Thursday, February 13, 2014

George Clooney's Marbles in a Vice

George Clooney and co-stars of the new flick The Monuments Men have been doing the world press grind for their film lately and Clooney's recent statement regarding the Elgin Marbles (which have been on display at the British Museum forever) have been causing quite the controversy. 

In response to a reporter's polarizing question, "should Britain return the Elgin Marbles to Greece?" Clooney says it would be the "right thing to do." Co-star Bill Murray adds the Marbles "had a very nice stay here, certainly. But London's gotten crowded. There's plenty of room back there in Greece." 

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Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said "someone urgently needs to restore George Clooney's marbles. Here he is plugging a film about looted Nazi art without realising that Goring himself had plans to plunder the British Museum. And where were the Nazis going to send the Elgin Marbles? To Athens! This Clooney is advocating nothing less than the Hitlerian agenda for London's cultural treasures. He should stuff the Hollywood script and stick to history." Ouch.

John Wittingdale, chairman of the parliamentary Culture, Media and Sports Committee said, "I'm a great admirer of George Clooney, but I suspect that he probably doesn't know the history of the Elgin Marbles and the legal entitlement that Britain has to them. He's an American. I suspect he doesn't know why it is that Britain came to acquire the Elgin Marbles. There's a very strong view in this country that they should stay in the U.K." Double ouch. Another Monument Man, Matt Damon, said, "that can't always be the British default setting. It's not actually an argument to say 'He's American, he doesn't get it." 

It's America's A-list actors vs. British politicians and it's just weird now.

Here is a short history of the Elgin Marbles, so you can avoid John Wittingdale calling you a 'Dumb American':
The Elgin Marbles are a collection of classical Greek marble sculptures that were once a part of the Parthenon and other buildings on the Acropolis of Athens. Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin and British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, allegedly received a permit (this is still debated) from the Ottoman authorities at the beginning of the 19th century to remove the Marbles. Bruce removed about half of the surviving sculptures of the Parthenon with his team and transported them by sea to Britain. They were purchased by the British government in 1816 and have been on display in the British Museum ever since.

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Arguments why the Marbles should be returned to Greece:
  • They should be returned to the monument to which they belong.
  • Allow visitors to appreciate the set of Marbles as a whole.
  • The Vatican and Germany, Sweden, and Los Angeles Museums have already returned fragments from the monument to Greece. 
  • Many debate the authenticity of the document that allowed Bruce to take these Marbles. So some say he "stole" the Marbles.
  • Even though the Ottoman Empire had the authorization to give away the Marbles at the time, they didn't care about Greek history or what happened to the Parthenon.
Arguments why the Marbles should stay in Britain:
  • This action would set a precedence for all artwork in every major world museum to be returned to their former home. 
  • Britain saved the Marbles from further destruction and they would have been destroyed if left Greece.
  • Statues are too fragile to travel.
  • Most of the Marbles are already destroyed, so returning them would not complete a collection.
  • The British Museum is free to visitors and located in one of the most visited European cities. The New Acropolis Museum (where Greece would display them) costs money.
I personally think they should stay in Britain. Doesn't every museum have a large collection of art that belongs to somebody else? And it's true, if the Marbles were to be returned to Greece, they would not be placed in the Parthenon, but a nearby museum. To ask a question that has been asked before: Is it spiritually more satisfying to see the Marbles in an Athenian Museum gallery than one in London? I dunno.

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