The long-anticipated unveiling of Charleston's new statue of Gen. William Moultrie, the Revolutionary War hero of the Battle of Sullivan's Island, finally took place in June, and by all accounts the city's seer-suckered elites were suitably thrilled.
The eight-foot bronze atop a marble pedestal looks as if it could have been proudly cast and displayed in the 19th century -- or earlier -- making this one modern monument that got made without any any annoying input from those modern art smartasses, Bauhaus Marxists all...
Not that there was zero oversight. Back in 2000 Moultrie backers had to win approval for their concept from the city's Commission on Art and History, which wanted to see how the thing would fit in at White Point Gardens, better known as The Battery. Proponents propped nine feet of painted cardboard atop an existing (and since removed) monument to give the boardmembers some sense of its scale, then stood in serious contemplation while confused tourists tried to figure out why these locals were so interested in cardboard.
I had assigned a reporter to cover this event. At one point, a 6-year-old tourist boy standing beside the reporter turned to his parents and said, "That looks like a giant green penis."
Which, by the way, happens to be the smart-ass modern art/architecture critique of most heroic sculpture: It's phallic, intentionally projecting power and authority and control. Hence, smart-ass intellectuals and children see penises everywhere, while people who like such sculpture tend to be offended by the mere use of the word "penis" in public.
But I digress.
I finally stopped by to take a good look at Moultrie on Thursday while shooting a nearby artifact, and something struck me: It seems the artist has endowed Charleston's defender with a bulging manhood that would make the members of Spinal Tap weep with envy.
Has it always been thus? Perhaps. But what I see in this statue is a 21st century imagination of a 19th century work of kitsch -- blissfully inhabiting an irony-free world that refuses to acknowledge the miseries and awakenings of the 20th century.
Hence, in this one bronze we see the martial romance of the 19 century, plus the penis-size obsession of the 21st century.
Can a heroic figure today be truly heroic without the full package? One suspects Michaelangelo's David would bear a distinct resemblance to Johnny Wad were he to be carved in this horribly conflicted decade...