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.””

The United States: Hollywood’s Effigy For Earth

Why is it that almost every disaster movie, whether it is natural, alien, zombie, etc, occurs in the United states. I’m not saying that there are not plenty of disaster movies that occur in other countries. One disaster movie that I enjoy in particular is Train to Busan, a zombie movie that occurs in South Korea. However, I find that the majority of popular disaster movies occur somewhere in the United States. More specifically, these movies tend to focus on a select few states like New York, California, and the nation capital, Washington DC. Does this simply occur due to the shear amount of movies that are produced in the US, or is there more symbolic reason behind it. I obviously cannot provide you with this answer, but I will give you my opinion.

Applying this to the question of why so many disaster movies are set in the US, we can see a few explanations. One possibility is that these states are highly populated and with plenty scenic views that many city or suburban dwellers could relate to. A second option is that these types of cities/states can be found all over the world and are more cost effective to film in since they are closer to Hollywood than, lets say China. A third and my last idea as to why this happens is due to hometown bias illustrated by some Hollywood producers. It is my personal belief that it is a mix of all of these options that lead to most disaster movies being produced in the US. According to www.Statista.com, the US produces the highest movie revenue of any country. Even though they are far from producing the most amount of movies each year, it can be said that more people pay for movies produced in the US than that of other countries. Therefore, it can be said that if any of these ideas are correct (if any) it sure does show.

Regardless of what causes movie producers to set most disaster movies in the US, they are using the US as an effigy. They can’t set a movie in every country and therefore choose to do it in one. Directors and producers are using the US as a stage for what is happening in the rest of the world. Going back to our course discussion on Joseph Roach’s “Echoes in the Bone”, Roach defines the word, “effigy” as,

“a noun meaning a sculpted pictured likeness. More particularly it can suggest a crudely fabircated image of a person, commonly one that is destroyed in his or her stead, as in hanging or burning in effigy. When effigy appears as a verb, though that usage is rare, it means to evoke an absence, to body something forth, especially something from a distant past (OED)[…]it fills by means of segregation a vacancy created by the absence of an original” (Joseph Roach).

As to why these producers use the US as an effigy, I can not definitively say; however, they are doing so nonetheless. In doing so, they seem to act according to one one of two reasonings.

They might be acknowledging the limitations of movies and using specific locations of economic and/or cultural importance. These sites are usually well-known regardless of where the movie is released and are therefore going to be seen as at least somewhat familiar to viewers, even if they have never visited the site. Additionally, through this well-known state/city/landmark, they represent the world at large. It “fills by means of segregation a vacancy created by the absence of an original”. Since the whole world would be both difficult and expensive to film for a singular movie, they use what is closest and what is well known. For example. I want you to look at these two pictures. One is a picture of New York and the other is a picture of Beijing. Picture 1. Picture 2. Ignoring the names of the cities being present in the links, how easy is it to tell which picture is of which city? Sure there are certain landmarks unique to each one, but a city is a city is a city.

The second option, is very much like the first. However, they are using the US as a representation of the world, not because it is what they are limited to, but because it is what they know. Again, the situation is the same in that a city is a city is a city; however, here it is simply because they know nothing else. Writers who try to depict what they are unfamiliar with, might have a hard time doing so. Sure they have the internet to look at pictures and articles about various locations, but without ever experiencing the land for themselves, a true representation might never be achieved. Therefore they write about their home country/state as they are familiar with it at even the street level. If a writer really wanted to illustrate another country that they had never visited, they could hire an informant who could help them bring their illustration to life, but that costs time and money.

I honestly cannot say which of these options are the right answer even if there was an answer period. I believe that the reason could be a mix of each in that setting placement is a matter of time, money, familiarity, and ability to illustrate. Though producers, directors, and writers may have their own agendas beneath the overall reasoning, again I will say, they use the US as an effigy to represent the world at large.

Instruments for and against memory

“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”

I felt my most profound stirring at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem when I entered the Children’s Memorial. Continue reading “Instruments for and against memory”

Art and Empowerment: The Performance of Memory Through Artistic Expression

Last semester, I went to the event Professor McCoy and Steve Prince organized on Main Street, where students, faculty, and community members alike were invited to create woodblock prints that were then arranged around one that Prince had created. The focus of the piece was trauma and healing, inspired by the trials and tribulations of Emmeline the bear, who was run into by cars multiple times. As such, I immediately recognized Prince’s art style when confronted with it in class in the piece Katrina’s Veil: Stand at Gretna Bridge, pictured belowPrince Katrina's Veil Stand at the Gretna Bridge .jpgImage Credit

Prince’s work deals with remembrance: in the case of his project at Geneseo, remembering trauma and moving on from it, and in his series done in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, remembering and bearing witness to the atrocities caused by the hurricane, but also by those in power that we are supposed to trust, namely the police and the government.

This brings me to the quote from Roach’s “Echoes in the Bone” that has so vexed and fascinated the class: “Echoes in the bone refer not only to a history of forgetting but to a strategy of empowering the living through the performance of memory” (34). What does it mean to “empower the living?” More importantly, how can we both forget and remember? Continue reading “Art and Empowerment: The Performance of Memory Through Artistic Expression”

Is it Possible to Remember and Forget all at Once?

“To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.” – Elie Wiesel

For my first blog post (I’m shocked but also pleased with myself that I’m doing this now and not later), I’d like to delve further into the discussion we were having on Monday, in regards to memory and forgetting because it really sparked my interest. But first- Catherine already so-brilliantly tackled this subject in her blog post that you can (and should) check out here. I would like to further expand on this.

Continue reading “Is it Possible to Remember and Forget all at Once?”