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The Paterno Monument: Beware Hubris

07/19/2012 02:06 pm ET | Updated Sep 18, 2012

America does not build monuments to its living leaders or collectively defined heroes. George Washington's well-known aversion to such contemporary idolatry in due contrast to Europe's kings and conquerors is one big happy reason why.

This is not to mention the eternal risk of flying too close to the face of God with terrestrial presumption and premature ideas of grandiosity and self-aggrandizement. It never ends well. Look what happened to Icarus.

2012-07-19-stalin.jpgThe Paterno monument was ill considered from the get-go. Even if one still worships him, that should be the kindest, unanimous, retroactive refrain. With a decision pending any day let that fact be the guiding decision-maker.

Name-naming with a plaque or stone inscription is another matter; it is ascendant at this time when public subsidies for nonprofits continue to dwindle. Yet figurative representation in the public square without some interval of historic stock-taking is just plain wrong in American culture today as it has been from its founding. It is offensive bordering on the risible. Take it down now while some modicum of dignity is still salvageable.

What worked propagandistically in coins and statues for the Caesars of Imperial Rome, onward among Renaissance princes and Vatican popes, and later embraced by the tyrants of the 20th century across the left-right spectrum in such grotesque extremes simply doesn't cut it here. Castro and the post-colonial Arab states took up this concurrent lifetime worship model, with the Assads poised to be just the latest to witness the enraged immolation of their oppressive idols. Americans hold all of it in worthy contempt.

In the UK after 60 years, Elizabeth II has a bust or two but even she realizes that anything more than that in her lifetime is vulgar beyond measure. After all, a commemorative American postage stamp requires a minimum five year wait after death (it took Elvis no less than 16 years to get his)!

2012-07-19-fourfreedoms.jpgSixty-seven years after his death in office, Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Four Freedoms Monument conceived 50 years ago by the late great Louis Kahn for the southern tip of Roosevelt Island is only now nearing completion for a presidential inaugural upcoming. It took three generations for this foremost member of New York's political empyrean to get his monument. In retrospect that seems just about right in the overall democratic scheme of American culture at its deliberative essence.

The same goes for president and general Dwight D. Eisenhower, who despite current stylistic kerfuffles will soon have a monument alongside the National Mall 43 years following his passing. Again, just about right in New World terms.

In sum, it was creepy to build the Joe Paterno Monument outside the Penn State Stadium in the first place. Regardless of one's perspective on the repugnant Sandusky scandal, all should unite in calling for its prompt removal -- starting with his own family. To cast an individual in bronze in lifetime for contemporaneous devotion has more to do with the culture of North Korea than 21st century America.

Frankly, recent events provide a chance for face-saving correction: all who first sanctioned it can find welcome cover with its removal ASAP. Reading, Pennsylvania sculptor, Angelo Di Mara's commission of a larger than life-size bronze Joe Pa bounding forward wind-blown with uniformed players in background tableau should not have been there to begin with. It was hubristic in both form and intent. What were they all thinking starting with the coach himself? Just who did he think he was?

2012-07-19-320pxJoe_Paterno_Statue.jpg

Note this need not be the Paterno monument's "destruction." Art historians, engineers, and skilled laborers can together measure and record every square inch including the pavers and stone wall panels and place them in archival storage allowing a proper passage of historical reflection to make a decision about its permanent fate. The year 2030 sounds about right. Only after at least a generation or two can a fair judgment and resulting memorial be made manifest. Does the "good" Paterno did outweigh pedophilic complicity? It is impossible to decide now. His widow herself should demand such reprieve from the university trustees.

Whatever one's point of view, removing it now is what Americans intuit at their deep civic core.