Nothing symbolizes this more than the ridiculous plastic-poly-composite-faux "Red Indian" that has been planted at the intersection of 53rd and Harper, across from the empty hulk of the old Herald Building and Harper Court.
Here we have yet another Hyde Park smoke shop with a genius for advertising, a flare for self-promotion, and, topping its more modest cousin in the basement space at Hyde Park Boulevard and 55th Street, a commitment to out-and-out buffoonery.
We'll note that since we first posted on the obnoxious ad blitz launched by "Cigarettes for Less" earlier this summer at 5503 1/2 S. Hyde Park Boulevard, most of what we then found to be obnoxious has been removed: the free-standing placard chained to a public light pole, which we are told was removed at the request of 5th Ward Alderman Hairston, and an unsightly wooden sign randomly bolted to the side of an otherwise handsome and historic Hyde Park apartment building.
Yet no sooner did the cheesy advertising on one prominent street corner abate, than by some unholy Archimedian principle of cheese dynamics, the same volume of cheesiness was displaced to yet another and even more prominent location. The same location that all the players in Hyde Park are working to make a "destination" for the region.
This particular improvement, such as it is, has not so far been highlighted on the University of Chicago blog devoted to 53rd Street redevelopment, 53rdstreetblog. We can't imagine why not.
At least one Hyde Park resident dislikes the plastic-composite-poly-faux Red Man, one Ms. Marie Jackson, whose letter to the editor of the July 29 Hyde Park Herald takes issue with what she feels is the racist nature of the statue.
But even were the statue in question a plastic knock-off of a sculpture by Phidias or Praxiteles, or an inflatable Ben Franklin or Homer Simpson, it would still be an unwarranted imposition of junky advertising on the public way, an intrusion on the commons.
And just a wee bit out-of-date.
As long ago as 1871, the New York Times felt that the use of "Red Indian" statues in front of "tobacconist" shops had become déclassé. Granted, Chicago tends to lag the styles and trends of New York by a few years, but a lag of roughly a century-and-a-half should be more than enough time for even our less attentive merchants to catch on.
Wrote the Times in 1871, in the idiom of the period:
The fumacious or ruminant consumer of the nicotene weed is frequently confronted at the entrance of the store where these things are sold with a graven image to which he might, if idolatrously inclined, bow down and offer up his devotions...to those monstrous creations of some former epoch...
The ill-proportioned savage in front of the corner cigar store, with whom our youthful eyes were once unpleasantly familiar, has descended from his pedestal to make room for a robust maiden of the Minnehaha persuasion...
Of course, we can argue with the author that neither a Minnehaha statue, nor any other kind of self-authorized decoration of the public way, is really an improvement, nor terribly tasteful. We'd prefer sidewalks to be clear for use by pedestrians and, where appropriate, restaurant seating. Not cheesy plastic statues.
Alderman Hairston asked that the much less objectionable free-standing sign in the photograph above be removed from the corner of 55th and HPB.
Surely 4th Ward Alderman Preckwinkle can get a tacky, plastic statue removed from a prominent corner of what both Preckwinkle and the University of Chicago hope to be the commercial heart of Hyde Park?