White People Whitewash, Again!

On first seeing When the Levees Broke on our syllabus for Metropolis, my mind immediately went to one of my favorite songs, “When the Levee Breaks” by the classic English rock and blues band, Led Zeppelin. Given the bands propensity for sexual innuendo, I always skimmed the lyrics and assumed that the song was just about sexual tension building and exploding based on the two main hooks: “If it keeps on rainin’ levee’s goin’ break… All last night sat on the levee and moaned…”
Continue reading “White People Whitewash, Again!”

“The Dead Stay Dead”

In his book Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance, Joseph Roach titles a chapter “Echoes in the Bone.” Roach himself acknowledges the title as a nod to a play by Jamaican playwright Dennis Scott entitled An Echo in the Bone. The allusion is fitting for the chapter in Roach’s book that deals primarily with remembering, forgetting, and the deceased, as Scott’s play is centered around a Nine-Night Ceremony. The Nine-Night Ceremony, according to Roach, “welcomes the spirit of a deceased person back into his or her home on the ninth night after death has occurred.” It is a ceremony that engages in the wider, cross-cultural discourse on the remembering and forgetting of the dead. Continue reading ““The Dead Stay Dead””

The Paradox of Disaster Movies

I’ve seen The Day After Tomorrow more times than I’d like to admit. At least four separate occasions, possibly five. After the third viewing, it sort of blends together into blurry mess, and my impressions of the movie become far less potent with each subsequent screening.

I can understand when someone repeatedly re-watches their favorite movie. Some are just so packed with fine details that it feels like a new experience each time. Unfortunately, The Day After Tomorrow is not my favorite movie. I wouldn’t even consider it a good movie, and my opinion of it has become even less flattering over time. So, why, exactlyhas this movie been repeatedly drilled into my brain?

The answer lies within its nature. The Day After Tomorrow is categorized, quite neatly, as a disaster movie. It fits right in with the likes of Deep Impact, Twister, 2012, and Dante’s Peak, and even alongside some of the sillier films in the genre, such as The Core and Armageddon. Most of these movies, to some degree, follow a pretty standard format: A researcher in a niche field of natural sciences gives an ominous warning of the dangers that he discovers from his research. His warnings are quickly cast aside by rivals, deniers, or greedy politicians. Suddenly, a disastrous situations erupts that is conveniently relevant to the researcher’s area of expertise. Now the viewers must hold on to their seats as our hero traverses the volatile results of this disaster to either “solve” the problem or save as many people as he can. Throw in some child bystanders and a montage of cities being consumed by rampant special effects and you’ve got yourself a movie!

The “nature” of these movies lies within their appeal. Yes, some viewers might enjoy the suspenseful or interpersonal struggles of the protagonist in the midst of his predicament. Yes, many are suckers for the “destruction porn” provided by the blob of special effects crashing into an urban environment. Sometimes these movies have comedic or romantic elements that can keep people entertained. However, the thing that keeps people coming back has a lot more in common with that of horror flicks: Audiences crave the adrenaline from fear. They’re addicted to projecting themselves into terrible situations that would stimulate their primal urges for danger and excitement.

The requirement for these movies to achieve this exact thrill is that they must be remotely grounded in reality; if they break the viewer’s suspension of disbelief, then the thrill, and subsequently the appeal, dissipates. Because of this, most disaster movies have concepts (usually loosely) based in science, bringing forth and exaggerating familiar concepts such as storms, earthquakes, and meteors. The success of these movies hinge on people’s natural fears of these phenomena. In order to ramp up the excitement even further, many disaster movies brand their plots as “warnings” in attempts to convince their audiences that these events are realand it could happen to you! 

The reason I’ve seen The Day After Tomorrow so many times is because the “warning” it gives has been relevant to a number of courses I’ve taken throughout high school and college. In eighth grade I took a low-stress extracurricular class on alternative energies, and the teacher showed The Day After Tomorrow to demonstrate their necessities. In ninth grade I took earth science, and as a treat after a test the teacher decided to show a movie. That movie? The Day After Tomorrow. In twelfth grade I took an environmental studies class. Needless to say, we watched The Day After Tomorrow. Now, deep into my college career, I’ve found myself watching The Day After Tomorrow once again.

Some may say that the popularity of these movies are a good thing. It would be logical to assume that people who are more aware of the consequences of global warming from this movie would be more conscious of their carbon footprint. Or that those that watch Twister would know how to protect themselves and their families from tornadoes. Or even that the viewers of Deep Impact would advocate for better preparation in the case of a major asteroid collision. However, these movies are more likely to cause more problems than good.

The problem with disaster movies is that, while they present the audience with extreme examples of theoretical disasters, they undermine the actual consequences of natural disasters that happen every year. A disaster movie isn’t going to show a family hopelessly watch the California wildfires slowly approach their home, or an elderly couple being stranded on their roof for three days after the flooding of Hurricane Katrina, or a Kenyan village gradually starving because the annual average temperature rising six degrees Celsius killed their crops. While tragic, real-life disasters would be considered “boring” to the typical disaster movie audience. People familiar with disaster movies are less likely to care about the victims of a real disaster because it wasn’t as “flashy” as what they see in the movies, like how a suburb being flooded by five feet of water isn’t as emotionally impactful as the entirety of New York City getting leveled by a giant tidal wave.

Disaster movies set up an impossible expectation for disasters to be large, sudden, and exciting. People often don’t realize that they simply aren’t so extreme. Many actual disasters are small (relative to what’s seen in the movies) with the real dangers being the long battle of endurance rather than flying debris or giant fireballs instantly killing people. When someone tunes in to the fallout of a natural disaster but is “disappointed” by the severity, how would that affect their sympathy towards the victims, or their willingness to help? While disaster movies certainly give the impressions of being omens of the future to come or inspirations for the resilience of the human spirit (also usually tugging at the watcher’s emotions by destroying beloved national landmarks), the over-the-top display of natural forces delusions people to what it means for others to experience danger and tragedy.

It should remembered that movies, despite how realistic they claim to be, should never be taken seriously. The film industry is, after all, a for-profit industry, and is more than willing to stretch the truth to increase drama or justify having crazier special effects. It may be difficult for common audiences to disassociate disaster movies with actual disasters, but if that is ever achieved we would certainly end up with a more socially and environmentally aware society.

(As a side note, it should be pointed out how problematic the ending of The Day After Tomorrow is for people who might take it seriously. The movie doesn’t do anything to offer a solution for people to pursue, then goes on to depict the storm dissipating on its own, as if to say “Even if this did happen, don’t worry! The problem will fix itself soon enough.” What a great lesson to teach your children.)

On the life and death of Muhiyidin Moye, Black Lives Matter activist

In February, 2017, Muhiyidin Moye leaped across police tape to remove a Confederate flag from the hands of a Demonstrator in Charleston, South Carolina– and it was captured on national live television. A prominent Black Lives Matter activist, Moye took an intersectional and local approach to his work, rising in protest in Mount Pleasant against Trump’s attempted Muslim ban, and speaking vehemently about the structural inequality and history of white terror that led to the murder of nine black churchgoers in Charleston in June 2015.

Muhiyidin Moye during a meeting with the North Charleston, S.C., City Council in 2015, discussing the killing of Walter Scott. Credit Chuck Burton/Associated Press

Continue reading “On the life and death of Muhiyidin Moye, Black Lives Matter activist”

The Intersecting of Paths

During the process of analyzing the maps in the World Atlas book, something that struck me was the question of what cannot be seen on a map. The question confused me at first. I didn’t think much could be shown on a map. A map to me is defined as a geographical location with aspects of coordinates and a key are involved. Locations have populations; populations are a group of people; and a group of people hold a certain culture and a type of identity. Generalizations occur as groups of people can be stereotyped by their geographical location. Assumptions of socio-economic class, wealth, behaviors, and attitudes can be made. This type of preconceived notions can be a dangerous due to not individualizing people but instead grouping people together in terms of location. “In a sense, every place is unfathomable, infinite, impossible to describe, because it exists in innumerable versions, because no two people live in quite the same city but live side by side in parallel universes that may or may not intersect, because the minute you map it the map becomes obsolete, because the place is constantly arising and decaying.” (Unfathomable City, 1)  Continue reading “The Intersecting of Paths”

Children’s Culture and Children as Effigies

One of the things that struck me most at the beginning of the semester was how Beth pointed out that “make-out spots” aren’t included on maps, which got me thinking about how children’s culture is not recognized, or legitimized, by adults. Maps—a reconstruction of the landscape—tend to reflect wider societal mores and values, not a constantly changing and developing viewpoint of minors. Children’s culture, however, is important—it’s rooted in developmental years that shape a child’s world view—so why isn’t it recognized and legitimized? Continue reading “Children’s Culture and Children as Effigies”

Performance of Memory & Conspiracy Theories

Well I’ve put this off for far too long…

As we continue to read our text in class it is very easy to see parallels between the key points we take away from the text and the actions of the characters (performers) in “When the Levees Broke.”

“Echoes in the bone refer to not only to a history of forgetting but to a history of empowering the living through the performance of memory.” —Joseph Roach, “Echoes in the Bone”

Apart from marginally having the best nickname in the film, Harry “Swamp Thing” Cook was the first to talk about the boom, or explosion, that happened in the lower ninth ward during the storm. The noise was never fully explained, but the residence had several theories as to what it was. Some suggested it was a transformer, a barge hitting the levee, a hole in the levee forming into a crack, and most noteworthy intentional dynamiting of the levee. This is the resurrection of the 1927 rumor that the levee was intentionally destroyed in Saint John Parish, and flooded more than a million people out of their homes, to preserve more expensive lake front property.

This was “never proven nor disproven,” however the parallels between the two disasters are incredibly strong and, conspiracy theories are stronger than levees. They can be overwhelmed by facts and not so much as crack. However, it doesn’t seem as if this conspiracy theory has been overwhelmed by facts, on either side of the argument. Professor Doug Brinkely of Tulane University, claims in his book “The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast” that the people of New Orleans have had a sensitive on-going history with poor, racially based, treatment while in the face of disaster.

Professor Brinkely’s argument spawns directly from Roach’s key themes of the performance of memory. By performing the memories, the residents of the ninth ward—such as “Swamp Thing” himself—that witnessed the unexplained “boom” felt empowered to understand the present. “People who believed that the levee was dynamited, have a long experience of being ripped off.”

And it’s true, between hurricane Betsy and the 1927 floods the rural/impoverished sections of New Orleans have had a long history of misfortune that is clouded with the suspicion of poor justice. In a Time Magazine article, Joseph Uscinski, associate professor of political science at the University of Miami claims, “Conspiracy theories are for losers.” Professor Uscinski does not mean this is a derogatory way, but in a literal way—people who have lost.

I find this very relatable. When I was a high school cross country runner we lost the federation championship to St. Anthony’s high school, horrifically. We were seeded to win… but we got our asses kicked. After the race settled weeks later a rumor surfaced that the team was using P.E.D’s to win the race. I believed it. I wholeheartedly thought I lost to a bunch of cheaters. But looking back at it, I know this is ridiculous to believe! We were children! I know that now, but now that I have distanced myself from the situation I know I should have known that then too. But I was too preoccupied being a loser.

In our topic of the flood history of New Orleans this is also very applicable. Every person involved had lost, whether it was family, homes, things or mental health. There were no winners. Yet weather or not (pun intended), the levees were intentionally destroyed, it is likely we will never know. There isn’t strong evidence for either side of the argument. But by performing the memories of the past, the citizens of New Orleans will feel more empowered to believe whatever they suspect.

 

“Forgetting” When You Have To

In examining conceptions of memory and forgetting, I find myself wondering how memory and forgetting could possibly be apart from one another. It seems to me that the simultaneous function of the two is what makes life bearable.

When dealing with experiences that seem unfathomable (to use a term that has adhered itself to some corner of my mind since the start of our course), some things may need to be “forgotten” in order to continue living. I do not use the term “forgotten” to represent a complete absence of recollection, but rather to signify a more superficial and temporary absence from immediate consciousness.

In experiencing the loss of a loved one, for example, this particular kind of forgetting seems necessary at least to some extent. Of course this does not mean to put the memory of the person out of your mind completely and finally, but to carry on in day-to-day life, a kind of forgetting must be allowed so as to avoid being consumed by grief and unbearable sadness. Often, this seems to be one of the most difficult things about losing a loved one; this kind of “moving on” and “getting back into the swing of things” requires a kind of putting-out-of-the-mind of the loss that one has just experienced. This can lead to feelings of guilt as a person takes a moment to realize the act of “forgetting” that they are engaging in as they re-enter their school or work routines. This usually comes in the form of thoughts like, “How can I be laughing and having fun when —– is dead?” or guilt upon realization that a day has gone by without thinking of the one who has died.

The reality here is that this kind of “forgetting” is not really forgetting at all, but rather just another human survival mechanism that makes it possible to live a life that is not crippled by grief. If humans were incapable of this “forgetting”, the losses and tragedies we experience would build up and quickly become unbearable.

The human mind is terribly and beautifully complicated. I believe memory and forgetting are wound together in an intricate web that may or may not be possible to untangle, though to try is an interesting and rewarding undertaking that I find myself increasingly glad to partake in.

A brief discourse on “effigies”

I had meant to make this post after last Friday’s class, but I was a fool and forgot about it before the weekend began.

The idea of a celebrity as an effigy, a totem or avatar without a deep, intricate personality, is not something revolutionary in our society, as we passively and impartially observe the lives of famous people rise like phoenixes and fall like dominoes; Roach says as much in his novel: “Performers are routinely pressed into service as effigies, their bodies alternately adored and despised but always offered up on the altar of surrogacy” (41). I feel that this schizophrenic state of adoration and alienation is one of the key driving forces in the culture that surrounds the celebrity identity, as they must make sure to be ever-appeasing, lest they incur the wrath of the paparazzi and the general public. I find no better contemporary example of this than the musician, entrepreneur, public figure of Kanye West.

Lampooned by everything from South Park to 30 Rock to Jimmy Fallon, West has built a reputation as a bombastic entertainment figure with a penchant for public fights and outbursts about how great he is as a musical genius; his arrogance is the key to his personality, as even among the rapper community he stands above the rest in that regard. However, West is very personal in his lyricism, as he writes songs lamenting his alienation form his friends, family, and the public in light of his successes, declaring in “Pinocchio Story,” “Do you really have the stamina for everyone who sees you to say, ‘Where’s my camera?’ For everyone who meets you to say, ‘Sign my autograph!’ For everyone who sees you crying to say, ‘You ought a laugh.'” His lyrics also speak to social commentary, opening ‘Jesus Walks’ with the phrase, “We at war. We at war with terrorism, racism, but, most of all, we at war with ourselves.” Yet West is still known primarily for his uncontrolled outbursts of emotion and self-aggrandizement.

Despite his intents, he is not taken as seriously as he should be, and this can best be observed in the now infamous declaration he made while helping to raise money to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. While standing beside Mike Meyers, West spoke personally about his reaction to the news coming out of New Orleans in Katrina’s wake, the portrayal of black citizens just trying to survive as “looters,” and the free reign given to the armed forces to shoot anyone deemed “dangerous,” before avowing, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” In this instance, West is pointing out verifiable issues of status and inequality in American society, but all anyone knows from the event is the soundbite at the end, as West firmly places his foot into his mouth. And for this he has been both adored and despised but the American public, making himself into an effigy of uncontrolled emotion and poor judgement. Not as a man working to bring important issues to light, but simply a petulant fool with poor judgement. Yet in this regard, he is still an effigy, and he is still pressed into that role as a performer, going through the motions to maintain the clout that he does have at this time.

“Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.”

Several classes ago we examined the photo of the troubling, arguably morally ambiguous, scene of the ‘Tot-Tanic’ in a park that Professor McCoy stumbled into. I believe it is fair to say that most of us in the class were quite taken a back that this horrific, albeit quite deeply embedded in the past, event was willfully turned into a playground for children to jump on and slide down. This reaction got me thinking about what we have investigated into Roach thus far regarding the many kinds of performances of both remembering and forgetting. Continue reading ““Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.””