Thursday, February 26, 2009

Distance and the Holocaust

(Photo of the electric fence at Sachsenhausen concretation camp by bsto.)

Last night I couldn't sleep after reading Tadeusz Borowski's short story within the eponymous book "This Way For The Gas Ladies and Gentlemen."

Having taking classes and written on both tragedy and comedy, I find it is the combination of the two that makes the most effective emotive impact. Regarding Holocaust literature, think Maus, by Art Spiegelman (who I will get to speak to in April). Anyway we can talk about dark humor another day.

...I couldn't sleep last night.

But honestly, I knew that I could have if I had really tried. I hadn't shed a tear. And it comes down to one thing:


Distance is our asset right now. Now is the perfect time to study the Holocaust. We--my generation--are removed enough to face the facts without being paralyzed or suffocated by them; we are far enough from Germany to avoid getting sick of seeing artifacts, evidence at every street corner. Even as I was affected by "This Way For The Gas Ladies and Gentlemen," I knew I could sleep.

Still, we are close enough to be touched by real survivors, to see a grandfather struggle to pronounce the word "Auschwitz" not because of his experience but because of what could have been his experience. We are close enough to know what the Holocaust really was.

Our generation, therefore, has the biggest burden to shoulder. No one-on-one interviews with survivors or first-hand witnesses. They will mostly be gone by the time we finish graduate school, certainly before we reach 40.

No. We will be the ones who delineate the canon, who write the policies, who adjudicate between representations and memories of the Holocaust.

It's a responsibility and an honor. But our time, of course, is flying by.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Facebook's 25 Things Are Alright With This Guy

I'm just going to come out and confess it (ha, like those ridiculously ubiquitous Proactive commercials that start with Jennifer Love Hewitt confessing her "love affair" with acne cream):

I really like the Facebook 25 things phenomenon. I don't think it requires a whole bunch of Stephen Marche-esque cultural analysis. Like, I don't think the phenomenon derives entirely from a narcissistic generation of indoor kids who lack real contact with the outside world and require such a medium to satisfy the Neanderthal desire to talk about themselves.

No. I think that when they're done right the 25 Things notes are funny, enlightening, and nothing close to a waste of time. But the key phrase there is "done right." Nobody wants to read self-congratulatory acceptance speech gobbledygook; nobody cares about the cliched factoids that tell us nothing about yourself or your life; and it's just downright inappropriate to include overly personal information on your sexual drive and bathroom habits.

The key is this: All our Facebook profiles are an exercise in public relations. Whether we are conscious of it or not, we all construct a public image of ourselves that leads to opinions and judgments from onlookers. The 25 things phenomenon fits in neatly with this paradigm.

In essence, it's just an extension of the "info" section on our profiles. And that's the whole fun. Don't lie: you loved making a list of favorite movies and favorite TV shows. You loved deciding whether it was ironically funny or potentially immature-seeming that the only book you included was "Everybody Poops."

So go ahead, Facebook. Do what you do. I'll be watching.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Friday Video Premiere: Manhattan Island Monkey Edition

*Every* Friday, we're highlighting a specific video (or two, or three) for your end of week enjoyment.

This week's video is from one of the best Woody Allen movies evurr:

The opening scene of Manhattan, god bless it.

I may be the only JJer who listens to classical music in a context besides studying, but I have no doubt that we can all enjoy George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue together here. Don't let United Airlines ruin it for you. It is an astounding piece of music. Really. It's playful and buoyant, it's smooth and rich--kind of like the girl of your dreams. And what more could you want from music?

As it is proclaimed so prominently on the back of the DVD box, Woody scored the entire movie to Gershwin. The composer's cosmopolitanism, the way he composed popular, jazzy, Broadway, as well as classical masterpieces, befits the movie because even though it's not always merry, it's ALWAYS urban.

That opening scene is so well shot, too. Woody mixed it up with far away shots of the island, close up and personal shots of humanity; then moving shots following still shots; wet scenes interspersed with dry ones--it's a legendary montage, capped with that epic fireworks show that feels nothing short of celestial.

Now how's THAT for singing someone's praises. Yeah I'm sprung.

OK, check out this progression:

From original Gershwin:

Very pretty. Move to a bit more spunky version with Billie (this video is crazy!):

Then to the Sublime application:

Doin Time - Sublime

We could end with the Pharcyde version, but that would involve spending too much time trying to find it on the increasingly slow cafe interwebs, so just take my word that Gershwin goes much, much further.

Woot woot!

Happy Friday!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Blah Blah New Music Blah Blah Your Face


Adele won best new artist or sumtin last night at the Gramsauce so it just shows my knack for falling in love with party shuffle songs that catch my attention mid-studying. Take, for example, this thingy I put up on my fb wall last week:

Why'd it catch my attention? Maaaan, as soon as you hear those opening hits you just FEEL Biggie coming at you in "Dead Wrong." That's a disgusting song, with lyrics as brutal as the lyricist's death, but it's also an epic beat. This video is hilarious (a) because it's cornier than Hugh Grant, and (b) like 75% of the words are bleeped out. Dig this version, with a super young Eminem keeping up with heinous lyrics of his own:

So you can tell why I love that Adele version so much. It not only takes what was so good about the Gangsta Era (the music) and adds to it; it also takes you by surprise with the inventive use of an old beat--which is to say, it is a damn good remix.

Good work, Kickdrums.

Good work, JJers.

Happy Monday, or sumtin.

Thoughts on Casualties in Iraq & Afghanistan

Note: I did not personally know LCpl. Anderson or his family. This was an assignment for a class. I chose to write about LCpl. Anderson because of his age and because he was killed in action in Iraq.

Lance Corporal Norman W. Anderson III was killed in Iraq on October 19, 2005 by a suicide car bomber in Karabilah, a town on the Syrian border. His mission was to prevent insurgents from crossing between Iraq and Syria. LCpl. Anderson’s gravesite was one of the markers at Arlington that I was attracted to because he was 21 years old when he was killed in Iraq, making him a little more than three years my senior. This is someone I could have gone to high school with and the fact that LCpl. Anderson and I both come from very small communities is a fact that resonated with me.

Parkton, MD is a town of 6,600 located near the Pennsylvania border. My own hometown, Lancaster, MA, is a small town in central Massachusetts with a population of 7,380. LCpl. Anderson attended Hereford High School, a school I imagine to be very similar to Nashoba Regional, the high school I attended. After LCpl. Anderson was killed in Karabilah, his high school held a memorial for him before a home football game.

The visual I have of this memorial service is one I have formed from reading about LCpl. Anderson and his hometown. However, I feel like I have constructed a fairly accurate picture nonetheless. I picture the lights illuminating a football field, with both teams on bended knees as his former football coach addresses the crowd. The sense of belonging to a community was strong in Lancaster and I imagine the same to be true of Parkton. I don’t mean any romanticized or trite sense of superiority that often comes when people speak of the small towns they come from. Just that in a town of a few thousand, you are aware of the fact that your town is small and that in one way or another you are familiar with everyone on a very basic level.

Thus, in my memorial service, the people of Parkton would stand silently and watch as family members and former teammates recounted the life of LCpl. Norman W. Anderson III. Many people would cry, some would be overcome by an awkward sense of cowardice that, in light of LCpl. Anderson’s unimaginable sacrifice, makes them feel as though they are unworthy of even partaking in a moment of remembrance on his behalf. At least, that’s the feeling I kept coming back to as I passed the graves of World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War veterans until I finally arrived at the edge of section 60 where soldiers from Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom are buried. This feeling amplifies itself considerably when I realize that many of these soldiers are only slightly older than I am. Some of them are even younger. While I lived my life these past 8 years free from the thought of ever having to serve in the military, these people signed up to serve and ended up dying for it.

I don’t think I harbor any foolish notions about the glory of war. I am not even particularly patriotic. However, men and women like LCpl. Anderson will always overwhelm me with the epic tragedy of their sacrifices. I even feel guilty for wondering to myself as I look at the headstones of these soldiers if they actually believed in what they were doing. As it turns out, that isn’t always easy to discern. LCpl. Anderson’s godmother reported that before his death he had told his mother to “please remember I’m doing what I wanted to do.” However, one of his friends from home said that at LCpl. Anderson “didn’t seem too happy; he didn’t know why he was there.” This observation came at LCpl. Anderson’s wedding. He had returned from a tour in Afghanistan to marry his high school sweetheart. They spent their honeymoon at a Baltimore Inner Harbor hotel because he had to ship out to Iraq soon after the wedding day.

            The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have shaped my generation’s perception of conflict in a way that the historical memory of World War II or Vietnam, accuracy of these memories aside, could not. It is interesting that even in the middle of these two wars, the historical memories of these conflicts are being written with two conflicting narratives, epitomized by Parkton, MD’s own reaction to the death of one of its citizens in Iraq. The WBAL news report emphasized LCpl. Anderson’s commitment to Country, God, and the Corps. It contained the quote from his godmother. It was adding to the narrative of noble sacrifice that people, and this is not exclusive to small towns, want to believe in. As Americans, we want to know our fighting men and women died courageously and committed to the mission and ideals we hold dear. In this story, there is no room for doubt about a soldier’s commitment to the mission. There is no place to question why a boy joined the Marines while still in high school or why a on his tombstone it does not list, as with Korea and Vietnam, the conflict he died in but rather the mission he died for: Operation Iraqi Freedom. Perhaps in fifty or one hundred years people won’t remember so well the ambiguity of the Iraq War. They might even confuse it with the Persian Gulf War. However, if any of these people visit section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery and take the time to look at the grave of LCpl. Norman W. Anderson III, they’ll see that he died for the freedom of a downtrodden people and think, “Well at least he died for a good cause.”

            This is not to suggest that that isn’t the case. However, it seems that it isn’t honest to the memory of LCpl. Anderson, a man who himself may have harbored misgivings about an ambiguous fight in distant country. This is the other narrative of the war. One where we decry the leaders who lead us down the path to war. Where phased withdrawals and Vietnam comparisons shout down those who think we need to stay the course. In this narrative, the picture of LCpl. Anderson that his former coach keeps in his office and the memorial service in Parkton, MD are not seen as fitting tributes to a soldier. Instead they only serve as tragic reminders of the futility of the Iraq War and the countless Parktons who have had to memorialize their fallen soldiers. This also is a dishonest way to view the death of LCpl. Anderson. The two mutually exclusive narratives of these wars are fighting the battle over our national memory.

            While at Arlington, I saw a family mourning a soldier at a grave near to where LCpl. Anderson is buried. Seeing them there, more than anything, drove home what I have always felt to be the real problem with casualties and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Troops are supported and people call for troops to be brought home. Soldiers serve honorably and soldiers’ deaths are reported in newspapers. However, troops and soldiers have families. In the case of LCpl. Norman W. Anderson III he had a mother and a father, a best friend and a godmother, and a wife of a few months. He was a person who played football at Hereford High School. He grew up in Parkton, MD. In the memorial service I constructed in my head, I hope that the people looking out onto the field, in addition to the feelings of inadequacy and patriotism and pride they might be feeling in the wake of LCpl. Anderson’s sacrifice, would take the time to remember that he was a unique individual before he was a symbol of a noble cause or a failed war.