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Hello America, goodbye LibertyAuthor: Simon Sellars • Jan 22nd, 2008 •
‘Damn you! Damn you all to hell!’ Still from Planet of the Apes, 1968.
While writing the post, in connection with Ryan’s theory that the most salient feature of apocalypse in science fiction is the way in which the same images are simply repackaged for us over and over again, I was struck by the recurrence of a ruined Statue of Liberty as perhaps the quintessential icon of disaster since the 1940s. So struck, in fact, that I began to obsessively collect these images from the ‘net wherever I could find them. Submitted for your approval, the fruits of my labor…
Ballard, of course, also featured a ruined Statue of Liberty in his post-apocalyptic novel Hello America — albeit underwater rather than half buried in sand and debris:
Wayne struck the rail with both fists. He laughed aloud as the sailors ran past him. He realised now what had been missing from the mental picture of New York harbour he had carried with him across the Atlantic.
‘Wayne, for heaven’s sake…’ Anne Summers tried to calm him. ‘You’re going to have to swim, you know.’
‘Liberty! Professor Summers, don’t you remember?’ Wayne pointed to the Jersey shore, where a rocky island stood in the main channel. Even now the remains of a classical pedestal could be seen. ‘The Statue of Liberty!’
They stared into the water beside the Apollo. The lamp held aloft for generations of immigrants from the Old World had vanished, but the crown still remained around the figure’s head. One of its radiating spikes had left a ten-yard- long gash in the Apollo’s hull.
‘You’re right, Wayne. My God, though, we’re going down!’ Anne Summers looked round wildly, a hand to her blonde bun. ‘The equipment, Paul! What’s the matter with Steiner?’
The first rusty water foamed from the fore-mast pump-heads. Orlowski was screaming at the Captain, his plump index finger raised accusingly. But Steiner strolled in a leisurely way around the helm, a satisfied light in his eyes. He ignored the commissar and the pandemonium on the deck, his mouth relaxed as he spoke to the engine-room on the brass voice tube.
Below the stern the two-bladed propeller thwacked the water. A heavy black smoke billowed from the funnel. The Apollo made way, dipping cumbersomely through the waves. The cold pump-water raced across the deck to the scuppers, sluicing around Wayne’s ankles. Ricci and Anne Summers backed off, but Wayne stared down at the immense statue moving away from them.
At the climax of the evacuation of America, under the personal control of President Brown, the Statue of Liberty had been lowered from her plinth and prepared for shipment to the new American colonies in Europe. In a sudden storm, however, the wooden lighter built to transport the statue had broken loose from its tugs, drifted free across the bay and lost its bows on the razor-sharp keel of a scuttled freighter. In the chaos that filled the final days of the evacuation the exact location of the statue had never been established, and she had been left to break up in the cold waters of the next century.
J.G. Ballard, Hello America (1981).
Newer: An American architecture critic in London: BLDGBLOG crosses the pond »