Looking gift statues in the mouth

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June 4, 2002 // UPDATED 1:22 pm - April 30, 2007
By: Richard Carney
Richard Carney

Or, how I got $36 for a tam on Ebay, and Minneapolis got used

Seven years ago, I took some first-time Minneapolis visitors to Azur for dinner. For those who were never there, Azur had a bay window that looked out on 7th and Nicollet from the top floor of the southern end of the Gaviidae shopping complex-- atop Saks. That evening we were treated to a green-sky, day-into-night thunderstorm that hammered everything in its path with an amazing array of aural and optical stimulation. When the storm passed and the late sun cast itself on Dayton's, my favorite city never looked finer. My friends were impressed.

They returned last week, and were bummed to learn that Azur is now a bank. Not only that, but every aspect of that scene has changed. Stores in the Saks' end of Gaviidae will soon be writing their rent checks out to the city of Minneapolis. Dayton's, for years a name synonymous with Downtown, is no longer Dayton's. And now, across from the soon to be city-owned unsuccessful retail mall, in full view of the nicest bay window a bank ever had, right in front of Marshall Field's, stands an 8-foot-tall bronze television commercial operating under the guise of a statue.

Naturally, the statue has generated far more press than any of the other events mentioned above.

This was no accident.

At a relatively small cost to itself, Viacom the mom-and-pop media concern that owns -- along with the statue's sponsor, TV Land -- CBS, VH1, MTV, BET, TNN, UPN, Nickelodeon, Showtime, Paramount Studios, Spelling Films, Simon & Schuster Publishing, Scribner Publishing, Blockbuster, "Star Trek," and countless TV and radio affiliates (two of which are WCCO-Channel 4, and WCCO-AM 830), came up with a way not only to have its logo on permanent public display in an area of heavy pedestrian traffic, but also was able to get competitors CNN (Time Warner/AOL), NBC (General Electric) and ABC (Disney) to cover the statue-unveiling "event" live.

It really was a brilliant maneuver.

I'm sure that many people around the country who saw the coverage believe that the lion's share of Minneapolitans were there, excited and honored to be the ones receiving a statue of a fictional character from a sitcom (an excellent one to be sure) based in Minneapolis, but conceived and produced in Los Angeles, starring Los Angeles-based actors, none of whom are from here. (Cloris Leachman was born in Des Moines, but that's as close as it gets.) Aside from some exterior shots and the opening credit sequence, Mary could have worked in Indianapolis, Columbus, Kansas City or Ogden. But she didn't. Mary Richards "lived" here.

So, after a week of manufactured build-up, a TV Land executive with hip retro glasses, using phrases like "Mary Tyler Moore is in the house," emceed an event that ended with the same sort of anticlimax that one feels when you finally get to the front of a rubbernecker's slowdown on the highway and it's a guy changing a tire. (I did get $36 for my black tam -- handed out at the event -- on Ebay, and over 600 people looked in on the auction.) One note: there was a merry band at the front that stayed for a while afterwards. Where I was, 75 feet back, the crowd quickly and quietly dispersed.

Mary and the TV Land guy left. The stage was disassembled, and a few hours later it was as if nothing ever happened, except for the statue on the public sidewalk at 7th and Nicollet.

I dislike it. Many others do as well. Conversely, just as many others love it. As everyone knows, assessing art is a very subjective thing -- and so is assessing the merits of the MTM statue.

Now that the TV Land and local media induced frenzy has long subsided and the MTM statue is in place, the long-term effects of this folly will sink in. The bar for who qualifies for such visible public tribute has been reset, and not very high.

Hubert Horatio Humphrey has a statue, set slightly off the beaten path on the back side of City Hall. The statue is smaller and less conspicuous than MTM, but then again, Mary Richards was a TV character whose made-up life took place here, while Humphrey was merely a Minneapolis Mayor turned U.S. Senator turned Vice President. Regardless of what one thought about HHH, there is no denying his enormous impact on the city. Statues are great, and I think Downtown can accommodate several more. Using the Humphrey Standard the choices would be relatively few -- Nellie Stone Johnson's name has been fittingly floated by several people as a logical person to be immortalized in public.

But now there is a new standard in place, and using the MTM Standard, the floodgates are opened.

Who has had more impact on the city of Minneapolis than Mary Tyler Moore? Dave Moore, Joyce Lamont, Lou Snider, Prince, Sid Hartman, Carmen the Nurse, Crow T. Robot...

The possibilities abound.

I would vote for a 20-foot-tall copper statue of Mel Jass at 12th and Hennepin (near the old Downtown Chevytown) that, when approached, would automatically ask the passerby "What do you do for a living?" and, when sensing any response, would say "That's a great job!"

For those who fall on the "dislike the MTM statue" side of the fence, take some consolation: if a fictional TV character warrants an 8-foot-high statue in Downtown Minneapolis, just imagine what downtown St. Paul will be facing whenever they decide to immortalize Garrison Keillor. When the Capitol City starts razing buildings to make room, Minneapolitans will enjoy the last laugh.