I have cinematic dreams that I watch as a little sleeping movie critic. I’m sure you’re familiar with this weird state of consciousness. You know you’re asleep and dreaming; the dream is unfolding around you, but part of your mind, the part that knows you’re dreaming, is aware and watching. It’s busy taking notes, making snide remarks, lamenting poor production values and snickering at clichés. Sometimes it’s surprised and delighted by unexpected turns. This morning I had an entertaining dream.
I was visiting the Statue of Liberty for the second time. I’ve seen the statue in my waking life and it is well worth the security shakedown you’ll get before boarding the ferry at Battery Park. In my dream I knew that many years had passed since my last visit and I was nervous about recent changes. As the ferry pulled up to the statue’s island my concerns materialized. The entire island had been “redeveloped.” The little park at the base of the statue was gone: replaced by a massive marble covered plaza. Standing in the middle of the plaza was a large, hideous, marble, glass and steel building that completely enclosed the statue. From the island boat dock you couldn’t even see Liberty! “Oh crap,” my dreaming self muttered. Large signs on the dock warned us about “demonstrative language.” We were to conduct ourselves with quiet dignity while visiting this “shrine of democracy.” My dreaming self, and the little sleeping movie critic, both inwardly groaned. Nothing says “democracy” like shutting up and taking whatever’s doled out.
I got off the boat feeling hopeful; there had to be a good vantage point to look at Liberty. I was carrying my cameras, so I set off exploring the plaza looking for a good place to take pictures. The plaza was still under construction. Construction fencing blocked off the plaza behind the Liberty building. You couldn’t walk around the building, but you could go far enough to see that the walls were completely opaque on all sides except the front, where Liberty gazed at the harbor. Her back and sides were completely hidden and exceptionally thick steel girders buttressed the back wall. “That ought to block incoming planes,” my dream self thought. My little movie critic wasn’t happy. Liberty is about open possibilities in all directions. It’s not about being stuffed in a box and hidden from view. All my selves found it difficult to believe that some moron thought it was a good idea to completely cover the thing we were all there to see.
Determined to get a good picture, I turned back from the construction fence and walked along the base of the building. On the way I passed two little men dressed in black; they were staging a puppet show. Only the puppets weren’t little dolls on strings they were massive pantomime robots that towered over the tourists. The giant robots were exactly mimicking what the little men were doing. My somnolent movie critic thought, “Cute – the great men are really just little men putting on a big show. If you take away their puppets they’re even smaller and more pathetic than the rest of us.” I took a moment to congratulate my dreaming self for abruptly injecting this metaphor while also noting it was too blatant for refined tastes.
Leaving the puppeteers, I made my way to the front entrance of the building. It was like every visitor center you have ever entered. A fat black woman with bad breath patted me down and made me run my already checked camera bags through an x-ray scanner. I picked up my camera bags and wandered in the Liberty building until I found a dark series of escalators running up the front of the massive statue. I was suddenly happy. This must lead to a good viewpoint. I walked up the escalator steps fumbling with my camera bags. Immediately, in dream steps, I was at the top of the escalators. They discharged into a small dark brown room at the very top of Liberty. In the middle of the room, wrapped in museum display velvet, a bit of Liberty’s crown reflected dim halogen lights. Tourists were touching the exposed crown bit like they kiss the toes of bronze saints. My movie critic approved, “This is the way we do oppression. We don’t beat people up; we don’t loudly lord it over them; we don’t get in their big fat stupid faces day in and day out. No, we turn important symbols into tourist attractions, wrap them up as venerated national monuments, and because we have nasty sense of humor, we allow well frisked tourists to touch a bit of, ‘Liberty’, while doing everything we can to deny them real liberty.”
At this point I woke up and thought, “Boy John, your subconscious totally nailed it with that one!” This is how we do oppression. Being a citizen in the Indebted States of America is exactly like being a crown touching tourist in my dream. We pretend the sliver of freedom we’re allowed to touch makes us free but it really only showcases our stupidity and cowardice. A truly free people would tear down the Liberty encasing visitor center and hang the architects from the remains of the plane blocking girders.