Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Which history would you like? Pick one.

Joel took this picture thinking of yesterday's Lapham quote about Americans gilding history. This is outside Hornblower's (nonunion) Pier 33 Alcatraz ferry terminal.

The figures on the left are park rangers. Would guess they might symbolize the present-day gist of the island. Note dummy ranger showing you a picture of a green triangular profile kind of like Angel Island. Note dummy bird with ranger, perhaps symbolizing the currently recognized importance of Alcatraz seabird populations. (Odd how the famous Birdman's interest was in canaries.)

The figure on the right is more obviously a prison guard, apparently symbolizing the nasty old past of the island.

Which dummy do you want your picture taken with? Pay your money, take your choice?

Please, no.

Alcatraz is really strikingly one of the few places where members of the general public are invited to identify with prisoners. It maintains a permanent teachable moment -- an invitation to reflect that nobody, not even duly convicted felons, deserves certain kinds of institutional mistreatment.

It's also several other kinds of place: a bird sanctuary, yes, and an iconic Native American protest site, and quite a lot else.

Never quite makes sense to see one layer of a place at a time. People do anyhow. A lot.

1 comment:

  1. I've enjoyed Lapham's quarterly. He prints a great many works of forgotten literature. It's rather expensive at $100 a year but worth it. I didn't renew this year as I'm on a tighter budget in keeping with the times, but it is a worthy publication. I've got three years of them. The nice thing about buying them as a set when the four issues in the year are published rather than subscribing is that you get a nice binder to keep them in for the same price. I'll eventually get the whole set of them. (Well, I just looked and see that the subscription price has been lowered to half what it was. $49 for four issues.) Maybe I'll have to reconsider not subscribing.

    Incidentally, you're right about Alcatraz. I went there once and got a guided tour by a former prisoner. The only flaw in his tour was his belief that prisoners today are pampered. Maybe compared to Alcatraz but I'd don't think it's ever a Sunday picnic for anyone, at least in this country.