Monumental (S)care: A Walk in Statue Park

No matter how hard I tried to make light of them, by pulling their fingers or sitting on their boots, the colossal statues gathered in the ideological leper colony that is Szoborpark made me feel (and, as you can see, seem) rather small. They were intended to awe, of course, to impress those looking up with a sense of being overmastered rather than represented, of being conquered and compelled to surrender their personal aspirations along with their cultural identity. Removed from the public squares in which they towered over the multitude, the statues of the communist regime imposed on the Hungarian people have been relegated by them to the outskirts of Budapest, to a forlorn place called Memento or Statue Park.

Never completed as conceived on paper in the early 1990s, the park has already fallen into disrepair. Weeds now triumph over concepts, mocking at once the old order of terror and this new method of detaining it, of quarantining a body of unsettling memories by setting it apart from the everyday. The past needs tending to; but, as the grounds of Statue Park suggest, we balk at beautifying what amounts to pathology, at manicuring a disease known to have corrupted intellects, choked incentives, and smothered lives.

As those monuments went up in 1940s Hungary, the US took monumental care in tearing down communist and socialist ideals, many of which had been shared and endorsed by thousands of upright, patriotic Americans during the 1930s. After years of economic hardship, of rationing and sacrifice, Americans seized the chance of raising picket fences, those monuments to sovereignty, which they were encouraged to set up as individual tributes to American virtues, to the pursuit of personal happiness and the proper boundaries of its expression.

Yet the straight and clean domains of the home frontier were argued to be under attack, compromised by wayward doubters and their doubtful ways; and it was on the air that the infiltrations and contaminations of the social fabric by the newly branded un-Americans—who were argued to have their designs on the dream they questioned as fabrication—were mass-circulated as cautionary tales of anti-communist propaganda.

Aside from the common weed of crime, once rooted out with precision and glee by superheroes like The Shadow (reportedly slated to be recast for the screen that could never contain him), the fungus of homegrown communism at home threat of mushroom clouds over America demanded a new breed of secret and sanitary agents, men like Matt Cvetic, who infiltrated the infiltrators and spread his cleansing mission statement by boldly declaring I Was Communist for the FBI in a series of espionage thrillers that premiered on US radio back in April 1952.

Throughout the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s, US radio assisted in setting up new statues and dismantling old, in forging idols and fostering ideals while pronouncing others fallen or rotten. It created images in the mind more persuasive, invasive and pervasive than prominently displayed sculptures in stone or steel. The United States did not require monuments to steer and stir, to guide, goad and guard its citizenry. It had microphones.

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