10 February 2010

A Lesson in Local Absurdist History


Back in the late 70's, some local absurdists ran for student government at UW-Madison and won.
They made outrageous campaign promises. For instance, they promised to convert the entire student government budget, all $70,000 of it, into pennies and allow the students to dig into it with pails and shovels. (Thus, the name of their party.) They promised to order all campus clocks to run backwards so classes would be over before they could begin. They said they would put dormitories on wheels and roll them to different parts of the campus each morning to provide students with a new perspective. They pledged to flood Camp Randall Stadium and wage mock naval battles. And finally, they said they would buy the Statue of Liberty and move it to Lake Mendota.


As soon as Mallon and Varjian were in power, they began implementing their plan of absurdity. They threw campus-wide toga parties, and bought toys to occupy students during the boredom of registration. But their masterpiece was their fulfillment of their campaign promise to move the Statue of Liberty to Lake Mendota.

The statue appeared on Lake Mendota in February of 1979. Varjian claimed the statue had been flown in by helicopter, but that the cable holding it had snapped causing Lady Liberty to crash through the ice until only the top of her head and her arm remained above water. In actuality, the statue had been constructed in a woodworking shop out of chicken wire, papier-mâché, and plywood and then moved out onto the ice.

But then, of course, people had to be real downers:
...its presence infuriated the critics of the Pail and Shovel Party (of which there were many). It was not the statue itself that people objected to, but rather the cost of it — $4500 that had come out of student funds. The student newspaper, the Daily Cardinal, became the outlet for Pail and Shovel’s critics. They accused Mallon and Varjian of being nothing more than “professional clowns” who had hijacked the student government and were proceeding to make a mockery of it, and, more seriously, they accused the two of illegal use of student funds.

In response to this criticism, Varjian noted that the total cost of the statue had only been ten cents per student, and he offered to refund this amount to any student who so desired. Sixty students staged a rally to demand their dimes. Varjian obligingly wrote each of them a check for ten cents.

The Daily Cardinal was not satisfied. It continued to denounce the statue for three weeks until March 2, when unknown arsonists torched Lady Liberty in the middle of the night, burning her to the ground. Mysteriously, the Daily Cardinal had a photographer on hand to record the burning, though it denied any involvement in the deed.
What the fuck?!

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