Residents of Sugar Land, Texas, have not taken kindly to a newly erected sculpture of art imitating life--two girls taking a selfie in front of City Hall—in the Town Square Plaza.
The cast-in-bronze statue has been met with a collective groan on social media, most volubly (and ironically) from the selfie generation.
“This is why people hate the young generation! Stupid things like this,” Anna Villarreal, a fresh-faced denizen of Sugar Land, wrote on Facebook of the selfie statue. “Good god help us.”
Rachel Lee, a student at the University of Houston whose public Instagram page does not want for selfies, tweeted that the new sculpture in Town Square “really makes me sad. If you’re going to put one, make it meaningful.”
Responding to one young man’s snark, “When you just wanna mess around with taxpayers’ money….,” the City of Sugar Land clarified on Twitter that the selfie statue is one of several sculptures, including a man strumming his guitar by a fountain, gifted to the city by a Sugar Land resident.
A press release states that the sculptures represent “activities that occur in the Square.”
Critics of the new selfie statue seem less concerned that the Town Square is being decorated with the kind of hackneyed kitsch we see in many plazas and shopping centers--a cast bronze sculpture of a young child bending over to pet a dog, for example, or licking an ice cream cone--than they are with the concept of a monument to selfies.
Those bemoaning art that glorifies our narcissistic, social media-obsessed culture should consider that, historically, most “meaningful” statues of people--from Roman emperors to the recently controversial Cecil Rhodes at Oxford University were monuments to the self.
Ancient kings immortalized in marble or stone were arguably even more vain than the average millennial. Those who claimed they were divinely appointed insisted that their bodies be idealized like Gods, or that their likenesses be large and imposing.
“There was an element of vanity and self-valorization, but also of intimidation,” James Hall, an art historian and author of The Self Portrait: A Cultural History, told The Daily Beast. “Certainly we see that element of danger with colossal statues, whether of an Egyptian pharaoh or of Saddam Hussein.”
Hall also cited the 19th century “statuemania” phenomenon, when statues of kings, queens, statesmen, philanthropists, and local heroes were suddenly erected all over America, Europe, and in colonial cities in Africa and India.
“There was a kind of democratization of the kinds of people who would be immortalized, so it had a positive role in that sense,” said Hall, noting that statues to local heroes gave newly established towns and cities a focal point and identity.
Mount Rushmore, too, was a response to the Depression and became a symbol of the 1930s.
Sugar Land’s selfie statue has certainly succeeded in creating a debate about the role of selfies in our culture.
“Indeed, they are a key symbol of our time,” said Hall, “in the same way that all of those 19th century statues of lawmakers and philanthropists were a key symbol of that time.”
In other words, it’s only a matter of time before someone vandalizes the selfie statue or petitions to have it removed from Sugar Land’s Town Plaza.