Professor Schnapp’s captivating talk discussed the role of symbols and monuments in “uncomfortable” revolutions and used the specific example of the Monument to Victory, which was erected in Italy by Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime in 1928. It had come to be somewhat of an embarrassment to Italians after World War II as it came to represent Mussolini and fascism because of the period it came from. Schnapp is part of a team that set a goal of modernizing the Monument to Victory and alter and reshape its meaning. Schnapp and his team set out to recreate an image of cultural tolerance and pluralism by placing a three-banded LED ring around the third column of the Monument, which had previously been fenced off for decades. Even if con-artists tried to dismantle the LED screen, the attempt by Schnapp was to bring the symbology to represent the local people.
Professor Schnapp’s work is commendable and inspiring, as I have not heard of anything like this occurring in the United States. It seems that controversial American monuments and symbols are simply left alone, torn down, or moved away without any attempt to remedy what they mean or represent. For example, as recent as a few weeks ago, the University of Louisville ordered a monument serving as a memorial site for Confederate Kentucky soldiers who served in the Civil War to be moved into storage or to another area. It eventually moved to Brandenburg, Kentucky, about forty-five miles from the University. Not that it is easy to do, but the University made no attempt at remedying the monument to represent something else, perhaps not associating with the Confederate Army.
An issue along the same lines whose meaning will not be easily revised is the Confederate Flag. In recent years, the Confederate Flag has been removed from places like off of the South Carolina Capitol Building. The Confederate Flag has come to represent slavery, hate and oppression in recent history as it was the flag of a state that threatened to leave the United States to keep slavery as a cornerstone of its society. It’s easier to alter the meaning of a generic monument such as the Monument to Victory when it was not explicitly the main symbol of the fascist movement. The Monument has only come to represent fascism because of the period it was built in. The Confederate state and most of the symbols and monuments that have come to represent its movement are hard to revamp in meaning. It is almost impossible to modify the meaning of the Confederate Flag and monuments of Jefferson Davis, for example, because they represent such an intense and controversial part of our history. Another controversial symbol example includes the Ten Commandments being put on monuments on public school grounds, too specific to change. It may be important in the future to not have an all or a nothing approach to contentious symbols, as Schanpp shows that a compromise can be usually always be reached.