Friday, June 06, 2008

Naming wrongs

I’ve wondered about the mental stability — yes, that’s the phrase that comes to mind — of the super-rich who feel compelled to splash their names on edifices they have paid for. Right here in Oregon the names of Robert Pamplin, Jr., Jordan Schnitzer, Phil Knight, Harry Merlo come to mind)

Of course these men (they always seem to be men) owe their fortunes to others (people called employees and customers and, in some cases, relatives. Teachers probably deserve some credit too).

But never mind. Inevitably their own names go on the museums, soccer fields, gymnasiums, academic lecture halls and the like.

In the mental health community, they call this “narcissism.”

Why must they do this?

If you drive I-5, as you approach Eugene, a taxpayer-paid-for exit sign tells you that if you take the next exit you can visit the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art.

I imagine Mr. Schnitzer, who is very much alive, driving the interstate and basking in the glory of it all. He can exit at his very own exit.

As for the rest of us, we might well wonder, “Who the hell is Jordan Schnitzer and why is his name being thrust in my face on this public by-way?”

Why indeed? I have no answer except for my reference to certain mental abnormalities.

Mr. Schnitzer happens to be a neighbor, of sorts. When I climb to higher elevations, I walk by his very large house with its sweeping view of the metropolis. I’m sure he is an honorable man, but why couldn’t he have insisted, nay, demanded, that the University of Oregon museum be named after a muse, a vision, a great cause, a virtue or a humble worker in his family’s steel plant?

Likewise, Messers Pamplin, Knight and Merlo. All of these men are, like Mr. Schnitzer, alive and answerable. It remains to be seen whether they are aware. Perhaps they will tell us. We eagerly await their response.

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