I’m not personally anti-MLK. He was an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War and U.S. imperialism. The old Jim Crow racial caste system in the South was clearly an antiquated abomination, and desperately needed to be changed, and he was correct to lead and organize opposition to it. I may not agree with his left-liberal ideology that eventually became institutionalized and is now part of the state’s apparatus of ideological self-legitimation. My views on black issues are something of a synthesis of the ideas of radical nationalists like Malcolm X, the NOI, Marcus Garvey or the Black Panthers (which covers a wide range of outlooks, obviously) with the ideas of black conservative-libertarians in the tradition of Booker T. Washington like Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, or Elizabeth Wright (R.I.P.). Leftist “anti-racism” has become of the primary building blocks of the third totalitarianism, and any time the state wants to make a power grab one the easiest smokescreens to erect is the one involving the race card. But I have nothing against MLK the man. Revelations that he had a penchant for plagiarism and prostitutes actually increased my respect for him (so he wasn’t such a goody two-shoes after all–Good for him!).
Yet the symbolism in this artwork is powerful, and unwittingly illustrates my core criticism of TH: that underneath its feel good rhetoric is the iron fist of old fashioned authoritarianism.
As I’m sure you know by now, America’s patron saint of Multiculturalism, Black Empowerment, and White Guilt has been memorialized on the Washington Mall, in gargantuan fashion.
There is, of course, a patent incongruity to the Black civil-rights activist sharing the same grounds as aristocratic salve-holders and a 19th-century nationalist who sought to “de-colonize” the American Negro back to Africa.
But in the end, the massive, laughable kitsch that has been erected is a fitting tribute to the man, as well as to the federal government that, in so many ways, has been reconstructed in his image.
Many have expressed alarm that the commissioned sculptor was Chinese, and that the work has a certain…Maoist…quality to it. They shouldn’t be surprised. When it comes to MLK depictions, for decades, artists have been stuck in an aesthetic rut, remaking the heroic, statist works of prewar totalitarianism.
In a wash of Holocaust memorials and cool corporate abstraction, the only kind of public art that is allowed to express brute masculinity must involve Negro advancement.
Take, for instance, Patrick Morelli’s “Behold,” which graces Atlanta’s corrupt and dilapidated King Center for Nonviolent Social Change (which functions mainly as a tax-payer funded cash cow for various King offspring.) “Behold” was erected in 1990, and yet, when I first laid eyes on it, I sensed that the artist must be, quite consciously, channelling Arno Breker. (I hesitate to associate such an ghastly work with Breker, whose genius has been unfairly shrouded by his association with German National Socialism.)
I’m reminded as well of the massive mural that hovers above the baggage-claim exit of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, which I am convinced was painted by a crypto-bigot as some kind of elaborate joke.
(Interestingly, by the ’60s and ’70s, Communists sculptors had moved beyond the pompous style of the ’30s and embraced postmodernism and abstraction. Tito, for instance, commissioned some of the most bizarre creations extant.)
So much for aesthetics. Stephan Kinsella, an expert of copyright law, has alerted me to the fact that the King family charged the not-for-profit foundation that lead the MLK project some three quarters of a million dollars for the rights to the Good Reverend’s words.
The New York Post reports:
WASHINGTON — The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s family has charged the foundation building a monument to the civil-rights leader on the National Mall about $800,000 to use his words and image — and at least one scholar thinks that Dr. King would find such an arrangement offensive.
The memorial is being paid for almost entirely through a fund-raising campaign led by the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation.
“I don’t think the Jefferson family, the Lincoln family [or] any other group of family ancestors has beenpaid a licensing fee for a memorial in Washington,” said Cambridge University historian David Garrow, author of a Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Dr. King. “. . . [He would’ve been] absolutely scandalized.”
Financial documents revealed that the foundation paid $761,160 in 2007 to Intellectual Properties Management Inc., an entity run by the King family. They also showed that a $71,700 “management” fee was paid to the family estate in 2003.
This kind of thing certainly makes one question America’s system of patents and copyrights. (Kinsella advocates doing away with the concept of “intellectual property.”)
And the King family’s actions becoming doubly dubious when one remembers that Martin Luther King plagiarized most of the writings for which he has become world renowned.
When Boston University founded a commission to look into it, they found that that 45 percent of the first part and 21 percent of the second part of his dissertation was stolen, but they insisted that “no thought should be given to revocation of Dr. King’s doctoral degree.” In addition to his dissertation many of his major speeches, such as “I Have a Dream,” were plagiarized, as were many of his books and writings. For more information on King’s plagiarism, The Martin Luther King Plagiarism Page and Theodore Pappas’ Plagiarism and the Culture War are excellent resources.
King apologists like to claim that their idol shouldn’t be held accountable for plagiarism, since he was raised in a Souther Baptist milieu in which borrowing and sampling from other preachers was the norm. Whatever the case, if you want to use a text that King once pilfered, then you should expect to pay. He done stole it first, it seems.
The arc of the moral universe is long, and let’s hope it bends toward the truth. Until that day, one can only conclude that the MLK legend, and its attendant industry, has reached a state of self-parody.