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Posts Tagged ‘Freedom’

By Orane Réveiller, Thibault Thierry and Pierre Viau from the University of Angers (France)

Freedom. A very important and powerful word. A strong idea that everyone has in mind! An idea that Edouard de Laboulaye wanted to represent when he first had the idea of the Statue of Liberty in 1865. Indeed, this French politician opposed to slavery supported Lincoln’s ideas but also wanted to convince France not to be too repressive and therefore, the idea of a monument dedicated to Freedom was born.
Gustave Eiffel took the place of Auguste Bartholdi, who was supposed to create this masterpiece at first. And so, from 1880 to July 1884, the statue was assembled in Paris. On June, 17th 1885, the statue arrived disassembled in New York and was finally reassembled on its pedestal on Bedloes Island (aka Liberty Island nowadays) on October, 28th 1886. The event was covered by Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World and by The New York Times as well.

This monument has inspired many creations; for example, on the pedestal, one can read a sonnet (The New Colossus) Emma Lazarus wrote about the statue of liberty. Her sonnet depicts the Statue as a symbol of immigration and opportunity. But those two ideas are not the only one the statue of liberty depicts. This is also a symbol for a democratic government, a symbol of independence (July 4th 1776 is written on the tablet), a symbol for the abolition of slavery (broken chains are at its feet) and finally an opening to the world. An opening to the world because the statue faces Europe with which USA shares a common past but also because of its location: Liberty Island is close to Ellis Island, a place where every immigrant has to go through before entering the US.

But not only does Lady Liberty symbolizes freedom and the American Dream, she also represents New York around the world. Miniature Statues of Liberty and crowns are probably the most common gifts bought in the Big Apple. She is so wildly famous that she has appeared in countless movies, from Alfred Hitchcock’s to Michael Bay’s, but also in some video games. She is on the front line of any catastrophes or invasion threatening the East Coast and she most of the time never gets out without a scratch. Not to mention of course all the times she has been parodied in commercials or caricatured.

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Because of our discussions in class, I was reminded of this particular scene from How I Met Your Mother where the two main characters go on a road trip. This road trip to the one character, Ted, represents a path to the past. He sees this road trip as a journey with the final destination being his college days when he would drive halfway across the country with his best friend, Marshall, to get some pizza in Chicago. Marshall is now married while Ted had recently had his heart broken. In this clip, we see both Ted and Marshall forget about current responsibilities (and spouse) to enjoy each other and the road. Ted longs for a better more carefree time where he could be optimistic about the future and believes that if he and his best friend recreate those college road trip he could find that place again. To Ted, this road trip is also a cure to his problems; the end destination will bring him hope to find someone who completes him.

This, to me, means that America will always allow a trip through memory lane or a journey to better time.  The great distance between some destinations in the country allows for bonds and memories that come exclusively with a road trip to be created. It represents a promise that no matter how far away a person is in distance or time, he can go back to “better” times.

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The mythic idea of the road is everywhere in America, even today. Reading Eyerman & Lofgren’s Romancing the Road, one realizes just how prevalent this idea is in his or her own life. Even favorite songs, evoke the road without notice. Tracy’ Chapman’s Fast Car is one of these favorite songs.

Fast Car is a celebration of the road as an escape. The road becomes a chance for a new life. It also is a journey between two people and possible romance. It evokes traditional views of the road, but it also speaks to mainstream America, known more often than not as the opposite of the road – opposite of freedom.

From the beginning of the song, Fast Car takes on what Romancing the Road describes as, “car travel itself becam[ing] an adventure saga of magical quality”. (59) The car for Chapman is an escape, a magical thing that is “fast enough so we can fly away.” Fly away like Peter Pan flying away from adulthood. The article states, “Road’s liberating potential…. [is] possible to push the accelerator to the floor and leave all that was petty and bourgeois behind” (58). Like films in the road trip genre, Chapman’s car is an escape. Instead of escape from “claustrophobia of petit-bourgeois life” (62), Chapman’s escape is from, “injustice and from an intolerant ‘normality’” (62). This injustice and intolerable normality is her father’s drinking problem, her mother leaving and the responsibility she must take on by quitting school to take care of her father. Chapman’s responsibility of taking care of her father represents the traditional role of women as caregivers. Here she is escaping the confines of mainstream culture. The escape is so urgent Chapman sings, “Leave tonight or die this way.” The road takes on “a therapeutic role” (64).

I want a ticket to anywhere

Any place is better

See my old man’s got a problem

He live with the bottle that’s the way it is

He says his body’s too old for working

His body’s too young to look like hi

My mamma went off and left him

She wanted more from life than he could give

I said somebody’s got to take care of him

So I quiet school and that what I did

 

Is it fast enough so we can fly away?

We gotta make a decision

Leave tonight or live and die this way

By the end of the song, the car becomes yet another way to escape Chapman’s disappointment in the new life. She has yet again become the caregiver. Her partner does not have a job and drinks, neglecting his family. Chapman sings:

I’d always hoped for better.

Thought maybe together you and me find it.

I got no plans. I ain’t going nowhere.

So take your fast car and keep on driving.

This part of the song also takes on the risk of the road. In stating:

So take your fast car and keep on driving.

You got a fast car. Is it fast enough so you can fly away?

You gotta make a decision.

Leave tonight or live and die this way,

Chapman alludes to her desire for the car to become another escape; only this time the car will take the problem away. She will not be taken away from the problem. “Leave tonight or live and die this way” can be seen as a challenge for the presumably male partner step up, mature and be a man.

You got a fast car

I got a job that pays all our bills

You stay out drinking late at the bar

See more of your friends than you do of your kids

I’d always hoped for better

Thought maybe together you and me find it

You got a fast car.

Is it fast enough so you can fly away?

You gotta make a decision

Leave tonight or live and die this way

The American tradition of mobility, in the physical sense of the mythical road is a huge part of Chapman’s song. Romancing the Road describes this mobility: “movement itself became a symbol of hope. Going down the road, symbolized not only a way out, a going to and getting away from, it represented possibility, risk and romance” (57). Chapman’s desperate need to find a way out is expressed in the beginning of the song: “I want a ticket to anywhere…any place is better than here.” The lyrics “starting from zero got nothing to lose,” ushers in the road’s symbolism of possibility and opportunity. Chapman sings about the possibility of making something, getting jobs in the city and finally being able to live. Evoking the city as a place to experience life and acquire a job is a common American phenomenon. Throughput history the city has been the place of jobs. And as youth culture came into existence, the city turned into a place of adventure. It was and is a place to experience while you are young. “We go cruising, entertain ourselves,” represents this carefree attitude and continues to paint a picture of the car as an escape, as a way to have fun.

As the song goes on Chapman’s vision of life matures, representing the idea that the road fosters experiences for, “a new person…new sides to their personality, mellowing, maturing” (67). Chapman sings:

You’ll find work and I’ll get promoted.

We’ll move out of the shelter.

Buy a bigger house and live in the suburbs.

This idea represents social mobility as well as physical mobility. Chapman dreams of being promoted and making enough money to achieve the American Dream –moving to the suburbs. No longer does she fantasy of freedom on the road. In its place is the dream of settling down. The desire for maturity can also be seen as Chapman sings, “I’d always hoped for better. Thought maybe together you and me find it. You gotta make a decision. Leave tonight or live and die this way,” urging her partner to mature.

Throughout the song, the subtle hint of romance is witnessed:

And your arm felt nice wrapped ‘round my shoulder.

And I had a feeling that I belonged.

I have a feeling I could be someone, be someone, be someone.

These lyrics also describe the feeling that the beat generation was looking for on the road in the 1950s and 1960s – acceptance.

If we presume Chapman’s companion is a man, the fact that Chapman is a woman also plays on the traditional idea of the road as a man’s world. In the beginning of the song, she is the one asking to hitch a ride and get away. She has the plan, not the man. By the end though, tradition and mainstream gender roles seems to win out. Chapman wants to settle down in the suburbs with a family. The last two lines, “You gotta make a decision. Leave tonight or live and die this way,” suggest the man will get back into his car and drive away, continuing the idea of solace for outsiders.

(Even the video has roads in it!!!)

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When I think of the road, I immediately hear “Born to Run,” in my head. It could be that my brother’s obsession with Bruce Springsteen has completely morphed my thinking process or that this song is actually a great representation of the road. Perhaps it is a bit of both. This song conveys the road as freedom, illustrated in the first verse of the song:

In the day we sweat it out on the streets of a runaway American dream

At night we ride through the mansions of glory in suicide machines

Sprung from cages out on highway 9,

Chrome wheeled, fuel injected, and steppin’ out over the line

Oh-oh, Baby this town rips the bones from your back

It’s a death trap, it’s a suicide rap

We gotta get out while we’re young

‘Cause tramps like us, baby we were born to run

Highway 9 refers to a highway that passes through his hometown in Jersey. He is trying to escape and wants his love, Wendy, to go with him. He insinuates that the road is the answer to his problems that he is facing in his town. The road symbolizes his freedom from his responsibilities and that is why they have to get out while they are young. He does not want to be tied down because they are, “born to run.”

America, as a country, is a representation of the road itself. Hundreds of thousands of people fled here escaping some sort of trouble in hopes of experiencing freedom. That is the same attitude Springsteen is conveying about the road in this song. “We’ll run till we drop, baby we’ll never go back.” This country was established through movement and expansion, in which the road provides a defined path to limitless opportunities.

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Route 66

Automobile pulling a trailer along Route 66. This is perhaps the most ideal depiction of “Freedom to move” and an early 1900s definition of “Modern dream of mobility”. Perhaps, the travelers in the car are a family of 4 from a suburb of Chicago who want to move out West for opportunities. Or perhaps, the traveler is a male individual who has packed up his belongings to move West for a new beginning. Like most images, the West is portrayed as a “place for new beginnings”. I think the road changes people by opening up their eyes to new possibilities that their previous lives did not have. The invention of the Model T by Henry Ford helped make images like this more realistic for many Americans who dreamed of starting over out West.

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The actual figure and form of the Statue of Liberty represents an America with honorable, democratic values at its core: justice and knowledge as symbolized by her tablet, freedom by the broken chains at her feet, and progression by her forward moving stance. But is this still the reality in the 21st century? Are Americans still focused on these ideals?

I think the reimagined Statue of Liberty above more accurately portrays the current, 21st century values of America. This new Liberty is overweight, representing America’s current obesity epidemic, and possibly also our greed. She holds multiple consumer electronic devices where her tablet used to be, signifying our reliance and obsession with technology. Instead of her robes, she’s adorned with guns, holsters, and bandoliers, exemplifying American’s intense fixation, and debate, on the right to bear arms. On her head is a surveillance device, paired with the video camera in her hand, depicting our current issues with privacy and free speech.

It’s disheartening to realize that this Liberty, in her “new clothes,” may actually be a better representation of America than the original. I would so much rather be writing about how timeless the Statue of Liberty is, how her first representation of America hasn’t changed. Unfortunately, we’ve changed as people and a nation, and I’m not sure if Liberty is still the best presentation of our values.

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When I think of the Statue of Liberty, I often think of it as a symbol of what America represents to its people, and how the rest of the world sees the country. This cartoon, although a bit ridiculous, may bring about the message of what America stands for now. Instead of the law and justice represented in her hands, we see a McDonald’s menu; instead of a torch, a (triple?) cheeseburger; instead of a strong woman holding the torch with pride looking into the future, a larger women with weak looking arms and souless eyes. Because it is a cartoon, it obviously exaggerates the current state of the country, but it does raise the point of the changing perception of America. It’s no surprise that priorities of Americans have changed since the founding of the country and the Civil War, but this image suggests that America has completely abandoned those ideals of freedom and law for instant gratification through unhealthy foods produced by large corporations.

A similar image of this cartoon appeared before in Germany on tray liners for the sandwich company, Subway. These liners paired the image with the caption “why are Americans so fat?, [Source] in an effort to promote healthier sandwiches. The perception of America has definitely changed, but not necessarily for the best.  When people look to America, do they still see freedom and justice, or do they see obsession with unhealthy foods and consumerism?  America is a wonderful country that, I believe, still stands for freedom and law, but it also has many negative connotations. Hopefully, those positive traits are the ones that continue to be represented and reinforced in many minds.

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