Saturday, January 13, 2007

Chosen Icons

[posted by Callimachus]

One of Andrew Sullivan's readers wonders why this picture:

Isn't the iconic image of 9/11.

Being a foreigner it may be presumptuous of me to suggest this, but having seen that photo of the late Father Mychal Judge several times over the past few years since 9/11, it strikes me odd that such a perfect embodiment of loss and sacrifice was never turned into the definitive memorial statue for that time and place.

It's a fair question. The image is hauntingly beautiful, perfectly constructed. It is pieta-like in its tragic purity.

Sullivan's blunt answer, unfortunately, is not:

The answer, alas, is that Mychal Judge was a gay man and a priest. And no gay man, however heroic, would be given such an honor in today's America. Gay men - especially gay priests - are beneath inclusion in the official history of America.

Which can only cheer those who claim he can't see any politician or issue without reference to homosexuality ("Not that there's anything ...," oh, never mind).

All of what he says about America and gay priests might be true. But it is far from the only plausible explanation for why the iconic image the nation as a whole embraced was this one:

The first is turned inward. The men in dust-smeared uniform stand aimless and helpless. In Eliot's words,

With pocketed hands
And lowered faces
We stand about in open places

The tragedy is folded into itself, complete, final. There is naught to do here but accept the loss, bury the dead, ponder the grief.

In the second, the eyes are lifted, and despite the colossal chaos behind them the men in their battered gear have found a fallen flag and are calmly but purposefully doing something about it.

Both are beautiful works of art. But it doesn't surprise me that some people prefer the first picture to the second, viscerally, and most Americans felt themself pulled toward the second.

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