By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) Put Joe Paterno with the pigs. That’s the plan.
The latest incarnation of organized moral vacuity in Happy Valley now centers on raising $300,000 to build a statue of the beloved child-rape enabler on private property in town, replacing the one at Beaver Stadium that was removed by Penn State after it became known all that he didn’t do to protect innocent children.
This expensive project to create a permanent insult to Jerry Sandusky’s victims and their families will result in a depiction of Paterno sitting on a bench, holding a copy of Virgil’s Aeneid.
Next to the shamed coach on the downtown walkway will be pigs. Three of them, sculpted in bronze in 1996 for the city’s centennial project and inspired by a photograph from the 1890s of pigs rooting around that same spot on College Avenue.
The fundraising might have to budget for security guards and 24-hour cameras, too, because even something as innocuous as those animals inspired vandalism: one of the piglets was stolen in 2001 and eventually returned. Those planning a more serious statement of conscientious civil disobedience, however, might not be so nice.
Placing Aeneid in Paterno’s hands is curious, too. While he was indeed a fan of the classics, one of the central themes of the epic poem was Roman pietas – the virtue of acting on one’s duty to society. Aeneas was a paragon of this, meant as an example of a hero always doing the right thing. Such irony is apparently lost on these mental titans.
There would be better ways to memorialize Paterno, more aptly rendering his impact on the Penn State community and his legacy to those outside the fog that still shrouds central Pennsylvania.
Have him looking the other way, perhaps, turning from the atrocities occurring on his campus, in his building, at the hands of the trusted lieutenant he long chose to facilitate. Have him covering his eyes. Or better yet – three Joe Paternos on the bench, with hands over eyes, ears and mouth – seeing, speaking and hearing no evil.
Depict him on the witness stand, under oath and looking up at a judge. In a bronze box he could sit for posterity, giving sworn testimony about his knowledge of “inappropriate sexual activity” and violent crimes of a “sexual nature.” We can then always remember how he testified to investigators, “I didn’t feel it was my responsibility to make any kind of decision as to what to do with him. I had other things to do.”
There would be something truer than a statue even, a different kind of public art installation that would address deeper concerns and force more difficult questions.
Put Paterno’s name on a mirror, and put it right there, in the center of town.
These still-extant pockets of revisionism and outright insanity over restoring the heritage of a coach are more about the people involved than the man himself. Instead of molding a lump of metal to honor a false god, we could ask that these poor fans instead look inward, where there may be real answers.
Why is it so important to you that there is a fantasy world in which none of this happened? How did college football come to take up such a place in your soul that you believed that one man was infallible? Can’t you accept multiple, conflicting facts at the same time and process them in a way that doesn’t seem to threaten your own identity as a human being? Do you not really want to try to comprehend the horrors of what was inflicted on innocent children?
In other words, what’s wrong with you?
But instead there Joe will be, if the money can be found, sitting on his bench in a work titled “Reflections,” outside the Tavern restaurant, right next to his friends the pigs.
George Orwell wrote Animal Farm in 1945 as an allegorical criticism of Stalinism, specifically the ability of power to corrupt and the dangers created by a cult of personality. He was compelled by experience that taught him “how easily totalitarian propaganda can control the opinion of enlightened people.”
The novel’s last line is this: “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again, but already it was impossible to say which was which.”