Utah's Statue of Responsibility invites high-brow thinking, and a few low-brow jokes. | Private Eye | Salt Lake City Weekly
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Utah's Statue of Responsibility invites high-brow thinking, and a few low-brow jokes.

Private Eye



In late 2023, it was announced that the former Utah State Prison site in Draper may become the home of a 300-foot-tall aluminum monument to be named the Statue of Responsibility. The statue was originally targeted to be constructed somewhere along the California coast—where it never found a home—as an offset to the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. Together, those statues would represent the conjoined twins of freedom: liberty and responsibility. Sounds nice.

Three of my grandparents, each entering the United States via Ellis Island from Greece in 1906, were the first among my family to view the Statue of Liberty. Like nearly everyone, they were duly impressed, and that's saying something since the homeland they left behind knows a thing or two about symbolism and has left plenty of statues to history for the world to admire and gain inspiration from.

I'm a fan of monuments myself, to the point that I've even become mildly enamored of the Great Whale thing in the 9th & 9th area. I wasn't at first, but it grew on me—like a barnacle.

Time will tell about the Statue of Responsibility. But, at first pass, I'd liken my initial reaction to that of the whale, which was, "Huh?"

The statue itself is basically two hands, each grabbing the other at the forearm, the symbolism of companionship, unity, assistance and community very easy to discern. I like simple things like that and especially don't like to think too hard about the meanings of any particular piece of art, knowing full well that art, in the end, is interpretive.

I had barely thought of the Statue of Responsibility since November 2023, when the idea of placing it in Draper took hold, and I gave it little mind until mentions of it recently began appearing in my social media feeds.

I grew up in the era when young men learned of sexuality by sneaking peeks at the dirty magazines on the racks at the local barber shop. I don't know where girls of my era did similar learning, but I do know that sexuality in most forms was not something put on brazen display as it is today. So, I was taken aback when some people on social media began making claims that they interpreted the Statue of Responsibility as being an overt representation of a particular sexual act that I am shy to describe in this family newspaper.

Intrigued, I had to take a look. Sure enough—at least in some of the images I found online—one can view the clasping hands at certain angles and fairly wonder why Utah would announce to the world that it is wide open for business and that pleasure awaits all who enter here, so to speak. Like most of you, I grew up in ever-moral Utah, in a Christian home, in a town with no known atheists (not counting a fair number of returned war veterans), so the very notion that Utah might construct a giant assemblage is a tough notion to swallow.

For the record, I think it's silly of folks to think of the Statue of Responsibility in a sexual way. Other depictions I've seen, especially those adorned in bright colors, are very clearly not sexual. But it's art, and you know it's only a matter of time (me speaking as a Utah native who has seen this very outcome time and again) before some do-gooder will set marching on an agenda to remove the statue, lest our children be scarred for life.

As that same Utah native who has seen this outcome on repeat for decades, I can thus predict that when that do-gooder arrives, he or she will be deeply troubled about their own sexuality but will cast the first stone anyway.

I think it's a tad large—it's not like there's any other massive statuary around to compete with it—and that the angle can repose somewhat, but it's not my money that's going to build it. So let them do what they want. I'd rather gaze upon the Statue of Responsibility instead of other such inland man-made manifestos like Mount Rushmore or the Gateway Arch.

I mean, who among you have been to Mount Rushmore and can name the faces upon it—John Lennon, Barbie, Mr. Peanut and Barack Obama? Bonus points to you folks reading this from faraway Alabama: Which state is home to Mount Rushmore?

And the Gateway Arch? Pffft. It was conceived to be a living memorial to Thomas Jefferson's vision of greater opportunities for men of all races and creeds, which fails to explain locating it in St. Louis and revealing that Jefferson was not a great enough visionary to predict modern-day tilts to include genders besides male. Setting it straight, however, the arch designer, Eero Saarinen, said it "symbolized the gateway to the West, the national expansion and whatnot."

Gotta love the whatnot!

Conceived over 60 years ago by Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, the Statue of Responsibility—in the not-so-whatnot words of designer and sculptor Gary Lee Price—represents that, "We are all one. We're all united. Sometimes, we're the hand reaching up; sometimes, we're the hand reaching down." Yes, we are, and that's nice. But too many Utahns don't really practice hand holding or helping Utahns not of their stripe—especially the morally upright and many of our elected politicians.

Here's an image to consider. In the Statue of Responsibility, may one see the arm of a gay man, a Black woman, a Hispanic immigrant mother, a Native American, a displaced and disparaged LDS youth, a Catholic, a Jew, a Hindu, a Muslim, a family from Syria, Colombia, Korea, Egypt or India—all reaching from above, tugging at and encouraging those below to join them on the higher path, not the lower. That would be responsible.

Send comments to john@cityweekly.net

Editor's note: A earlier version of this story misspelled Colombia above, and it has been corrected.