Have the Monoliths Worn Out Their Welcome Now?

Have the Monoliths Worn Out Their Welcome Now?
A monolith at Compton Beach in Isle of Wight, England, Photo Credit: RXDPHOTO/

The trend of appearing and disappearing monoliths is beginning to cause mixed reactions among netizens

Prannay Pathak
December 12 , 2020
07 Min Read

By now, the news about the appearing monoliths has become ancient history. The mystery of the first, perfectly symmetrical, shiny bar that came up in the Utah desert to the whole world’s surprise, has long been solved. The 3-m-long metal column was first suspected to be the work of the late John McCracken, maverick sculptor (disproved later since McCracken had died in 2011) and then another local sculptor, who denied the charge. A popular version is that the structure was trash, dumped at Red Rock Country by a crew member on the futuristic fantasy show Westworld, as part of a prank.

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Following the appearance and subsequent disappearance of the Utah monolith, similar columns—informed netizens have expressed their reservation calling them monoliths since they are metallic—were spotted in Romania and California, and then on Isle of Wight in England. The latest sightings of these pillars have been in the Netherlands and Colombia. A band of trekkers travelling through a nature reserve in rural Friesland came upon a metallic pillar close to a small pool of water on December 7. A day later it, too, disappeared, ‘resurfacing’ as a golden column with a sloping edge.

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Read: The Timeless Rock-Cut Architecture of Petra

The Utah monolith brought back memories of that stupendous opening sequence of the Stanley Kubrick classic, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Was there indeed a redeeming reboot for humanity in the offing after the state the pandemic left us in? But as the days passed and the year-end drew closer and the monoliths proliferated, I concluded it was just a banal series of pranks playing on the innate human curiosity for phallic relics.

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Read: Petroglyphs: Rock of ages

Tacky—as The Guardian rightly calls it—and predictable as the ‘trend’ may be, it is interesting to note that the appearances of subsequent monoliths have taken in an undisturbed sequence of sorts. It is almost as if the same structure disappeared from one place and resurfaced in another part of the world, leaving our social media selves squabbling like Kubrick’s ape-men, or as the conspiracy theorists would have it—was the handiwork of aliens. The scheming monolith, however, would also seem to be a shape-shifting one: the structures that have appeared at the subsequent sites have been markedly different in shape, size and colour.

Read: Don’t Go Climbing Every Mountain

The flipside of the buzz is that netizens have gone from ecstatic to jaded and even annoyed at these appearances and their subsequent coverage in the media. In a world where information travels fast, the monoliths have become an ever-developing story that is inviting brickbats and angry responses from irked social media users. The environmentally conscious aren’t taking to it too kindly either—the erection of these monoliths is being attacked as mass infiltration into ecologically sensitive areas and fragile habitats.

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The installation and quickly orchestrated discovery of a monolith and the world witnessing it subsequently is part of the performance, the ideal setting for it being unpeopled, unspoiled natural environs. The metal pillar that came up on top of a hill recently in the protected area of Dartmoor, England, is a great example of concerns fast beginning to be expressed about whether the trend is safe anymore.

However, after the waning of the initial excitement surrounding the monoliths, there is actual travel inspiration for the taking. The stunning rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, Ethiopia, that have been carved out of a single volcanic rock, geological monoliths such as Australia’s Uluru rock, and the Great Sphinx of Giza decidedly merit much more attention. In the wake of the pandemic, as we look to discover more of our own country in the coming year, one could finally explore the majestic stature of Gommateshwara in Shravanbelagola and the Kailasa Temple in Ellora or the unparalleled wonder evoked by the Nartiang monoliths of Meghalaya.

If nothing, we could always go back to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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