Monday, May 2, 2016

Harriet, Meet Andy; Andy, Meet Harriet - column

Mack Hall, HSG

Harriet, Meet Andy; Andy, Meet Harriet

This nation will again feature a woman on its currency, a woman who, as many have observed, was a gun-owning Republican. Harriet Tubman was a Deborah, a Joan of Arc, leading her people – and, by extension, all people - to freedom, and eminently worthy of national honor.

However, given the popular cultures most people choose to follow, one wonders if this week there will be an intergossip meme demanding that Prince replace Harriet Tubman on the twenty-dollar-bill even before she is pictured there. Last month the demand might have been for David Bowie, and before him Michael Jackson, and before him Elvis Presley.

The popularity of the eponymous Broadway musical is said to have saved Hamilton’s wiggie image on the ten, reflecting the democracy of the box office cash flow. What could be more American? So, hey, The Khardassians on the fiver, anyone? Hanna Montana twerkin’ to the Disney oldies?

Old Hickory had a long run on the twenty, though my First Nations cousins have never had any more reason to honor him than they do George Custer. A century hence a fashionable crowd will chant that Harriet Tubman was not open to multi-sex restrooms, or perhaps was too human species-ist, and she will be replaced by someone else, or maybe by a porpoise.

Civilization seems to be pretty much an Oxymandias thing – we build up nations and set up statues to ourselves and our values, and within a century our constructs are as irrelevant as a statue of Cecil Rhodes in a city park in Harare. Jackson Square in New Orleans may within a decade be renamed Place de la Good Comrades, and the gilded equestrienne statue of St. Joan of Arc by the Mississippi River might be pulled down in favor of automated figures of Michael Strahan and Kelly Ripa giving each other dirty looks. Fame and reputation are as fleeting as smoke from the riverboats.

Many nations place their current leaders on their money. North Korean banknotes have a picture of Little Tubby and a tiny sound machine that sings “Ding, Dong, the East is Red,” while Russia’s have a picture of Vladimir Putin, shirtless, wrestling a polar bear.

No, not really.

The Canadian dollar coin features a portrait of the Queen on one side and a loon – meaning the waterfowl, not the previous premier of Newfoundland – on the other, which seems suspiciously levelling.

Canadian banknotes again offer the Queen on the front but on the back a series of stern Canadian statesmen, most of whom seem to look like Benjamin Disraeli on a bad starched-collar day. If Canada ever becomes a republic they could replace the Queen on their currency with a populist Air Canada cabin attendant democratically snarling “No, we don’t have any coffee! We ran out back at Row 30! Eh!”

One does not imagine George Washington being replaced on our dollar with a FEMA functionary, or maybe one of those octopus-tentacled guys who fondles you at the airport. We continue to be honored by heroes on our currency. Harriet Tubman wanted freedom for all, not campus safe spaces, and took a pistol with her on her raids to free the oppressed. She would not have wept and wrung her hands upon seeing “Trump 2016” chalked on a sidewalk, nor would she have seen a therapist about any feelings of inadequacy.

I don’t know that she or Andy Jackson ever played the guitar, though.


No comments: