[fourth blog, travel course, Concordia University]

The Statue of Liberty was given to the United States by France in 1886. The statue was originally known as Liberty Enlightening the World; the title “Statue of Liberty” became a more common name for the massive copper statue. Lady Liberty, as the statue is sometimes called, commemorates the centennial of the United States (1876), and was a gesture of friendship between France and the US.

The meaning to immigrants, however, was different. To those entering New York Harbor en route to Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty was one of the first sights to gaze upon– their first glimpse of America. Not knowing Liberty’s intended symbolism and meaning, they were free to think whatever they pleased. We can logically suppose that immigrants let the statue become the symbol of their hope for a new life in America. To some, Lady Liberty may have meant freedom from misfortunes back home. To others, the statue may have meant a clean slate from their past, or promised success at a career they hoped to begin in the United States.

This begs the classic question of meaning: is meaning determined solely by the receiver of a message, or is meaning agreed upon by a majority or organization of people? Is the meaning of the statue limited to its original intent, or have the meanings people have given it added to the statue’s ultimate meaning? Can a person or organization control how their meaning is perceived by the public or intended audience? Surely they can do things to ensure a higher likelihood that their message will be received accurately, but ultimately, they can’t ensure their meaning will be perceived in the way they want.

Take Calvin Klein’s Times Square advertisement for example. The ad features a man and woman– sweaty, in underwear, the woman preparing to mount the man for sex. We can suppose what the message of the ad may be…a sexual appeal that intends to make people believe Calvin Klein is a sexy, attractive brand. Still, some will receive it as lame, offensive, or in my case, amusing.

So, what can one do to help to ensure their meaning will be received accurately? Being completely explicit seems to ensure accuracy. However, an explicit message may neglect a particular demographic. Ideally, an advertisement will appeal to people at multiple levels of income and intelligence. Letting the meaning belong to the receiver is in some cases advantageous to the advertiser since it doesn’t exclude anyone.

So, what for the Statue of Liberty? In the early 1900s, Lady Liberty couldn’t broadcast her meaning to boats traversing New York Harbor. It was also difficult to get a message out to mass numbers of people: knowledge spread via word of mouth (a less than reliable medium), through books (reaching only those who are willing to seek out and purchase a copy), through schooling (which in most cases wasn’t required), and through advertisements (usually limited to urban areas).

I suppose the meaning of the Statue of Liberty exists in two areas: the original intent and the meanings those who have looked upon it have given the statue. I choose to accept the statue’s original intent as its meaning, but believe each is acceptable so long as the original intent is understood and used to guide personal meaning. After all, believing anything we want about the statue with neglect to its purpose devalues the original meaning entirely and trivializes the statue.

You can view some of my favorite photos from the trip on my photoblog.