“There are certain topics that are off-limits to comedians: JFK, AIDS, the Holocaust. The Lincoln Assassination just recently became funny. ‘I need to see this play like I need a hole in the head.’ And I hope to someday live in a world where a person could tell a hilarious AIDS joke. It’s one of my dreams.” -Michael Scott, “The Office”
This quote from one of my favorite television shows popped into my head during today’s discussion on memory versus forgetting. Michael’s reference to not being able to make jokes about “JFK, AIDS, and the Holocaust” relates to the immense tragedies involving the topics, but also to the timeliness of the issues. Compared to those three things, the Lincoln Assassination occurred very long ago. The problem with timeliness of the commercialization of or jokes about topics from history is apparent in this quote, as well as in our discussion of the “Tot Tanic” image Beth showed us in class.
Veronica mentioned that it’s strange that we categorize the glorification of violence or controversial past events; we can have movies about deadly fights in Roman coliseums, but the closer an event gets to to our own time frame, the more the lines get blurred and the more it becomes difficult to know how we are allowed to remember these events. Once we talked more about the image, however, and discussed memory versus forgetting, it also brought me back to a class I took last semester with Professor Alice Rutkowski about the Civil War Novel (the same one Don talks about in his post: Autochthony and the Imagined Community).
In ENG 424, we talked a lot about current day Civil War memory and how our culture remembers the Civil War. This came at a time when the repercussion of the acts in Charlottesville–when neo-nazis rioted in an attempt to salvage a statue of Confederate General Lee–were dwindling down but were still reminiscent in our minds.
We delved into an article that I now regret deleting about cultural memory and forgetting. In the terms taken from today’s class period, the protesters were partaking in both memory and forgetting at the same time. As Roach put in today’s reading, “echoes in the bone refer not only to a history of forgetting but to a history of empowering the living through the performance of memory” (34). By wanting to keep the statue erect, they are remembering the Confederate army and the soldiers that died in the war. Yet, at the same time, they are forgetting why that war was fought (in boiled down terms, to keep slavery), and who those people were fighting for (the side that wanted to keep slavery).
It can be easy to diminish the meaning of the past and instead pick out parts that are important or romanticized because it happened so long ago, but whatever event it is, the whole of it is still relevant. This is true especially for something like the Civil War and slavery. Those repercussions are still so relevant in America today and it’s so shameful that we as a culture cannot afford to forget it. Those who wish to honor the fallen from the Southern army have a right to if they want, but by doing so, they disregard the painful and “ugly” past of how America was created. They brush off that the soldiers were helping the fight to keep slavery alive in the United States. On a much smaller scale, this event is very similar to the “Tot Tanic” image that Beth introduced us to. In both instances, they pick and choose parts of history that they want to remember, and instead turn to a romanticized recreation of the past, thus forgetting the pain and suffering that comes with history too.
It’s difficult to know the line between remembering and forgetting, but it’s imperative to keep in mind. How much can we honor an event or someone from the past without forgetting a large part of the social and or factual information surrounding it or them? Or on the other hand, how much history is allowed to be forgotten when honoring the past and its legacies? Hopefully some of these answers can be found, or at least explored, through closer readings of Roach and our texts as we remember the effects of hurricanes in history.