    What if WE could make a statue, what would it look like? Thousands of bronze citizens locked arm in arm in concentric circles protecting the constitution?

  • db

    Isn’t this what the Christians did to the great works of ancient Rome at the end, including to public architecture and art work. They appropriated them and tried to convert the images and symbolism to Christianity.
    This is a sign of the decline of American ideals and the end of the era they represented.

  • pembeci

    Another July 4th picture to be analyzed:

  • rollinriggs

    I’m the photographer and I thought I’d clarify the issue of the brown cloth. It was simply a covering for the statue, which was officially unveiled July 4. However, the cloth got snagged, and the unveiling took a lot more time than the organizers planned. I was on a tight deadline and couldn’t stay until the covering had been completely removed. The statue does not have the brown cloth on it now.

  • readytoblowagasket

    Sometimes brown cloth is just brown cloth.

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