September 10th, 2003

Desecration of the Mall

By Albert Eisele
The Hill

An older colleague who wrote a daily column in the St. Paul Pioneer Press when I worked there many years ago once told me his best columns were those generated by a sense of outrage.

If so, this should be one of my best columns, as few things have offended me more than the disgraceful display of mindless patriotism, insatiable commercialism and sheer bad taste perpetrated last week by the National Football League with its $10 million rock concert extravaganza on the Mall.

I wasn’t there and didn’t watch it on ABC-TV — thank God — but one photograph in Friday’s Washington Post convinced me that aside from the Sept. 11 attack on the Pentagon and subsequent anthrax attacks, last fall’s sniper shootings or the 1981 assassination attempt on President Reagan, this was the worst thing that’s happened here during my nearly 40 years in the nation’s capital.

The spectacle of pop singer Britney Spears being stripped to her black bikini bottoms to just above pubic level by a pair of male dancers wearing Washington Redskins jerseys, with the Capitol shining in the background, was so jarring that it made me want to cringe.

Spears’s display of erotic gyrations and lip-synched lyrics may have a place in our appalling, vulgarized popular culture but definitely not in the middle of the nation’s most hallowed public space.

It was bad enough that this dreadful promotion designed to kick off the 2003 pro football season — and sell Pepsi Vanilla, AOL and Reeboks — took place just a week after the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s immortal “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Or that it took place just before the second anniversary of the awful day when Islamic terrorists crashed a jetliner into the Pentagon and were barely prevented from flying over the Mall to crash another into the White House or the Capitol.

But it was even worse that President Bush and Interior Secretary Gale Norton were persuaded to serve as cheerleaders for a so-called game that celebrates violence — as if we don’t have enough already — and that has owners who personify rapacious greed. This was nothing more than the desecration of a sacred space and an insult to the men and women of the U.S. military whom the event’s promoters professed to honor.

The president perhaps can be excused from accepting bad advice but not those who persuaded him to lend the dignity of his office to an event that left the rain-soaked Mall trampled and garbage-strewn, both physically and symbolically.

Somebody, ideally the congressmen whose committees oversee the Department of Interior and the National Park Service, should demand an explanation of who was responsible for allowing this travesty to happen.

If they don’t, what can we expect to see next? An ad for Viagra on the Washington Monument? A pitch for McDonald’s at the Lincoln Memorial or Toyota at the Jefferson Memorial? Or maybe even a banner on the Capitol Dome offering low-interest loans from Citibank to ease the federal deficit?

I have nothing against pro football, and I’m glad the Redskins won their opener, even as I despair of Major League Baseball ever returning to Washington. Nor do I disagree that many in the crowd that the NFL generously estimated at 125,000 thought it was wonderful that Britney and her fellow entertainers were invited to do their thing on the Mall.

Nevertheless, I’m outraged and saddened. This was a low point for a special space that stands for so much in America.

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