From early contact between hunter-gatherer tribes, through the Middle Ages and to even modern times, societies in conflict would frequently engage in the intimidation tactic of severing the heads of their rivals and placing them upon spikes or poles. More than a means to warn away those who came upon it, these displays would exhibit the power and superiority of one tribe over the other. While the most explicit forms of this custom are no longer in widespread use, their gestures of dominance continue to be practiced in objects and figures that are given symbolic significance, typically representing the victory of a particular ideology. This understanding of modern displays of superiority forms the basis of (my/this) analysis of Chapman University’s prominent Berlin Wall monument. The concrete slab commemorates the fall of the Berlin Wall, significant as the reunification of East and West Germany and, on a larger-concept scale, as “the first irreversible sign of the collapse of communism” (Todorov 44), the point in which western capitalism becomes the dominant international economic system. Professor Rachel Somerstein characterizes American and British celebrations of the anniversary of the fall of the Wall with this acquired economic superiority in mind: “The notions of identity and power that this perspective ‘accommodate[s]’ (Zelizer, 1995), and reaffirms, are capitalism’s (and the U.S.’s) ‘win’ of the Cold War” (Somerstein 716). Furthermore, who are we to celebrate notions of democracy’s triumph over belligerent regimes when, “in the name of promoting democracy and human rights, the western democracies...have gone to war against countries that are strategically or economically important” (Todorov 47)? Providing this alternative perspective would be beneficial to our student body because it will move students to critically question the symbols of authority they are confronted with in their everyday lives and aid in deconstructing what philosopher Tzvetan Todorov described as the “ideological messianism” of the post-Cold War western world.
Steiner, Cameron, "Chapman's Berlin Wall as a Display of Tribal Victory" (2019). Student Scholar Symposium Abstracts and Posters. 371.