November 30, 2005
Food for the Road and on the Road for Food
First of all, I wanted to note the fact that so much of our experiences of food are related to smell, not taste. Our taste buds are far more limited than our nose in terms of the variety of sensory impressions they can process, yet we often describe our food experiences in terms of taste. In an era where so many scents or smells are artificially manufactured, including many “natural” scents that are copied from nature, it is easy to forget just how precious spices and fragranced products have been throughout the course of economic history. The question of “authenticity” surfaces in a number of ways in the history of fragrance, from current laboratory production of artificially simulated scents to all the way back to the precious nature of exotic spices and in relation to practices like the use of fragrance to mask such unpleasant odors as unwashed human beings (in medieval times when bathing was far more infrequent) or the fresh leather of a new pair of gloves. (The fragrance industry in Grasse, France grew out of the glove-making industry.)
Thinking about scent makes me think of the spice routes of old and of the role that food has played in travel and tourism. Marcel Proust would aver that the sense of scent as associated with food is a strong carrier of memory, both of time and place.
Although we have mentioned accommodations in a number of ways over the course of the semester I am not sure that we have ever focused on the ways in which all tourist destinations and productions must assure the accommodations for basic necessities of food and shelter, for visitors and tourists will not be able to come visit without their being provided, so I appreciate its mention in the review of “Culinary Tourism.” The inclusion of food and lodging establishments is a staple of all travel and these also serve as sites for tourists to interact with each other and as well with the locals who provide these necessities and serve them. In addition to adding “value” as BKG notes, these interactions are often almost a “hidden curriculum” of learning about a particular place, although savvy tourist productions like theme parks – the Holy Land menu and its “camel burgers” comes to mind – incorporate them as part of the crafted (nicer than “controlled,” no?) experience being provided. This was true in times before our own commercial era – think of how many travel stories are set in taverns or inns.
The nature of the food industry as one that rests on service, and the arena of commercial interactions more generally, bring up the issue of socio-economic status. What food people are able to acquire and consume is related to what they are able to afford and procure. Gastronomic tourism can seem especially decadent – to be able to afford to travel for the sake of consuming special dishes in exotic locales, thereby turning a necessity of the road into a luxurious destination and purpose of travel. Eating is also the ultimate “event” – one that is literally consumed and incorporated into oneself even though one cannot bring home a souvenir of a fresh dish – “the immobility of a coalescence-the specificity of experiencing it on the spot.” As a contrast, I am reminded of the short story “the Oranging of America” by Max Apple, in which he imagines Howard Johnson traveling throughout the country in search of locations for his motels. His vision, “the oranging” of the title, is that tourists will see the distinctive roofs of his franchise and know, wherever they are, that they are assured of a familiar standard array of services, including food offerings.
This desire for food that offers us expected consistency is one of the drives behind the fast food industry, as is the increasing freneticism of our daily lives and the speed with which we expect to receive typical services – just think of the local Starbuck’s on a weekday morning or a typical take-out establishment at lunch time. The Slow Food movement runs counter to this aspect of contemporary life, advocating for a re-calibration of the eating experience. It attempts to craft the experience of eating as a kind of “mini-vacation” within daily life, an opportunity to slow down and savor necessities. The use of the term “tradition” in the description of the movement is not accidental – Slow Food suggests that as a global world culture we have lost much and are in danger of losing more – we can seemingly go anywhere or do or experience anything with great speed and immediacy, but we have lost the ability to truly savor simple pleasures and luxuries. Perhaps this trend helps to explain the fascination with constructed experiences in the tourism industry – we have grown so removed from the ability to appreciate our own daily experiences and must rely on others to construct experiences for us. The Slow Food movement is smartly aligned with a host of issues that are in keeping with this: environmentalism, globalization, the endangerment of cultural treasures. “Paradoxically, sometimes the best way to rescue the most idiosyncratic local products and practices is to find a global market for them.” I find it curious how globalization offers these surprising bubbles that seem to act counter-intuitively to what we might think. Another, non-food example: the internet, even as dominated by the superstore super-companies, have proved a boon to used booksellers, who can now reach a huge audience of potential customers unthinkable before this. What other odd markets and synergies are created by the commodification of pleasure? Also, how do these movements re-align sense of place and individuals’ understanding of their connections to place in this new global world? (Since I live across the street from H&H Bagels I am reminded of the fact that they have, for a number of years now, shipped their bagels anywhere in the U.S., seemingly erasing place and distance with the help of UPS. H&H Bagels sold elsewhere commercially are typically sent in dough form and boiled at local establishments in the local water supply, thereby subtly altering their flavor. This tidbit (pun) suggests that place is still important and a significant factor in food production. Likewise, one can order anything from the Zabar’s catalogue but cannot conjure up the experience of standing online in the store on the evening before a major holiday.)
There seems to be an educational aspect to this as well: we must be taught to experience these pleasures and we supposedly will be attracted to activities that serve purposes both immediate and grand: “Eco-gastronomy isn’t going to save the world, but if it can bring politics and pleasure together on the American plate, the Vesuvian apricot and Delaware Bay oysters won’t be the only species to benefit.”
One final anecdote: I am reminded of stories of how concentration camp inmates in the Holocaust sometimes kept themselves and each other hopeful by sharing stories of meals and sharing recipes and imaginary feasts. This ability to recollect pleasure in the face of stark deprivation is a strong testament to the power of our sensory memories and experiences.
Posted by Leah Strigler at 12:43 PM
Sea World: BKG's bullet points
Posted by BKG at 12:02 PM
Ahh, now this is the subject for me. These two tantalising appetisers for this week have made me think that culinary tourism, or maybe just plain eating, is the area for me. A notoriously quick eater, I do in fact put a lot of stock in my...well, stock. Unless it has great gobs of avocado on top (I know you all love it, but I can't get away from the feeling that it is like a mouthful of lard), I 'll try it. And if you grew it, I'll try it even more. And if I grew it: well, let me just give you this little known gardening tip - snails love bok choy leaves so if you plant a row next to your lettuces they won't touch anything else!
This may be the subject for me because as BKG writes, restaurants "are prime sites of designed experiences, collaboratively produced." (1) More than just restaurants, family meals, dinner parties, picnics... sites of eating incite deeply held cultural practices, eating is an event and food links us strongly to locations, people, memories, sensations. If not all of us take our food seriously (and you know I'm talking about you, Andrew), we at least take our hunger seriously. The Slow Food movement remembers that consumption is pleasurable, when unequal trade practices in the name of globalisation have given consumption a slightly bitter aftertaste.
In Australia, our eating is highly influenced by the flavours of South East Asia - even if our current government has worked our international policies back into the 1950s over the course of the last nine years, the proliferation of sambal, lemongrass, and green curry paste in every supermarket extends the country's early 1990s persuasion to locate ourselves in our geographical region.
But if food can place us, it also has the power to let us travel. Through time, and place(s). Growing up in an immigrant family, food (preparation and consumption) was an important way to maintain traditions (living intangible heritage you might say*) and to activate memories of another place and to know who we were. This was similarly evident in our readings of the Smithsonian's Folklife Festivals - where national foods are always included. It may seem superficial, that the local foodcourt's 'World of Flavours' can give you an experience of having traveled the world. On the other hand, foods are infused with cultural practices and peculiarities of place. High-end gastronomically themed tour packages attract lots of takers, precisely because there is something of a place that reveals itself in its food. Food is sensorially enveloping, connecting us to a range of experiences. This fits right in to the end of last week's discussion about 'experience' - not so high-end tour packagers like Intrepid also sell foodie tours, as part of their get off the beaten track and really experience the true [fill in name of country] mission. Sensorially immersive = the real experience. And then this leads me back to much earlier in the semester and backpacking: maybe the backpacker's 'authentic' experience is linked to the fact that discomfort of the body (carrying a heavy load, constantly negotiating a place to sleep, locomotion through the place) reminds you of the body and requires the senses to be constantly on the ready? Tim Edensor writes in his article on walking in the countryside, that there lies a paradox between this kind of walking practice and its themes of getting away and freedom on the one hand, and on the other, a practice that requires the walker to constantly be assessing their body in place, matching it to compass, map and topography.
Quite unexpectedly, gastrotourism seems to pick up right where my Janet Cardiff research has ended. A meal like a memory palace -
PS - hmmm...vegemite...can't live without it....
* I hope you all noticed this on the Slow Food web site:
Stop press! Mexico - 25/11/2005
¡Que viva Mexico!
National cuisine to become UNESCO Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity
Posted by Justine Shih Pearson at 10:37 AM
November 29, 2005
Sea World the Game!
You too can try to understand intimately the workings of Sea World with this computer game. I know you want to put this on your Christmas list! Design and run Sea World. Go for it.
Posted by Lisa Reinke at 12:43 AM
November 28, 2005
ABC Easy As 12Spend
Posted by Siobhan Robinson at 10:25 AM
November 27, 2005
The Bilbao Effect
Looking at the larger relation between Sea World and San Diego, I was fascinated by Susan Davis’ quick mention that “San Diego has developed tourism by inventing resorts, attractions, and cultural images for visitors” (p. 41). Sea World is just another addition to a fabricated city that has been shaped, reshaped and formatted to become a tourist attraction. The city has tried to widen the class, race, age and origin of its visitors by offering “natural” sites that should be of interest to many. Because it is a fabricated site, Sea World stands in sharp contrast with “the reality [San Diego’s] residents experience, a daily reality of polluted air, homeless people living in canyons, beaches closed due to sewage contamination, bitter fights over open space and planning issues, toxic hot spots in the harbor, and far-flung suburbs linked by clogged freeways” (p. 48).
Davis’ demonstration immediately reminded me of what is now called the “Bilbao effect”, after the North-Eastern Spanish city of Bilbao, which has been trying to swap its rags of a sad, ugly and industrial city not worth any mention in guidebooks, into a top-destination for signature contemporary art. The magic word that helped the transition is known as Guggenheim Museum, and the starchitect of this jewel is no other than Frank Gehry. Just as San Diego sold its soul to Sea World in order to become a destination to start with, Bilbao is redefining itself in a similar Faustian way: Sea World is a for-profit theme park that claims to be environment-friendly, school-oriented, and open to all layers of the population, while the Guggenheim, Bilbao’s strange bedfellow, pretends to share art with the masses even in the far-flung corners of Basque land, while open a museum in which the gift shop looks bigger than the gallery, a museum which has not only branded its famous name, curvy architecture and provocative exhibits, but which has also re-branded the city of Bilbao as “Guggenheim territory”: “The marketing, televisual, and celebrity strategies that defined Sea World as a national commodity also helped promote it as a place for San Diego residents… Set in the midst of this playground, Sea World heralded the city’s modern future,” writes Davis (60).
It is interesting to note how in both cases, a highly commercial corporation in the guise of a non-profit enterprise in order to become even more profitable by expanding its brand name and slowly overtaking the city itself. Old San Diego doesn’t become new San Diego, but melts into Sea World, while Bilbao will soon redesign all street signs in order to direct visitors come from all over to one singe destination: the G-Temple.
The subtle perversity of the overtake lies in the blurring of the lines between for- and non-profit, in the creation of institutions that act as fronts: a scientific research center, an educational endeavor and a program of infotainment for Sea World; the display of art, musical performances within the museum, the philanthropic message of the Guggenheim family for Bilbao.
In both cases, there is also a clear objective of reaching out to the masses, of teaching to the largest numbers: Thanks to Sea World, exotic nature become at hand’s reach, sea life is visible, understandable, beautiful. Thanks to the Guggenheim, modern art is accessible, easy to admire (thank God for the cafeteria, the couches and the sunny patio), kids-friendly and for all tastes (exhibiting motorbikes and Armani suits is more attractive than Rothko and Newman).
A number of distressed cities are begging the Guggenheim foundation to open a museum in their premises (but only designed by a signature architect, of course). Is this the beginning of a pattern in contemporary tourism? It will be interesting to follow the fate of Bilbao and find case-studies of cities-turned-corporate-tourism that have failed. Here is one: Euro-Disney, a Disney theme park in the Paris-suburb of Marne-la-Vallée, opened in 1992 with the hope of putting this unknown town on the map. Since then, profits have plummeted, visitors come only once and Mickey Mouse is weeping.
Posted by Brigitte Sion at 10:34 PM
Been there, done that, don't care
I remember Sea World…well sort of. I visited the theme park when I was 16.
If it weren’t for the displays and attractions that have nothing do with marine life, I would have been bored out of my mind. “Sea World’s customers should feel simultaneously entertained and relaxed and unhurried” (77) which I did, with the help of Coco Loco Arcade and Games and a double scoop of vanilla ice-cream topped off with gooey strawberries on a waffle cone. I took advantage of the rides, which weren’t too exciting, and the only show I remember is the Shamu night show (forgot the name), which featured extravagant lighting and waterworks. I remember this show not because of Shamu, but because I was sitting in the first couple of rows and I got wet.
Shamu was the reason I wanted to go to Sea World. The idea of a friendly killer whale fascinated me. Like Davis states, Sea World is joined to the zoo and circus tradition of spectacularizing animals, animals which in this case are visible and touchable (97). These animals are usually invisible to the human eye, and this lack of interaction is why Sea World is so alluring. Not only can one see them , but these sea animals are able to acknowledge your presence by waving at you, blowing you kisses, and giving high-fives.
The minute I stepped into the park, though, my interest in Shamu disappeared. Maybe because I felt that I had already seen him, that I had already experienced him. Sea World was Shamu. He was everywhere, from advertisements on the walls to plastic lemonade cups--but this was six years ago.
The problem with Susan Davis’ research on Sea World is her initial and continued dislike for the park. She knew nothing of whales and dolphins, so she had to “learn” to be interested in them (9). It seems that a lot of the research was forced to prove her claims of a Sea World that was an incoherent space interested mainly in making profit instead of making sense. Sea World might be be boring, greedy, and confusing, but apparently many people don’t think so or don’t care--I don't care.
Posted by Alma Guzman at 9:52 PM
The sham known as Shamu
In Spectacular Nature: Corporate Culture and the Sea World Experience, Susan G. Davis undertakes the analysis of a corporately structured display and experience of nature.
The ethical issues surrounding animals and performance are highly contradictory and complex. In analyzing animal performances as they appear in Sea World, it is difficult to avoid thinking of them in relation to their historical predecessors of circuses, zoos, world’s fairs, and amusement parks along with their freak shows. In this context, the ethics surrounding the idea of wild animals being held captive, “tamed” and taught to perform on command for corporate profit, appear highly problematic. On the other hand, the narrative put forth by Anheuser-Busch, corporate owners and producers of the marine park, remains extremely seductive. There is something very powerful about the idea of a closeness, connection and potential communication between species, however constructed and illusory it may be. Despite the park’s pseudo-scientific approach to marine life, the superficiality of its performances, and the feel-good delusion of caring produced, there is something very appealing about the sheer beauty and physicality of the orcas that make Sea World hard to resist even in light of moral dilemmas. What Sea World offers is a rare opportunity of an up-close but safe encounter with the animals.
This Saturday, I took my son to see the Prospect Park Zoo. Although, managed by the Wildlife Conservation Society with an ostensibly more refined scientific pedigree than Anheuser-Busch, the tiny zoo utilizes much of the same narrative techniques to display nature as the large corporation. Informational panels proclaim: “Flamingos barely notice the tracking device used to track” their movement patterns and “We encourage our baboons to be themselves” referring to the fact that they are messy eaters. The Prospect Park Zoo also boasts of a modest – compared to Sea World – animal show. Three times a day, animal trainers feed the sea lions but only after the animals “perform”. Trainers use sign language to make the sea lions bark, wave, dive, perform flipper-stands after which the animals are rewarded with the fish that, were they free, they would be able to hunt on their own. Here too, the sea lions are humanized. There is clear if one-sided communication: the sea lions are given commands, which they promptly obey. Through performed tricks like waving or giving their trainers “five” the sea lions seem to make contact, they are “in communion” with humans. Contact or interspecies closeness is achieved through training and consequent subordination of one species by the other.
Posted by Dominika Bennacer at 6:09 PM
Killer Whale Kisses: Oceanography, Pornography, Ethnography
In Spectacular Nature: Corporate Culture and the Sea World Experience, Susan Davis’s hybrid methodology employs participant observation, textual analysis of performance and architecture as text, with reports of interview data and her synthesis of the corporate mind-set and goals based on this data.
But who in fact is her subject? When engaged in participant observation, I believe it is the audience. Her attendance at these spectacles allows her to analyze superficially as texts. Her attempt to make a textual analysis into a discursive analysis leads her to delve into the history of similar spectacles in the West and the history of the transcendentalist ideal of nature. However, I do not see convincing evidence that actual audience members experience the park in these terms –although they might.
As she is also an audience member, her own experience of the park is, in fact, a legitimate embodied one, but is this sample of one generalizeable data? Is she similar to the people who enjoy the spectacles that, as she states in the introduction, does not?
Furthermore, she does not evince an intimate knowledge of the challenges of producing these spectacles from experience, which might give her a more sympathetic perspective –rather she relies on second or third-hand interview data about “St. Lous,” to which she takes a critical stance.
The ethnographer’s ideal is to on some level identify and understand his/her informants from their own perspective. The subtexts of her analysis --that Sea World is a vulgarized display, drawing on the spectacular tradition of the circus side show and the zoo, in spite of its attempts to link itself to the edifying value of science and education and Western Romantic tradition of the appreciation of transcendental nature –almost makes it seem that she did not do a very good job of identifying with her subjects. It seems like she is snidely sharing an inside joke with a cynical academic audience who has the good taste to not enjoy the mass culture Sea World. However, Davis’s critique of corporate culture (perhaps unintentionally), does, in fact, share the native’s point of view. She, like the planners she interviews, are both only interested in data (although theirs is quantitative and hers is qualitative) to further their own projects, and both find the performances banal and commercialized manipulations of non-intellectual, middle-class, white consumers.
“[t]o help unpack the Shamu show’s structural and ideological complexity, my analysis triangulates between performance, institutional context, and a larger cultural context. Like the performance itself, my descriptions and arguments make reference to what is said and enacted in the stadium, as well as to things done and ideas argues in the wider park and the larger world, including the world of the mass media. The Shamu shows not only take place in the institutional context of the theme park, of course, they are part of broader social and cultural discourses about many things, including animals, nature, and science.” (198)
In discursively locating what is, at times, an otherwise superficial textual analysis, Davis highlights the similarity between this Sea World shows and other commercialized mass culture genres, such as televisions shows, other theme parks, the giant electronic screens of sporting events –but not all genres. She apparently also shares many of the same taboos with the producers of Sea World.
In “Zoology, Pornography, Ethnography,” Catherine Russell brings up may of the same themes that Susan Davis does in Spectacular Nature. Davis tells us that “without ever calling up a precise history, the theme park offers its customers an implicit identification with the colonial ‘discoverers’” (98). Like Davis, Russell links the zoo to Colonial era displays of collection that express masternarratives of the domination of exotic peoples and lands. “The zoo emerged in colonial culture in tandem with ethnographic practices and even overlapped them” (Russell 123). However Russell takes this line of inquiry much farther. “As a technology, the panopticonic gaze at animals and people is founded, as Haraway suggest, on a discourse of sexuality.” (ibid 125).
“To see, after all, is not to know or possess the Other, but both pornography and ethnography embody a utopian desire to transcend and eliminate this contradiction. Both imply a mastery of vision that passes for possession and knowledge, apparently triumphing over the repression of sexuality and racial difference by bringing them into the regime of the visible. If we add zoology as the third term to this paring of ethnography and pornography, the desire for pleasure and knowledge is mapped onto a desire for control and mastery. The cage and the hunt render the limits of the gaze very literal; the killing of wild animals further introduces an element of death into the apparatus of vision that links these different cultural practices.” ( ibid 125)
Pornography, Shamu spectatorship, and ethnography are symbolic discourses of domination enacted primarily through the visual consumption of Other bodies. Russell recognizes the erotics of the National Georgraphics mode: “Pornography and ethnography converge most explicitly in the image of the bare-breasted woman that appears in so many ethnographic films. The body of the woman becomes the sire of ‘primitive sexuality,’ a sign of the uncivilized ideal and object of desire within a discourse of colonial mastery” (124). Davis sees the link between Sea World and National Geographics, does not put the appeal of bare-breasted women together with the appeal of Shamu and the dolphins.
That would be bestiality! Well think about it. There is a lot of frolicking, kissing, and licking going on between humans and humanized animals. Consider how the early manifestation of Sea world featured beautiful Sea Maidens in the exotic paradise, then their replacement and the anti-sexuality, hyper-vigilance –as Davis explains, “‘[f]amily entertainment’ means avoiding sexual references… In particular, sexual displays of the female body are out” (163). There is something disturbing to the audience about the animals wearing parts of costumes, like sunglasses (maybe because it emphasizes that the rest of them are not clothed?). The discussion from the trainer’s perspective reveals that in order to satisfy the spectators, the animals must seem human-like, seem like they enjoy performing, and yet must be seen to be safely and predictably under control.
There is something very peep-showy about this display. Long ago, in his article about animal insults, anthropologist Edmund Leach pointed out that that is more interesting, disturbing, and titillating when we insult each other with the names of animals with which we have an intimate, anthropomorphic relationship. For example, it is more insulting to say some one is a “bitch,” than a “kangaroo.” These reactions, he argues, are indicative of a taboo being breached. I would argue that the sexual taboos that Shamu and “his” pals brush up against may partly explain the popularity of the show.
The sea mammal shows (and the mammals themselves, who, let’s face it, are phalluses bursting out of pools of water), are, in fact, rife with unavoidable sexual metaphors, that the analysis, which contextualizes the genre in every other kind of discourse, from Romantic poetry to sport stadiums, does not approach. Davis reproduces viewpoint of the capitalist class that runs Sea World that she seems to criticize as crass (but with whom she likely shares a more similar class background than the mass audience they both despise) in more ways than one –first of all, in her condescending attitude towards the audience, second in her “eye of God” position of dominance as an untouchable data-harvesting researcher, and third, in reproducing not just their reported ideologies and motives, but their taboos in her reading of the Sea World project.
Posted by Pilar Rau at 5:15 PM
Reading Central Park movie tour in reference with Sea World
I personally find Davis’ approach to analyzing the Sea World useful to my project on Central Park Movie Tour.
In Spectacular Nature, Davis indicates that the ideology behind the site, to some extent, determines how the providers of recreations and organizers of the tourist sites construct the attractions. The traditional European concept of nature Davis mentions in chapter one has great influence on how the site is presented and who are the targeted visitors of such site. In other words, the inclusion, or in most cases the exclusion, of certain socio-economic groups is done at the very moment of introducing certain ideology into a site/a recreational activity.
Central Park is a site which has been advertised by numerous cultural events (such as Shakespeare in Park, and outdoor concerts), movies, and popular TV series (such as Sex and the City) over time; therefore, the organizer of the Central Park Movie Tour does not have to invest so much time and money in advertising and romanticizing the Park. Compared with the effort made in “theming” the Sea World, it is a tourist production of a much smaller scale. The accumulation of cultural events, the film productions, and TV series ascribe a preamble to Central Park Movie Tour.
Taking up the cultural, social, and even the commercial legacy of the very site facilitates the profit-generating process. The provider of this movie tour, by “quoting” the scenes in popular movies, abstracts the cultural legacy of the Park. I will not contend that the walking tour constructed on the basis of popular movies is an expression of western ideology and tradition. However, I do think that this tour takes up the glamour of Hollywood, an icon of popular culture, to give participants a taste of Americaness. And at the same time, give the organizer of the tour a basic guideline to follow or an idea to play around.
Davis in chapter three, “Producing the Sea World Experience,” indicates that not only ideological elements embedded in culture but also the infrastructural design of the site determines the success of for-profit tourist attraction. A series of studies on abstract figures give the organizer of Sea world ideas to improve upon the existing facilities, control of flow, and intervals between different shows. The efficacy of generating profit is the main concern of a fro-profit site. Thus, how to keep visitors in the Sea World for a longer time span and how to seduce them to purchase, to consume, in a subtle fashion that does not make the visitors aware that they are the cash cows in this context, I believe, is crucial to the success of such site.
The on-location movie tour, as I mentioned previously, is of a much smaller scale compared with Sea World. And the tour provider cannot—also need not--alter the infrastructure of Central Park accordingly. Therefore, there is no study on the infrastructure or on the visitor flow taking place when constructing such tour. My impression is that the itinerary is decided in regard to the average physical endurance of adults. The provider of the Movie Tour map the itinerary lasting two hours, which is endurable length to adults of average physical strength.
Referring back to the reading, Davis reminds us that each tourist site/activity has its own specificity that needs to be analyzed respectively. I have to admit that in the process of research I tend to focus on phenomenon that universally exist in different tourist productions. Maybe it will be more helpful for me to look at the specificity of the Movie Tour which distinguishes it from other on-location tours organized by the same company.
Posted by Stella Yu-Wen Wang at 2:55 PM
Sea World as the theme park, which utilizes the well-controlled natural impression as the main attraction, while the Lower East Side Tenement Museum considers history as their main value somehow share some similarities in the way they present themselves even though that they are trying to sell very different products. However, due to the difference in what they are selling, the techniques are different in some points.
According to Davis, “Sea World management’s overall goal is to lengthen the customers’ stay and expand their spending in the park (77).” It is not hard to tell that according to our experience in the tour of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, the extension of the time is certainly the last thing they want to do when they put the profit issue into consideration. The difference between the lengths of staying is pre-determinate by the scale of the sites. Sea world expects the tourists to emerge into the environment and take the advantage of the lengthened staying hours from the tourists, which help them in spending more money for daily consumptions (eat, drink, etc.) and souvenir. The Sea World uses time to exchange their profit. On the other hand, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum presented the immigrants’ life in the 18th century, which reflects the insufficiency of space and inconvenience in utilities. It is the essential character of the Lower East Side Museum to be small and crowded in order to give the tourists the sense of the life in the past. Due to the reason above, the Museum, unlike the Sea World, needs fast turnover to gain their income from admission.
However, regardless the difference in scale, both of the sites presented themselves with theatricality. The Sea World educated the employees to develop the “aggressive guest relations”(91), which means to let the tourist to emerge into the theatrical environment created by the collaboration of the administration of the Sea World and the staff who face the tourists’ everyday. The Lower East Side Tenement Museum also brought the concept of theatre into the narration as an effective way of conducting the educational function of the Museum. The existence of Victoria and the role-playing of the tourists are also creating a kind of aggressive guest relation, which ask the audience to sink into the environment and actively participate the play on the stage.
It is very interesting to find out that even when the subjects are so different from each other, the Sea World and the Lower East Side Museum still share some similarities in presenting themselves.
Posted by Yo-Chi Li at 1:10 PM
Help Shamu . . . Buy this T-shirt!
Inherently, there does not have to be salient differences between for profit and non profit tourist productions, but there often are. Because for profit productions are trying to appeal to a larger audience, they draw from popular and mass culture to create a homogenous and inoffensively entertaining product. Because non profits do not have the profit imperative, they are able to engage in projects that might not be commercially profitable. Often these projects do not have mass appeal and can go more in-depth and engage contentious issues.
Therefore, the profit imperative can change the kind of experience is created. The for profit production of Sea World is about maintaining the status quo; Sea World wants to give its predominantly white, middle class, nuclear families a good time and make them feel like they are helping nature through “being there” and spending money. The Sea World experience reinforces the visitors’ preexisting world-view and also bolsters Sea World role as “nature helper.”
Key differences between for-profit productions, such as Sea World and non-profit ones like Colonial Williamsburg and Lower East Side Tenement are the balance between education and entertainment, the role of corporations and the role of the audience (i.e. what is the audience asked to do, specifically how much agency is given to audience members).
Indeed, Don Ludwig, VP for entertainment at Sea World talked about the importance of keeping the “performed spectacles” separate from the educational aspects, because without that separation Ludwig feels, “I think we could turn ourselves into a nonprofit institution pretty quick.” (165) The educational component of Sea World bolsters Anheuser-Busch’s image as a caring company, but is not an end in itself. Sea World provides enough education to make people feel like they have helped protect nature. In contrast, at Colonial Williamsburg and Lower East Side Tenement Museum, their primary focus is education; entertainment is used only as a means to more successfully enrich the educational experience.
As a for-profit institution, Sea World also differs in its imperative to support the corporation it is owned by, its parent company Anheuser-Busch. Therefore, Sea World ceases to be a local production based in San Diego, but rather a national production that is satisfying the needs of an off-site corporate entity: “Sea World gives the most thorough service to its parent company. The park integrates advertising, public relations, and political argument for Anheuser-Busch” (29). Indeed, Sea World serves as “direct product promotion” for Anheuser-Busch products. In contrast, Lower East Side Tenement Museum is a local museum who has no corporate power to appease or get approval from. Granted, the Tenement Museum still has market concerns to deal with and is part of a larger consortium of “Museums of Conscience,” however, it is guided by its educational mission rather than to maximize profit.
In terms of audience experience and agency, at the for-profit tourist experience at Sea World, the audience experience is carefully orchestrated so that people will spend money, will walk away with a feeling that they helped nature, and have positive associations with Sea World and Anheuser-Busch: “[T]hey [Customers] . . . hope to feel agency, that is, that however indirectly, a visit to the theme park is an act of caring” (39). Indeed, consumerism and caring are linked in the Sea World experience: “American business has worked hard to define consumption as a form of concern, political action, and participation” (39). However, Sea World does not ask much of the audience; Sea World does not, in fact, want the audience to think, because then they might see how the rationale of Sea World breaks down. Indeed, as Davis articulates: “the theme park specializes in experiential homogeneity” (24). Therefore, Sea World “creates a closed circle of participatory spectatorship in which ‘being there’ is the main form of doing.” There is no space for dissonance at Sea World: “Dissonance, controversy, and ‘negatives’ must be avoided” (159).
It is true that all tourist production have agendas, or goals that they would like the experience to provide, whether it be more tourists to spend money or to start dialogue about the conditions of new immigrants in New York City. However, because Sea World has a profit motive and is dealing with live animals, they have a special need to carefully orchestrate the experience and squash alternative readings. Sea World needs to successfully convince visitors that their visiting, and Sea World as an institution, helps nature. Moreover, viewers need to feel that their buying is helping nature. Sea World is a for-profit institution masquerading as a non-profit.
In contrast, at the Tenement Museum the experience is not as heavily mediated and there is more room for dissent. The emphasis is not on buying things. There is more room for individual experience and for thought. As Sevcenko articulated in “Activating the past for civic action,” the Tenement Museum wants visitors to be actively involved making connections between the past and the present. The Tenement Museum allows more room for experiential agency.
The animal performances are a strange web of power relations between the corporation, the public and the animals themselves. On one hand, the animals are completely controlled and at the mercy of Sea World and Anheuser-Busch. Trainers monitor and record every aspect of the animals’ lives from birth to death. On the other hand, Sea World must deal with both the pressures of public relations – how the public views what they are doing with the animals – and also the unpredictability of the animals themselves. In terms of the public views of the use of animals, Sea World has changed the shows over time in order to make the public not feel like the animals were being mistreated. For example, the “theming” of shows – i.e. Shamu used to wear huge sunglasses in his show and there used to be sets and storylines, was then scratched for a more factual approach because Sea World was concerned that “theming was old-fashioned and demeaning” (176). Therefore, all props, costuming and storylines were taken away. In addition, moments of whales disobeying their animal trainers were scripted into the show so that the audience would feel that the whales maintained agency and were not simply being ordered to do.
The unpredictability of dealing with live animal performers needs to be accounted for. The animal performances are live but at the same time heavily controlled: “The theme park’s accomplishment has been to keep its performances live and ‘interactive’ while controlling their meanings as much as possible.” (157) Building moments of disobedience into the show allowed spontaneous moments of disobedience to be more easily integrated into the live show: “One of the best solutions to the continual uncertainty of working with animal performers has been to work it into the shows.” (190) Also, the order of tricks needed to be shuffled around so the animals would not get board and refuse to perform. In addition, the introduction of the Jumbotron, the huge screens playing during the show, allow for filler so that “the whale performance is smoother and more predictable” (194).
The shows follows the Aristotelian outline: “patterned expectations for introduction, buildup, interlude, and then climax” (187) The notion of “twice behaved behavior” is helping in looking at how the animal show draw on cultural association and previously performed behavior in order to creates performance that are “simple, light, safe, and familiar in their references . . . entertainment must strive no dissonant or troubling notes.” (195) These performances avoid controversy with their “universal appeal” and “universal language,” succeeding in “putting smiles on people’s faces” (161). This “universality” is not really universal; however, it functions as universal for a specific audience because these are “twice-behaved behaviors,” carry a certain cultural resonance.
Davis started for project by conducting background research and presenting smaller papers at conferences to float ideas and get feedback. She interviewed people at Sea World and Anheuser-Busch, and attended Sea Word many times. In analyzing the Shamu show, she constructed the script and kept note of how the show changed over time. Writing the script of the show allowed Davis to see how the show works; she could look at all the different elements that go into creating the overall effect – i.e. how much time was the Jumbotron on, how were Shamu’s tricks timed throughout the show, how the emotions of the fear and reassurance were played with. She could look at the specific to understand the overall functioning.
Posted by Sarah Zoogman at 12:57 PM
Shamu Doobee doo!
In Spectacular Nature Susan Davis presents an exhaustingly researched examination of Anheuser-Busch’s Sea World theme park that is weighted more towards an in depth scholarly understanding than a hard-line, politically motivated critique of corporate greed and manipulation of the masses. Such a critique is clearly present, but always tempered by an objectively distanced awareness rather than highlighted by inflammatory rhetoric. Through her research, Davis presents a vision of Sea World as a highly self-reflexive money making machine constantly being refined as it walks the line between satisfying customer expectations and consistently meeting its bottom line, profit.
Davis’ investigations reveal a number of striking similarities between Sea World and non-profit organizations such as the Colonial Williamsburg, though it’s safe to say that the differences outweigh the similarities, and I for one find the differences more interesting and illuminating. As far as similarities are concerned, I find it fascinating that both types of institution frequently employ an emphasis on education as a means of deflecting criticism and lending legitimacy to their cause. Colonial Williamsburg draws on educational emphasis as a means of countering critics that argue that CW is closer to a theme park than a museum. Further, it also uses education as evidence of its altruism, its goal to work towards a better future through a more profound understanding of the past, and a means of continually drawing school groups to attend. Similarly, Sea World draws upon education to draw school groups, and to spin a narrative emphasizing the preservation and understanding of the natural world. Tied closely to educating its guests, Sea World also foregrounds scientific research to help justify keeping animals in captivity and to promote a pro-environmental self-image as opposed to a strictly commercial orientation.
If the similarities between the two groups above are interesting, I find the differences even more so, perhaps the most interesting of all being the orientation of each organization’s research. Both Colonial Williamsburg and the Lower East Side Tenement Museum remain linked to the evidence and analysis of the past. While new evidence continually crops up and finds expression in the displays, there is a great adherence to “the facts.” Such is not the case with Sea World, whose research orientation is decidedly on the present, specifically on the “consumer present.” Rather than attempting to create realistic environments or presentations of animals based upon scientific research, Sea World maintains a rigorous analysis of customer responses and desires, and tailors its presentations to these. In fact, the vast majority of animal presentations and habitats are anything but naturalistic. Instead, habitats find expression in highly mediated and performative simulations that are influenced by popular culture and film as much as they are by any evidence from the natural world. Interestingly enough, here we see another overlap between Sea World and more historically-based organizations, as places like CW must walk a line between visitor expectation and historical fact, however skewed it might be. Just as this tension led to lower penguin populations for fear of visitor’s making negative comparisons between themselves and the animals, it’s also reflected in overly whitewashed representations of master slave relations, due to similar concerns.
Just as the displays at CW present a concrete and knowable representation of the past (and conveniently one which most often coincides with our preconceptions about it) so do Sea World’s animal performances present a similar view of nature. While the less critical visitor might view them as delightful entertainment and a chance to commune with “wild” nature, further reflection reveals these performances as perpetuating the medieval concept of the “great chain of being” and man’s natural superiority to and dominance over the natural world. Moreover, they perpetuate a colonial narrative, the animals replacing the “primitive peoples” on display at world’s fairs and similar events up through the 19th century. However, another aspect of these performances closely tied to the discourse of domination is one of the wild and chaotic. Just as tourists confronting Massai tribesman report a sense of danger at encounter these “wild” men, so do audiences at Sea World. Though it happens only rarely, there have indeed been violent interactions between animals and trainers, and whether or not they are conscious of it, the possibility of witnessing this, or some similar breakdown of human control, is another visitor draw.
Like Gable and Handler, Davis draws heavily on field analysis and interviews with the backstage personnel, though she presents little or no data from “frontline” employees aside from trainers, and similarly little first-hand information from park visitors. However, on the plus side, her field research spans a longer period of time, and she draws more heavily on Sea World’s representation in the press and other popular media. Furthermore, she does a beautiful job of detailing Sea World’s longstanding symbiosis with San Diego, and the way that it was first implemented as a part of a great tourist network, which it continues to feed. I find this relationship the most disturbing of all, a feeling nicely encapsulated by two passages from Davis’ conclusion. She quotes Whitaker writing, “most people will get a lot more education out of the bio-world experience than they ever did out of nature in the raw. The very fact that they are paying for it will make them pay attention to what they are getting” (236). Then she finishes her book referring to Sea World as a “machine that profits by selling people’s dreams back to them” (244). Both of these passages present problems that run far deeper than any theme park, straight to the root of capitalist society.
I am first frightened (perhaps naively?) by the degree of capitalistic motivation and planning that went in to San Diego, let alone Sea World. I expect this in a theme park, but not so much on the streets. This makes me wonder the extent to which any city is planned in such a manner, the degree to which the germ of the theme park is spreading throughout the American landscape. I would like to read or discuss some topics in urban planning that might better address this issue. Second, I am saddened by what appears to be an inextricable link between money and the value of an experience, or money and happiness. If we are culturally unable to realize our dreams without buying them, where does this lead? How and when did this begin? I realize that these are big questions, but following the mission statement of the LESTM, I think they’re important to discuss and analyze, for they effect us all, whether we’re watching Shamu, or just walking down a sunny San Diego street.
Posted by Tyler Sinclair at 12:24 PM
Whose is the promised dream?
When I was in Goa on the west coast of India, one of my highlights was a ride out to sea on a fancy yacht to watch the wild dolphins. The dolphins were adorable almost expecting us and almost performing for us. Tourists paid for this experience – this intimate leisurely luxury ride for a few hours to experience the wild – perfect settings with the wide open horizon, salt air, gourmet finger foods with drinks served by friendly staff in clean white uniforms, clean white towels, wild dolphins with pale pink noses……Susan Davis’s book reminded me of this experience and provoked several thoughts. While Sea World exhibits fish in captivity, my experience was one of ‘truly’ wild and free dolphins going about their ‘natural’ lives.
- Was my experience in Goa more ‘natural’ than an ‘unnatural’ one that one would experience in Sea World? It seems they both fall under the same rubric and imaginative limitations. “Nature is often deployed as part of a definition of the world, as a way to convince ourselves and others of the rightness and inevitability of the world as known” (31). Davis’s iteration that “nature” is not natural but social and cultural, that it is “a cultural construction” resonates in my reflection.
- There is always justification and good reason behind these projects. At Sea World the benevolence of captivity and display are emphasized, protecting these fish in captivity from the “big, cold, polluted, vicious ocean out there!” (106). In Goa benevolence is leaving the dolphins in their natural habitat in the big wide ocean called home ‘undisturbed’.
- The Goa sea world experience is operated and owned by a Dutch expatriate who also runs a travel agency, Sea World is owned by a corporation – both are in it operating within what is imaginatively possible under different circumstances and budgets. Both are in it for the business of making more money. Both use new-agey /jazzy type of sound tracks to enhance the experience – ‘Enya’ the Irish new-agey singer was the music selection for the expedition in Goa!
- “Penguins biological needs are well understood and controllable” (101) as are those of the other animals at Sea World. How much control could the tour operator in Goa exercise over the ‘wild’ dolphins? sometimes the dolphins didn’t show up we were informed once in the boat. So the notion of ‘power’ and control, how would that play out here? “Nature rhetoric belongs to the powerful”(32) and rich, and no matter you may not see the dolphins that the ad for the expedition attractively announces, it is about dealing with wild nature and mysterious habits of animals – what is guaranteed is an access to nature and “producers of mass culture have a lot of knowledge about how nature appeals” (10) It is another form of exercising power over controlled and what I would like to call ‘populist’ tastes and perceptions.
- Is this just steps further within the same mind frame as that of noble Europeans that wished to study and introduce the primitive man of Africa and the far east to the curious and ‘civilized’? It seems like a stretch of the imagination but Davis’s observation of present day tourism reproducing older imperial and colonial relationships between first and third worlds (11) really struck me and articulated something that I am truly beginning to recognize. “Nature is invoked to justify family structures, social orderings, and racial and imperial hierarchies”(31) The notion of exoticization, gazing, and exercising control keep getting perpetuated and taught.
This was a very interesting read and through Davis’ ethnographic work on Sea World, a deeper wider human condition has been conceded once again, that is extremely useful for me in any research I should undertake. For my own project for this class, it reaffirms and redefines the way I understand festival, that it is a cultural display organized around definitional, selective and controlled issues. That a practice of those that once victimized us as the colonized is still being perpetrated with the same benevolent and noble attitude exoticizing our own past that belongs to another world and another time. It reminds me that this celebration of ‘culture’ at ‘Hornbill Festival’ also hails the inevitable culture of consumption or that the culture of consumption heralds this newly found festival – ‘charitably’ giving locals the agency of practicing their threatened ‘culture’. And in a cultural construction such as this festival, what and whose is the promised dream?
Posted by Senti Toy at 9:56 AM
Wishyouwerehere.com: Blogs From the Road (NYTimes, 11/27/05
Wishyouwerehere.com: Blogs From the Road
By FRED BIERMAN
Travelers armed with digital cameras are finding that keeping a blog on the road can be a compelling and viable way of maintaining contact with friends and family.
Posted by BKG at 8:51 AM
Designing experience at Seaworld
Susan Davis’ study of Seaworld first and foremost locates the representation of nature as an important field of analysis, infused with power relations and constructivist narratives that need to be deconstructed on the par with race and gender representations. She uses Raymond Williams’ claim that “ideas of nature naturalize and help obscure relations of power” (10) to frame her study. Indeed, Davis places the construction of nature at Seaworld within a larger historical context, showing that the representation of nature has never been natural, but always cultural. Seaworld becomes a case study of how an idea about marine life and its concrete realization can make thorny political and environmental issues opaque, and present ideological versions of what the future should look like, while making profits from visitors’ consumption of a supposedly educational experiences.
Much of her work is focused on looking at how the Seaworld’s producers use the theme park’s inner workings (design, programming, landscaping, performance, etc.) to induce particular feelings in their audience: to generate a sense of closeness with the animals, of having communicated with and cared for them; surprise at the shows, admiration for the research conducted by the park, awe at the feeling of having learned something or engaged in a progressive type of tourism, excitement at having been cast as adventurous explorers, and guiltless participation in creating some kind of better world by the mere act of “being there.” However, as she successfully shows, the park is carefully constructed and organized to control the emotional realm of its visitors so as to generate capital and keep them shopping for food, souvenirs and more watery thrills and chills. The corporate nature of the park, much like in the case of Colonial Williamsburg discussed by Handler and Gable, keeps “good vibes” or “aggressive guest relations” above critical interpretation of nature and history. Also, the for-profit nature of the park keeps it at a safe distance from the city’s social and environmental concerns, creating exclusion despite advertised policies of equal access. On the other hand, the fact that the corporation needs to keep its audience satisfied to generate money makes it forcibly adaptable to current issues such as concerns over animal rights, for example. Could it be that being a corporate venture, rather than a public institution such as a state museum, allows Seaworld to be made accountable (even if in a whitewashed and limited manner) that would not exist otherwise?
Davis’s study, although meticulously researched during eight years of fieldwork and endless visits and shows, seems surprisingly unpopulated. She interviews “insiders”, employees, managers and performers to get a sense of how the production is construed and to what ends, but seems unable to take us beyond her own reactions and thoughts to understand how the park actually works, how it is used and interpreted by those millions of people who flock its pathways and stadiums to experience the site. Perhaps the only instance where we can get close to visitors is when she follows the schoolchildren around, but again, she seems to focus very much on particular individuals’ responses, rather than on something that could be approximated to a social process. She often alludes to the limits of the illusion, to the fact that the theme park ultimately has no control over what visitors actually take away from their experience, despite its countless efforts to shape a particular vision (115). However, she does not explore how audiences recreate the site by the act of visiting it, how they become agents in their own interpretation of what is being fed to them. Much like the memorials we looked at last week, it seems that beauty might be in the eye of the beholder, rather than in the instruments used by the painter.
Posted by Sandra Rozental at 8:51 AM
Big Brother – Controlling The Vertical, Horizontal, Psychological, & Experiential Since 1984, Still Going Strong and Kicking It Old-School (Tastes Great AND Less Filling!)
After taking Introduction to Psychology as an undergraduate, and hanging a picture of my brain on the wall obtained from an MRI experiment I volunteered for in order to obtain extra great, I spent a great deal of time experiencing a later-in-life version of Lacan’s “mirror stage.” Every time I would reach for a drink of Diet Coke, or stick my hand into a crinkly bag of Doritos, I would think to myself, “Am I choosing to eat/drink this? Or is it just my mind telling me my body needs sustenance? Is there any difference? Why this particularly type of food? Why do I take a drink for as long as I do – is it a choice based on taste, or is it a physiological reaction based on how parched and dehydrated I am?” Needless to say, this was quite disquieting (not to mention insanely annoying). I eventually got beyond it in the way that I’ve got beyond every other big question (Is there a God? Is there an afterlife? Does this table actually exist?) – by giving myself an answer I could live with, even if I knew that it wouldn’t hold up to even my own scrutiny. I decided that I did have free will from my own physiological mechanisms, and that tiny bits of my brain didn’t predetermine very little move I made (and, for those interested, my “Well, I can go to sleep now” answers for the other questions were yes, yes, and it doesn’t really matter as long as my glass of water doesn’t fall through it).
After taking Introduction to Psychology as an undergraduate, and hanging a picture of my brain on the wall obtained from an MRI experiment I volunteered for in order to obtain extra great, I spent a great deal of time experiencing a later-in-life version of Lacan’s “mirror stage.” Every time I would reach for a drink of Diet Coke, or stick my hand into a crinkly bag of Doritos, I would think to myself, “Am I choosing to eat/drink this? Or is it just my mind telling me my body needs sustenance? Is there any difference? Why this particularly type of food? Why do I take a drink for as long as I do – is it a choice based on taste, or is it a physiological reaction based on how parched and dehydrated I am?” Needless to say, this was quite disquieting (not to mention insanely annoying). I eventually got beyond it in the way that I’ve got beyond every other big question (Is there a God? Is there an afterlife? Does this table actually exist?) – by giving myself an answer I could live with, even if I knew that it wouldn’t hold up to even my own scrutiny. I decided that I did have free will from my own physiological mechanisms, and that tiny bits of my brain didn’t predetermine very little move I made (and, for those interested, my “Well, I can go to sleep now” answers for the other questions were yes, yes, and it doesn’t really matter as long as my glass of water doesn’t fall through it).
After reading Susan Davis’ Spectacular Nature, I was reminded of this question, albeit cast in a more human light – when in a mediated environment such as Sea World (or, to draw comparisons with other issues in this course, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, Colonial Williamsburg, Walt Disney World, or Old Bethpage Village Restoration), how much of what we do is our choice, and how much of it is a pre-selected choice determined years, maybe even decades, ago by corporate and/or museum planners, like a computer program that accounts for any possible option (with, of course, the occasional glitch in even the most potent of algorithms and the most thought-out of themed environmental immersions). As human begins, it is natural for us to want to believe in utter and complete free will; indeed, many religions bend over backwards to fit this into their theological belief system. It is off-putting, then, to consider that when we enter into some environments – and we would like to believe we enter into these environments consciously and “of our own free will” – we give up a certain amount of free will, with everything that we experience mediated, and indeed always pre-mediated and planned in advance, by careful sculpting and creation from outside forces, generally a corporate conglomerate of some sort and/or its creative agents, or perhaps by a well-meaning museum staff of educators, academics, and governmental officials.
Look kids, it's President Sexton!
This issue raises several interesting questions for me (and I hope that the rest of the class will find them interesting as well). First of all, what does it mean to find yourself in an environment where, not only do you have no control, but you are placed in a situation where you are led to believe that you have total control, while in reality a plan and design made long ago have actual control over your actions? Where your choice of where to sit down, how quickly to move through an exhibit or building or ride, and of when and where to eat were thought of and planned out months, weeks, even decades ago in advance? Is there anything inherently immoral about such an overtly false sense of freedom (on an extreme level, it reminds me of the computerized world of The Matrix)? Does the creation of it by a corporate entity that wants only profit (Disney) differentiate it from an organization that is profit-oriented but also has a mission statement of education/conservation (Sea World), and from a not-for-profit organization designed to educate and/or change the visitor and the world in a positive manner (LETM)? Why do we surrender control to these places? What draws us to them – what, for example, makes Disney World such a popular institution? Does this sort of environment make historical recreations more popular than museums with glass-case exhibits – based upon the idea of experiencing history by literally surrendering our will to it?
I could, of course, go on and on with the questions that such environmental immersion raises, since clearly this is of major interest to me, as it is the focus of my paper and of my spring MA project. However, I feel like these questions get me started on a strong path to understanding, and I would love to discuss some of them in class so that I can leech off of the many fine minds surrounding me.
At this point, I would like to pause and note that I am indebted to Sarah, since her post inspired the central metaphor of this post. Thanks, Sarah!)
Finally, on an entirely different note, I wanted to talk for a tiny bit about the animal performers at Sea World, in relation to Schechner/Turner’s classic performance/theatre studies notions of ritual, liminality, and communitas. For me, the sense of communitas has always been a central aspect of really good theatre – the feeling of unity with the audience and, just as importantly, with the performers, based on having shared a moving experience that has somehow changed all of us. This happens extremely rarely, I’ll admit (I have only had one theatrical experience, and I had to travel to Paris to see it), but, for me, it is the central goal of working as a theatre artist, what I always try to attain when I write, direct, or even stage manage. What I wonder, though, is whether or not such a sensation is even at all attainable with an animal performer. Can an audience achieve communitas (and with that phrasing I suddenly realize for the first time just how much my sense of communitas is easily equated with orgasm) when it’s impossible to share certain human sensations with the performers?
Obviously, this query raises a series of other questions about the nature of animal intelligence and performance capabilities, and the nature of audience/performer interaction as well as communitas in general, but I feel like I’ve already listed enough loaded questions for one week’s posting. Now I’m off to go enjoy a nice Shamu ice cream pop, because they just taste so good . . . or maybe because “they” want me to eat it? *Bum, Bum, BUM!*
Posted by Andrew Friedenthal at 2:08 AM
November 26, 2005
I have to firstly admit that I had felt rather frustrated about the fact that only two weeks before the final research assignment I had to read two hundred and fifty pages on Sea World. However, Davis’ “Spectacular Nature” not only proved to be an extremely useful model for how to study a tourist site, but it also helped me to acquire a better and deeper understanding of my own research project, the Statue Park. I discovered that there are several similar questions related to the (re) presentation and/or performance of nature and history. Although I am primarily preoccupied by the Statue Park these days, I will try to focus on Davis’ analysis of the Sea World in this short paper.
I also have to admit that as I was reading the book, I found Davis’ methodology more interesting than the actual site of her analysis. Therefore, before turning to Sea World, I would like to point out some of her analytical methods, which I found very helpful. In my own research, I have been struggling with the question: how much should I rely on my observations? How can I draw any conclusion or generalization without any factual evidence? For Davies, an observation functions as a springboard: first she points out her observation, then she theorizes it in a social/scientific context, and finally she attempts to support her hypothesis by an employer’s statement. For example, she observes that “the largely white audience enters through one set of turnstiles and pays more to get in”, while “the mainly nonwhite, subsidized education audience enters through a special gate set off to the side”, which “seemed almost like a backdoor” (133). This is the starting point of her investigation on how Sea World’s education relates to race. She continues to observe how children of minorities have a different experiences in the Sea World when she joins their field trip conducted by the park. Finally, in an interview, the Educational Director justifies her original observation: “the people who use our [field trip and outreach] programs” are “in fact the people we are tying to target, … primarily the minority schools.” (132) Seeing how Davis theorizes her observations helps me to prepare the interview questions for the Statue Park’s managing director in Budapest.
I was also fascinated by her generous, open but at the same time critical attitude: as an analyst of the tourist site, she does not question or judge the indispensable corporate structure of the site. However, thinking within this given configuration, she highlights several weaknesses of the corporate operation, fields, in which Sea World needs to (and can) be improved. For instance, Davis points out that “Shamu TV” is “clearly promotional” (139), but this is not the reason why she criticizes this educational medium; her criticism lies in the fact that “with a few exceptions, complexity, local connections, and controversy are missing” (151) from the educational material. She also indicates some of the omitted topics, such as “the fascinating gaps in human knowledge about the live histories of whales and dolphins, the vast variety of and uncertainty about their social patterns, and even about their species identities” (149).
Davis emphasizes that the Sea World is not only a profit-oriented tourist site, but also a research center for marine mammals. As a tourist production, it pretends to be an omnipotent site, concealing all those questions that the research center seeks to answer. However, this dual mission may become very uncomfortable eventually, especially when the interest of the research center and the interest of the tourist site conflict with each other. While the Sea World, as a research center “will be a major provider of content and curricular materials” for the Project Triton, a multiyear project to “strengthen science education” (143), at the same time, in the show “very careful limits are placed on science” (221).
The question of authenticity is also very interesting in relation to the Sea World. The corporate endeavors to recreate the animals’ original, ‘natural’ living circumstances, but will this make the site more authentic? Can we or should we talk about authenticity at all, when the profile of a theme park is to display and perform animals of the oceans for human audience?
Why do I constantly feel that Sea World, through most of its efforts, attempts to present itself as something else than what it is in reality? What are the functions of a theme park and where do its limitations lie? After reading Spectacular Nature, these are some of the questions I am struggling with in my research of the Statue Park.
Posted by Aniko Szucs at 10:29 PM
Shamu Cam, Song Podcast, and 800 number
TDD users call
These toll-free information lines are answered by the SeaWorld Education Department seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Pacific Time.
Posted by Pilar Rau at 10:20 PM
Wishing they were Mediated Alligators
Florida, 1990. I am eight years old. Visiting my grandparents, my parents decide to entertain my sister and I, who are bored of flea markets, by taking us to the Everglades to look at alligators.
My memory is blurry. We went in one of those hover-boats, the guide said maybe we’ll see an alligator today, but we didn’t. I fed bread to a snapping turtle. I remember feeling surprised that something with such a flashy, romantic, elegant name - the Everglades - would be a swamp. I had already been to Disneyworld and Seaworld, you see, and was spoiled, expecting another theme park. And the nature-parks I was used to had different sorts of names - Shubenacadie, or Kejimikujik. Or they at least had the word ‘park’ in them.
Afterwards, feeling guilty that we had not seen an alligator, my father took us somewhere where we could - I guess it was an alligator farm, where he gave the guy some money and there were some alligators in low rectangular pens. I remember feeling upset: partly sorry for what appeared to be the alligators’ ugly state of captivity, and partly shocked by the blatant indifference of the guy in the stained shirt who took the money, hardly moving on his stool by the entrance, and by the men in back who boredly, and silently, displayed some of the animals, picking up small alligators and wrapping snakes around their shirtless bodies, as people passed through in a disorganized fashion. It was a low budget, no frills arrangement, and to spoiled eight year old me, it seemed sleazy and dangerous, like maybe they were going to wrestle the alligators. Anyway, we just looked at the alligators and left, because I don't think my dad wanted us to see alligator wrestling. I didn't mind, I didn't want to watch anyone do anything bad, not that was real. It just seemed too real.
It seems I had already come to expect a certain level of mediation in my encounters with nature. To have it stripped down to “pay money - see alligators” was a shock to me. I don’t even think the pens had labels, and the men working there didn’t, to my memory, speak. What was I expecting, if not to “look at alligators”? Or, to put it another way, how had I become accustomed to receiving this kind of information or display?
Susan Davis’ extensive study of SeaWorld can answer this to an extent - like the visitors to Seaworld, I implicitly expected to feel safe - closer than possible in nature but not too close; I expected to move or be moved through space with minimal awareness of its engineered-ness, I expected to feel no anxiety about the animals’ state, or how it might reflect back on my own. I expected staff to tell me things, enthusiastically, and catering to my child’s ego. I expected some kind of performance - I might have even expected the animals to perform. In short, I expected a level of structuring to the experience that I did not receive, and the reason I was so shocked was, at least in part, because I had not recognized my previous, formative experiences as structured. Visitors to Seaworld are certainly doing more than “looking at marine life”, and for similar reasons, I did not expect “looking at alligators” to actually be just “looking at alligators”. A stage without any of the trappings of a stage - which may very well also have been the backstage.
The structuring of experience can be very heavily controlled, or very lightly controlled. The trick with a place like Seaworld, which seeks to entertain and give people a “good time”, is to give a very heavily structured experience which feels less controlled than it is. For example, while we may be aware that the platform in front of the penguin exhibit is moving, and we may even deduce that this is in order to prevent traffic problems, one would probably not guess that it moved faster during busier times and slower during less busy times. Even if one had seen pictures of penguins in Antarctica, one would probably not automatically assume that the penguins one is looking at were given more room to prevent the VISITORS from feeling overcrowded. Or the careful placement of plastic picnic chairs so as to provide “spontaneous space” separate from the attractions or consumption stations. Seaworld creates an immersive environment which may, at times, give the illusion that one is choosing what one chooses to do, think or feel - when, creepily enough, the stimulus that creates these actions and reactions are carefully statistically calculated to produce maximal results. Is the extent to which experience is structured carefully hidden by the producers, or is it unconsciously suppressed by receivers? Probably both.
It strikes me that many people probably don’t want to see alligators in the swamp, or whales off the coast of Nova Scotia. Sea World provides the wholesomeness of the animal kingdom, with the convenience of walking distance, restrooms, places to sit, eat and drink, and thick plexiglass. Furthermore, this “mall with fish” provides an “experience” of wholesomeness that you would not get without mediation: Davis uncovers the soundtracks, (often corresponding to the animal’s hollywood stereotype) accompanying the exhibits; the funny and kooky animal performances, often anthropomorphizing the animals; and the ‘lite’ enlightenment and environmentalist rhetoric which give the visitor the impression that “SeaWorld Cares, and so do you!”
While it would be incorrect for me to say that there are no similarities between a nonprofit like the LESTM and Sea World, I can’t quite give up hope yet. It is true, as Scott points out, that both do depend on revenue, both create immersive environments, and both give the visitor the impression that they care - and that the visitor cares because they go. It is on this last point that I can’t accept that Sea World and the LESTM are on the same plane. A corporation like Sea World (Anheuser-Busch) doesn’t have to care - Davis makes clear in this book that caring, or the appearance of caring, is only useful insofar as it can be used to make a profit. Therefore, it can’t ‘care’ enough to undermine its corporate roots and make any real statement about global pollution. The LESTM, while it may also depend on revenue, and while it may also want to keep its visitors entertained and happy and may adjust/compromise their “mission” in order to do so, they are not subservient to a corporation and may, in fact, pose difficult questions. The kind of social history in practice at the LESTM and Colonial Williamsburg, while it may not always work, is interactive and provides a space for improvisation. Social history has no place at Sea World; Sea World is not by any stretch of the imagination a “museum of conscience”. Or maybe I’m an idealist.
Posted by Sarah Klein at 9:32 PM
leisure, play, and killer whales
Susan Davis' case study launched us into the industry of amusement. Elements of play, performance, and profit may have been implicitly part of the museum and memorial experiences we’ve been looking at; at Sea World, these aspects of tourism are central, unmasked and explicitly staged. Amusement and theme parks are meant to be entertaining; and these spaces “win” (to use concept Davis introduces in her conclusion) when the revenue generated from entertainment is continuously channeled into back into the park. The danger? According to Davis, themed spaces produce social worlds according to the logic of consumer capitalism.
Unlike social history at Colonial Williamsburg or the International Coalition of Museums of Conscience, there is very little space for addressing social or political concerns at a site like Sea World, despite the park’s claim that it is trying to educate the public. I think Davis’ concern is valid. Theme park visitation seems like a different kind of tourism altogether: different reasons for building, particular visitor intentions and desires, and, in the case of Sea World, a potentially harmful reification of concepts like nature and science.
“Spectacular Nature” also brought to mind some of the issues we grappled with early on in the course. Visitors to Sea World are fueled by a particular desire to experience “natural” or authentic sea creatures; Davis’ discussion on the construction of the “natural” in European and American fantasy helped to contextualize this contemporary impulse. Sea World succeeds or fails based on how well is can incorporate and reproduce popular ideas of what “Nature” means. The notion of leisure also returns with a vengeance: the theme park space is often presented as an a-political zone of mass leisure that one (“anyone,” they say; “a particular social class,” says Davis) can escape into, a world of play and sensual stimulation that somehow alleviates the strains of contemporary everyday living. Recreational playing (instead of Anheuser-Busch’s other past-time, recreational drinking) is a form of escape.
Yet play is performed. Families perform “familyness,” Sea World workers keep up the appearance of safe and happy fun, and the animals themselves become pawns in a larger corporate performance of nature. Whales and dolphins appear in a coliseum-like space: rows of ascending bleachers gaze downward into the watery pit of spectacle. Discipline and power are exhibited for the public, not necessarily animal performance (can an animal perform? Or is it used for performance? Performance calls to mind a more intentional construction of playfulness). Spectacle merges with the carnivalesque: the theme park is, as Davis notes, a kind of Carnival – a bounded space where the wild is consumed, the senses are indulged, and one confronts danger in a more tame (and, thereby, more fun) form. Yet besides symbolizing this “wild nature,” a killer whale can come to represent something else entirely: an animal god or spiritual being not of the “natural” world. Who knew that Sea World could become a “quasi-religious” space of transcendence. The Native American narrative weaved into the Shamu performance by the voice of James Earl Jones was certainly not something I recall from my own family trips to Sea World in the 1980’s. “Nature” and “tradition” are constructed in a single performance space.
Regarding methodology, I appreciated Davis’ transparency with regards to how she conducted fieldwork and her ability to draw connections to broader issues about public space in the US, while still taking into account the shifting and changing nature of her site. She spent a great deal of time on those actors producing and maintaining the Sea World culture – which was integral to her project of examining the workings of corporate culture; I thought more time could have been dedicated to focusing on the attitudes and intentions of those attending the park – the paying public. My parents used to love to take my sister and I to Sea World every summer when we visited my uncle in San Diego (right after our stop over at Disneyland in LA). It was fun, tiring, over-determined, and spectacularly magical. Seductive and enticing. Beliefs and daily concerns were so easily suspended. Now, I can never imagine returning with an uncritical eye (and that’s probably a good thing). Nonetheless, the privatization of life and public space under the terms established by corporations is all the more scary considering how quickly theme parks become integral to the economies of cities.
Posted by Brynn Noelle Saito at 7:20 PM
Saturday morning CNN tidbits
Interesting news bits on CNN this morning:
- Controversy over a stairwell that escorted 911 survivors away from the WTC location...now known as the "Path to Freedom." Private owners want to demolish as part of plans for a new building and survivors urge to move the stairwell intact or preserve it as is.
two minutes later in newscast
- Conflict in the south this time pits "Southerner against Southerner." One group wants to rename Tara Blvd (named after Gone with the Wind) to Rosa Parks Blvd. Newscaster referred to this battle as "conflicting visions of the past." An Atlanta politician in favor of honoring Rosa Parks but attempting to diffuse the tension stated "We ought to be able to think beyond a street name. We ought to think monumental."
two minutes later in newscast
- bit about Reverend Billy who leads a group of counter consumerism performers throughout New York City to fight against mass consumer culture.
Could CNN this morning have been more demonstrative of issues we wrestle with each week?
Posted by Erin Madorsky at 6:42 PM
spectacular nature indeed
So, what's different between the non-profit museum and the for-profit theme park? Apparently, not as much as I would have thought...
As Susan Davis shows us in Spectacular Nature, Sea World (not just a park - another world) is, in the words of one of her students, "like a mall with fish." (2) Built around the display of marine life, the corporately owned park (not park, world - my mistake) importantly combines entertainment with the all important retail sales (which comprise 50% of their profit). Borrowing heavily from the Disneyland revolution in theme parkery, Sea World is an "integrated landscape of meanings unified around consumption." (3) Consumption is key - consumption gives pleasure and consuming nature at Sea World is good family fun.
Despite Sea World's appeal to family entertainment, as Scott pointed out in his post, their visitor demographics are strikingly similar to that of most cultural museums - white, upper middle class, middle aged. Davis on page 37: "consuming Sea World's nature spectacle is in part about social class."
But Sea World also styles itself as an urban public resource - promoting the virtues of conservation, rehabilitation, research and education. This is in part due to the rise in environmental activism from around the 1980s, and the recovery of image Sea World has had to make due to bad press (another response being to form a non-profit adjunt to the company). However, education products just like media products are related to the park's star animals, making education yet another marketing strategy. There is a conflation: "Entertainment, recreation, public relations, marketing, social mobility, and environmental concern run together to become essentially the same thing: the theme park." (39)
The scary corporate side to this is of course the power of the appearance of acting in the public good to obfuscate what part the corporate owners actually play. "Jennifer Price argues that shopping for nature commodities is a safe way to express environmental concern within the familiar satisfactions of consumerism, even hile this activity is structured to dampen awareness of the environmentally exploitative aspects to mass consumption itself." (11-12) For example, the relentless promotion of recycling by a corporate owner who is one of the biggest producers of bottles and cans, takes an environmentalist message and turns it into political strategy to diffuse discussion or supress legislation that might reduce the production of waste.
But is it all bad? As Davis points out, whether Sea World is producing a very specific pop-culture, mass-produced version of nature or something more wild and free, people are consuming it. There is power in the image to shape people's understanding of the environment and something interesting to be had from looking at patterns of consumption.
I found chapter 3 really interesting - the one in which Davis looks at how space, movement and perceptions are controlled - "organised" is the word she used I think. It is a good methodological model - by looking at this, she can begin to see what is actually happening. It relates to Handler and Gable's chapter on the Patriot Tour at Colonial Williamsburg - what the producer WANTS us to see and how they structure this can perhaps lead to deeper insights on what is being left out, what is being made, etc - more than direct questions may be able to. This idea of how the tourist site structures experience - through limiting possibilities, through physically structuring space, movement and perception is fascinating. I want to talk about this in class! These observations lead Davis to see Sea World as a "complex spatial machine for extracting profits from its customers," (7) and to place the guiding mantra of 'Intensify Spending!' within the park's operations: "Event scheduling, architecture and landscaping help move customers through concessions at speeds and intervals that have been carefully studied and determined to enhance sales." (24) The speed regulate-able people mover in front of the penguin diorama is...I am stuck for a word...just great.
As for the animal performances: I have to confess, I have never been to a park like this and it is a little hard to imagine. The pictures of Shamu's stadium are jaw dropping, and the description of Stephanie from the audience's big screen performance, equally so. Why go? I am imagining an overly hot, cramped stadium of people, the rising smell of chlorine filling my nostrils - it's like the mandatory school swimming carnivals all over again. Which lead me to think about what kind of performance this is:
The blatent humanising of animals in bikinis and strange Esther Williams-like all-female underwater extravanganzas from the 1960s are long gone. Davis traces a move from the mid 1970s to a more museum-like or scientific show - one not so humiliating for the animals. (68) But the performing orcas are the park's commodities, the stadium shows are a radical decontextualisation, and while the overt symbols of control are gone, Shamu(s) are still jumping through hoops. There is something about the cult of celebrity in these performances - Shamu is the star, like John Wayne is in an old Western; who cares what the movie is about? We just came to see him go through his paces. In a way, the Sea World performances are like the golden studio years of Hollywood - the show is just a vehicle, it's about the star, and if this Shamu has died prematurely from the constrictions of living in captivity, there is always another waiting in the wings...
Posted by Justine Shih Pearson at 6:40 PM
In thinking about the differences between a not for profit tourist production like Colonial Williamsburg as compared to a for profit tourist production like Sea World, I started to think if there was a difference in the factors that controlled the form of the production as well as the factors that control the way in which the production company is organized. The differences between such institutions lay in their social role yet the "not for" and the "for" profit distinction is highly questionable when looking at the economic considerations in both institutions.
As a private institution, Sea World is allowed to function with purely economic concerns in mind. People are critical of such practices only so much as they are harmful to natural beings like the animals. In an institution like Colonial Williamsburg, the expectations of the audience are that the display and presentation is made by certain inalienable principles other than money making. This demand on the part of the audience based on the notion of the type of institution being presented to them, places pressure on the institution to construct an image wholly independent from money making. It is not so much that different principles are taking place, but that different lengths to mask such principles are being made.
Davis does a fantastic job of demonstrating how economic concerns dominate every decision made at Sea World, and unashamedly so. Handler and Gable’s account of Colonial Williamsburg show how there are theoretical concerns that dominate representation and organizational functioning that although not primarily economic, often relate to economic concerns. For instance, image construction is the ultimate concern at Colonial Williamsburg evident in the entire spectrum of the production. From corporate management, through planning and design, to education and training of the staff who control the presentation, effort is made in order to construct the image that there is nothing controlling display, that there is no construction actually taking place that is not natural or historically truthful. The implication is that some things can be discovered and presented in a natural and correct state and when it is done in this way, then it falls outside the confines of economic concern. Such concerns are not free from economic consideration. At Colonial Williamsburg for instance they are merely using their cache as a cultural, natural, historical institution to draw a crowd and the importance of maintaining this image is so they can maintain a market share in a space non-competitive with locations like Disney World and Sea World. They are invested, then, in maintaining an image that protects their asset which in turn protects their economics.
Sea World, although presenting facets of nature, can make no claims to existing naturally and therefore possesses no asset to exploit under the guise of truth or history. So it must invent. The entire organization of Sea World is an invention of man, a feat of engineering, whose inventiveness is aimed at a product of nature. The content of Sea World happens to be derived from the natural universe, yet there is nothing of nature in Sea World. Nature is absent and through this absence Sea World is fit to function like a factory producing a consumable product. Susceptible to criticism for the blatant appropriation of that which is not theirs to take, Davis shows how Anheuser Busch goes to great lengths to create surface like distractions away from its core crime. They use politically correct gesturing to postulate responses to genuine concerns about exploitation of nature and the environment. They’ve jumped on bandwagons of popular interest to position themselves as do-gooders. Modern fixation on education through diverse forms of experience, for instance, gave Sea World the opportunity to package themselves as an educational institution. A look only slightly below the surface shows the educational material to be devoid of any true education yet full of Sea World references that develop a citizen army of consumers with Sea World chips impregnated in their brains without their knowledge. It is almost frightening to think what it is like for those who grew up in Sea World locations to be so inundated with Shamu references that they’d have no choice but to feel Sea World was a necessary and pleasurable part of the social fabric of their home town.
Davis shows how Sea World sells constantly and does so by developing their audience according to the most profitable characteristics. They use multimedia communications, and multi-sensorial events to manipulate a consumer base according to characteristics that benefit the corporation most. For example, Sea World fostered a different image of the killer whale at different times. They started by characterizing the killer whale, softening its natural animal instincts, building a cartoon into the actual whale image. Yet when this image backfired because people felt softer emotions towards the whale and therefore saw Sea World as the bad guy when accidents happened, they began to mold the audience towards seeing the killer whale as a scary and dominating creature of nature. It is a frightening power of construct.
Davis approaches such questions like the shaping of human perception regarding animals, by discussing ideas and questions with those involved in the tourist production, observing the production, and evaluating the forces that dominate the format of the production. After working for sometime on my outline this week, the challenge in arranging so many diverse forms of information is evident and I take for granted less the organized analytics and clear comprehension of a book like “Spectacular Nature.” From Davis as well as from Handler and Gable, I have started to arrange my information in terms of themes or threads of reoccurrence. In a way these threads of repetition have helped me better formulate the questions I want to ask. It feels like working backwards, but with the questions and themes, I can then rearrange the different data pieces to build out the argument (interviews, archive material, news articles). This process is helping me clear the preconceived idea I had going into the topic and is helping me derive ideas based on real evidence. I have to add that I really love my topic and I’m really grateful to this course because no other class could’ve equipped me to understand the forces at work in Sepharad ’92. Looking at the events from a purely historical context as I had done in the past completely misses the complex cocktail of politics and production at work in building consumable heritages.
Posted by Erin Madorsky at 6:38 PM
Video Games and Theme Parks
Video game designers have borrowed upon the experience and discoveries of theme park designers, particularly in the realms of theme and movement within space. The design of virtual space can and should be used to guide the players towards the build-up of action. Of primary concern to some game designs, is how to move the player through virtual space. The focus of the players can be guided by light, placement of objects, and structure of the space itself. This, of course, is also the concern of theme park designers. Additionally, space and architecture can be used for communicating genre and thus setting expectations. An alley with a particular film noir atmosphere sets up a particular expectation that is different from a Polynesian hut. Sea World, San Diego, has been carefully constructed to produce particular feelings and expectations. Essentially, the same principals that go into designing the fake coral reefs or movement out of a stadium, can be applied to the fish protagonist in the video game Finding Nemo.
Susan Davis tells us that most of the views within Sea World are focused inward. Since space is not actually limitless in virtual worlds, the player must be directed away from the specific boundaries of the universe created. Like video game worlds, theme parks also create a specifically bounded area in which the consumers cannot pass. Within video games, an architectural archetype is something that draws the eye of the player and awakens their interest. It could be a castle, an island, a volcano, or another distinct element in the spatial construction of the game. Players tend to navigate towards these, just as the Sky Tower pulls people into the center of Sea World.
Gaming experience is something that is carefully crafted. Designers can affect the atmosphere of a game with textures, color, or lighting. Theme parks seek to create a landscape that people find “appealingly different, one that neither alarms nor bores” (82-3). While this is not the specific concern of video game designers, familiarity in design is important. Players need something to anchor to—something to base their interpretations of the space and the actions of the game on. An item that cannot be recognized as a space ship is just a weird and meaningless element. However, if the item looks even vaguely like a space ship that the player has seen before, then the design is able to communicate the desired meaning. Similar shortcuts are observable in many places, particularly theme parks. In Sea World, Orlando, the increasing whiteness of landscape heralds the approach of the Penguin Encounter, so as to subliminally prepare visitors for the upcoming attraction. (Ask Lisa about her AWESOME time at the Penguin Encounter! It’s her favorite story to tell.)
Contrast is another way to add impact and variation in the space. Of course, video games play out on screens that do not change size. To create a dramatic effect, often a small dark room is followed by a large lighted room, such as the entrance to oen of the government buildings in Final Fantasy XI. This same effect is often created in real life. For instance, in churches, people often have to enter a small hall before proceeding into the main hall. This progression adds impact on the entrance to the monumental interior of the church. Similar spatial patterns are repeated in Disney parks, such as the small entrance to Ariel’s Kingdom in Tokyo Disneyland, or the narrowing upward path into Epcot’s The Land. In my experience, sea world has a tendency to bring out dolphins before the Orcas. Likewise, the otters always show themselves before the sea lions.
Ironically, there is now a series of video games, such as SIM Theme Park and Rollercoaster Tycoon (1, 2, 3, Gold), which allow the player to create and manage their own theme park. These games draw most closely on what has been learned in the management of theme parks, because the very game’s design is based on these findings. Now it is up to the player to create an experience. While these games are young children friendly, they are not easy by any degree. It almost requires out of game research to figure out just how to make your theme park thrive. Maybe reading Davis’ book will help the enterprising young player
(I hope to edit this later... but just in case I miss the deadline...)
Posted by Lisa Reinke at 5:57 PM
It’s the Real Thing
I found one of the saddest moments in Susan Davis’s book in the conclusion, when she described a new program begun in November 1995: “Sea World inaugurated a ‘wade with the dolphins’ experience in which, for an extra $120, customers receive ninety minutes of instruction and then slip into a wet suit for twenty minutes of communion. ‘It borders on a religious experience’ said one dolphin-hugger.” (p. 234) In addition to echoing for me various 1990s predilections including those for communing with “nature” and experiencing moments of personal meaning or growth in natural or new-age settings, this anecdote also illustrated one of the many ways that socio-economic hierarchies play out at Sea World. In this example, those with enough extra money to spend can have the added “real” experience of interacting with the dolphins and touching them in their tanks. Although it does not seem to be pitched this way, these “special” visitors also enter the “world” of the theme park in a more active way: they mimic the performers/trainers by donning the same uniform outfits and receiving instruction from the trainers and then enter the dolphin water space for the “communion” experience. On some level, these visitors cease to become spectators and become participants in Sea World. I wonder though about the socio-economic profile of the consumers who are attracted to this opportunity; given the explosion of adventure tourism it seems that there are many other places where one could more “authentically” or expansively encounter “real” nature, whether it is oceanographic or otherwise. Hence part of why I found this anecdote sad was that Sea World cannot compete with some of the other offerings on the market, and the example only highlighted the artificial and limited “nature” of the theme park.
The inequities of socio-economic status as played out in Sea World are also a significant factor in the theme park’s identity as a destination for education field trips undertaken by schools. In an interview with Davis “Education Director Joy Wolf argued that although ‘we are here for everybody,’ ‘the people who use our [field trip and outreach] programs,’ are ‘in fact the people we are trying to target,… primarily the minority schools.” (p. 132) This message is underscored by other examples given in the chapter that profiles Sea World as an education destination, in which other teachers express awareness about the costs of visiting the park, as well as undertaking other field trips. Sea World is not unaware of the ways in which it can serve to provide “enrichment” to public school populations (p.133), a function that cultural institutions such as museums often serve, while at the same time grooming young audiences to become visitors. In addition, by visiting schools, Sea World creates an additional market for its services off-site.
While students are being presented a Sea World that supposedly offers education rather than entertainment, in reality they are being offered the opportunity, via their school, to experience a leisure destination that may be beyond their financial means to access. The distinction is not lost on the students “as when an eleven-year-old African American boy shouted, when I asked for his reaction to the park, “It’s all a rip off!” and went on to explain very accurately to me and his friends the relationship between the park’s cheap souvenirs, inflated prices, and expansive landscape.” (p. 124)
In both cases the theme park is trying to be different things to different people based on their socio-economic status. In both cases, in different ways, the experiences being offered are meant to emphasize Sea World’s attempt to present itself as not merely an entertainment destination but as a place to encounter oceanic life. At first I thought that this distinction was an example of simple crass commercialism that marked “Sea World” as a for-profit institution but, in truth, museums and other non-profit organizations offer similar special “insider” events for higher ticket prices: these events are simply marketed to “donors” rather than to “consumers” and offer such additional perks as social capital and tax write-offs. So what is the difference between a for-profit and a non-profit? Perhaps it is only the illusion (and official legal sanction) of “doing good.” Certainly it is easier to feel “charitable” when supporting a “cultural institution” that is designated as “non-profit.” I am struck by how often the concept of “insider” or “special” or “authentic” experiences are parlayed into higher ticket prices and donations: special events with artists, behind-the-scenes tours, etc. On a different note, I was struck by how the building names have changed over time and in some cases the more commercial names have (“Hawaiian Punch”) have been changed to more ambience-setting names that are less obviously commercial in nature.
In terms of the presentation of “true science” I thought of the Museum of Natural History as a counter-example, and especially of the “new” Hayden Planetarium exhibitions, in which academic scientists appear as “talking heads” in explanatory audio and visual material. Would the use of more officially “scientific” informants have made a difference in how David perceived the content of the Sea World exhibits? Also, it seems to me that Sea World developed during the early heyday of TV in which such programs as “Jacques Cousteau” and “Animal Kingdom” were popular. Did Sea World, like these shows, appear more “exotic” and/or “authentic” when it first opened? And how does it compete now, in a world where television and the internet have far broader reaches and so much more information and visual material is available?
The distinctions in the way leisure time is spent across the socio-economic spectrum of consumers in the United States was also on my mind this week as I listened to the news reports about “Black Friday” for which anchors interviewed those waiting on line for early store openings and noted that a number of shoppers will simply purchase their gifts on-line. I wonder how socio-economic distinctions break down around Thanksgiving vacation plans and shopping for Christmas gifts; I have my suspicions about how these break down. It struck me while listening that Black Friday is in itself a type of tourist production, playing on human nature as well.
I appreciate Davis’ intense attention to detail but could not help being struck by how she fits into the very structure that she critiques, both by becoming a paying customer in order to observe the working of the theme park and because she is a resident of the town in which Sea World exists; at one point she describes her own child’s school visit with Sea World. I wonder if she could have somehow construed a different role for herself at some point, perhaps working with the education staff to prepare a school visit. In terms of thinking about the animals and how to understand them as performers, I would have appreciated (similarly to Davis in her analysis of the Sea World shows) some more scientific knowledge about the animals and what best academic wisdom suggests about the ways in which they understand their theme park experiences. Do the animals “act out”? How do they understand their relationships with their trainers? I was disappointed that Davis did not learn more about the animals who are the purported raison d’etre for the park. It is not necessary to know such information in order to play with metaphors or theories for describing the animal behavior being manipulated and exhibited. But it might help in feeling more “authentic” about making such comments and considering what the hazards of this experience are for the creatures whose very existence provides the excuse for the creation of the theme park in the first place. Would I have learned more, however thin the information might be, if I had visited Sea World myself?
Posted by Leah Strigler at 4:47 PM
Immigrants and Whales: Come Touch Their Worlds! Tickets on sale now…
On first consideration, one may assume that Sea World and the Lower East Side Tenement Museum (LES) are very different. After all, one is officially a non-profit museum, while the other is a for-profit business. One seems to offer an educational historical building, while the other a fun-filled “theme park.” One visits one site for education, and the other for enjoyment. However, in practical terms, these two operations have much in common, with their so-called differences perhaps really different only in terms of lexical semantics.
LES and Sea World are both entities that wish to continue to exist and flourish. Sea World exists to make profits, and LES makes profits to exist. Thus, financial income, in the end, is equally important to both, and this means the need to attract lots of visitors. They do so by providing experiential entertainment, which means being first and foremost a tourist attraction that anticipates and serves up the type of experience visitors want. The entire tourist production, including image, content, and structure, are all built around the central need of being a place that people want to go to for a good, fun experience. The similarities between the two in how this is achieved are quite extensive.
First of all, both sites have been developed with an acute awareness of cultural identity shared with their cities. Sea World and San Diego developed with a joint cultural image of climate, health, and environmental celebration and experience. LES is intimately tied to New York’s immigrant history and self-awareness of cosmopolitan diversity. Through shared identity, both have sought and obtained financial support by identifying as a sort of public space and publicly invested cultural icon. The museum receives tax exempt and historic landmark status. Sea World has a history of benefiting from public leases and development of public infrastructure.
In order to achieve goodwill and legitimacy as a public investment, both have sought an educational image and strongly reach out to public schools. Both sites encourage fieldtrips and have even ensconced themselves into local public curriculum. Both employ curators, academic and research staff, and situate their publicly stated goals within the realm of academic inquiry and public education. Both occasionally sponsor programs with academic or socially aware agendas.
To return to the idea of tourist production, both sites focus on entertainment with an emphasis on immersive contact with another world that is to be experienced and contemplated. Sea World offers the natural out-of-bounds underwater world and LES offers a travel through time to our ancestors’ immigrant arrival in the U.S. These worlds are offered as three-dimensional experiences through time where visitors get to see and touch, relating to the magical environments in a personal, self-reflexive manner.
In order to offer the individualized experience while maximizing the number of visitors per day, both sites have structured their productions in a manner that carefully organizes movement, time, and concession opportunities. Scheduled performances are carefully scheduled to ensure most efficient visitor flow through attractions as well as factoring in dead-time for visitors to view and purchase items in the gift shops. The experience is rounded out with opportunities for individual engagement with the environment. This can be seen with Sea World’s carefully designed landscaped walkways leading, for example, to a viewing of turtles on a little island or LES’s bookstore which contains nooks and crannies of books, various historical items on display, and an alcove where one can watch a film about current immigrants.
Interestingly, both sites cater to a mainly white, upper-middle class visitor population. It appears that both productions offer a product that is culturally identified by this ethnic and economic demographical group as an activity that furthers one’s identity as a caring, sensitive, educated, socially mobile person. Sea World’s celebration of nature has its roots in the 19th Century notion of Enlightened Man. The status of museum as realm for cultural celebration and betterment follows the same course. The experience at both sites thus becomes a self-affirming social experience, where one engages in the activity and is rewarded with an image--and self-reflection--of what one hopes to see. In a recent interview, a former “Victoria” at LES informed me that she used to tailor her performance to the identity of the audience. If the audience was mostly Jewish, she would “play up” Victoria’s Jewish identity and laden her dialogue with specific vocabulary as well as express her character’s personal opinions of the ethnic experience of the neighborhood. If the audience was of mainly Italian descent, “Victoria” would downplay her Jewish identity and speak to her audience’s specific ethnic background, talking about the various Italian activities in the neighborhood. Sea World also constructs its performances with consideration of their customers’ emotions and self-image. While it is natural for a penguin colony to physically crowded, the engineers were acutely aware of the viewer’s needs regarding public perception of how much space penguins “should” have, and thus provided an unnaturally spacious environment for the number of penguins, knowing that viewing a “crowded” penguin presentation would make the viewer feel personally crowded, as well as perhaps a “bad” consumer for supporting a zoological exhibit that isn’t offering a natural habitat. In fact, most of the aesthetic traits of the park’s animal habitats are for the viewers’ comfort, not the animal. Formed rocks line the dolphin’s pool to reassure humans, not dolphins.
Finally, both sites offer the opportunity for intimate experience with performed magical worlds where participation and interaction are key ingredients. Sea World managers proudly claim, “We’re touchable.” (p. 103) LES educators claim that the success of the Confino Aparatment tour lies in the fact that it is an immersive “hands-on” environment. Whether next to the Dolphin petting pool or in Victoria’s kitchen, one is able to bridge the gap between the quotidian world and the proffered touristic magical world, and make sublime contact. In such a manner, visitors are ostensibly allowed to make the far-away world temporarily their own. Such conceptual experience thus leads to personal discovery and enjoyment.
This experiential learning is tied to the emotional experience for the visitor. Productions are created with the specific intent to evoke certain emotions. Sea World attempts to induce awe, wonder, and even trepidation. LES, through an environmental theater approach, attempts to induce emotional empathy with the historical immigrant experience with the hope of engendering dialogue regarding current immigration.
More closely examined, the binary comparison between for-profit and non-profit corporations appears to be less and less relevant, particularly as the government contracts out services to not-profit and for-profit agencies. Many prisons, city water systems, and social services are now run by businesses for profit. Kaiser-Permanente and Health Net compete in the same health care market. As museums and other non-profit entities enter the same consumer market as theme parks, it is understandable that their products will merge, focusing on the desire of consumers, which more and more appears to be the tourist model of experiential entertainment.
Posted by Scott Wallin at 2:30 PM
November 21, 2005
Paul Williams and his sources
I forgot one thing that disturbed me in reading Paul Williams' otherwise fascinating article on Cambodia's memorial sites.
One of his final sources, not an important one in terms of content, but still mentioned in a footnote, is Serge Thion... a famous French Holocaust denier, who has also questioned the use of "genocide" when it comes to Cambodia...
Here's the article from Wikipedia:
Serge Thion (born 1942) is a French sociologist mainly known for his Holocaust denial.
Thion is associated with the bookshop and publisher La Vieille Taupe. It has been alleged that he is also linked to the website 'Ancient Amateurs Association of War and Holocaust Tales'  , which first appeared in 1996.
Thion worked as a researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) from 1971 to 2000. Most of his research focused on Cambodia and Vietnam. Thion was the subject of some controversy when he wrote that "genocide" was not a proper description of what happened in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge rule. His employment was terminated in 2000 after a French newspaper revealed that Thion had used his position at the CNRS to promote Holocaust denial.
Posted by Brigitte Sion at 11:38 PM
Forget Me Not
In “Memory of the New Berlin”, Karen Till speaks to the performativity and materiality of memorials. Specifically, she discusses the newly emergent “memory district” in Berlin which marks a trend toward the centralization of memory while mapping itself as central to the global moral community through the public display and acknowledgement of past crimes. Till treats the spectacular nature of spatial and architectural aspects of Berlin as a staging of the city to its citizens and visitors. She problematizes the hypervisibility of the memory district and its “material performances [which] assume that urban space is transparent, that the city can be visually known.” (196) The “nothing to hide” stance communicated by the centrally location and highly visibility of these sites can be dangerously deceptive for visibility can be easily collapsed with clear-sightedness and moral foresight. (204) Furthermore, they may suggest the knowability of events which are by their vary nature unknowable: “place making and memory cannot be contained in space or time.” (ibid.)
Till further discusses the complex relationships between place and memory. Memorials which are site-specific function as traces, objective proof (Spuren) and evidence, testimony (Zeugnis). How are places of past cultural trauma along with visible material traces and the “spiritual field resulting from the suffering of those who no longer live” (208) similar and distinct from newly located memorial sites? Where does the actual construction of memory and mourning take place? How much materiality is necessary for its construction? Is it possible to experience these emotional and intellectual states with little or no mediation?
Enterprises like that of the International Coalition of Historic Site Museums of Conscience, as described by Liz Sevcenko point to the potential of activating these sites to “promote a social conscience that values active Memory as a means of avoiding history from repeating itself.” (59) According to this model it is the sites’ stewards who are “responsible for engaging its audiences in civic dialogue around contemporary issues.” (ibid.) No matter how carefully disguised all of the sites treated in this week’s readings have a political agenda. Unfortunately, it is not always in keeping with the spirit of what they ostensibly represent. Memorials are potential sites of activism and contestation. In his article Sherman illustrates the link between monument building and areas of political contestation. What is significant is the fact that monuments’ meanings are often appropriated for political purposes: “it is the intrinsic nature of public art that it seems to adapt, collaborate.” (206) The sites studied this week seem to embody this very concept, when emotions are open and vulnerable they are easy to manipulate and harness toward specific political ends. For instance, in the case of Tuol Sleng and Choeung Ek the Vietnamese had an implicit agenda in the construction of the memorials as sites that would justify the invasion. On the other hand initiatives like that of many Holocaust memorials has lead to pressures which resulted in some financial reparations, public acknowledgement of guilt which now serves as a model for recourses attempting to deal with other acts of crimes against humanity. Nevertheless, as seen is some of the websites browsed for this week, these enterprises are not without Zionist overtones.
As Williams points out memory must not simply be preserved it must be created. (249) Till also alludes to the constructiveness of memory highlighting the backstage aspects of memory production. How should memorial experiences be constructed, for and by whom and to what ends?
Posted by Dominika Bennacer at 2:24 PM
Performing absence--a draft
I thought I would offer some thoughts around questions of performativity, relevance and the production of memory through the filter of the District Six Museum. While I understand the academic anxieties surrounding the institutional appropriation and staging of traumatic memory, I think that the emphasis of these debates shifts somewhat when the memorial project in question is generated by its victims and is wholly concerned with the practical and metaphysical connections between their past and present lives. I would suggest that some of the disparities between the purpose, desired effect and reactions to the museums cited have more to do with embrace of history and collectors of the memories than the methods of its staging. I would argue that a space in which ethical questions and concerns are raised and reflected does not always have the luxury of being created in a post-oppressive, reparative state, and as such generates different if equally meaningful commentary on subjection. All the sites under inspection are thematically linked to impositions on individual and collective freedoms, and are ideologically related in a need to institutionally validate an experience of intense suffering, or to end a conspiracy of silence. Williams writes about the uneasiness between communities and memorials in Cambodia, attributing the dissonance between the two to a lack of cohesive national reconciliation through civil justice. Till explores the radical remaking and re-imagining of Berlin’s city-scape, in which the nation’s Nazi confessions are rendered intensely public in order to make an international apology, but to what end? An exercise in national moral redemption, or the archiving of terrible individual experiences? Sevcenko charts the Coalition’s commitment to the exposition of truth, the sense of connectivity between the past and the present and the need to stimulate dialogue around social issues.
I noticed, while reading some of the postings, that there are a number of times when the issues of “authenticity” and “purpose” become questions that rotate continuously around the sites. I understand the need to examine sites in relation to their function and while it would be easy to offer the District Six Museum as an institution that successfully straddles the space between memorialisation and the practice of democratic citizenship (which, incidentally I don’t think of as a necessarily Western construct), I think that this kind of civic interaction is only possible when there has been history of redress and the opportunity of real reparation is imminent. The possibilities of reparations surrounding holocausts and genocides are limited by their own inexcusable histories and at best they can be intangible, a practical offering of solace seems somehow impossible. The D6 museum has under-gone a transformation from being a community-based organisation that demanded the recognition of land theft under apartheid, to being an intellectual custodian of land redistribution post-apartheid and in doing so has managed to contribute its voice to both the ideology and the practice of reparation. So, I think the real interface between these public spaces is not about the events that shape them (which, though they are all grounded in experience of trauma, are profoundly different), but rather about the ghosts that haunt them.
One of the reading guidelines suggests an exploration of the relationship between memory and history—a space I find especially fascinating because of the museum’s mediating function between the two. Up until ten years ago history (text-based, official accounts of events), were entirely at odds with the majority of South African’s memories (dismissed by the state as being fantastic and duplicitous). Post-apartheid national projects like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the D6 Museum and the Robben Island Musuem are all attempts at revisionist history in which the “truth” (in all it variant, fluid forms) is excavated in the interests of addressing the past and charting a viable political future. There is a temptation with any revisionist project to suggest that the sequence of events has been righted, that subjugated narratives have been made available and a sense of psychic justice now prevails. What is interesting is how that “new” memory or history is staged. How does the mission of the institution shape the arc of the stories, how does it inform the decisions of what is included? How are the ghosts of the past invoked, exorcised and manipulated? What is present, what is absent? Till writes of the new Berlin museums that “nothing appears to be hidden from view”. So everything, artefact, information, testimony, can be accessed from open information sources and re-interpreted and arranged through a creative prism, and it is precisely this sense of “openness” that unnerves and disturbs her. I have been embroiled in an ongoing discussion with the D6 Museum about the absence of the area’s apartheid collaborators in its exhibition space and within its research centre. I find it difficult to digest that in the staging of a place recognised for its diversity, this aspect of political difference is white-washed, ignored, made invisible in the interests of political expediency.
Williams suggests a more existential crisis in the memorials of Tuaol Sleng and Choeung Ek; that in the “context of unattained justice (they) remain disconnected from any historical narrative” and the spaces themselves become “guardians of absent meanings”.
Posted by Nadia Davids at 2:21 PM
Memory and Authenticity
What is the reason that keeps people going back to where atrocity happened? If tourism serves as something more than recreational purpose, and also function as educational device, is it true that the site actually speaks for itself or the tourists are hearing the stories of the commodified historical site/event?
In Memory in the New Berlin, it mentioned the relationship of authenticity and commemoration. In the article, it points out the Jewish Barrack in Sachsenhausen as an example (215), where people can be fooled by the old concept that seeing is believing. The reproduction of the site obviously misleads the tourist to believe that the location is the place that atrocity actually took place, and enhanced the theatricality and power to the place. But according to the article, one of the tourists, with tears in her eyes, said that there is no way to compare what she had read with the tour in the historical camp. Regardless whether the misunderstanding of the Jewish Barrack is an intentional behavior or careless malfunction of the instruction, it is obvious that the authenticity of a site is
I think the importance of the authenticity issue is that by creating a seemingly realistic environment, it creates the intimacy with the tourists and lead them to fall into the atmosphere of a historical event, especially for those tourists who have rarely any connection with the site in background or memory.
Posted by Yo-Chi Li at 1:06 PM
November 20, 2005
What should be remembered?
People, places, things are certainly always displaced, obscured, detached from memorials. What should be remembered and what should be forgotten? Should anything be forgotten? What should be considered an exhibit? What should be considered a memorial? Do spaces really need be designated in order for certain events to be remembered or considered authentic?
Tuol Sleng and Choeung Ek--dark tourism at work? Paul Williams argues that, “By detailing the KR’s torture techniques, Tuol Sleng seems focused on them and not the victims.” The lack of personal accounts is what makes Tuol Sleng and Choeung Ek so eerie and cold. Tuol Sleng seems like and exhibit of sorts, displaying torture devices and ghostly images. Do memorials need to operate in certain ways to be considered memorials? Like Williams later mentions, more than a memorial for victims, Tuol Sleng and Choeung Ek serve as reminders that justice has not been served (Williams, 250). Tuol Sleng and Choeung Ek aren’t just showcases of brutality. As stated by Karen Till with regard to concentration camp memorials, “They are sites of criminal acts and traces of violent acts against humanity. At the same time, these places are understood in very personal ways, defined by the touch of humans; they are where people left their last footprints, tears, and even hopes” (Till 208). One thing is for sure, these memorials aren’t running for the money, the fee is waived for Cambodians and international visitors are charged a mere $2.
Authenticity? Family members of the victims who died in AA flight 587 are currently disputing the location of the memorial, which is to be completed by Fall 2006 in Belle Harbor, Queens (some blocks away from the actual crash site). Family members feel it is important to construct a memorial at the exact place where the accident occurred. This won’t be happening, but why? The memorial will also be paying tribute to the victims of Sept. 11th. Does this have anything to do with the decision? Some concerns regarding the location of the memory district in Berlin have to do with the lack of attention to its “social function.” Some believe that extravagant designs of the museums attract more media and cultural critics (Till, 196). Could this be a future concern for the Flight 587 memorial, especially now with the additional tribute to the victims of 9/11?
However operated, the sad and the ugly will always be remembered by those with personal attachments to the site or event(s). How to make the sad and ugly apparant without exuding too much or too little to the public is what’s tricky. “The point of memorials is that they stand outside everyday time and place. As enduring witnesses to history they symbolize timelessness; as sacred spaces they take people out their normal surrounding in order to offer a different picture of reality” (Williams, 248).
Posted by Alma Guzman at 7:38 PM
Performative aspects of memory sites
The “memorialization” of the past is, as the readings for this week demonstrate, always controversial and needs to be approached from a critical perspective. Certainly, what perspective of historical events is presented and from who’s vantage point is crucial (some people’s tragedy is always another’s glory), this is all the more the case when, as it almost always is, the process and purpose of memorialization is linked to nationalism and nation-building. In certain cases, the concept of “memory” can be coopted by an actor precisely for the opposite purpose, using organized remembering as a way of ensuring forgetting. The cases of Tuol Sleng and Choeung Ek in Cambodia are textbook examples of the possible manipulation and misuses of memory, as is what is currently going on Ground Zero, a case perhaps closer to home.
However, looking at memorials and memory-making as a question of power dynamics, or of the politics/poetics of representation does not seem all that productive beyond the denunciation itself. Perhaps looking to the performative effects of memorials might lead us in more interesting directions. What is it memory spaces actually do? How do they do it? How are they used? Although each site is specific to its own historical context, all of the cases brought up in the readings and on the websites seem to have common features. Perhaps attempting to enumerate some of these parallels might be a way of better understanding the ways in which they actually work: most of the sites are framed as a form of reestablishing some sort of equilibrium, of providing reconciliation, repossession or atonement.
They are all also places where visitors are supposed to learn something about history, where an educational task is performed. This educational task generally involves making a connection between the past, what is learned about history, and the present, contemporary actions of visitors (this seems to be one of the main missions of the Site Museums of Conscience described by Sevcenko). They are also set as stages to perform something along the lines of empathy through experience, intended to actually influence people to react in certain ways in their own lives (the insistence on the “never again” that Till refers to). Many are also performing a ritual act, as places to pay respect, connect to or simply mourn the dead, all the more so in sites commemorating events where the burial or marking of individual bodies could not be realized (this is the case for the Killing Fields mentioned by Williams, the WW1 memorials discussed in Sherman, the Holocaust sites, as well as Ground Zero). The memorial sites are also produced to be consumed, to make profits, boost regional economies, recreate urban landscapes, to be bought and sold on an international memorial marketplace. Some sites as well as the historical events they are meant to immortalize have also become a type of heritage in themselves, something to be preserved not only because of their authenticity, but as memorial sites, as productions. This tendency seems to go in crecendo as the historical event commemorated becomes more and more distant in time.
However, although specific memorials are intended to work in specific ways, and although they all share common traits, we should take Sherman’s claim seriously: memory and memorials are quintessentially unstable. They can function in completely unpredictable ways, or even not function at all. Nothing stops people from deciding to exclude memorials from their itineraries, even from their fields of vision. It is not uncommon for a memorial’s meaning to be made opaque by its plasticity or aesthetic value. And, as unfathomable as it may sound, nothing stops a neonazi from going to a Holocaust memorial as a form of ritual celebration. Memorials are not static structures with static messages, but constantly subject to resignification and reinterpretation. I think the inclusion of memorials and memorial sites in the tourism industry is especially revealing of this. Memory can become part of an itinerary, something that needs to be ticked off a list of attractions that make a place a place. One can plan a trip where a visit to the killing fields is sandwitched between a Ramayana dance performance and a visit to Angkor Wat, or simply, as Brigitte has often discussed as part of her case study, used a memorial site as a place of childish recreation, to eat a hot dog or kiss a lover.
The challenge, thus, is to manage a panoramic vision of memory-making, to look at the ways in which memorials work and they ways in which they don’t, or at least the ways in which their intended effects are not the end result. However, this leaves me with a question: do memorials need to work in the ways intended by their producers in order to be efficacious?
Posted by Sandra Rozental at 6:36 PM
The AIDS Memorial Quilt
Posted by BKG at 4:36 PM
Billie Jones, Employing Identification in Online Museums
Historically, museums have been the place of rare and often valuable collections, preserved and displayed predominantly for their aesthetic value. These collecting museums did not intend to educate; however, after World War II, modern science museums and children's museums were created around the message they wished to espouse rather than a collection they wished to exhibit (Weinberg and Elieli. The Holocaust Museum in Washington New York: Rizzoli, 1995: 50). Instead of the collection as a museum's commodity, Eilean Hooper-Greenhill concludes that "Knowledge is now well understood as the commodity that museums offer Museum, Message, MediaLondon: Routledge, 1995: 2). In discussing historical museums, Weinberg and Elieli state that in such a museum, the narrative arranges knowledge like "building blocks in a continuous story line [designed to] educate in the sense of changing and developing their visitors mentally, emotionally, or morally (The Holocaust Museum in Washington New York: Rizzoli, 1995: 49).Such education is rhetorical, and as such requires, according to social critic Kenneth Burke, the establishment of identification. He writes, "You persuade a man only insofar as you can talk his language by speech, gesture, tonality, order, image, attitude, idea, identifying your ways with his" (Burke, The Rhetoric of Motives New York: Prentice-Hall, 1950: 55; original emphasis). In order for a museum exhibit to persuade and thereby educate its audience, it must establish identification with that audience.
Turning first to the physical presence of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), I will show how the designers of the Permanent Exhibition of the USHMM have attempted to build identification throughout the museum through the display of personal artifacts, as ordinary and yet as intimate as shoes and toothbrushes; and photographs, which emphasize the individual humanity of the victims rather than massive dehumanization of entire cultural groups. After I have illustrated some of the ways in which a physical museum attempts to establish identification, I will turn my attention to the ways in which a museum's online presence can also establish identification by which to educate and persuade its audience. Demonstrating goodwill toward the audience of an online museum, a largely anonymous and widely diverse audience, is more difficult than establishing identification with visitors to a physical space. First of all, there are no physical beings with whom to identify; cyberspace breeds an impersonal environment. Furthermore, designers of online museum exhibits do not have the luxury of spinning knowledge with a single, narrative thread; cyberspace valorizes hypertextuality-not linearity. Nevertheless, online museum designers can still work to establish identification with their cyber visitors. Looking at the online presence of two Holocaust museums, the USHMM http://www.ushmm.org and Yad http://www.yad-vashem.org I will attempt to show design components that help to establish identification, as well as to suggest other ways that identification could be utilized in these online museums-and others.
Posted by BKG at 4:16 PM
It Happened Here: Memory and Dark
In “Memory in the New Berlin” Karen Till describes a series of spaces dedicated to memorializing the events of the Holocaust. She notes that “The “authentic” or real place is defined according to its artifacts and historic location: it is understood as historical events (Zeugenis) of crimes against humanity and as a material trace (Spur), even sacred relic, that embodies a past that by definition is understood as unknowable and unrepresentable. When place is constructed as having an authentic aura, as being an eyewitness to past atrocities, it is also situated in social space, acquiring a special status in relationship to other places through international moral hierarchies and tourism economies.” (p. 197) There are two types of commemorative sites: those that are situated in a location that is identified with the events being commemorated and those that are situated in a location assigned because a variety of stakeholders in the area wish to commemorate events that occurred elsewhere. These different types of sites are significant because the cultural, political, social and economic debates that they engender can differ significantly. One might consider the different nature of a competition to create a memorial at Ground Zero and “honor” the “footprints” of the Twin Towers with a competition to design a memorial for a town in New Jersey that counts a number of its residents as victims who perished in the attack on the Twin Towers.
The distinction between space that is considered “authentic” and space that is not can be seen in the building designs of two very different memorial Museums: the Jewish Museum in Berlin and the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in New York City. In both cases the architecture of these museums underscores messages about the museums’ content that are rooted in their geographic locations.
The Berlin Jewish Museum was originally designed as an extension of the Berlin Museum but ultimately took over the Museum itself. This is attributed to the power of the architect Daniel Liebeskind’s design (ibid. p. 198) but it also seems to speak to the power of the Holocaust as a historical era that “unseats” other aspects or eras of German cultural heritage that might be featured in a museum in the nation’s capital. The Jewish Museum building, “created of voids and voided voids (empty spaces that can be seen but not physically accessed)” (p.199) is meant to be literally unsettling. Till notes “While the physical space of the museum communicates rupture and loss, the historical content of the exhibitions indicates continuity, dating from medieval times to the present day.” (p. 199-200) While I understand her point I would argue that the building itself is meant to serve as the overarching statement of the narrative, meant to contextualize all that is within. The “rupture” of this Museum in the context of the street and cityscape also underscores its mission as commemorating a drastic, even inconceivable, break.
The Museum of Jewish Heritage: a Living Memorial to the Holocaust is a project of a very different order, a Memorial constructed in a country that, if anything, is seen as responsible for ending the horrors being commemorated in the exhibition spaces. [There is a complicating factor here, the question of whether America’s response was swift enough; a gallery in the Museum exhibition’s Holocaust area is devoted to exactly this topic.] Without the “authenticity” of being the site of the atrocities, the Museum’s purpose in regard to its location must be construed differently. Most centrally is the Museum’s contextualization of its purpose and commemorative content within the greater narrative of the greatness of the United States. In fact, the project came to be in response to the request of an immigrant population to America petitioning the government for the ability to construct such a memorial. (James Young, in his book “The Texture of Memory” chronicles the history of this project.) Hence, in the context of this Museum, the subject matter of the Holocaust is sandwiched between two other narratives: that of Jewish immigrants coming to America in order to experience greater freedom and opportunity and the flourishing of Jewish life. The “sandwich” metaphor is literal, as the second floor of exhibition on the Holocaust is located in between a ground floor that chronicles the Jewish experience of immigration to America and the cultural traditions that they brought with them and a third floor that explores the evolution of Jewish life after World War Two, with a great emphasis placed on American Jewry.
The salience of the themes of freedom and opportunity and the dominance of America’s role as a country that offered such gifts to its immigrants is heavily underscored by the Museum’s location in Battery Park City. Visitors emerge from the permanent exhibition into an open space (once empty, now serving as exhibition space as well) and immediately face wide open windows that offer stunning views of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The emergence into this viewing space is all the more powerful given the fact that the exhibition space is constructed almost entirely without windows or natural light. These views are also captured in the Museum’s new Education Wing, with both the Museum’s café and Holocaust memorial garden situated to offer similarly focused views of the landmarks in the harbor. It would be hard to find to more powerful architectural symbols to underscore America’s mythologized identity as “the land of freedom.”
Ironically, both Museums are now located in larger “districts” that serve as destinations of dark tourism. The Jewish Museum is located in proximity to the “Topography of Terror International Center” and the newly opened Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. The events of September 11th, 2001 placed the Museum of Jewish Heritage in close proximity to Ground Zero. Among the repercussions of the events of that day is that the area of downtown Manhattan in which the Museum is located was subject to tremendous economic upheaval, simultaneously losing business residents and being reconstituted as a site of pilgrimage for tourists. The Museum has publicized that its Education Wing was the first major construction in the area completed post 9/11 and is one of a consortium of museums that self-identify as being “downtown.” Certainly the Museum would benefit economically if tourists visiting Ground Zero would continue southward and visit the Museum as well.
I have focused on museum architecture because of its significant role in constituting the experience of a constructed memorial. These constructions play no small part in the “success” of a memorial space, including one that is considered an “authentic” site of an atrocity and hence serves to attract visitors even when in a “raw” state, such as Ground Zero was in the weeks immediately after 9/11. It is the tension between what is understood as the “authentic” site and its “true” artifacts and the architecture that develops in order to bound the site and make it more accommodating for tourists (as building also include bathrooms, coatrooms, cafes and places to sit) that form the “tourism industry” that develops these sites for ongoing visitation.
Posted by Leah Strigler at 2:37 PM
How to commemorate whose atrocity?
District Six, Capetown. Click on image for interior of District Six Museum.
This weeks reading bring up the questions of how to commemorate an atrocity? What is being commemorated –individual’s deaths or abstract ideas? Who is it for –the local victims, or a broader audience? What is the purpose –to inform or create dialogue? In “Art, Commerce, and the Production of Memory in France After World War I,” Daniel Sherman approaches “collective memory” as something that is discursively constructed, rather than something that exists a priori and is represented in public monuments. For him, “commemoration” is the practice of representing that enacts and gives social substance to the discourse of collective memory. One thing this week’s readings demonstrates is that collective memory as enshrined in public monuments is that the meanings and conventions are themselves battlefields in which different viewpoints compete, and that norms are historically and culturally variable.
Sherman looks at the development of a field of French public monuments commemorating World War I in its historical context. He locates their genesis in the modern nation-state’s democratic practice of erecting monuments to ordinary soldiers rather than focusing on a sovereign as the focus for commemoration. This historical change, however, produced a tension between the nationalistic mode and local memorials produced in mourning and tribute of individuals belonging to those specific communities. The inability of some families to make graves because the bodies of their loved ones had not been found was one motive for the creation of war memorials in the post war period. Some communities put memorials in their cemetery others in public places. Many towns got low cost monuments from major suppliers. For them, their mass-produced nature situated the sense of loss with the many similar losses suffered by towns in the whole nation. The State wanted localities to have some control over their monuments, yet wanted to intervene to save the popular strata from their own vulgarity. Commissions abhorred monuments ordered from catalogs, yet were forced to recognize that small towns could neither appreciate nor afford the services of artists and architects with good taste. The dichotomy between art and commerce or high and popular art indexed a basic division between state and local commemorative interests.
In “Memory in the New Berlin,” Karen Till also speaks of the centralization of memorials. The regionally-based German memorial landscape is becoming a federalized, centralized one. In this historical moment, the tension between small communities and the nation-state, is compounded by an additional tension between the national monument and the world. She addresses centralized war memorials that have emerged during an international moment during which world leaders have apologized for their nations’ participation in atrocities, and during which participation in the memorialization of the Holocaust in particular, marks nations as members of a civilized cosmopolitan modernity. She points out the “globalization” of Holocaust memorials has produced a cosmopolitan Holocaust memorial discourse in which fourth generation visitors no longer have direct connections, and the memorials foreground more general themes such as good versus evil rather than the commemorations of actual people. And, like Paul Williams, notes how tourist expectations and the emergence of a transnational discourse around specific tragedies pose tensions that conflict with local ways of understanding and commemorating these events.
Like the abstractness that characterize centralized Holocaust memorials that are currently built, during the period Sherman describes in France, formal differences marked different memorials –while middle and upper class consumers bought allegorical, nationalistic “winged victories,” small towns purchasing monuments from the lower-end catalogues only had realistic statues of common soldiers, personalized with names of their own dead, and appropriate for mourning them. These modes of representations or genres mark the very different relationships the intended audiences were meant to have with the memorial.
A new type of museum is emerging that marries these two tendencies of realistic commemoration and universalizing abstraction. In “Activating the Past for Civic Action,” Sevcenko describes the International coalition of historic site museums of conscience. These museums activate objects and sites that index the experiences of real people in order to bring the issues of the past into the present to create dialogue and change in the present. Rather than mourning, commemorating, or making a statement about the nature of the nation or of a people, the model of memorial of sites such as the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, the Gulag Museum in Russia, the Maison Des Esclaves in Senegal argues that history should play role in civic life.
Posted by Pilar Rau at 2:32 PM
The dispute on the narrative of the memorial
2/28 Peace Park, Taiwan
Taipei 2-28 Museum
The readings remind me of the 2/28 Peace Park in Taipei, Taiwan. The 2/28 Peace Park commemorates those who died in the brutal event in Taiwan history on February 28th, 1947. The construction of the memorial for the dead was/is polemical for various reasons, most of which are related to politics and the narrative of the history that will be foregrounded at the finish of the construction of memorial. The recount of what actually happened on February 28th, 1947, is one of the most controversial issues in recent years. Different political parties read such unfortunate event in history in ways that assert their political stances. Historians and scholars have different versions of “the truth of the 2/28.”
As a Taiwanese born in early 80’s, I acquired the knowledge of the 2/28 event—maybe “narratives of the 2/28 event” is a more proper diction—from history textbooks and lectures given by schoolteachers. I recalled, if not mistaken, I first learned such event at school in 6th or 7th grade, when the marshal laws had been lifted. Due to the resistance to the dark past as well as to the difficulty of acquiring the information regarding this unfortunate historical event, I have very vague idea of what actually happened.
My understanding of the 2/28 event is that it was a reaction launched by native Taiwanese (not aboriginals in Taiwan) to Taiwan administration/or subordinate to Chinese central government at that time. The 2/28 event shared the similarities of the state terrorism happened in Argentina (Sevcenko 61-3) and resulted in disappearances of political activists, most of whom were well-educated Taiwanese, and some people who have involvement with the event—both wittingly and unwittingly.
I remembered the protest taking place right after the finish of the memorial in the 2/28 Peace Park. The families of the dead and the disappeared refused to accept the narrative inscribed on the slate. They tear it down and discarded it. After that, according to my memory, Taiwan government does not install a new slate to replace the one discarded. The 2/28 memorial became a memorial without the recount of history, or an official narrative.
To read the 2/28 memorial in reference with the site of Combodian genocide (Williams), it is not unreasonable to say that the political power, to some extent, determines how the memorials are constructed in terms of physical structure and historical representation/narrative.
The resistance to revealing the dark past of Taiwan and the infrastructural limitation of accommodating a large number of tourists, the Taiwan government does not promote 2/28 Peace Park as a tourist attraction. I wonder how things will be if there are numerous tourists flood in the Park and pay a visit to the 2/28 memorial. Will the 2/28 memorial “[evolve] to become a tourism concept (Memory in New Berlin 200)”, or develop its own narrative after having dialogue with tourists?
Posted by Stella Yu-Wen Wang at 2:22 PM
It’s a cold, bright Thursday morning, and I’m having a conversation with Stephan Crasneanscki, the founder of Soundwalk, in his warm, cleanly-lit SOHO apartment/sound studio/sanctuary. We are talking about souls. Some believe, he begins, that when one dies violently, unexpectedly, the soul is unprepared, trapped. Lost. Do you think that happened when the Trade Towers fell? I ask. Yes, he says. There’s a lot of death on that block, a lot of lingering souls. Hovering over the bodies. And if you are open enough, emotional enough, you will sense this. For Stephan, sound (as opposed to sight) has the ability reconnect us with reality--“hyperreality,” he notes (what does this mean? I wonder). A memorial experience should evoke death and lost souls--it should be, first and foremost, an affective encounter that awakens emotions of sadness, pain, guilt, etc. I don’t think monuments can do this, he says. Sight and spectacle are displaced; sound is the sensory gateway to “effective” remembering.
While reading through this week’s readings, I often returned to this recent conversation, especially when thinking through Till’s ideas about haunting evidence, Sherman’s notions of monuments as tombs, and William’s writings on minimally mediated zones of killing. Besides these traceable strands, I also thought a lot about justice and social conscience: the construction and visitation of memorial sites associated with mass death and war violence is a process fueled by a communal need/desire to redeem, reconcile, and remember. The innocent, voiceless dead testify in a mock world court subsidized, in part, by the international tourism industry. But justice is always incomplete, representation is always inadequate, and traumatic events are ever-occurring. Commemoration will continue; but will this stop the killing?
Spectacle: In a majority of these pieces, the relationship between memory and history is configured around the idea of spectacle. The past is that which can – through the work of commemoration – be seen, viewed, voyeristically accessed in the present. For, Till, the three sites that compose the memory district in the city of Berlin represent the consolidation of commemoration in a public, easily accessible city-space. The state, in this way, performs atonement, owns up to the past, and addresses the horrors of history in a transparent and open manner. But Till expresses a worry that is similar to Williams’ worry: that visibility is too easily equated with “moral foresight” and justice. These sites also assume, to an extent, that brutality and destruction are representable aspects of the human condition. For Williams, the international tourism occurring at Choeung Ek runs the risk of converting potentially private sites of tribute to “theaters of grueling historical spectacle.” For the Cambodian sites, justice (or the prospect of true reconciliation) is displaced by commemorative practices that “spectacularize” the land.
The question then becomes, what kind of commemorative practice best respects the dead? Is this, in itself, an absurd, privileged, and disrespectful question that, in Williams’ terms, tries to know that which those murdered did not – could not – know? How can institutionalized remembrance conjure history, critique past actions and bring justice to victims and survivors? As Williams notes, intense national and international debates occurred over the Holocaust questions of “guilt, culpability and forgiveness” were publicly asked in around memorial sites. The case is different for Cambodians: Prime Minister Hun Sen has been reluctant to bring former Khmer Rouge leaders to trial. The atmosphere is not ripe for national debate about the 1979 genocide. Furthermore, what work can memorials do to prevent future “crimes against humanity?” Sevcenko’s article addresses this issue in discussing the role of the Museums of Conscience in fostering civic dialogue and connecting the historical issues with present ones. The website Facing History also approaches “history as a moral enterprise” and encourages education that actively confronts, critiques, and learns from the trespasses of past actors. Yet despite this project –- and despite the noble work the coalition of museums is involved in -- one cannot help but wonder how international memory mapping (and the global implementation of goals rooted in western democratic concepts of justice and rights) obscures or displaces local needs and specific reconciliation practices.
Lastly, back to sound. If the emphasis in these readings is on sight and spectacle, then thinking about the soundwalk can widen our discussion of commemoration and practice. The World Trade Center site is, in some formal ways, not unlike the Choeung Ek killing fields or the concentration camps: the dead remain there. There is, as of yet, no formal monument to the devastation, no artistic renditions of symbolic meaning; in other words, there is minimal mediation. Stephan noted this: he said there were many “pilgrims” traveling to the site and he had visitors and friends come visit New York who increasingly wanted to “go and see.” The panels on the fence, in his view, were inaccurate. He also worked under the assumption that the formal memorial would not be constructed any time soon. Using soundwalk technologies, he attempted, then, to make the land speak. Phone messages, testimonies, music, building sounds, city sounds, sounds of panic, fear, and death play on one’s ipod as one walks to the site, then away from it an towards the Hudson river. Soundwalk collects evidence, evokes the presence of the dead, uses sound to haunt, move, horrify, and remember. What is gained by remembering a space of massive death via sounds? What is lost? Does it “work” and how do we qualify effectiveness? I suppose I’ll be further grappling with these questions in my final paper. Justine and I spoke briefly about the walk and we both noted a similar response: some aspects of the tour felt “too personal.” It was as if we were intruding on some one else’s narrative, memory, and intimate experience with the site. In this case, the soundwalk, as a commemorative tool or device, creates outsiders; that is, it disrupts an attempt to incorporate tourists and pilgrims into a single national narrative of sadness, triumph and belonging. As Till notes, “ghosts make us aware of the losses from violent events, yet they also remind us of our inability to really ‘know’ about those past losses.” The questions then become: can we ever know the trauma of another and is it possible to truly know and confront past unspeakable (but somehow widely spoken) destruction through tourist productions?
Posted by Brynn Noelle Saito at 1:06 PM
performances and performatives of memories
Last October I joined my parents to their annual 'holiday' pilgrimage to the Jewish cemetery in Budapest. I have not been to the cemetery for several years, and I was stunned by the metamorphosis that had happened in the meantime: the cemetery has transformed into a memorial site of the Holocaust. The presence of loss and grief are traceable everywhere: almost every tomb of the twentieth century has a new epigraph remembering those who died in the Holocaust.
The new epitaph on my grandparents tomb: “To the Memory of the Martyrdom of the Rosenzweig family from Abaújszántó” followed by the names of the four families of three: father, mother and the nickname of a child.
Besides the epitaphs, a new Holocaust memorial was built in the center enlisting the names of those Hungarian Jews who died in World War II. What make this memorial unique are the desperate handwritings on the marble walls. Those, who could not find their family members on the list, inscribed the names into the walls.
The sight is heartbreaking: even sixty years after the Holocaust, those who lost their loved ones still struggle to find forums and forms to commemorate the dead. Why were these people so eager to scratch their loved ones’ names into the walls? Sherman offers two explanations: first, the inscribed names embody the denomination of its inhabitants, second, “by virtue of their inscription the names constitute themselves as part of a signifying process that seeks to transcend memory and its limitations by assigning it, in its “constructed” collective form, a historical role” (207). These characteristically old-fashioned, cursive handwritings suggest that most of them are old men and women, presumably survivors themselves, who helplessly seek the way of represent those, whose lives were not only taken, but also erased by the Nazi Regime. Are these walls different from other memorial sites which lack such palpable traces of individual memories? To what extent can memorial sites represent individual memories? While the epitaphs on the tombs are manifestations of individual memories, the Holocaust Memorial in the cemetery is an interesting composition of individual and collective memory: a mixture of officially inscribed and privately scratched names.
The reading assignments for this week imply that the main focus of memorials in general is to conceptualize a collective memory of the past in/for contemporary society. Collective memory is a master narrative composed of individual memories and canonized history/historiographic documentation. Narratives, as we pointed out in one of our earlier classes, are never free of context. Therefore, the construction of collective memory is also influenced, if not determined, by approaches, issues and political questions of the present. Memorial sites not only construct, but also perform these master narratives. In this interpretative process, power-relations of the original ‘actors’ may change; leads may become minors and vice versa. The shift in the interpretation will effect memorial sites, in the case of Tuol Sleng and Choeung Ek, for example, the focus is on torture techniques “and not on the victims” (Williams: 242). (Actually, who should we consider as ‘leads’ and ‘minors’ in the ‘original performance’? I might need to revise myself and say that in Cambodia, the oppressors succeeded in maintaining their lead roles for the future.)
To what extent can memorial sites be analyzed as performances/tourist productions? My instinct suggests that we should differentiate between on- and off-site genocide memorial sites in our attempt to answer this question. The commercialization and the performativity may have a very different effect on sites which are constructed to perform (history and memory), produce (identities) and commoditize (the site as a tourist production), from those, which originally were constructed to terminate millions of human lives without witnesses or audiences.
On-site memorials are a priori sites of individual memories. The site of genocide becomes a ‘sacred’ site and it is understood “in very personal ways, defined by the touch of humans; they are where people left their last footprints, tears, and even hopes. For some of the living, these places are cemeteries, where their loved ones lie buried”. (Till: 208) At the same time, it also needs to fulfill the social mission of the memorial site to “act as an aide to understanding events that challenge our notion of human history”, “create memory for the next generation) (Williams: 249), leave “symbolic footprints for a future generation” (Till: 209), “mediate both the experience and the representation of memory” (Sherman:187) “offer history as a resource for considering and addressing issues in the present” (Sevcenko: 55). Sevcenko and Till both argues the activist role these memorials need to play in society.
Nevertheless, the question arises, whether these sites can “play” this role, whether they can perform master narratives without disrespecting personal grief and loss. Till points out that for children and relatives these “places stood for silence” (211). On-site memorials are doomed to silence and minimalism. Their social function is limited to “passive activism” as opposed to the conspicuously active off-site memorials that loudly fulfill several of the aforementioned functions. Not only the actual sites, but also virtual websites support this thesis. While for example Yad Vasem and Facing History, facing ourselves have an impressive outreach program, Auschwitz limits itself to the description of the site and history. I have not seen any sign of interactivity or consumption on the website (except for the financial support); one cannot even order the books enlisted on the website, published by the museum.
Ultimately, on- and off-site memorials may fulfill similar missions, only they have to rely on different resources: while it is the individual memory that makes on-site memorials so powerful, individual creativity becomes the measurement for effectiveness in the case of off-site memorials.
Posted by Aniko Szucs at 1:05 PM
Cemetery with many uses
Not that I feel I should be trigger-ready to always pull out a Naga example, I could not resist this one, and I thought Brigitte might particularly find this interesting. This picture was taken last week (Nov 14) by my father of a children’s painting competition which was conducted at the war cemetery of Kohima, the capital of Nagaland. The theme of the painting competition was ‘Energy Conservation: saving electricity’. The governor and top officials of the government attended the event. The theme has nothing to do with war or memory. But the Kohima war cemetery is the only central outdoor location in Kohima with manicured lawns, trimmed hedges and beautiful flowers – the only park! Underneath lies buried over a thousand soldiers that fought for the British army of World War II, a small rectangular metal plaque with a personalized inscription over each grave. There is one Naga soldier buried in this famous cemetery. This is the place where lovers go to hang out, locals go to relax and take in the scenic view and the flowers. Paid by the British High Commission for its maintenance this is a sort of an oasis in the heart of town. It is not a place that necessarily arouses grief, for the locals relaxing amidst graves. When the British war veterans visit the site once in a few years, it is a place of reflection, memory, tears and solemnity. (Kohima is a historic site for being the town where the Nagas as British subjects played a crucial role in the turning point of the war leading to the retreat of the Japanese army and the ultimate victory of the British).
This is a war site that is serving many functions for various kinds of visitors, a place for having a little fun, for education, for holding competitions, for observing historical moments, for grieving, for picnics, for holding multi-tribal Easter sunrise service etc. The aesthetic beauty of the site supercedes other thoughts and notions for many visiting the site. The Kohima war cemetery has a huge rock that is almost symbolic of Kohima town itself that says "When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say, For Their Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today". Here is an account of the site from Major Gordon Graham, a veteran who returned ten years later in 1954, and calls the site a design of a “pious peace that follows war”. (I like to read the following statement juxtaposed against Till’s articulation in the New Berlin article “Places of memory are made to evoke ghosts, localize emotions associated with hauntings, and establish cultural practices that delimit social relations to the past”). Graham says “I looked for ghosts and found none. We are the ghosts called forth by our own memories, investing each impersonal inch of soil with our own personal meanings; these meanings our self-conjured mists in which wraithlike, we startle only ourselves.” http://www.mod.uk/aboutus/history/kohima60/kohima4.htm
There could be so many reasons why sites of memory are built. The paradigmatic thread that runs through the sites in our readings are quite unanimously supposed to be places of solemnity, education, reflection, documentation, places that expose truths that would rather be denied, a way of mourning, showing respect to the dead, expressing guilt for some, or perhaps for the ‘perpetrators’ a chance to proclaim how ‘yesterday’ the event was - that it has to be museumized, a way of challenging contemporary forms of social oppressions by opening forums for dialogues and narratives to happen thereby guaranteeing “liberation for future generations”(Levcenko, 59). All said and done “Collective memory emerges as a construct of the political, social and economic structures that condition or determine the production of these forms” (Sherman, 186). Despite the lack of mediation in the Tuol Sleng and Choeung Ek sites, these sites are considered ‘culture tourism ventures’ by the Cambodian Government, and an important way of gaining tourist dollars as well. I found this article on the BBC archive quite interesting http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/3099848.stm
What interests me is how these tragic events of the past get interwoven into the ‘culture’ of a people. I understand ‘culture’ to mainly mean certain practices and memory that are valued. Instead of disidentifying these practices, there is identification and in doing so, disavowance or disidentification of the present with these past atrocities. At the same time, this open wound/scar becomes an important dependable source of income for the state, and necessarily needs to be woven into the ‘cultural’ fabric of the town, city or state. With these commercial interests in the mix, how much assurance can it give us for the future, that such acts will not be repeated again?
btw, another interesting news clipping: http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20051109/od_uk_nm/oukoe_uk_crime_cambodia_euthanasia
History and Memory, Memorials and Museums -- How to Support Healing and Civic Dialogue
The relationship between memory and history is a complicated one, especially because of the revisionist understanding of history as multi-narrative and unstable i.e. its constructed nature. However, in the case of traumatic national events, i.e. the Holocaust and the genocide in Cambodia, the first step after the event seems to be to “learn the history” - to find out as much information as possible about what happened - to come up with as complete, and thorough, and truthful a narrative of what occurred as possible. After that project is solidly on its way then there is the question of how the state and individuals want to perform the collective memory of the event. What “authentic sites” should be preserved for memory work, and in what way? What museums, memorials or other memory sites should be constructed, and in what way? New history is continually being added to the archive and the repertoire (how history is performed and read) is unstable, constantly in flux.
Laying the framework to compare specific sites, Sevcenko in her incisive and well-written article, “Activating the Past for Civic Action: The International Coalition of Historic Site Museums of Conscience,” articulates the mission of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum and other “sites of conscience.” “[H]istoric sites have a special power to inspire and shape important new dialogues on pressing issues that divide us” (55). Sevcenko articulates that unlike the old musicology, of dead things in display cases, in the new musicology the past in activated to better understand the present and to make choices that will positively affect the future. These sites of conscience provide opportunities to open up civic dialogue, by providing a forum to relate the past to present.
Till’s “Memory in the New Berlin” and Williams’ “Witnessing Genocide: Vigilance and Remembrance at Tuol Sleng and Choeung Ek” describes two countries at different places in dealing with their respective histories. The Germany of the “New Berlin,” is about transparency to a fault; the emphasis on transparency shuts down possibilities for hauntings and critical memory work and should revisit the importance of “authentic” places. Whereas in Cambodia the lack of transparency and mediation of the memorials leads to a voyeuristic, overwhelming experience.
In the case of Berlin, there is an aim for transparency, “a hypervisible performance of Holocaust memory in the New Berlin” (196) with the memory district in central Berlin - composed of the Topography of Terror, Jewish Museum, and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Not just for German citizens, the memory district puts Germany in “a Western moral community of democratic nations” (202). The memory district frames the Holocaust, a “rupture in modernity,” within the categories of good and evil and represents the unrepresentable (202). These “public act of atonement, mourning, and healing” position Germany firmly in the Western moral community by its ability to admit to its past wrongs, display them prominently and offer spaces for mourning and healing. The memory district is both a space for the nation to represent and to perform is place within the Western global moral order (203).
The sensorial focus of these centralized, constructed spaces of the memory district privileges the ocular, endorsing the idea that transparency allows one to “see what actually happened.” Yet these apparently transparent spaces with their focus on vision “renders the hauntings . . . spatially invisible.” Temporally flat, hypervisible spaces do not allow for the layers of experience emerging from that which we cannot see.
Indeed, those critical of the centralized memory district feels that “the nascent memory district of the New Berlin allows for no vantage point from which to engage in critical memory work” (204). These localized memory production are different from the kind of work advocated by Sevcenko, who sees engaging in critical memory work at the sites themselves, as being the vital role that historic sites can play.
Germany has had sixty-five years, and an intense national commitment to grappling with the Holocaust. In contrast, Cambodia’s the genocide is still very present, with 90% of Cambodians having lost a relative in the genocide and no national effort to know the truth of what happened. Therefore, the issue of memorials in Cambodia raises another set of issues. Indeed, I would argue that the first step in dealing with genocide is transparency - the honest investigation and compilation of all the information - documents, survivor testimony etc, to understand what happened. First, the history needs to be uncovered and documented; the archive needs to be established. Then, there is the issue of prosecution. In Germany, there were the Nuremburg Trials, whereas in Cambodia no one from the DK regime has been prosecuted. I do not know if trials per say are necessary for healing, but definitely a open accounting for what happened and a switch of the power guard expunging those who were involved in the violence is necessary; having a trial is helpful to both find out what happened and scare or forcibly remove through imprisonment those who perpetrated crimes. After a full accounting (historical, archival) then memorials and museum are vital to displaying this information to the public and to create dialogues about how to prevent such events in the future.
While the memorial district in Berlin is an example of overmediated that shuts down critical memory work, the Tuol Sleng and Choeung Ek in Cambodia are examples of undermediated spaces that invites voyeurism and where much work must be done before these sites can enable critical memory work. The Cambodian memorials of the Tuol Sleng and Choeung Ek are ineffective, problematic, and profoundly disturbing, even just reading about them, because they have very little mediation. I would argue that when visiting “dark tourism” sites mediation is necessary because otherwise it becomes a voyeuristic foray into another’s suffering, rather than the possibility for connection (i.e. personal relationship to place because of family connections) or an opportunity for education and prevention of future genocide.
Indeed, that Avery Gordon (“Memory in the New Berlin,” 204) can argue for spaces in Germany that open up to haunting, exploring “Spuren,” (trace) “Zeugnisse” (evidence), is a testament to how transparent the history of Germany has become. In Cambodia, because there has not been a national effort to find the history of what happened, the hauntings become overwhelming, non-centextualized and the torture and death all too real. There is no framework to make sense of the torture and killing, to understand and learn. There is simply the fact that it happened.
Therefore, in terms of efficacy, the memorial district in Berlin and the Concentration Camps are (relatively) effective, whereas Tuol Sleng and Choeung Ek are not effective. In the sites in Germany, there is the right amount (or closer to the right amount) of mediation to allow for a successful visit. There is informative, contextual learning. The visitor can integrate that learning into her personal framework and think about these events’ relationship to the present. However, in Cambodia there is little mediation and therefore no real possibility to make meaning out of the violence and to relate the past to choices and events in the present.
In terms of how sites perform, The Jewish Museum, designed by Daniel Libeskind, is extremely performative. Visitors literally walk the path of path of Jewish History. There are empty rooms along the path “that signify the disappearance of Jewish culture in the city and the contemporary legacies of the ‘presence of absence’ in the city and the nation” (220). Visitors are encouraged to image what might have been in the empty room and to feel and see the room’s emptiness; absence is made present.
Indeed, Sevcenko addresses specifically how to make a site perform in a way that encourages dialogue. The site needs to emphasize active rather than passive learning. How do you build dialogue into the design of a site? Rather than an auditorium or public forum, some museums have decided to “recreate the more intimate, spontaneous, and marginal places where important civic engagement happens” (61). This space at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum is called “the kitchen,” with soft lighting, kitchen tables, and mismatch chairs to encourage visitors to share personal experiences in an informal way. The space performs by making the visitors feel comfortable and “at home,” by evoking the quintessential “kitchen, safe, home, food, family” space -a space that is universal and at the same time intensely personal.
Sherman in “Art, Commerce, and the Production of Memory in France after World War I” offers another approach to memorialization. More than the memory distinct in Berlin or Tuol Sleng and Choeung Ek in Cambodia, the post World War I memorials were for the communities themselves. They were not tourist productions, at least not in the eyes of the local community members. Indeed, the communities were vehement that they wanted the memorials and burials in the town where the servicemen had lived, not on the battlefield. Exerting local authority, communities wanted to the memorials to the dead soldiers to be in the town square rather than in the cemetery or church. While the state had aesthetic concerns about mass-produced monuments, the communities knew that the most important thing about the monument was how it functioned (for healing, commemoration etc) rather than its aesthetic qualities. It is telling that many towns decided to use the figure of the soldier rather than the figure of the woman (which often symbolized transcendent ideals). The focus was on the individual, the person. The mass-produced memorial was made personal by inscribing the dead soldiers’ names.
Reading the sites on Holocaust movie tourism on the “Modiya: Jews, Media, and Religion,” including the links about “Schindler’s List tours” and “artist’s responses” I found myself wondering why people visit the movie set concentration camp and not the real concentration camp. Is it because it is more mediated – a safe distance away from the actual camp, and therefore the hauntings. Alternatively, is it because the movie set is “realer” to them than the actual camp? (a disturbing thought) Perhaps because few survivors’ are still alive and many people do not have a personal link to the Holocaust,the experience of watching Schindler’s List is the most immediate experience people have had of the Holocaust before they went to Germany. Therefore, visiting the camp seems like getting in touch with the “authentic” experience! Indeed, one quote from the Schindler’s List tours that struck me read: “visit the actual camp built for the movie.” “The actual camp built for the movie,” seems like a contradiction of terms; you can visit the “actual” “movie set.” How far away can we get from the thing itself? In my opinion when touring the movie set of the concentration camp there is too much distance and too much mediation from the event itself for it to participate in the process of healing and civic dialogue.
Posted by Sarah Zoogman at 12:56 PM
As of November 18, 2005, there have been 2,076 American service members who have lost their lives in the Iraq War. Already, monuments to the war and its fallen soldiers have been popping up across America. These monuments enact and give “social substance to the discourse of collective memory”(Sherman, 186). Among other functions, monuments serve to shore up memory--to prevent forgetting. Yet, the Iraq War is not yet over. Is America incapable of remembering a war that is still going on. Perhaps this is true.
A number of monuments across the country are impermanent structures. In Santa Monica, Arlington West has an Iraq War Memorial that displays crosses representing each of the dead. In San Francisco, artist Kerrie Hovey designed a temporary gray wall structure with white porcelain stars, each one representing a fallen soldier. These stars are attached by magnets, and are meant to be taken off and kept by spectators. The structure was quickly dismantled as the stars disappeared. In Washington D.C., cardboard coffins lined the reflecting pool. Makeshift cardboard tombstones, with the names of fallen soldiers, have been displayed throughout many towns in America, including St. Louis. “Eyes Wide Open” is a traveling display that presents lines of combat boots, each representing a dead U.S. soldier, as well as other pairs of men's, women's and children's shoes to represent some of the Iraqi civilian war casualties.
These monuments are not made to last. They do not inscribe the great deeds of great men in everlasting marble or metal. They make no pretense of creating history. Unlike most monuments, the memory these monuments seek to create is not a memory at all, but reality. It is a call to remember the war that is happening right now. Avery Gordon argues, “In a culture seemingly ruled by technologies of hypervisibility, we are lead to believe not only that everything can be seen, but also that everything is available and accessible for our consumption” (qtd. in Till 204).
Surely the Iraq War can be seen daily in the newspaper or on TV. It is always available for our consumption. Yet, the instability between monument and memory that Robert Musil sites, goes far beyond monuments. It includes most repetition, be it TV, newspaper, site, or other. When monuments are made, “forgetting comes quickly” (Breton mayor qtd. in Sherman, 206). Even when 1,000 photos of dead soldiers are shown in The New York Times, forgetting comes quickly. Hypervisibility makes everything known, but makes that knowledge unvalued.”
The intervention, then, to this hypervisible forgetfulness, seems to lie in the transitory nature of things. Monuments are supposed to last forever. Consequently, they quickly become invisible. When monuments are made to last only minutes, they too become invisible (or rather, they disappear). But in those moments, they are able to mark, not only the past, but more importantly, the present. This is something that traditional monuments are not able to accomplish. How can they, when they were made long ago, to commemorate actions completed long ago? When things are hypervisible, transitory, and new, then people take a moment to consider the message. The transitory Iraq War monuments serve not only to embody collective loss, but also to remind people that the war is still occurring. The number of boots, stars, tombstones, and crosses increase weekly on these monuments. Unlike a statue of the Winged Victory, as long as the war continues, these monuments will never be frozen in steel. They exist in the present to commemorate the present.
Posted by Lisa Reinke at 11:48 AM
Treatment of individuals in group death
The Jury statement of the LMDC competition for a 911 memorial states, “memory belongs primarily to the individual.” If ownership of memory were this easily decisive, would commemoration of group loss take such a primary position in human practice? The degree to which a memorial site can represent an individual death while paying homage to massive community loss is a consistent point of concern and often commemoration sites are criticized precisely for this inability to capture the essence of individuals. The LMDC’s mission statement further represents its goal to “never forget each individual life…or the countless individual and collective stories.” Individual vs. collective concerns often compete for representation within sites that commemorate large scale tragedy. The relationship between individual death and group death is one that permeates all articles included in this week’s readings.
In Art, Commerce, and the Production of Memory in France After World War I, Daniel Sherman looks at the practice of erecting post WW1 monuments in France as an example of how memory is mediated by political and economic structures. Sherman describes the tensions between art and commerce, local and national commemoration practices, history and memory, illustrated in the phenomenon of marking the estimated million of French citizens who died in WW1. Sherman shows how memory transforms from an individual process to a group process when connected to historical loss. Communal loss is different from individual loss and inextricably linked to the politics that resulted in group loss. Communal memory then is also different from the process an individual goes through to remember an individual loss. When an individual loses someone, personal affects or objects left behind become memory tools. When an individual loses someone as part of a group loss, the memorial object stands in for this object, unifying the memory for those left behind and in so doing, devising a new community. Substitutions are made and bonds are formed to others who have lost by nature of the commemorative marker occupying a shared space in their healing process.
Due to the scale of French death during WW1 as well as the lack of personal identification of those who died, the desire to mark the war dead involved massive amounts of people which resulted in a contested process over how to do so. Issues arose over ownership of the memory of the dead, location of commemorating the dead, physical attributes of commemorations, and the degree to which the process of commemoration became commercialized and government regulated. In so much as the French monuments were to stand in for individual death markers, the efficacy of such monuments was limited to the inscription of individual names listed on the monuments themselves. With these French monuments, personal memory of a loved one is transferred to a collective memory of people who never met. That this satisfies human need for marking death is interesting but perhaps the location of a familiar name in a public, visible, and vocal position on a monument offers pride in place of closure.
The French monuments were also successful in spurring the traditional formats for war memorials which favored allegorical representations of human qualities in order to emphasize individual human loss. The war monuments that arose post WW1 insisted upon breaking the archetype of commemoration in favor of recognizable human soldiers. Those commemorating wanted people to mark their loss and not human metaphors which reflects a memory mood that places primacy on real humanity and not on artifice. Combining the more recognizable solider forms with the inscription of names, these monuments represent loss as something measurable and not as something symbolic, immeasurable, or un-noteworthy.
In Witnessing Genocide: Vigilance and Remembrance at Tuol Sleng and Choeung Ek, Williams describes the uneasiness memory creates within tragedy spaces whose tragicness has not yet seen resolution outside of commemoration. Such sites are built up in order for humanity to retain memory of historical blemish (253). Memory is a flexible organ whose form can be manipulated in order to “challenge our notion of human history” (242) especially when that history involves mass murder. I feel the Cambodian genocide sites became most controversial when some of the images were appropriated, repackaged, decontextualized, and offered up to the capitalist consumerist beast of the American art world. Although Williams writes that the quantity of mug shots of the dead at the original sites creates an numbing obstacle for comprehending the reality of genocide, I feel that the reduction of the display of such photos down to only twenty-two exhibited images completely distorts the origin of such images and applies a process of judgment and choice to the artists that is frankly sickening. At the original sites, the emotional isolation of the images that Williams describes is countered by the quantity of images. Each frame is isolated, but the images stand as a community. The masses of emotional isolation represented at Tuol Sleng is undone by further isolation applied to the reduction of images displayed at the MOMA exhibit. This again points to the tension between individual representation and group loss. When the images exist as part of a group, it feels representative of what actually took place. Removing a minimal amount of individuals and holding them up to an art audience feels like an exploitative invasion of privacy. It feels voyeuristic. Let those who went to the MOMA exhibit fly to Cambodia to see such images in the space where they were found and let those negatives found by the artists, rest where they were found as gravestones to those contained in the images. In such an exhibit, memory and tragic history serves as a callous commodity of a callous community. Williams writes “if they are the luckless faces of death, our looking at them condemns them to a new death every time….the viewer becomes the executioner’s witness” (245) and in so doing mimics the executioners who felt compelled to document their killing accomplishments in the first place. Further, what allows an individual to choose who gets displayed out of those deaths by way of pure aesthetic decision making?
The degree to which a mass death commemoration represents individuals taps into the efforts on the part of museum staff to answer the questions of how genocide, war, death, murder, and terrorism can be displayed in ways that reflect the depth of emotion equivalent to the emotional charge of the actual event. The question seems to be how do museum designs get people to feel? Sherman notes the converse relationship between history and memory: when history strengthens by way of the present distancing itself from the historic moment, memory dissipates. Agreeing with Sherman’s sentiment that memorials, meant to be looked at are often overlooked, Williams confirms, that in the process of looking at and thinking about such things as genocidal monumentalization, the degree of tragedy is somehow trivialized or made palatable in order to be consumed. Interesting distinctions are made between viewers who are directly connected to a tragic event and those who can only relate to something by means of falling under the “family of man” umbrella. All these sites involve a categorization of man based on a potential emotional response or internalization of a message. As Williams states, experiencing a Holocaust memorial with a survivor or descendant of a survivor internalizes the experience to personal memory. Yet when international travelers visit Tuol Sleng, they are really entering a theater where “historical spectacle” is performed (243). Sites such as Tuol Sleng and Choeung Ek become performative in this inability of humans to process tragedy they haven’t experienced.Is it so natural a human characteristic to obtain less, feel less, and relate less, when loss and death does not affect them directly? What is that filter? And is that filter truly recognized through the process of commemoration design?
Williams describes the lack of personal accounts and stories of the dead at the Cambodian sites as problematic. It can be conceived of, however, that this lack of personal detail is exactly what makes the sites efficacious in marking mass lost without catering to the weaknesses of human ability to relate to something only when it hits them as an individual, as something that could happen to them. What is achieved out of the lack of personal stories is community identification, and it asks the visitor not to be so jaded as to require personal details in order to be jarred. Why must there be an individual account in order to feel it? Is the individual any less mourned when they are included in the messaging of mass murder? The site doesn’t coddle human weakness but forces accountability for relating to man’s massive errs.
The flexible relationship between individual and group memory is riddled with problems. As described in The New Berlin: Memory, Politics, and Place, centralization of a massive “memory zone” in Berlin displaces previously designed commemoration spaces and allows people to resist memory outside of this delineated space. The memory stage created out of the Jewish Museum, the Holocaust memorial, and the Topography of Terror Center allows tourists to perform commemoration in a limited time and place. This space creates a tourist zone for memory that just as distinctly creates a zone outside of it, for non-memory. It risks becoming a crutch for which people can consider the effort of remembering atrocity accomplished and gives the opportunity for remembering within the zone, as well as forgetting without.
In Activating the Past for Civic Action, Liz Sevcenko configures history within the history museum as a tool for turning memory into an active, present tense figure in conceiving of the future. In describing the LESTM as well as the International Coalition of Historic Sites Museums of Conscience, Sevcenko explains it is not about the specific site but about what is done with the site, how it is interpreted and activated for social change. Memory and history then are seen as active artifacts not to be relegated to static pasts but to be communicated in order to educate and improve society. From the article, I was under the impression that a site had to prove its commitment to education and social change in order to again access to the coalition. I found it strange that one merely express interest by paying dues in order to be included. And if it is so easy, why are there so few sites included? I took issue with the tone of Sevcenko’s essay which seemed more of a marketing piece for the LESTM than a critical look at what the museum does accomplish or can hope to accomplish better. But seeing as we spent much of last week highly critical of the LESTM (which I find highly pleasant and enjoyable), I’ll let this critique rest here.
Posted by Erin Madorsky at 11:09 AM
Everybody Do The Hitler! Do It! Do It! Do The Hitler!
My friends and I have a crucial rhetorical rule when it comes to heated discussions and arguments – the moment that somebody brings up either Hitler or the Holocaust as a point of comparison, all debate must immediately cease. It’s the end of the conversation, no more comments are accepted. The reason for this is that we view the Holocaust, and its main figurehead, as a topic so monstrous, so huge, that to compare it to anything else is automatically a belittling cheap shot that renders the current conversation unimportant (I feel that I should point out that these friends and I never discuss genocide in other contexts, wherein a Holocaust analogy might be apropos). The basic point here, though, is that the Holocaust is, in the eyes of Western culture, at least, the sign of the ultimate horror, the worst depths to which humanity can possibly, conceivably sink.
As such, I find little surprise in the fact that the readings from this week consistently refer back to Holocaust memorialization as the example to which all other memorials look (well, not the memorials themselves, of course) while in the planning stages. I find it extremely interesting, then, to discover from Daniel Sherman that, “Although societies since antiquity have erected monuments to their military exploits, historians trace the origins of a new, democratic style of commemorization to the period of the Napoleonic wars, when large citizen armies began to replace mercenary troops” (187). The important thing to note here – the “citizen armies” – is the shift from the “great men” theory of history towards the viewpoint of ordinary men and women caught up in the tides of history as being just as important as king, emperors, and generals (as a sort of side note, in my own field of theater, this same movement was in the process of gearing up at around this same point in history, moving from the kings and princes of Shakespeare to the syphilitic alcoholics of Ibsen, Shaw, O’Neil, etc.). Less than a century later, in the wake of the Holocaust, it would seem that a new sort of memorialization was also required. Although Sherman does not go into the wake of World War II with his history of memorialization, following his logic we have to assume that a new mode is called for when so many civilians – twelve million in the death camps alone – were dead without even being a part of the battles. From the emperor, to the soldier, to the casualty, it would seem that memorials have moved further and further towards memorializing the common man, towards memorializing people rather than events. I can think of no better symbol of this than the inscription of names, which many of these readings point out as the central aspect of most memorials.
I do have a question to pose along these lines, though, an factual question that I simply don’t know the answer to, but somebody (BKG or Brigitte?) in the class might – are their any monuments anywhere in the world that attempt to list all known victims of the Holocaust? Or, even on a more approachable level, to list all the victims from one particular country? Or is this, rather, the perfect example of Sherman’s conception of memorials moving from national to local levels, with monuments commemorating the Holocaust victims of local townships, municipalities, etc.?
Of course, this begs the question of the sort of memorial that is appropriate for such an extreme example of humanity at its worst. Is it, as the writer of the Vortex article argues, only appropriate to use gardens, since, “Plant life has a natural cycle of growth, fertility, decay, and death which is assiduously avoided in the conventional iconography of martial memory”? Is it a socially active museum along the lines of the International Coalition of Historic Site Museums of Conscience, which “view stimulating dialogue on pressing social issues and promoting humanitarian and democratic values as a primary function” (Sevcenko 58). Or could it even be Holocaust movie tourism, visiting the sites filmed for such movies as Schindler’s List and Life is Beautiful (although some would argue this as complete commercial whorism, I think there is something important to say here about the fact that movies have an ability to impact and touch people on an intimate level, and that connecting a site to that emotionality by referencing the movie can engender a deeper feeling of connectivity than might otherwise be possible at even a space like Auschwitz)?
As the British playwright Alan Bennet writes in his recent play, The History Boys (during a wonderful scene wherein a teacher brought in to get a group of high school students into Oxbridge tries to get the boys to see that the Holocaust can and should be viewed as objectively as anything else when writing an essay, to surprise the essay reader’s with the lack of semi-religious sanctity normally given to the Holocaust, all of which offends the one Jewish boy in the class), “This is history. Distance yourselves. Our perspective on the past alters. Looking back, immediately in front of us is dead ground. We don’t see it and because we don’t see it this means there is no period so remote as the recent past and one of the historian’s jobs is to anticipate what our perspective of that period will be . . . even on the Holocaust” (74). After a stern talking-to from the school’s headmaster (“Mr. Irwin. Fuck the historian. I have two angry Jewish parents threatening to complain to the school governors. I have explained to them that you are young and inexperienced and that your anxiety that the boys should do well has perhaps outrun your sense of proportion” (78)), the teacher, Irwin, admits that, “I was too . . . dispassionate, I suppose. The Holocaust is not yet an abstract question. Though in time, of course, it will be” (79).
One has to wonder, as more and more survivors of the Holocaust, and even their children, are passing away, is it becoming that time when it can be an abstract question? To look at it form a more contemporary perspective, when will the event of September 11th be able to looked at as an abstract question? In the rest of the world, that time has come and gone years ago, to the point where many nations are angered by the current administration using 9/11 as an excuse for any policy they so desire, even though the tragedy of that day pales in comparison to ongoing campaigns of war and genocide occurring every day all over the world. For us, though – for America, and particularly for New York – there is still something of a sacrosanct quality to 9/11, and one almost wonders if this the purpose, or at least the subconscious reason, behind all of the many delays and debates about how to properly memorialize Ground Zero. So long as the question of memorialization of 9/11 is a process, rather than a product, so long as there is an on-going debate and conversation, then 9/11 can’t be conveniently forgotten. Perhaps what a memorial does is allow us to file away a tragedy somewhere in the rear of our brains, to be reactivated and re-experienced only when we visit the memorial – I never get choked up thinking about the Vietnam War, which was over before I was born, for example, except for the two times I visited the memorial, when I openly wept. If there is a Ground Zero memorial, we can do the same in the case of 9/11, and forget the tragedy of the day rather than reliving it every day to reenergize ourselves for our ongoing global conflicts (I think of this as an unconscious collaboration between victims’ families, who don’t want their loved ones forgotten, and the government, which doesn’t want the symbolic reason for its symbolic war forgotten). Perhaps the best way to remember 9/11 is to never memorialize it, and merely remain engaged in an eternal conversation about how to memorialize it. I don’t necessarily personally propose this course of action, but it certainly seems to be the most actively pursued one at the moment.
Posted by Andrew Friedenthal at 9:46 AM
Michelle responds to memorials
While reading these articles, I realized that whether it is a museum, monument, or memorial being constructed or erected, many persons seem to manifest a desire of a legitimizing of experiences. To build a monument, museum, or construct a memorial offers legitimization, or in other words, this says, I recognize or am aware that this experience happened and, therefore, it should be remembered. Legitimization of experience constitutes legitimization of me.
It is imperative to keep in mind, however, the limitations of these historic sites. Williams’s article situates memorials in the role of an aide in enabling the understanding of events that challenge our views of history (Witnessing Genocide: Vigilance and Remembrance at Tuol Sleng and Choeung Ek , 242). Before reading this piece, I was somewhat ignorant of this genocide in Cambodia from 1975-1979. For these purposes alone, such as education and conscious-raising, I believe that these sites are effective. However, these historic sites, I believe, can never capture the most complete and pure essence of atrocities. Again, as previously stated, they are aides in the construction of public memory.
While attending class in Peru this summer, much of our work focused on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the construction of public versus private memory following the Dirty War of Peru from 1980-2000. The political theater group we had the pleasure of working with, Yuychakani, aided in the construction of public memory of the violence of Peru during this time. Many accounts of the “disappeared” were given voice through their performances. Much like the Lower East Side Tenement Museum’s objective to create active learners, the work of the “Yuyas” in Peru enabled active listening and opened up a space for dialogue concerning the fragmented nature of memory, both public and private. Many who visit Peru (tourists) come and view the political theater in Lima. Although personally many have no connection to the violence in Peru, there interaction as active listeners during performances can mark them as constructors of memory, as well.
Posted by Michelle Brown at 3:08 AM
Theatrical Monuments and Museums that Stutter
Shoes, Auschwitz. See also The Holocaust Shoe Project. "We are the shoes, we are the last witnesses," Moses Schulstein.
Memorials to war, genocide and other atrocities assert that memory is necessary, and in particular calls for or attempts to cultivate a social, and in most cases national memory of a particular event or period from the past. Different sites reference (intentionally and not) different modes of remembering, and different relationships between remembering and forgetting. Sherman, quoting Musil in his essay on World War 1 memorials in France, says “there is nothing in the world as invisible as monuments”(206), suggesting that one of the functions of these memorials is precisely to be forgotten, to be passed by, almost a placeholder for actual contemplation and commemoration of the deaths of countless soldiers in WW1.
I think this is particularly true of monuments that are located in heavily trafficked public spaces, and it is particularly true today, with generations that have no connection to the events commemorated in the monuments. I have been thinking a lot about theatricality because of something I’m working on for another class, and I can’t help but try and classify the WW1 memorials as modernist in Michael Fried’s sense; automous, self contained, and the more contemporary memorials and museums as more theatrical, in the sense (which Fried writes of disparagingly) that they are not autonomous, they require the activation of the viewer, are more sensitive to the site on which they are based. I sense that contemporary monument architects have attended to this, and while the form of monuments and memorials has changed a lot, there is nonetheless an anxiety about the ability of more recent memorials (to the Holocaust, for example) to ensure a continuation of social memory once the generation who actually remembers it is gone. The contemporary sites, both those which are site specific (like the “decentralized” concentration camp memorials (Till) or the relatively “unmediated” memorials in Cambodia (Williams)), or more abstractly removed and constructed (like the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, or the Jewish Museum in Berlin, or the Vietnam War Memorial) concern themselves with the process of continuation of memory. I think the term “process” is important because these contemporary sites recognize the instability of social memory, and the theatrical structuring of these sites is an attempt to address this, by addressing the body and the experience of the visitor.
Much of the controversy surrounding these sites has to do with the relationship of the site to the larger national context. In the case of the Berlin “Memory District”, there is the issue of centralization, both geographically and in terms of resources, which threatens both the symbolic weight and the economic livelihood of the numerous, diffuse holocaust memorials all over Germany. The centralization (seen as American by many critics, as Sevcenko notes) is a double-edged sword: on one hand, it allows Germany to make a clear acknowledgement of guilt and admission of responsibility for the atrocities of the Holocaust which was not possible on a decentralized level, and on the other hand, it threatens to render the decentralized memorial sites, many of which are concentration camps, obsolete through a lack of funding. The Tuol Sleng and Choeng Ek sites are controversial because there has yet to be a reconciation, the memorials have not been incorporated into a national social history because the events have yet to be dealt with - the assigning of guilt is controversial in a country where many of the government officials once had ties with the Khmer Rouge, who have not yet been brought to justice in international courts (Williams 247). Clearly, there are many political factors that influence to what extent a site can be understood as part of a ‘national’expression. What does it means for a nation to admit to its culpability in the form of a museum or monument? How does it do so responsibly? Does such an admission neutralize the sites which have historically been situated outside and perhaps even in opposition to the sphere of the national - as the sphere of denial?
There is another kind of controversy as well, that has to do with the production and marketing of these sites of atrocity for tourist consumption. What are the ethics involved here? Why would someone want to visit a place like this? Is it because horror and atrocity are sufficiently “flashy” to attract people to historical sites? When reading Sevcenko’s article, I read “Berlin’s memory district will be the first cultural space internationally that publicly acknowledges national guilt, commemorates the suffering of victims, and represents the history of the perpetrators in a national capital” (197) but I misread the meaning of capital - and I thought well, the memory district ALSO employs national guilt, the suffering of victims, and the history of the perpetrators as national CULTURAL CAPITAL ... Which, despite the undeniable importance of the memorials and museums, still gives me the creeps. What are the rules here? Does a country have to be “reformed” before they can reap the economic benefits of their previous generations’ atrocities in the form of tourism? In the case of Cambodia, apparently not, despite the fact that the memorials there are not aligned politically with a nationalist project, that is to say, centralized. I do not know whether the museums and memorials in Berlin charge admission or are public - and if they do ( I imagine the museum does, but the memorial doesn’t ... Brigitte?) I don’t know where the money goes. However, the tourists that visit do not only spend money at the specific sites, but also on transportation, food, and accomodations, and so the economy profits indirectly from the popularity of these sites.
The oft-repeated mantra of Holocaust memorials is “never again”, but as Williams pointed out, the memorials to the Holocaust did not prevent subsequent genocides in other parts of the world (Rwanda, Cambodia, Darfur). The Hiroshima Peace Museum also has the message “never again”, but the message here seems much more global than other memorials commemorating different events from the same war. The museum promotes peace and above all, nuclear disarmament. Probably because the event that is commemorated, the dropping of the A-bomb on Hiroshima, was so sudden, it does not have the same drive to contextualize as other memorials depicting “slower” atrocities. Questions of complicity seem out of place. Instead, there is an apparent attempt at collecting and memorializing everything that can be collected, remembered or memorialized. At least that’s how it appears to me. I am thinking of two separate things: the park with its many many small monuments, and the interior of the West part of the museum, which contains a very large collection of objects retrieved from the hypocenter or from victims and their families. The sheer number of things is in itself affecting, in a similar way to the anonymous shoes in the Washington holocaust memorial or the anonymous skulls at Tuol Sleng. However what is truly shocking here is that the items are not, for the most part, anonymous: each item’s story has been somehow collected along with the item, which may vary in its specificity. The seemingly endless collecting and cataloguing of burnt and melted objects, where in many cases no bodies remained, appears to be an attempt both to collect evidence and to present a reality of horror that cannot be represented. Context, as I said, seems irrelevant, as everything comes down to this one moment in time. Similarly, in the park surrounding the museum, there are many different monuments, bridges, and statues built by different groups, commemorating different people or places, most of which are quite mundane. But as the mundanities pile up one on top of the other, the horror can begin to be perceived. Again, there is something different about this site because it was destroyed so quickly, the memory of what it was like before remained fairly intact. I wonder what it would be like if there were more historical context about Japanese-German and American relations during WW2? Would it be appropriate in this site? Is the anti-nuclear message the univocal message of the site? I think it is. The almost obsessive repetition of the word “peace” in naming almost every aspect of the museum and its grounds, like the long lists of objects collected or diffuse mundane memorials, they all seem to be manifesting the trauma of the site - and again, (just from looking at the website,) what seems like an oddly almost-jovial stutter really affected me. It may seem like just another part of the traumatized repetitive stutter to say NO to nuclear weapons, but maybe listening to the voice of trauma is worthwhile.
Posted by Sarah Klein at 1:53 AM
November 19, 2005
What's so seductive about murder sites?
In order to answer some of the questions in the guidelines, we have to look at the evolution of memorials and consider their shift in content (what is commemorated) and their shift in purpose (what is a memorial for?).
Until World War II, memorials commemorated mostly soldiers who had died on duty. As Sherman shows, heroism, bravery, and other positive allegories constituted the core of the message. The (military) dead were honored by locals on Veteran’s Day or Armistice Day, and has no other purpose, besides being a landmark in a town or village.
The Holocaust marks a shift because it wasn’t about soldiers anymore, but civilians, murdered massively for racist reasons, and whose bodies could never be recovered. The Holocaust pushed memorialization to two extremes: extreme abstraction (in order to reflect the hugeness and un-representability of the tragedy, for example the Memorial to the Unknown Jewish Martyr in Paris) or extreme personalization (an anti-Nazi position that claims to remember each victim, such as the tower of faces at the new Yad Vashem).
Then came the Vietnam War… and Maya Lin’s design that dealt with an ugly war, no victory, lots of casualties, and other difficulties. Her memorial acquired new functions, from a political statement about the failure of the war, to an esthetic statement in favor of minimalism, to a destination for remembrance and tourism through its location on the Mall.
I contend that contemporary memorials dealing with major tragedies (I can’t include natural disasters at this point, for lack of research) are still focused in their content (one specific event), but have consciously include a number of other functions that are typically not associated with traditional memorials: from the need to hire a celebrity-architect to marking a legacy left by a politician, from generating revenue through tourism to being included in school curricula, from being used all year round as a public place, playground, meeting point, etc.
This opening-up of the memorial faces difficulty: how can a memorial be less austere, more welcoming to the living, and keep its solemn quality? Rules of conduct were never written on a memorial, because “proper” behavior was so obvious (silence, reverence, contemplation, dress code). With the promotion of memorials to public places, we face a paradox: should rules of conduct of a memorial be visibly expressed? Or should the rules of conduct that relate to public places prevail (no littering, e.g.)? Or should there be no rules of conduct at all, given the conflicting activities that take place at the same location and that can’t be policed? The Eisenman memorial expressed this ambiguity by asking people not to sunbathe, barbecue or drink alcoholic beverages, while at the same time, the architect himself refuses all form of regulation. This is one of the reasons for controversy. In the Park of Memory in Buenos Aires, everything is open to all, and the memorial is understood as a public space with full enjoyment of the area given to all. It reflects the idea that the memorial is not only about remembering and mourning, but also about meeting, socializing, sightseeing and playing. And perhaps, the memorialization process needs other forms of embodied practices in order to be active. As much as a shock it seems for some, wouldn’t we prefer that kids play hide and seek in Eisenman’s Holocaust memorial rather than in any anonymous park?
This leads to the question of the visitors’ identity: For what type of audience are memorials built? And what brings tourists to sites of murder, death and tragedy?
The answer to the first question is inspired by the functionality assigned to contemporary memorials. Nowadays, public art involves thinking about children, foreign tourists, seniors, all social classes, which forced architects and artists to create memorials according to parameters beyond esthetics: security, cost, recreation, maintenance, mass tourism, public events, among others.
I’ve been asking myself the question of thanotourism for a number of years, probably when I organized my first trip to a Nazi concentration camp. While I can explain my own interest in the topic, I have been unable to find any research that tries to explain the attraction to death sites. I’ve tried to put together a number of categories, probably not exhaustive:
- Those who have a family, ethnic, or geographical relation to the site (relatives of plane crash victims; Jews and the Holocaust; French residents in the area of Resistance activity)
- A sense of experiencing the contemporary, History unfolding before one’s eyes: the tragedy was such a milestone-trauma, that visiting the original site cements the identity of the “witness”
- A sense of guilt that needs to be healed by a kind of pilgrimage, even if the guilt is remote in time and space, passivity can’t be repeated: you can’t go to Berlin and not visit the Holocaust memorial or another Nazi-era site, you can’t go to NY and ignore Ground Zero.
- An attraction for the spectacular (even if the spectacle equals a hole, ruins or a deserted landscape), reinforced by the expected stories to tell family and friends at home who will invariably ask, “did you see it?”
- A learning experience, just like going to a museum or a landmark building, in order to understand history and to remember the past (that’s for nerds)
- An attraction for death, blood, crime. I’m no psychologist but I wonder if this is not the same fascination that makes people cheer for blood in a fight, attend bull’s fights and act with shameless cruelty in Milgram’s experiments. Maybe battlefields, prisons and other sites of torture speak to our lower instincts, and, at the same time, help us dominate the horror and atrocity for which we were once—and not so long ago—responsible.
Maybe it's all of the reasons above, maybe it's something else. I'm still on the discovery path...
Posted by Brigitte Sion at 9:04 PM
Bearing witness through the imagination
The readings this week show obvious linkages from last week’s class on history. Liz Sevcenko’s article picks up on the new (or was it new new?) museum and its mission as articulated through our discussion: “More than places for passive learning, we could re-imagine museums as centres of active exchange on issues that matter outside their walls.” (57) Hence the LESTM’s ‘kitchen.’ But how exactly do history and memory relate? From Sevcenko, we begin to understand the relationship through the connection between past and present – past memory, through the “site of conscience”, becomes history (a production of the present). In the example of the memory mapping project of the District Six Museum, memory is used to activate a new history, a shaping of the future through land reclamation. Similarly, in the Sherman essay, memory (with its proclivity for disappearance) journeys into history in the names inscribed on war monuments; in Sherman’s words, “the names constitute themselves as part of a signifying process that seeks to transcend memory and its limitations by assigning it, in its constructed ‘collective’ form, a historical role.” (206)
This “passage of memory from private to public trust” (http://modiya.nyu.edu/modiya/handle/1964/191 ¶1) in the guise of the site of conscience or memorial, however, is not without its problems. As Karen Till writes, “places of memory are always located in international, moral, and economic spaces.” (197) Money inevitably is an issue – both in terms of funding (on page 206, the Sachsenhausen director questions “that money must not be the measure of commemoration” in terms of his small(er) museum being on the margins of financial support), and profits. Which leads to the evils of tourism and the booming trends of dark tourism…
In Sevcenko’s “site of conscience” the visitor/tourist is the point – it is about stimulating active public dialogue. And Till says, “ultimately, it is the visitors who assess, create, and validate the authenticity of places of memory.” (215) (Back to authenticity again!) On the other hand, there can be, as Paul Williams points out in his article on Tual Sleng and Choeung Ek, the possibility of tourist attraction and place of local memory being at odds with one another: “If a site is to uphold local significance in most cases, it will contain elements that are incompatible with a hospitable tourist ‘product’.” (251) The unchanged appearance of the two Cambodian sites (very different in approach to the hypervisibility mode adopted by many Holocaust memorials and museums) succeeds in creating a chilling sense of adventure for dark tourists, but at the same time stands as a reminder for the Cambodian people, for the need for government action. (247) He goes on to write that this conflict between sacred space and the desire for public access is particularly the case at sites that are politically or culturally sensitive. More than this, he presents that genocide – its interpretation, explanation, and memorialisation – poses a particular philosophical problem: “the enormity of the systematic destruction of so many lives seems to defy comprehension.” (241) How to memorialise it then? How to avoid making it “just another historical event” or no more than a “gesture toward atrocity”? Williams suggests that what is required is a baseline that acknowledges the inadequacy of museums and memorials, and the limits of historical comprehension – that is, that the memorial can only ever be an aide.
I have been thinking about the Ground Zero Memorial Soundwalk while reading all this week’s material – partly because I just did it last week and found it a terribly unsatisfying experience, and partly because it is perfect to serve as my fieldtrip for this week! There is, I think, supposed to be a performative aspect to this walk – through walking the walk, you experience the memorial. There is a supposed social process – that through this walk we are interpellated into a collective memory, and into a particular way of mourning. But I missed it. Or I was hailed, but couldn’t respond because I was too busy cringing at ‘freedom’ towers and ‘freedom’ fries (ok, the fries weren’t actually part of the walk), and the firefighters posing for pictures with their truck, and the merry-go-round of trauma consumption, and… (I wrote more in the comments section of Brynn’s project proposal). The Sherman essay proposed some interesting things for me in trying to unravel my aversion to this experience: he posits collective memory “not as something inherent to a group or groups, reflected unproblematically in objects like monuments, but as a socially constructed discourse… Similarly, what we conventionally call ‘commemoration’ I take to be the practice of representation that enacts and gives social substance to the discourse of collective memory.” (186)
Interestingly, there are two versions of memorial presented by the soundwalk – the sonic memorial, and the exhibit of the proposed memorial site in the Winter Garden. The proposed (holes in the ground) memorial itself incorporates several layers of memorial – the above ground grove of trees which I suppose could be used by anyone (if you get through immigration) for any purpose, the next layer down which is for reflection (and I think a museum?), and a still lower, bedrock layer which is private, for families only or special occasions.
I am still left with lots of questions though – what is the work that is supposed to be performed by memorials? And who is allowed to mourn? And just whose memory becomes collective?
I just found this in Mike Pearson and Michael Shanks' 'Theatre/Archaeology': "Memory is not inventory, but is the act of memorising." (42)
food for thought...
Posted by Justine Shih Pearson at 6:20 PM
How do you Squeeze Love from a Piece of Stone? Horror?
The analysis of the importance of each of the sites mentioned in today’s readings varies slightly from article to article, but there are consistencies running through all of them. I summarize these consistencies as follows. The importance of remembering these sites and the atrocities that took place at them has a dual bearing in both the present and future. It’s important for the victims, perpetrators, and members of the present generation to recall and understand these events, that they might better come to terms with their grief, acknowledge their guilt and degree of responsibility, and begin discussions towards avoiding the reoccurrence of such atrocities in the future on both personal and national levels. Primary sites are essential as they can generate a depth of understanding unparalleled by photos, films, historical records, or discussion.
Today’s readings demonstrate a number of performative modes at work in the sites discussed. The monuments of France after WWI demonstrate the development of both artistic and commercial industry, community solidarity, communal remembrance, and an increased national pride and identity. Liv Sevcenko presents the Gorée Island slave house as playing a pivotal role in the struggle against Apartheid, after the meeting of the African National Congress there in 1987 at Mandela’s behest. She further shows the positive future political potential of the LESTM as garment industry CEO’s meet there along with families and school children to discuss labor issues and come face to face with tenement living conditions.
The Topography of Terror in new Berlin not only provides a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, but a tangible expression of Germany’s initiative towards coming to terms with and taking responsibility for their countries history. Furthermore, in addition to “official” expressions of the matter, the unofficial displays on construction walls act as a forum for any visitor to reflect and contribute to the far-reaching discussion. Tuol Sleng and Choeung Ek, and as I shall elucidate below, Auschwitz, provide opportunities for visitors to come face to face with the indescribable magnitude of the ghastly atrocities that took place there. More so than Auschwitz, Tuol Sleng and Choeung Ek also serve to preserve a record of atrocities that could conceivably go unheard of or forgotten by those not affected by them directly. The Auschwitz website does a fine job of presenting the necessary facts for a visit to Auschwitz, listing directions, nearby hotels, hours of operation, information on obtaining guides, and a brief history of the camp itself. This history is notable for its “objective” tone, and a lack of emphasis on or myopic treatment of the deaths of Jews in the camp, as it at least equally acknowledges the significant numbers of Poles, Soviet prisoners, and Gypsies that also met their deaths there.
In this way, the website serves to counter the commonly held belief that it was only the Jews that suffered at the hands of the Third Reich. Interestingly, the site also both magnifies and diminishes the horrors of Auschwitz. Having visited the camps myself in 1999, I was struck by how poorly the massiveness of the site was conveyed by the website. Here was a perfect example of Sevcenko’s acknowledgement of the power of primary sites. On the other side of the coin, I noted how the website portrayed the camp in the majority of its photos. Images were largely in somber black and white, and almost all taken during the winter, emphasizing the bleakness of life in the camp and the horror of the living conditions there. The virtual tour is the exception to this, the photos taken on a sunny spring day. My own visit was somewhere in the middle, Auschwitz being disconcertingly park like, with manicured lawns and blooming roses in abundance, and Birkenau suited more to the photos, run-down with looming thunderheads in the sky above.
All the sites discussed above are controversial in that they represent some of the most negative aspects of recent human history. Some people wish only to forget, and see the preservation of these sites as a hindrance to that. For those that think remembrance is necessary, there remains the question of how the sites should be handled. Should they be refurbished, curated, or altered? If a new site is being created, how can these histories be abstractly represented in an appropriate manner? We see this at play the most with the WWI memorials and Daniel Libeskind’s design for the Jewish Museum in Berlin. Building new structures also raises the question of money. How much can be spent, and how much should be spent? How much is enough? In addition, how is the site to perform? Is it in remembrance or in shame? Is its audience those involved (at least indirectly) in the events represented, or an international tourist community, or both?
Tourism appears to have a strange relationship to these sites. In most cases, the sites have not been created and promoted to attract tourists to the same extent as many others. It could be argued that tourists almost seek these sites out in spite of a lack of promotional effort. An interesting hallmark of nearly all of these sites is the attempt to immerse the tourist in the world of the site represented. The slave chambers, the torture rooms, Libeskind’s tunnels, and the identity assignments of the National Holocaust Museum in D.C. are all examples. This appears efficacious in helping tourists to identify with the plight of the people actually there, but it also limits their orientation to the site and the events. Certainly people come for many different reasons, fascination with the macabre, personal identification, pilgrimage, and historical curiosity, to name only a few. How fair is it to limit or severely structure tourists’ interactions at these sites? What might some guidelines for this be?
The Holocaust has become paradigmatic for memorializing other traumas, largely because of the magnitude of events, the world’s involvement in WWII, and the abundance of sites and evidence. I find it difficult to see it serving as a model for catastrophes such as Katrina or the Tsunami, in that these were isolated natural disasters, rather than consciously employed acts of inhumanity. Certainly there are parallels to Darfur and Rwanda, but here I foresee the problem of a lack of specific sites, except perhaps razed villages. Furthermore, from what I know, these horrors sadly seem somehow less pertinent in the eyes of the world as they happened within a single non first-world country, and there was a lack of Global involvement even when they were taking place. If these places were to learn something from the Holocaust, I would hazard to suggest that it would be not in the constructing of memorials, (though that could perhaps be useful as well) but in learning how to raise awareness of their catastrophes and prove the significance of their remembrance to the world. Whether or not they have the desire, the money or the infrastructure to do so, I don’t know.
In closing, I pose a few questions. Is it always important to remember and preserve? Is this a necessary part of dealing with trauma collectively? When might there be exceptions? What might some alternative methods be? I also question the efficacy of educational programs like that at the LESTM. The educational and dialogue-generating aspects of our tour there certainly didn't impress me. Even if a session went as Sevcenko describes, would that be enough? Will kids really remember? What else can be done? It seems that discussion is a start, but only a start, and we need to translate discussion and remembrance into actions that can be sustained beyond a trip to the museum.
Posted by Tyler Sinclair at 4:46 PM
November 18, 2005
"Lights, Camera, Tourism"
Posted by Siobhan Robinson at 7:34 PM
November 14, 2005
Leah respond to the LESTM
Museums that showcase historical sites, or sites that are significant because they reflect the material realities of an earlier time (and a specific place) usually seek to have their visitors consider and explore what daily life was like in that particular place and time; there are a variety of possible purposes that might underlie this purpose. The curatorial and pedagogical choices made in the design and programming of a museum indicate how the governing stakeholders and staff of the museum have determined a course for presenting and performing the information and interpretation that they wish to offer in order for their visitors to be able to accomplish this exploration.
With the Confino Family Apartment tour, a “living history” experience (so described on the Web site,) the LESTM is implementing a particular pedagogical strategy that incorporates a number of different features and emphases. They include: immersing visitors in a multi-sensory reconstruction of the earlier time period, asking the visitor to imagine themselves as actors within the historical context of the reconstruction and interacting with the historical character who serves both as performer and mediator of the experience. Our post-experience discussion at Katz’s focused on how “successful” we found the experience to be; we might also ask whether this was the best pedagogical choice for “educating” us in the way that was intended and what might have been done to more successfully perform the mode of education that we experienced.
How else could one or have created a Tenement Museum? How might these choices be affected by the specific mission of the institution? The Lower East Side Tenement Museum’s mission is “to promote tolerance and historical perspective through the presentation and interpretation of the variety of immigrant and migrant experiences on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, a gateway to America.” This mission might be what drives the museum to focus its interpretive emphasis on the human experience of daily life in the apartment. What other curatorial or pedagogical choices might the museum staff have made in order to implement this mission? What would the exhibition and educational programming look like if different choices had been made? For example, the Museum’s humanitarian mission might also have led to an exhibition design which emphasized the architectural and social service regulations at different time periods during the building’s usage and how these regulations responded to and set course for what were considered basic human rights and needs in each era, as well as how legal regulations evolved in response to evolving understandings of what was due to all citizens and what was considered basic necessity in terms of ensuring the health and welfare of the population in the tenements and at large.
In light of this conceptualization it is interesting to consider the other historic site examples that we read about for this week. Ellis Island, by contrast to the Tenement Museum, is a site that does not utilize the “animation” or “interpretation” of live actors. Instead, the Ellis Island site capitalizes upon the notion that it is a representative portal of entry into America. In theory everyone could imagine, as Lee Iacocca is described as doing, their ancestors standing there as they first entered the country. It seems to me that Ellis Island is able to utilize this strategy because it served as a portal, a gateway and first temporary spot for immigrants. It was a place where few immigrants stayed for any length of time (the main exception being those who were deemed to ill to enter the country proper.) Therefore, the exact historical accuracy of the building is less important to the experience than the evocation of the heavy symbolism of emerging through a “gateway.” By coming to Ellis Island, identifying with the experience, and then returning to mainland, visitors re-enact this experience for themselves. In order to maximize this identification, it is more effective for Ellis Island to remain empty of interpreters, for the visitors themselves are meant to be animators.
In Colonial Williamsburg the presentation of “living history” is far more elaborate than at the Tenement Museum, including a much larger and complex “site” as its terrain and the possibility of interpretation via the interaction between animators, a mode only briefly present in Victoria’s opening discussion with the settlement house worker. (Not coincidentally, Colonial Williamsburg also represents a slice of life in an older America that was decidedly more privileged than life on the Lower East Side.) Actors serving as interpreters are in and of themselves a mode of “artifact,” embodying certain historical facts and understandings, while at the same time they are bound by the “imagined reality” presented by the institution. These two premises of the work engender a tension for the animators, who must respond to the unexpected happening that arise in engaging with real, live visitors and rely on their own improvisational skills while maintaining a fidelity to the mission of the museum. In The New History in an Old Museum these this tension surfaced in two different sections. In the chapter “Why History Changes,” “Interpreters told us in private that they were free, even encouraged, to create their own tours, within certain limits.” (p. 51) The authors present two theories of why history changes, one called “constructivist” and one “realist.” To my mind there is a “reality” which supersedes both: history is constructed or made in the real or actual experiences that visitors experience and these are mediated by the interpreters themselves. Hence the choices made by interpreters, sometimes in the moment, actually create the history (or its interpretation) that visitors take away with them. Sandra’s comment about the experience with Victoria will set her imagined image of what tenement life was like reflects this reality to me. As an aside, I was intrigued to read in this chapter that the evolution of the “living history” pedagogy at the site evolved in part in reaction to comments from visitors. As researchers we might ask, about any museum, how interpretive choices are different when they are made in response to audience feedback as well as or instead of in response to staff planning and design. On the level of interpretation, it means that visitors are in turn helping to shape the experience for future visitors and hence collaborating on modes of interpretation. The complexity of the work of interpreters is also evident in the discussion “The Front Line.” Interpreters serve as the first interface between visitors and the site and so their conduct – and the way that visitors react – is not merely a matter of education but also one of commerce, since visitors are also paying customers. Visitors’ experience of the site as a “total environment” is dependent upon the abilities of the interpreters, even in off moments, to maintain the illusion of a “living” environment. Handler and Gable note “In the training sessions we attended, the trainers were erstwhile interpreters who had risen to become part-time managers. Their job was Herculean. They had to supply a group of relatively well educated and enthusiastic amateurs with enough knowledge of the history of Williamsburg in the colonial era, the history of the reconstruction of the site, and the nuts and bolts of crowd control so that the neophytes would be able to lead tours without supervision within four weeks in three different buildings.” (p. 196.) The authors note the limitations of the training in enabling interpreters to present “complex historiographical narratives.” (p. 207) I wonder how a successful training program might prepare for this and as well allow for the understanding that what will be generally considered complex or critical will change and evolve over time.
History is always interpreted from the perspective of our own day, time and place. Hence while “It is always 1627 in the virtual world” of Plimoth Plantation (BKG, p. 194) it is always as seen and understood by visitors on any given day, even though visitors are conscripted to be complicit in the constant creation of the “virtual world.” I found that a particularly amusing iteration of this was the dispute that BKG had over the reproduction of the “Plimoth Plantation” photographs for the volume Destination Culture. The photograph she wished to reproduce was “wrong” even though it is a representation of what the site looked like at the time that the photo was taken. Perhaps another place where one might think about the efficacy of a particular educational strategy is to consider what happens at the moment of exit, when visitors leave the experience and the site and return to their regular life. How does the museum know what sense we made of the experience? I “visited” with Victoria twice and so missed the discussion with the educator, so I cannot comment on what was discussed but I wonder what it would have been like if she had continued to play, at least for part of the time, the role of “settlement house worker” and encouraged us to speak with her in our own roles as new immigrants. By extending the frame into a second activity the LESTM might be able to deepen the possibilities of this pedagogy. [Note: In the Educators’ section on-line, the Museum offers a complimentary activity to this apartment experience which consists of a more in-depth study of a variety of documentary materials, including the family photo and the postcard picture of Kastoria that Victoria showed us.]
All of these museums tell stories that are distinctly American. Each, in its own way, invites visitors to locate themselves in the American narrative that is embedded in the particular site and as well in the larger historical mythology of the country.
Posted by BKG at 1:49 PM
The Ellis Island and Plimoth Plantation institutions are two consecrated sites where heritage and history are performed. Both performances are ideological charged. In both cases, the masternarratives they construct about “our forefathers,” compete to be the definitive one. On the one hand, this can be read as a democratizing inclusiveness, on the other, it obscures historical inequalities. Many Americans are left out of both masternarratives, in particular, slavery is left out of the celebratory story of “our” nation.
BKG explains, “memory is not reclaimed, it is produced. The attribution of authorship to those who subscribe to the Immigrant Wall of Honor obscures the hands that really control what will be remembered and how, for ultimately the intermittently visible producers of the restoration are the authors of institutionalized memory” (Ellis Island 187).
In contrast, as Handler and Gable explain, since the 1970s, Colonial Williamsburg attempts to implement the “new social history.” The perspective of Colonial Williamsburg’s proponents of social history is that the entrenched version of American history “ignored the works and lives of the vast majority of the American population. Moreover, it was too exclusively celebratory. It privileged national consensus and ignored social conflict, thereby cleansing American history of oppression, exploitation, injustice, and struggle…” and that “historical truths are socially produced by particular people with particular interests and biases. The truths embodied in historical stories are thus not absolute or universal, but relative to the cultural context in which they are made” (4).
Like BKG’s analysis of Plymouth Plantation and Ellis Island, Handler and Gable point out that the entrenched Williamsburg story reaffirmed the status quo. In studying the ways in which an institution attempting to correct these problems works, their book’s ambition was to study the museum ethnographically as an institution in which meanings are socially produced through interactions of different types of actors with different types of interests, who must negotiate different types of external pressures –corporate funding, the public’s demand for education or entertainment.
This perspective also harmonizes with BKG’s contention that “[h]eritage is a new mode of cultural production in the present that has recourse to the past” (Destination Muesum 149). “Heritage not only gives buildings, precincts, and ways of life that are no longer viable a second life as an exhibit of themselves, it also produces something new” (Ibid 150).
How can we read the LETM in relation to these ideas? In contrast to the masternarratives of American heritage that subsume difference in to a homogeneous nationalistic story, this story is incredible specific. The Confino family did not live in a situation where they can index the ethnic identity of their group / neighborhood. They were a minority group among their neighbors. They cannot be linked to a particular nation, since the borders of their nation were shifting, their ethnicity is extremely particular –Sephardic, from the border of Greece and the Ottoman Empire. At the same time, their story is one to which many immigrants could (and can) relate. So this family was an interesting choice on the part of the institution, into whose workings we caught a mediated glimpse in our group sessions with a guide who gave us a frame and explained to use the institutional workings of the museums, before and after the historical interpretation.
Instead of monumentalizing stories of success, this story humanized the totalizing idea of immigrants living in squalor. It didn’t gloss over the hardships of this immigrant experience, I think it did a reasonably good job of showing the difficult conditions in which many immigrants did live at this time. I thought the “interpreter” did a phenomenal job in interacting with us, causing us to feel like disoriented immigrants gleaning information from her, and causing us to learn facts indirectly, without ever breaking character. The experience of being in this apartment communicated more to me than thousands of pages of academic work on the subject would have, and much more quickly. I think BKG’s take on Plymouth plantation as “virtual reality” (194) is a particularly apt way to describe this experience. “It is partial, negotiable, polyvocal. More like hypermedia than a play, the site is truly interactive” (ibid). Like a virtual reality scenario, not all the objects in the space were programmed; just some of them were interactive. This experience must be particularly magical for children who are in general more able to suspend their disbelief when viewing performances than a bunch of “human magpies” like ourselves (Handler and Gable 48).
Posted by Pilar Rau at 10:19 AM
Playing Along on the Lower East Side
While sitting and listening to “Victoria Confino” talk about her home and family, I couldn’t help but wonder if the “actual” Victoria would ever have imagined that her life experiences would be re-presented for tourists at the turn of the 21st century (by eight different Victorias, no less). The Confino life is creatively re-interpreted, placed in the present, and made meaningful according to particular frameworks. Yet commemorating the past entails a romanticizing process through which something (the negative? the violent and visceral? the boring and dirty?) is necessarily eviscerated. Therefore, despite the drive towards total authenticity and historical accuracy, sites like the Tenement Museum, Ellis Island, and Colonial Williamsburg are best understood as recreations that seem to innovate (rather than renovate) a particular historical moment. Like heritage-making, history-making is a partial yet extremely productive process occurring squarely in the present socio-political-cultural moment. Most of my response compares Colonial Williamsburg (CW) to the Tenement museum experience (TM). (I read half the text before going on the tour and the last half upon returning home. The second half read much differently! Field trips make great fieldwork.)
Handler and Gable’s inquiry into the relationship between social history and museum life was, as they state, spontaneously structured by their experiences at colonial Williamsburg. That is, their areas of concentration were “decided in part by serendipitous factors that lead us in some directions rather than others” (23). This helped me to think through my own research – when overwhelmed with data, it seems best to let certain parts of the site “speak” to you, and follow those extensively, rather than placing a restrictive methodological framework onto the site. Their text also brought us back to some issues this class began with: authenticity, ethnography, and mass tourism, but looked at these issues through the lens of American history.
First, “the authentic” returns with a vengeance. Both our educator at the TM and the persons at CW expressed a compulsive desire with detail. Our educator (I can’t recall her name!) noted that she had been trained as a “back-up” Victoria and said that she had been extremely nervous when she had to fill in, especially about the accuracy of her accent. There seems to be a general fear of “getting the past wrong” for fear of undermining the authority of the pedagogical project, especially as reported by Handler and Gable. Yet, as they note, this emphasis on historically documented fact obscures the reality of the situation: extreme attention to detail cannot conjure the past in its entirety. CW and the TM are performances, enacted in the present context. It’s interesting to imagine what actually gets remembered by those who lived in the tenements – how can the memories of odors, smells, and bodies and the first-generation experiences of heart-wrenching fear and uncertainty be recreated at sites like these? How does an institution educate the public about the more raw and visceral aspects of past forms of living?
Second, a focus on “just the facts” disallows the presentation of a critical social history. This brings up other questions about the limits of historical sites: can sites that are viewed as formative landscapes of American culture be critical of America? At the same time that they are consolidating nationhood, CW, Ellis Island, and the TM are pressed by scholars and historians to incorporate less prideful memories of our nation’s past. In tying the Confino apartment experience to issues around contemporary immigration law, the TM seems more explicitly situation in this social history vein than a site like CW – especially if social history is, as quoted in Handler and Gable, the “history of society” and teaching social entails teaching how “two immigrant cultures… became indigenous cultures, separate and highly unequal to be sure, but both decidedly American” (67). Even if the past is somewhat romanticized, the TM performs a progressive political stance when trying to create discussions about contemporary social issues. Discussions about social history helped me think through the relationship between nation and site that is being constructed at ground zero. The soundwalk tour at ground zero ends with a bit of social history: the story of New York city is the story of how people from around the nation and world some to a single place and learn how to live with one another. The tour seems most interested in lifting up the voices of society and the stories of people living and working near the site – very little explicit patriotic messages or talk of American pride. (Maybe the actual ground zero memorial will focus more on these aspects).
Lastly, some thoughts on the tour itself. My partner Jonathan (who, I think against his expectations, suddenly became the default father of 12 girls) wondered what the point was of role-playing in a pedagogical setting. Isn’t historical information best read, learned, or listened to? As BKG notes in her discussion on Plimoth, the visitor “is never told what questions to ask or given definitive answers. Learning is all process and discovery” (194). Jonathan is an elementary school teacher – he thought the tour would have been much more effective for young children who more easily slip into playful and inquisitive modes. We, on the other hand, were reluctant to “play along.” Our questions were more structurally-oriented, and were saved for the educator. It would have been interesting to sit in on different tour groups while they played along with Victoria to better understand the effectiveness and results of this type of tourist interaction. In any case, the tour demonstrated that desire, suspension of belief, and a willingness to play, engage, and interact are all integral aspects of the tourism.
Posted by Brynn Noelle Saito at 9:10 AM
We discussed so much at the restaurant that I am not sure what to talk about in my response. But, here goes…
The first thing that strikes me about the Tenement Museum, but also about Colonial Williamsburg and Plimouth Plantation is the tremendous emphasis on education.
Handler and Gable certainly discuss the tension museums and historical sites are experiencing between entertainment and education (171, 205), especially once the tourism industry and its corporate for-profit structure is in the mix. However, it seems that the tension lies less in education vs. entertainment, and more in education vs. experience. Certainly one can learn more about historic sites through other media, or even through other museum practices that do not involve costumes and first person interpretation (labels, audiovisual material, interactive technologies, etc.), but the choice of making history come to life might be less about pedagogy and more about affect. Earlier today, my sense was not that anything informational had been revealed to me, but rather that I had been immersed in an entirely different time/space, allowing me to somehow “feel” history, to interact with it, to sense the smells and touch of history. This is not to say that experience cannot be pegadogical, but I think that we have to rethink the frame, reimagine what education means and how it can be induced. The tenement museum’s Victoria apartment is not about learning “just the facts,” in fact, facts were, as Brigitte complained, on the slim side. It was about suspending disbelief and participating in a unique experience, so unique that our two groups managed within tours that were merely minutes apart, to experience it differently. In its encyclopedia and training manuals, the museum speaks of historical interpreters, of educators, of different approaches to learning, but it seems that what they are providing, what they are achieving, is neither within the realm of education, nor a Disneyland theme park attraction. They are allowing their audience to “feel” what it might have been like, or at least have a vivid picture, to be an early twentieth century immigrant in New York. In many ways, this echoes BKG’s argument regarding the three clocks that are activated simultaneously at Plimouth Plantation: the stopped clock of the historical moment, the heritage clock and the clock the visitors bring to the site (197-199). This strategy is entirely opposite to that of Ellis Island where we are narrated a history that is placed in the past, alien to the viewer, something to be learned, consumed, not felt. The “mimetic realism”approach, as Handler and Gable baptized it (70), does bring history to life, it animates it, but not unproblematically. Certainly, these enactments are not seemless: our very presence in them brakes the frame, as does the warning regarding the exit sign and the fan in the Tenement museum or the Colonial Williamsburg staff’s “excessive honesty,” but that does not mean that seams are necessarily enough. Indeed, the living history approach can lead to extremes. Some visitors might be completely resistant to suspending disbelief, but more dangerously, others might come out of the apartment feeling like they have in fact experienced “the real thing.” In the case of Plimouth, of Colonial Williamsburg and of the Tenement Museum, this might not be overall problematic, but it might have unforeseen consequences in museums that display more controversial histories (a museum on genocide, for example).
The second issue that I would like to discuss, one that is close to my heart, regards methodology. How can one of these sites be studied? Handler and Gable are perhaps the most ambitious and clear regarding their own limitations in embarking on a project to produce an ethnography about a heritage site of the dimensions of Colonial Williamsburg. They seem to have chosen the staff of the production as their key informants, interviewing members of the management, front-line staff, and other employees, in addition to the many participant observation experiences of the tours themselves. However, audiences only figure marginally in their study, and one gets little or no sense of how the site is actually felt and interpreted, beyond the production itself and what they call its “unintended consequences”(198-9). If anything, our exercise at the restaurant after the tour, showed us how the individuals in one group, a group with similar educational backgrounds, ages, interests, etc., managed to interpret and sense the experience so diametrically differently. Is there a way to look at a site like the Tenement Museum ethnographically? If so, who would be the informants? What would participant observation entail? Something tells me Scott might have some answers on this one.
Posted by Sandra Rozental at 8:50 AM
I would have loved to participate in the Tenement museum tour if I felt well enough. I particularly wanted to because when I visited Victoria Confino’s apartment, it was with my 8-year-old daughter’s class and so I wanted to observe how different my experience would likely be. Perhaps I should write a little about it, maybe it will be an interesting perspective.
Her class spent months studying immigration history, stepping in the shoes of immigrants by writing notes about what they would like to take with them to America, what they would miss, why they had to leave to find a better life, writing pretend letters to family back home from the ship, how dreadful and crowded it was, how the food stank, how ill they felt, and finally the dreaded Ellis Island inspection and what they experienced. So by the time her class visited the Confino’s they had made the journey in their minds and imagination over several weeks – they had gotten past rude medical examiners who peered into their eyes with hooklike instruments, peered down their throats, and in some cases marked their coats with a big letter like’E’ which meant their eyes didn’t look good, so the immigrant would inconspicuously turn the coat inside out to get past – many little details.. So the class was very excited to see these little apartments they would have to live in with perhaps ten other people, where the girls would have to stitch or make flower garlands etc..to make a living.
Questions to Victoria were about how many people lived in those three little rooms, where did she sleep, how much did the stove cost, how much did the flour cost, how much did they earn, could she show us how she washed the clothes, where was the family, what were they doing, what did they eat and how did she cook it, where did she dry the clothes, where was the bathroom, was life hard…..How hard life was, how hard it was for the immigrants – smelly dark little apartments, diseases, not enough food and money…..this is what I came away with from my daughter’s class experience. They seemed to really relate to the bodily and stressful experiences of the immigrants. The class knew a lot in terms of dates and the variety of countries they could’ve come from, the foreign languages - the kids certainly felt fortunate to be here in this time and age. In their study and research they were not exposed in any way to the plight of immigrants today. So in this case at least for the children, unlike Colonial Williamsburg it’s almost the reverse celebratory– look how good life is now.
It is a fine balance between celebratory and critical perspective – while “good vibes” as Handler and Gable articulate is seen to be quite crucial to the Colonial Williamsburg museum, the Tenement museum although held dark truths for my daughter’s class to ‘see’ and inspect, the playful experience of meeting Victoria a ‘real’ person, details like the emphasis on the hallway walls as being the absolute exact same as it was in 1916 was all very exciting, and these contextualizations emphasized by the tour guide I thought lent to a ‘good vibes’ exciting feel. Setting an atmosphere, preparing audiences for an ‘experience’ that is special and different seems to always run in the meta narrative of a festival or a museum, and just how much is the audience’s existing knowledge challenged, advanced or educated by these affective productions is a good question to raise. I also found it interesting to read H & G that mimetic realism destroys the utility of history as a vehicle of social criticism – how far does the Tenement museum succeed in their creative use of history as a tool for civic engagement? For as BKG says in her article that “ultimately the intermittently visible producers of the restoration are the authors of the institutionalized memory.” (187)
For my own project the notion of the meta narrative both in BKG’s book and H & G is important. What are the participants, the entrepreneurs at the Hornbill festival expected to bring with them, and what do festival-goers take home? Much as I want to examine the “items” on display at the festival, particularly in terms of music, how does the meta-narrative play into the performances that create meaning and identity.
Posted by Senti Toy at 8:28 AM
The seamy side of the past
In The New history in an Old Museum, Handler and Gable at the beginning of the book remind us that, besides the glamorous, the infamous and the undesible also coexist in American history. The tendency of averting the seamy side of the past prevents us from adopting a balanced view of the past. The movement of reconsidering the truthfulness of the representation done by the Colonial Williamsburg leads to the revision of this particular part of American history. The curators re-adjust the selection of historical facts presented to the visitors. At the same time, visitors are encouraged to read historical facts and the narrative of history more critically.
There must be some "road apples" on the street as well as in history. Like Colonial Williamsburg, Lower East Side Tenement Museum strives to present the struggles of the immigrants in a tangible way. The tour to Victoria's place, an on-location tour, was pretty interesting to me. Personally, I like the idea of assigning a costumed interpreter, Victoria, to the visiting group and let visitors interact with Victoria in their own ways under certain guide-lines given by museum. In this role-playing process, Victoria gave us a general idea of immigrants' daily life and some historical facts that, I believe, the curators of the museum want visitors to know. Though interesting and inspiring, I also find such interacting model risky in certain ways for the success of such model is contingent to both Victoria's control over the situations and the visitors cooperation. In the tour, I couldn't help but thinking about the violations that could occur among visitors. Whether intentionally, unintentionally, out of malice or out of ignorance, such violations could ruin the tour, or even the museum itself--the tenement apartment that open to visitors.
As Yochi mentioned in Katz's as well as in her post, there is inconsistency, or variations, in Victoria's narrative. The information given by her somewhat varies when she was with two different groups. With the second group, Victoria mentioned Asian imagrants and other details not revealed when she was with the first group. I am wondering if this is the adjustment consciously made by Victoria, or such things occur randomly. If the latter is the case, I would say that it is problamtic, for the control of the quality of information, as well as other material aspects of the tour, should be enforced carefully.
After the visit, the educator (I cannot recall her long title correctly) gathered the first group and explained the process of the traings of Victorias, the costumed interpreters interacting with visitors. She told us that all Victorias have gone through a training in general history of immigrants and acquired the knowledge of socioeconomic conditions of the society in the old days. Also, Victorias are actors, who have experience in theatre or other types of performances that require acting skills. The purpose of a set of trainings is to prepare Victoria to all sorts of questions posing by visitors of different ages, educational backgrounds, cultural/ethnic origins.
One of the facts indicated by the educator of the museum which I found interesting is that the ESL students tend to identify with Victorias and end up sharing their own experience of learning English in contemporary days. Anachronism therefore occurs under these circumstances. This fact mentioned by the educator links back to the question I ask in previous paragraph--How do Victorias react to violations in general, and to the anachronic elements intruding in this chronologically designed, carved out space? I enjoyed the tour and appreciated the layout of the museum. However, after the tour, I have a whim of playing the role of the not-so-cooperative visitors and see how the Victoria leading the tour responses to me.
Posted by Stella Yu-Wen Wang at 7:41 AM
The Customer is Always Right Especially when They Question the Dominant Paradigm (but don't look at me for help, my supervisor's watching)
Today’s visit to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, as well as the readings for this week, raised some interesting questions for me in terms of my project on Pier 21 (“Canada’s Ellis Island”). First of all, Handler and Gable’s ambitious ethnography of Colonial Williamsburg echoes in many ways the methodologies that we have been kind of setting up all semester for examining tourist sites. From MacCannell’s notion of front and back spaces, to Bruner’s notion that the ‘encounter’ itself is productive, these same or similar tactics are employed by Handler and Gable to get away from what they understand to be the more conventional museological approach of examining the content of the exhibits. In an attempt to get a fuller picture of the way meanings are produced, this is necessary but ambitious in a museum as complex and unwieldy as Colonial Williamsburg.
Fortunately, I was never planning to do a simple content analysis of the Pier 21 museum, and it is likely that this is because of the ideas I had encountered in this class (from MacCannell, Bruner, et al...) prior to conducting my initial fieldwork there. However, since the Williamsburg text deals specifically with something that considers itself to be a museum, participates in what one might call “public history”, and is implicated in issues of nationalism and nation-building, some of its insights might be especially useful to me.
Just to be clear, “Public History” is not the same as “Social History” in the way that Handler and Gable use the latter term. While they both connote public education and to an extent, public responsibility, Social History as used by Handler and Gable refers to a specific, radical move towards an critical engagement with history and historical materials. They found that the model of history-as-progress-as-ongoing-accumulation-of-facts conflicted and competed with the ‘ideal’ mode of social history, as did the “good vibes” doctrine that seemed to pervade managerial/interpreter relations. How can a tourist attraction that is an ‘educational institution’ as well as a business challenge people’s preconceptions, ask uncomfortable questions, and maintain the “customer is always right” attitude?
This is a question that is also applicable the Tenement Museum, to an extent, and involves, in both cases, the question of interpretation (or as they say in French, animation). After looking through the LES tenement museum encyclopedia, I get a real idea of just how much information the educators and interpreters are required to know. But the interpreter does more than give us facts, especially when they are playing a character. If we imagine that the LESTM interpreters are supposed to be guiding us through a critical social history (and I do get that impression somewhat when reading the educator’s manual), what is the line between fact and criticism? Is it possible to provide, intimate, or imply a critical approach to the facts while in character? I think it might be useful to look to Brecht for some of these “technique” questions. I also think he might be useful for looking at the issue of comfort and discomfort (because you can’t have alienation without identification) but it is not within the scope of this 3:30 AM class response. But it is intriguing to think about what a Brechtian public history museum would look like, and to what extent the LESTM’s mandates might already overlap with such a project.
Something I would like to try to add to my materials if possible, in the light of both the Williamsburg text and also the LESTM experience and readings, would be the training manual that I know is given to volunteers and employees who act as guides in the museum, to give me a sense of what kind of history the museum teaches its teachers to teach. Technique, it seems, is of utmost importance, especially as it illustrates the relationship between an institution, its mandate, and the educators, interpreters, animators, and guides who are charged with carrying it out.
Posted by Sarah Klein at 3:47 AM
As much as I enjoyed the playful experience at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum today…
(and here I have to think about my husband and our (at least) eight beautiful daughters (including BKG!) and of course my favorite son, Moisele, not to mention our Sephardic orphan from Istanbul),anyway, as I started to recollect my thoughts later tonight, I have become more critical of the experience. Perhaps it was our conversation after the tour that had an influence on my opinion, although I do not think so. I think it primarily comes from the frustration that I felt as I was trying to juxtapose this experience with the historic sites Handler and Gable, and BKG analyze in the reading assignments for today. In the Lower Eastside Tenement Museum experience, as well as in the three analyses I looked for tools and approaches that I could apply in my own research.
My research site is similar to the examined historic sites in the sense that it also focuses on a very important historical period of a nation’s history. Despite the fact that the Statue Park in Budapest is a collection of lifeless statues from the Communist Era, which is why it is often entitled as the “statue-cemetery”; I do believe that the aim of these sites are the same: “to make the past come alive” (Handler and Gable: 71) or create a “living history” (Handler and Gable: 74). What is common in all these sites is that all they have is a number of inanimate, defunct objects. Whether they are former immigration offices (Ellis Island), colonial buildings (Colonial Williamsburg), a rock (Plimoth Plantation), or a bunch of Communist statues (Statue Park, Budapest), the question is the same: how to organize a world around these objects, or, more precisely, how to organize the world of these objects, so that in their “recourse to the past” (BKG: 149) speaks to the present as well.
Handler and Gable points out that “the colonial buildings by themselves are lifeless, an empty shell or stage setting that must be animated by living people or by stories that suggest them.” (71) The realization of the three American sites suggests that objects can only come to ‘life’ through the animation of ‘living’ people. “A visit with these character interpreters provides the opportunity to learn about the past from the personal viewpoints of the people who lived it. It is a way for the visitor to talk with the past.” (75) – claims Handler and Gable, while Tilden points out that the animated site or exhibition provides “the chance to place oneself in another world, three-dimensionally exhibited, and to try out that other world, as it were” (quoted by Handler and Gable: 175).
My question is whether we agree with the above-mentioned authors. Did we really talk with the past? Did Victoria, or our conversation with her, bring the defunct apartment into life? Here, I need a moment of detour. I have to admit that I needed to double check myself and look up the word ‘defunct’ in the dictionary. According to the English Synonym Dictionary, I could have used the word ‘spiritless’ instead of ‘defunct’ to describe the apartment we saw today. Looking up this word has helped me to conceive my main problem with this type of interactive experience. There is a presupposition that the site, without its animator, is spiritless. Was the apartment ‘spiritless’ indeed? Did the presence of Victoria help us to feel the spirit of the place? I am afraid that in reality we experienced a very different spirit from what we may have experienced without this role-play, by just being there, perceiving and experiencing the space.
Why do not the managements of historical sites trust the objects? Why do they think that because they are lifeless, they are spiritless as well? Why don’t they trust that the objects would speak to us without the mediation of the animators? (Think about the Rock in Plimoth. BKG quotes Elaine Scarry who sees ‘object’ as a “projection of the human body”, and as such, it “deprives the external world of the privilege of being inanimate” (192). I have never been to Plimoth, but as I was reading the article I imagined the Rock as an old, stoop-shouldered, wise pilgrim, who sits on a hill looking down on a place that constantly changes below him.)
The question is what those objects tell us. Since they speak differently to everyone, the management of the historical site needs to generate a common social/historical reading. “A well-managed historic site must have ‘objectives’, they say – a tale to tell, a message to teach – and those objectives should be fixed from above, by the directors and managers of the sites.” - quotes Handler and Gabler Anderson and Low (176). I find this “message”, “objective”, or “mission” (45) extremely important, since this is what plays a crucial role in the formation of national and/or cultural identity. What is it that we take home with us after all? What is it that shifts/changes/contests our worldview and relation to the past?
In my own research, I have a very difficult time to formulate what the objective of the Statue Park is. Somehow I cannot hear what those suggestive statues say. This might be a good example that without a transparent intention “from above”, the process of an individual interpretation might be very challenging. As a theatre dramaturg, I first approached the site as a performance, applying Pavis’ analysis and conceptualizing a dramaturgical reading. However, I still have a problem with the interpretation. BKG’s “rhetorical approach”, formulating sites as literary/rhetorical tropes, such as a metonym or a synecdoche, offers a very useful methodology to me. Finding and defining the metonymical denotations of the statues and the park will help me to conceptualize the managers’ objectives in establishing this historic site.
In the case of the Colonial Williamsburg and Ellis Island, the management’s objective is clear: to underpin the dominant American identity of contemporary society. In this “American-dream discourse” immigrants come to this country because this is the place where every one can make his/her dream come true. It is a good and rightful land, where injustice turns into justice, where slave masters know that what they do is wrong and eventually liberate their slaves. Colonial Williamsburg and Ellis Island both tell stories of the past, and I do not have the right to doubt them. They might as well be true; however, selecting and exposing these narratives exclusively can be very dangerous. These sites may feed an intolerant, blind and self-conscious national identity instead of contesting it.
Since this topic relates to my research, I had a lot to say. However, I did not have time to address three more questions:
- Victoria: hostess/interpreter/mediator/animator?
- On page 112, Handler and Gable describe a presentation at the Wythe House, where the interpreters “singled out “you ladies” and told them they would be joining Mrs. Wythe, who is having tea with her friends”. This made me wonder, what if there were some African American tourists among the visitors. How would the interpreter call upon them? Where should they go? I find this extremely problematic.
- Shaping of collective memory - Why is it important? For those of us, who are in the Phenomenology class: how does Bergson’s concept of “virtual memory” highlight these analyses of sites? (If it does so at all.)
Posted by Aniko Szucs at 3:28 AM
It Takes A (Fully Reconstructed, Costume-Interpreted) Village
Due to another commitment, I was, alas and alack, unable to attend the Tenement Museum outing with the class (though I do intend to go on my own as soon as I get the time!). Thus, instead of drawing upon that experience for this response, and comparing it to the readings for the week, I will draw upon my experiences of fieldwork and interview at Old Bethpage Village Restoration. You’ll forgive me, however, if I leave out some interesting and tantalizing details for the sake of not spoiling the fun of my final paper/presentation.
Due to another commitment, I was, alas and alack, unable to attend the Tenement Museum outing with the class (though I do intend to go on my own as soon as I get the time!). Thus, instead of drawing upon that experience for this response, and comparing it to the readings for the week, I will draw upon my experiences of fieldwork and interview at Old Bethpage Village Restoration. You’ll forgive me, however, if I leave out some interesting and tantalizing details for the sake of not spoiling the fun of my final paper/presentation.
To begin with, I very much wish I had read Handler and Gable’s text before going to Old Bethpage to do my field work, and a part of me hopes I can find the time to return there. I was a great deal more timid in my research than they were. For my research I stuck to two visits, one where I conducted pre-arranged interviews with the site manager, lead historian, and an experienced, costumed interpreter, and another where I attended, as a paying customer, Old Bethpage’s Halloween celebration. However, on the latter trip, my observations were kept to merely the notes that I wrote down and the photographs that I took. I was too meek, embarrassed, and/or lacking in confidence to actually approach other visitors, other audience members, and ask them what they thought about the experience. However, in creating a full ethnography of a site – which, although it is not quite what I’m doing, is rather close in terms of research methods, if not in ultimate analysis and conclusions – it does, indeed, seem rather crucial to be able to represent the experience of visitors/outsiders other than just oneself.
Yet, interestingly, this did not seem to be BKG’s method in the essays on Ellis Island and Plimoth Plantation. In these writings, she gathers her information and turns her formidable analytical gaze towards the sites. The crucial difference here, though, is between a “study” and a “case study.” Whereas Handler & Gable are doing a study of Colonial Williamsburg – a full-on, all-out look at as many aspects of the place as they can cram into one book – BKG is providing case studies – two sites that she looks at in order to put into practice her thoughts on heritage.
Speaking of heritage (or typing of heritage, I suppose), and taking a bit of a different path in the conversation, I find it very interesting that in these three (or, rather, four, counting either Old Bethpage or the Tenement Museum) examinations of tourist productions of heritage and history, all of them choose to re-create that history for visitors through the use of theatre. Now, a part of me wonders if that is simply a part of the pedagogical organization of this week’s reading and site research, but I also wonder if there is something about history that requires a bit of theatricality in order to make it “presentable.” Even such “non-theatrical” museums, like the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C., utilize moments of object-based theatricality, such as the mountain of shoes at that particular museum. Is it really all that much of a step to actually have costumed interpreters rather than business-casual docents?
However, the issue of “presentability” here takes center stage (pun definitely intended). For instance, a middle-class, church-going villager out of 18th century Long Island? Presentable. A Holocaust death-camp survivor, in full uniform? Not presentable. Many would claim this is simply a matter of taste, but perhaps it could also be considered a matter of being unwilling to face up to the low, dark moments of our history. The shining example of this, of course, is the slave auction enacted at Colonial Williamsburg, as recounted in BKG’s chapter on heritage from last week. Why is it considered all right to read about slave auctions, or the Holocaust, and to see exhibits on them, but not to see a costumed interpretation/ re-enactment of these personages and events? And, if it’s not all right to see these moments of oppression, then why is it all right to see the daily lives of the oppressors? At Old Bethpage, for example, all of the major households are the preserved homes of wealthy Long Island citizens, so it is only their stories which are told, not the stories of the poor, scrabbling, hard-working Long Islanders who lived down the block in huts and hovels.
Granted, as I write this, I realize that the Tenement Museum may well do just this, representing an oppressed group through costumed interpretation, so forgive my ignorance if that is so.
To conclude this response, I would like to pose a question that has been nagging at me for awhile now. I began my interest in touristic environmental theatre (holla’ back, Scott!) with Disney World, wherein the theatrical experiences is meant to entertain, and fully immerse the guest in a vacation getaway of fun, magic, and enjoyment. Although highly commercialized and commodified, these are some of the same goals that theatre, as an art form, share – the overcoming of individual boundaries to create a sense of communitas, a sort of “magic” in and of itself. However, when museums and heritage sites utilize the same general methods of environmental theatre, how do the two disciplines (and I use the term very loosely, here) of theatre and history conflict/combine? Are the ritualistic, communitas-engendering (how’s that for a forced word creation?) sacrificed in order to educate visitors on history? Similarly, are the goals of educational enlightenment downplayed in order to entertain and enchant via theatrical representations? I won’t attempt to get into an answer for that here, since it would likely be very long and may just have a place in my final paper, but I wanted to throw the question out there, since I think it’s an interesting side-note to this week’s topic of discussion.
Posted by Andrew Friedenthal at 1:52 AM
Museums' Objection to Abjection
On the very first page of _The New History in an Old Museum_, without directly citing, Handler and Gable evoke Mary Douglas’ notion of dirt and pollution. (Douglas, 1966) Alluding to “road apples” - or more precisely horse shit - purposely left lying or planted on the streets of Colonial Williamsburg, they write: “Manure is authentic dirt, and instance and symbol of natural disorder. Museums are carefully managed realms of classification where everything is kept in place.” (3) This interesting juxtaposition runs throughout the readings for this week and stimulates the following question: how does the carefully organized system of museums classify abjection? Whether it’s the revisionist historians’ critical questioning of celebratory narratives of patriotism, their attempt to (re) visit the nation’s dark past in sites like Colonial Williamsburg, or the shared project of Ellis Island and the Tenement Museum to address issues of immigrants and immigration, museums are struggling to come to terms with abject notions and groups of people.
During the Lower East Side Tenement Museum’s tour of the Confino apartment, in response to Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett’s question, “What does it mean to be an American?”, ‘Victoria Confino’ tried to explain that it is ‘order’ that Americans are after. You can’t simply show up at a train station expecting to get on a train, she explained, you must first learn how to consult a schedule and arrive on the specially appointed time. According to this viewpoint - one that is more widely shared and I would venture to say a part of the popular national psyche - the immigrant is abject. Immigrants arrive, en masse, pour out of the ship as if enacting a chaotic and primitive dance and pollute the Americans who lucky to arrive a few moments before them (alright, second generation Americans). After some thought, ‘Victoria’ adds cleanliness to her list of qualities desired of the untouchables. Surprised by the question posed, I image that she creates her answer not from the ‘positive qualities of cleanliness and order’ that ought to be emulated but from negative stereotypes of immigrants, namely that they are disorderly, dirty and by extension probably stupid. To be American, therefore, means not to be a dirty and disorderly immigrant.
The notion of immigrants as national abjection is further reinforced through the fear of disease, contagion and pollution. The quarantine process and “the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, testing of gays trying to enter the country” (Kirshenblatt-Gimblett 178-179) later extended to all immigrants, both attest to this.
There are many parallels between the heritage and tourist productions of The Lower East Side Tenement Museum and Ellis Island as analyzed by Kirshenblatt-Gimblett. Whereas Ellis Island sets itself up as the “golden gateway” of America (181), the Tenement Museum conceives of itself as the “immigrant portal” (LESTM Educator
Training Program Introduction). Both sites serve as “repositories of patriotic sentiment” (177) as well as working toward the “neutralization of significant differences” (183). The LESTM is also a prime example of how “corporate capitalism converts historical subjects into markets”. (185) ‘Victoria Confino’ takes us on the tour of the kitchen to advertise certain commodities that the just-off-the-boat immigrants might be in dire need of: not one but two washers, a soap saver, iron. Here the museum’s mission to “activate history as a resource for considering the present” and to help people “confront [these] difficult issues” (LESTM Educator Training Program Intro.) falls a bit short. But after all this is an “extremely challenging task”, one that ought to be “the new international model for museums” and historic sites (ibid.) so maybe we shouldn’t blame they if they don’t succeed. After all, the ‘educators’ are required to “help the learner discover their fullest potential” (ibid.) in sixty whole minutes while simultaneously selling museum memberships. Thankfully, in the room across from Confino apartment the educators are offered a “refrigerator, sink and other things for [their] comfort.” (ibid.)
Posted by Dominika Bennacer at 1:10 AM
And you call this Sephardic?!
Some Sephardim like to call themselves “Sephardi tahor”, or “pure sephardi”, when they claim a Spanish heritage from the time of the Inquisition, as opposed to all other (so-called) Sephardim, Jews coming mostly from the Arab countries, who are conveniently labeled as “Sephardim” ex negativo, because they are not Ashkenazim.
Victoria, the tenant from the Tenement museum, could claim such “pure” ancestry, as she was born in the Balkans, knows a few words of Ladino (not enough to respond to me when I asked her in Ladino how she was doing), cooks traditional dishes (huevos enhaminados, bumuelos and fijones) and has trouble getting along with the “vusvus”, also known as “yiddishes”. Fine. Does that make her authentic? I’d like to tackle this question not from the point of view of the Sephardi content (which was totally acceptable to yours Sephardi truly), but from the point of view of the performance, and especially from the audience perspective.
Perhaps we were an odd group, composed of a bunch of smart intellectuals with a sharp critical sense who can’t wait for the moment when they can deconstruct performances and hold a pilpul about it over knishes and pastrami. But even as such, how much was there to argue about the performance? The setting made us believe that we were visiting an actual family (the Confinos, not just any tenant of Orchard Street), with individuals (Victoria, her parents and siblings) in their everyday environment. Instead of a personalized narrative, though, we were given generic elements through the mouth of a quasi disincarnated interpreter who seem stingy in details and uncomfortable in sharing personal opinions.
What do visitors expect from such a visit? A different museum tour that deals with everyday life, interiors and objects that may remind them from their grandparents’ house and habits? An easily accessible account of immigrant life in New York in the early 20th century? Another “learning experience” that will teach them about something they didn’t know?
The objects displayed in the apartment had a passive presence, they didn’t take on any special role in the conversation, with a few exceptions (the picture frame, the gramophone). In the kitchen, as we were about to leave, it seemed suddenly that objects needed to be introduced, passed around, touched, and given a price tag. However, as much as we were supposed to play a role and engage in the performance, Victoria was neither comfortable in complete improvisation, nor was she ready to give up on statistics that she spit out from her checklist. It felt as if she had to give us something tangible (price, value, new v. used) on our way out, as a concrete keepsake. And maybe, in the end, that’s one of the few things we got out of our interaction with Victoria. Nothing personal, nothing elaborate, whether we asked her about marriage, education, food customs, relations with neighbors, or household habits. We came out as empty-handed as we entered, except maybe for the understanding that some gramophones still work, that a washboard is not only a musical instrument from Louisiana, and that there is such a thing as a doughnut frying pan. Is this a learning experience? Is this a performance? Is this a bad act that needs a new script? Our guide insisted on the “Confino book” that every interpreter had to digest in order to be familiar with the family’s history, customs, environment, etc. I was picturing a thick volume. After my “interaction” with Victoria, I see the Confino book as no more than a flyer, containing basic facts about Sephardim (if Ladino is Spanish in Hebrew script – why then, was Victoria pointing to the psudo-newspaper of her father from left to right, when it’s read the opposite way?), a list of prices from 1916 (interesting how our guide was also insisting on the prices – Marx must be happy, he was right, everything has a value), and a bunch of instruction manuals (gramophone, soap saver, washboard…).
If the Victoria performance is meant to be different from the other apartments on view at the Tenement museum, it yields a mixed feeling: while not as stiff as a traditional talking head who gives the dry facts from an exterior perspective, Victoria remains a third party with no relation to the family she is meant to represent, and offers a cold glimpse of what her life was like in 1916. We could have heard a Ladino song rather than fox-trot, learned more about religious and culinary traditions of Sephardim, get a sense of what Victoria’s wedding would be like, and understood better why Sephardim and Ashkenazim, while all Jewish, had problems getting along. It didn’t happen.
However, given the complexity of the place, its multiple purposes, its diverse audience and its museographic efforts to offer a different narrative of immigrant life in New York City in the first half of the 20th century, the Tenement Museum deserves a thorough study such as the one presented by Handler and Gable, or Kirshenblatt-Gimblett. I feel that we need to cure our frustration by going back to the Confinos’ and their neighbors, and turn every object on display, search inside the drawers, open the closets, read labels, and figure out the strengths and weaknesses of the exhibits, the conflicting goals, the effect on the audience, the evolution of the performance.
This last dimension is what preoccupies me most regarding the Holocaust memorial in Berlin: how many functions does a display/museum/memorial have, and how conflicted are the audiences to which it is addressed? That’s probably the question that the Tenement Museum should ask itself before adding more apartments, performances and characters to their already crowded building.
Posted by Brigitte Sion at 12:48 AM
November 13, 2005
Say Sorry to Victoria.
I found this tour very beneficial for me as a comparison to my project, the Merchant’s House Museum. Both as houses built in the 19th Century, the houses were designed to serve different kinds of purpose; the Merchant’s House was built as one of the most fashionable architectures, which reflects the social status in 1832, and served as the private house for the Tredwell family since 1940 to 1933. Just 20 years after the Merchant’s House was built, and not too far from each other in distance, 97 Orchard Road started to welcome families from all over the world, and sheltered over 7000 immigrants from 1863 to 1935 according to the information provided by the Tenement Museum.
Regardless of the difference of serving one family and 7000 people (even thought the Tredwell family has nine children with several servants, it was no way to compare the crowdedness between these two houses.), I also fascinated by two different kinds of methodologies in staging not only the house but also the memory. I agree that the information we got from Victoria was not intensive enough, but I also felt very interested about the change of the stories between two groups, especially when it is a story without the support of an object (photo, cloth-washing instrument, Latino newspaper, etc.). The stories related to memories with no supportive objects rarely overlapped with each other and actually improvised with the different kinds of questions from different groups. It was a trip led by a living character to a space that is similar to what this character might have lived back in the 19th century. While in the case of the Merchant’s House Museum, as the Tredwell family actually lived, and had nine family members died in the house, due to diseases or accidents. The museum used this as a kind of advantage and staged the exhibition about the funeral scenes in the 19th century. They put the wax statue, which molded according to the figure of one of their staff in the museum, as the dead corpse of Mr. Tredwell on the same bed that Mr. Tredwell actually slept in when he swallowed his last breathe. Ordinary tour guides interpreted the history and the story about the family, while the characters of the families are motionless wax-statues or human figure models.
Both of the houses are trying to bring us back to the time of the 19th century. Personally, I felt that the Tenement museum was a little bit too forceful, especially about the long conversation with Victoria, which seems to be more like the lecture from Victoria to the audience. I did enjoy the tour about Victoria’s house, however, I felt like that I expected to walk into a movie, but after I stepped into the movie, I found out that except the main characters are in motions, other things seem to be nothing more than fixed photographs. Yet, in Merchant’s House Museum, it was more obvious that the scene was frozen at the time that Mr. Tredwell past away, and different rooms are different photographs about Mr. Tredwell’s death. I think what I do not like about the tour offered by the Tenement Musum is the inconsistency of the quality in theatricality.
Posted by Yo-Chi Li at 11:35 PM
History, Heritage, Experience
From the beginning discussion of “road apples,” Handler and Gable make it clear that in The New History in an Old Museum, they are looking outside the main frame to uncover how Colonial Williamsburg functions. Theirs is a study of a “new museum,” whose identity in a constant negociations and they use a similarly de-stabilizing anthropological approach. As opposed to traditional museum scholarship, which worked from already produced messages, Handler and Gable focus on museums as social arenas – therefore they examine what happens at Colonial Williamsburg. (9) They studied front and backstage – both the visitor’s experience and how that experience is constructed and managed. (10)
This focus on both front and backstage and the constant negotiation to create, disseminate, and receive meaning/create experience is very helpful for my project. Their approach complicates the “the triadic model of cultural producer-cultural product-cultural consumer” (11) In terms of my project, one could think of Pearl as creating the Soundwalk, which I in terms take and receive what she intended to give me. Of course, the chain of interaction is much more complex. Some questions to consider when analyzing this chain: How was it decided to do a Hasidic Woman’s Soundwalk? What experience did Pearl intend to give the taker of the Soundwalk? What experience did I have? What experience do the Soundwalk people want to give the people who take the Hasidic Woman’s Soundwalk? How much space is there for individual experience? How does beta-tester feedback influence the walk?
Like Plimoth Plantation, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum is an experience of virtuality. Similar to how at Plimoth Plantation there is a museum and then the living village, at the Tenement Museum there was a question and answer period and the interaction in the tenement apartment with the “costumed interpreter.” In both cases, the theatrical interaction was balanced out by a more traditional educational experience.
One question that emerged for me in our discussion at Katz’s was why “costumed interpreters” are used. On the one hand, history can “come alive,” is a way that if visitors just move through the tenement apartments and look at labeled items it would not be possible. In general, having “costumed interpreters,” privileges experience over historical breath. Visitors must be actively engaged in order to gain the most out of the experience; both visitors and actors are active creators of the experience. Indeed, the Tenement Museum’s educational philosophy states that “all learning is centered around the learner” -- a constructivist learning approach, which is illustrated by the “costumed interpreter,” visitor experience.
Overall, I really enjoyed the "costumed interpreter" and thought she did a good job. On the note of termanology, however, I have a problem with using the term “costumed interpreter” rather than “actor,” is because I think it is disingenuous about how what is included and left out is decided upon by the institution and the actor – i.e. it doesn’t fully admit to the construction of the experience. This speaks to the problem of an institution speaking to “all immigrant experiences,” such as Ellis Island, where there are noticeable gaps in representation (i.e. African-Americans who came to the United States on slave ships).
Posted by Sarah Zoogman at 11:02 PM
“Beam me up Scotty” & Renegade Podsters
"Can the perfection of the restoration mitigate the imperfections of history?" (BKG 181)
"We cannot recreate, reconstruct, or recapture the past. We can only tell stories about the past in a present-day language, based on our present-day concerns and the knowledge (built, to be sure, out of documents and evidence) we construct today." (Handler & Gable 223)
"My words are here now, just as she was here. They’ll disappear even thought I try to keep them, record them, play them over and over in my attempts to hang onto time." (Cardiff)
Common to all the readings this week is the point that history, the recreation of history at Ellis Island, Colonial Williamsburg, Plimoth Plantation, LESTM, is a highly selective construction of the past in the present.
In the chapter on Ellis Island in Destination Culture, the buildings' restoration is focused at once on the architectural (179) and on the creation of a museum to honour all immigrants. As BKG notes, however, "The building is frozen in a narrow band of time," (180) not to mention representative of a very specific locale. Here, the museum assists in a national project of writing one very particular master narrative of immigration to the US. Contrasted with Ellis Island of the 1950s, "a heritage unworthy of shameless pride," (178) the present day version is reborn as the metynomic gateway to America.
Similarly, the LESTM, in their 'Introduction' material, professes to have been "an immigrant portal for almost 200 years." (1) Maybe I've watched too much late night sci-fi tv, but this slogan tickled my funny bone - I visualise immigrants materialising, beam-me-up-Scotty-style, before a group of museum-goers... LESTM's mission, “To promote tolerance and historical perspective through the presentation and interpretation of the variety of immigrant and migrant experiences on Manhattan’s lower Eastside, a gateway to America,” (1) and their emphasis on education and multiplicity (their Educational Philosophy (2) is all about multiplicity - of perspectives, of opinions, of learning styles etc) seems to encourage a new model of historical reconstruction that acknowledges the constructionist nature of history. Indeed, on p2, they write that they aim to set an international standard, "to activate history as a resource for considering the present." Sounds great! Do they succeed? I can't say yet as I couldn't attend today's fieldtrip (no doubt other people will post opinions on this), but I found bullet #7 of 'Responsibilities' on p3 interesting - the training spiel so far in this document leant heavily towards education, the tourguide's role as 'educator', but #7 ("Representing the LESTM to visitors, informing them of the Museum’s goals, programs and needs for financial assistance and selling memberships.") sees the tension between this and the other reality of financial responsibility arise. Like at Colonial Willliamsburg, Disney is always around the corner.
Richard Handler and Eric Gable's two-year study of Colonial Williamsburg, the "site museum to end all site museums" (Hudson in Handler 15), is impressive - as they say on p15, "We gradually learned that our plan to study the entire foundation was infeasible, even for three researchers." Propelled by the change in the 1970s and 80s to present a story more critical than celebratory, and a history that is a construct of 'today', extensive fieldwork allowed the researchers to look at how history is produced, managed and consumed. Despite previous claims, their depressing findings were that "Colonial Willamsburg, it seemed to us, was still a Republican Disneyland." (221)
I found Handler and Gable's section on the 'Patriot Tour' in ch3 interesting: the tour (any tour) is a "kinetic map," focusing participants' attention, managing the what, the where, the how much one sees or experiences. (51) Their choice to examine this tour is a strong way to understand just what it going on; by examining what you WANT us to see, we can analyse what the organisation, foundation etc imagines its project to be. This is useful for me in my research on Cardiff's Her Long Black Hair, realising just how managed and selective her manipulations of the environment are, and how this is both a key to understanding the Walk, how the Walk works, and how individual agency (or the relinquishing of agency) is related.
In BKG's chapter on Plimoth Plantation, she says, "tourism recodes space and time." (194) This is definitely what Cardiff does in her Walks - further, how might I compare Her Long Black Hair to the historic recreations of this week? Is HLBH a historic recreation of sorts? - of the landscape of Central Park, of New York, of Janet's* walk, of her walk when in art school, of the walk the woman in the photos took, of my previous times in Central Park... In terms of the nineteenth century history of exhibiting copies (195), is Cardiff a supreme example? The highly replicable CD - a copy of a copy of a copy of Janet... Yet it produces a relationship of extreme intimacy with Janet (a similar intimacy of experience created by face-to-face encounters with the actors at Colonial Williamsburg or Plimoth Plantation?). Like the living museum, the actual sits alongside the virtual in Cardiff's Walks - in her careful layering of recorded sounds and spaces for realtime ones, and in her references to realtime people or objects; and also in the highlighting of the presence of the actual body together with the virtual presence of Janet and the virtual body made through your merging with her. Her narratives are open-ended and multiple "interpretation[s] of the past." (Handler & Gable 223)
Here is my proposal: what if you interpreted/recreated a historic site by making lots of different tours/audiowalks, first person narratives by different people, at different points in time etc, commenting on multiple aspects of the museum/site - it's funding principles, encounters with the site, past stories, events, whatever - with no attempt to reconcile them to one another? Visitors could choose three at the entry desk, turn them in for a couple more at the cafeteria (while also getting a quick snack), and do one more after buying souvenirs at the gift shop. What sort of Ellis Island would that make? This is maybe the chance for renegade podcasters to find gainful employment...
... or, having done the Ground Zero soundwalk yesterday, maybe this could be a model... although I didn't necessarily like it or think that it worked splendiferously...
* Note, I use 'Janet' to refer to the persona created on the recording, and 'Cardiff' to refer to the artist.
Posted by Justine Shih Pearson at 10:35 PM
When role-playing goes wrong!!!!!!!
First, I would like to begin this post by noting that my experience at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum was quite memorable, to say the least! After a series of calamities, a friend and myself reached the museum late and were told that we were to function as a Hungarian family in one of the tenements. However, we (my friend and myself), ended up losing the group, and as the "black sheep" of the family-no pun intended, we decided to engage in the other narratives being told in other tenenements throughout the museum. During this excursion we heard a loud thump on the floor. Thinking nothing of it, we proceeded to other parts of the museum. We believed the people involved to be role-playing or "costume interpreters." Lo and behold, however, and much to our chagrin, they were not "costume interpreters", but in fact, an English gentleman by the name of Martin had slipped into a diabetic coma! Needless to say, we got the heck outta' Dodge only to be reunited with BKG and our original group at the Visitors Center across the street!
Who knew we'd be creating a narrative of our own!
Despite all of these calamities, however, from the little part of the tour I did experience, I was able to extrapilate some key points that were provocative and useful for my project on the Seward Park Urban Renewal Plan. BKG and Aniko raised an extremely provocative question that ultimately presented a challenge for the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. They asked, "What happens to the people who did not come through Ellis Island, or in other words, how does this tour relate to them? or How can they find meaning in this tour?" The tour guide spoke of advocacy programs that promote tolerance, which reminded me of last week's lecture with the UNESCO intangible heritage conference and tolerance vs. celebrating diversity. These questions also reflect Casey's article that dealt with the concept of habitus, which proved helpful for my project. The museum really attempts to capture a narrative that gives voice to how people experience a space and a self/space relationship. These families occupied these tenements and now, the museum is attempting to give voice to this experience. I am exploring this relationship for my project and am delving into the power of the narrative as it relates to the self/space concept. I want to also explore the ethnic groups represented currently in this area of the Lower East Side in comparison with the ethnic groups of the past. The tour guide or "costume interpreter" also suggested that a common ground between ethnicities who did not come through Ellis Island and those families represented by the museum is that of affordable housing. This sparked my interest, because one of the main arguments against more low-income housing in the Seward Park area, was that of "ghettoizing" the neighborhood and that employment was the answer. How interesting this is in relation to the information or Tenement Museum website, for it seems as if those individuals who occupy low-income housing are being used as scapegoats in a way. They in fact, in some of the newspaper articles about the Seward Park Urban Renewal Plan, are blamed by other residents for "running down" the neighborhood. They are seen as criminal, undeserving; they are "othered', much like Italians, the Irish, etc. were blamed for the spread of several diseases during the late 1800's and early 1900's. The "scape-goat" narrative (sorry for using this somewhat usely), is one I will continue to explore during the duration of my research as a part of the interaction between self and space.
Posted by Michelle Brown at 10:05 PM
11 year-old Polish girl writes
“However seductive the rhetoric that surrounds it, memory is not reclaimed it is produced” (187)—can I apply BKG’s statement to LESTM? I liked my LESTM experience and enjoyed my role as 11 year-old from Poland, but as far as learning—I didn’t. The theatricality involved made me forget the historical element concerning my visit. I wanted to see. Instead of looking at the space, studying the space, admiring the space, I listened and listened and listened some more—which made me question the space. One brochure (of the many different available at the gift shop) read that The Confino Family Apartment tour is “Perfect for kids and families!” It would have been interesting, as Aniko mentioned at Kats, if we could have experienced the tour with different mindsets.
Although allowed, I felt a little inhibited about touching without permission. I entered the museum mode (no touching, no pictures, silence), and only touched objects she handed over to us. I lived out my restrained desires through Sioban, who ventured into the parent’s room and tried on mom’s hat, inspected dad’s dirty work boots, and flipped through a tiny calendar on the wall. It seems like the museum takes a lot of pride in letting people touch, it is a fact that our educator felt essential to point out, but I still held back. As a guest in Victoria’s house, I still wouldn’t have anyway—does LESTM consciously know this?
Ellis Island wasn’t initially a very welcoming environment, as BKG mentions in her text, but now it happily opens its doors to people (especially tourists) around the world. I suppose the hostility was true for immigrants arriving or adjusting to any new space in America. Although staged nicely, I wonder if our welcome was a little overacted? In their text The New History in an Old Museum, Richard Handler and Eric Gable mention that Colonial Williamsburg needed a little poop on the street to give the area an aura of authenticity—it needed the dirty to make it believable. Like Tyler,I had a hard time believing the “dirty” in the Confino apartment (If there was really any “dirt” in it). There was furniture, period clothes, dishes, frames, Victoria—but no funk, no life (It would have been a nice surprise to see her fifty brothers come in through the door and kick us out). But, then again, I wouldn’t believe the dirty in “road apples” either (even though poop is dirty)--a little too desperate?
I was a little sad because I had previously read that we would be allowed to try on period clothing—and we didn’t (except for Sioban trying on mom’s hat!)
Posted by Alma Guzman at 9:16 PM
Education, Entertainment, and Icons
Handler and Gabe provide a clear description of their methodology of collecting data from their site, Colonial Williamsburgh, drawing from on-site observations, public access documents, internal documents, and hundreds of interviews from everyone from visitors to front-line interpreters to backstage support staff (maintenance to curators) to vice-presidents in upper management. They ultimately focus on public educational programs, interviews with staff members who worked with objects and artifacts, the hotel and restaurant works’ union issues, the corporate culture of the foundation, and particularly salient issue of African American history issues. I appreciated how they attempted to not approach the analysis of the data through a preconceived theoretical lens or argument. By attempting to analyze data from a more “open mind”, they realized that, within the site, causal relationships were not simplistic nor uni-directional. For example, the public informs ideology to interpreters as much as interpreters inform the public. Yet, ultimately, one must decide upon a view or structure of analysis to give shape to an otherwise inchoate mass of date. One must simplify the whole. I think about this as I turn to my project, which serendipitously happens to be the Confino Apartment tour at the Lower East Side Tenement Musuem.
First of all, I want to express my gratitude to everyone who took the time to go to Katz and share their thoughts and feelings about the tour we took today. It really helps me flesh out my thoughts about site. Of course, the drawback to such a wonderful gift is that the more thoughts and approaches I use to consider the site, the more difficult it is for me to establish a clear analysis of study! I’m not going to present my final project here in this posting, so I’ll just put forth one or two ideas that are floating around in my mind when considering our readings and my recent tours of LES.
I don’t know how helpful it may be as a concluding analysis, but as a starting point, I am drawn to binaries or comparisons of the different definitions and motivations within the sites of Plimoth Plantation, Colonial Williamsburgh, and the LES Tenement Musuem. Each site has multiple competing reasons to exist and subsequent ways of defining themselves and their productions. Plimoth Plantation sees itself as an educational institution with a drive to provide accurate historical data. It also sees itself as a corporate entity that needs to provide entertainment to its visitors, since it relies on ticket sales for 90% of its’ operating budget. (This data actually comes out of a study from the late 80s, so this figure may not be the case today.) Finally, Plimoth Plantation sees itself as the trust of a primary national identity or narrative icon. These three motivations and conceptions of identity are not necessarily wholly compatible. For example, one of the biggest tourist draws each year was a summer-time reenactment of a marriage that took place in 1626. Historical reality requires that the ceremony be rather austere. However, Plimoth Plantation decided that in this case the need to entertain outweighed the need to replicate accurately, and therefore decided to included historically inaccurate events such as music, song, dancing, as well as sporting and feasting. At other times, historical accuracy seems to win out, such as the acknowledgment that the first Thanksgiving Feast had very little in common with today’s collective mythic conception. Visitors that come expecting such a celebration are disappointed by frontline interpreters who enthusiastic perform as “myth-busters” and enact a very normal workday, going about their business of preparing for the coming winter.
Colonial Williamsburgh also suffers from competing interests and identities, being referred in turn as a “Republican Disneyland,” “living history museum,” mega golf resort,” and a “serious educational institution.” Handler and Gable discuss these identities are in constant flux with institutional players and the public, all of whom inform on and compete regarding the various definitions.
The Lower East Side Tenement Museum also experiences multiple missions and subsequent identities. It is a “museum of conscience” with a goal of advocating for tolerance and open dialogue regarding current immigration and diversity issues. It is also an historical site with the goal of educating visitors on accurate historical information. Finally, it is a site of entertainment with the goal (in line with all of modern tourism) of providing quality experiential entertainment. In fact, LES provides instruction and consultation to other museums on how to draw visitors by making their sites more entertaining. So, my question is: are the functions of education and entertainment disparate? Or, in the case of historical museum sites, much one sacrifice the amount of information taught or even the accuracy of that information in order to provide a level of entertainment necessary to continue the longevity of--and interest in--the site?
The answer, unfortunately, is not simple. There are many factors involved. Who is the target audience to be educated and entertained? Acceptable levels of education are different for school children than for adults. The same is true for experiential pleasure. Seocndly, what is the true mission of the site’s advocacy, to “create dialogue” or to “promote tolerance?” They are not necessary the same thing. How immigrant history is performed will impact how the site functions. If the costumed interpreter “Victoria Confino” paints a picture of model ethnic harmony and a “white-washed” image of all immigrants, there will result a much different visitor conception of historical immigrants that if Victoria is portrayed as a racist, nasty person plagued with tuberculosis and hatred for others. During our discussion at Katz’s, one person stated that she felt uneasy about being forced to view one overwhelming image of that time period, for what if it was inaccurate? Lastly, there are important pedagogical questions regarding how a museum transmits information. A two-way, first-person interpretation of living history provides knowledge that labels and written information cannot. On the other hand, as also mentioned in our discussion, such experiential learning requires a suspension of disbelief that hinders one’s ability to regard the presented information with critical thinking.
The next step in my investigation will require interviewing the LES's educational directors. Their ideology and desires regarding the efficacy and outcome of the Confino Tour will certainly not be clear-cut, but perhaps I will be able to learn some about their own struggles regarding the multiple requirements of the site production. This will lead me to look at the strategies for succeeding in both goals. What is necessary for the site to be as historically accurate as possible? And on the other hand, what is necessary to provide the most pleasurable or impactful experience on visitors? In what ways should the production improve upon it’s environmental theater efforts? In what ways does that hinder the educational aspect, and vice-versa? Finally, how does the museum measure their success and achievement of their goals?
Posted by Scott Wallin at 9:16 PM
Bringing out the big guns and hoping to do some shooting.
In Handler and Gable’s work The New History in an Old Museum, they present a rigorously researched and admirably detailed investigation of an extremely complex tourist production. Though the field of museum studies (and anthropology for that matter) is relatively new to me, I found their work thorough, well grounded in the facts, (I employ the term in the least problematic manner) and immensely interesting with regard to methodology. Differing from most museum studies, they sought to uncover the processes of the “institutional life through which museum workers and audiences create…[museum] messages (Handler and Gable 10).
Carrying out their goal required great ingenuity in the collecting of data and new thinking with regard to the data they utilized. Thus, they consulted with frontline employees, visitors, management, training sessions, and historical records among other things. However, despite the comprehensiveness of their investigations, I found their study ultimately dissatisfying. While they did an excellent job of mapping the “hows” of the museum, as I shall elucidate further in a moment, I found them to ultimately fail at providing the “whys.” Furthermore, much like the museum’s management whom they fault for claiming to know what visitors want, or for falling back on education and the “facts,” I believe that Handler Gable’s own preconceptions about their research site and their expected readership exerted undue influence on their own processing of the “facts,” as they overemphasized certain aspects while giving short shrift to others. Perhaps providing the “whys” was beyond the ken of their research, or they felt it would be overstepping their bounds. Whatever the case, I wish they had done so more explicitly, at least provisionally, for I think it of tremendous importance.
A good example of H + G’s hyper-criticality is found on pages 120-121 in their discussion of the presentation of wigs. H + G fault interpreters for drawing connections between the inhabitants of Williamsburg and their wigs, and modern day visitors and their tight jeans or painful shoes. They present the interpreters’ handling of the subject matter as insulting to visitors (particularly female) and overemphasizing the grotesqueness of the wigs. I would argue that an equally convincing case could be made by the interpreters and the visitors that these are effective pedagogical strategies employed without malicious intent. They hold visitors’ interest, and simultaneously distance them from the ways of the past, while still enabling them to draw connections with the principles still at work in their own lives. However, H + G don’t give these groups voice. They present only their own subjective interpretation of events, the same one-sidedness for which they often fault the museum. I present only one example here, but I’m certain that there are numerous others. This fact raises a question that overshadows my overall reading of H +G: Based on the fact that H + G’s purpose is very similar to Williamsburg’s, that is, to gather information, interpret, educate, and also to sell books, to what extent did H + G manipulate their data or extrapolate from limited info to suit the purpose of their book?
Back to the “how’s.” I found several of their findings quite fascinating. First, their discussion of employee training (80-81) in which “deduction was masked as induction.” Second, passive sentence construction to eliminate the presence of slaves (113). Third, the necessity for the interpreter to pretend a personal connection with the visitor to disguise his role as faceless consumer (176). Fourth, the importance of the “appearance of spontaneity” though both interpreter and visitor knew it was false (184). H + G deal with these topics in varying degrees of detail, but they never step back to consider the greater implications of such observations and what they might tell us about the greater museum going experience or human interactions more generally.
Continuing in the vein above, I come to the largest question in my brain right now, the “why.” The production of master narratives is present at each of the sites up for discussion today, most visibly at Williamsburg and Ellis Island, but also at Plymouth and the Tenement Museum. Each of these sites is a business venture at root, no matter their professed position. Even the most altruistic organization still has to sustain itself. I believe that the visitors demand these narratives as much as the institution produces them. Each of these places has to continue getting “butts in the seats,” so to speak. Perhaps we can’t answer the following, but I’d sure like to try. If museums and their historians aren’t constructing these “national myths” and forcing them on visitors, but rather fulfilling visitors’ expectations, where and how are these myths constructed? How can we fight against them when necessary? Why are visitors going to the trouble to visit these places, ostensibly to visit somewhere different, when they’re in effect getting more of the same?
The ramifications of these questions are huge. They come into play not only in museums, but also in regard to television shows, movies, tourism in general, and theme restaurants as subtle as the “Olive Garden” or “Applebee’s.” They speak to a general lack of critical thinking and an unwillingness or inability to critically engage with material that I find deeply troubling. I’m very interested in any and all of your thoughts on these matters.
Posted by Tyler Sinclair at 9:02 PM
New York Renaissance Faire
For the past 28 years, in Tuxedo, New York, hundreds of people have flocked to Sterling Forest to experience a recreation of a Renaissance village during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. This event, formally called The New York Renaissance Faire (NYRF), happens yearly over the summer months. Like Plimoth Plantation and Colonial Williamsburg, the NYRF is a tourist attraction that offers visitors the chance to travel back in time and interactively explore a village inhabited by period specific actors. However, the NYRF differs from Plimoth Plantation and Colonial Williamsburg in several key aspects. In Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett’s study of Plimoth Plantation, she discovers three clocks acting concurrently in historical re-creations. The first clock is “of the historical moment chosen for re-creation” (197). Unlike Plimoth Plantation, the NYRF does not freeze time at a specific year. Rather, during each summer season, the year changes to coincide with a particular event during Queen Elizabeth’s reign. The 2005 season presents 1588 and a celebration of the defeat of the Spanish Armada
The second clock is the heritage clock, which is “sustained through reversal” (198). Since “heritage is created through a process of exhibition” value must continually be added to sites, by means of exhibition, in order to maintain the quality of heritage (149). BKG sites the continual revisions done to the buildings on Plimoth Plantation as an example of how the heritage clock keeps running despite the fact that history stands still. According to Douglas MacKrell, who has worked at the NYRF for 7 years, costumes are occasionally remade and new ones are added. MacKrell finds that the costumes become more elaborate each year. The added elaborateness of costumes does not necessarily equate with added historical accuracy; however, it does add overall value to the spectacle of the site.
The last clock BKG references is the clock that the “visitors bring to the site—the time of their lives” (198). This clock would be concurrent with the date and time the visitor finds on her cell phone. This clock also exists in physical objects, such as flushing toilets, water fountains, and ATMs, along with other modern comforts that people find difficult to live without. The NYRF, however, does not adhere perfectly to BKG’s clock scheme. The first clock becomes problematic because, unlike Plimoth Plantation and Colonial Williamsburg, the faire site is not a historical site. Elizabethan England never existed in Orange County, New York. The town that is re-created, called the Sterling Shire, never actually existed, but rather it is named after the state park that the faire is built upon. Time may be able to stop on 1588, but it will never be able to re-create to any extent, a place that actually existed in that year. Secondly, perhaps because of its lack of direct historical connection, the NYRF is able to operate on several more clocks.
The most prominent of all clocks is the folklore clock. A key narrative and storyline to the event revolves around the exploits of the legendary Robin Hood. Since Robin Hood is a figure of legend, one may argue that he is not fictional, but based on truth. However, it is a fact that he did not exist in the flesh during 1588, nor did he hold conferences with Queen Elizabeth. A related clock is historical, but anachronistic. Occasionally, famous historical figures will appear in the shire, such as Leonardo da Vinci. Unfortunately, Leonardo da Vinci died in 1519, fourteen years before the birth of Queen Elizabeth. There is one more clock running, that is not necessarily observable by a first-time visitor.
This clock is situated within the history of the NYRF itself. Since actors, shopkeepers, and patrons return to the faire year after year, there is collective memory created within the world of the faire. Actors, shopkeepers, and patrons recognize and reference this history—a history that is neither historical, as in the first clock; nor fictional, as in the folklore clock. This history happened to them in the context, not of the third clock, but in the context of the event itself. An example of how this clock works is found within the character of Jenny Wren. According to MacKrell, Jenny Wren is “a made-up character to pad out women in the Robin Hood band.” One year, the mayor of the town declared that anyone who weds his daughter, Jenny, would succeed his position upon his death. That year, Jenny Wren wed the character Will Scarlet, who is an actual character in the Robin Hood legend. The following faire year, since the same actor playing the mayor did not return, Will Scarlet became the mayor. This, of course, has no actual precedence within the Robin Hood legend, but was entirely created within the running clock of NYRF history. Each year, in the NYRF pamphlet distributed to patrons upon their entrance to the faire and $1, there is a section entitled “What’s New at the Faire.” This section successfully chronicles, not only new stores, performers, rides, and carnival games, but also the way in which the plotlines of years past bleed into the current season.
The NYRF has so many clocks running, that no one clock presents the definitive master narrative of the site. Historical facts are exhibited alongside historical fictions, and outright fictions (as in the character of Jenny Wren). This can create a certain kind of confusion, especially since these clocks do not necessarily act together without some discord. A patron looking for one clock might feel betrayed when they are instead presented with a competing clock. Occasionally, people go to the NYRF seeking historical accuracy. For instance, the NYRF actively tries to bring in school groups. Their pamphlet says that the faire “provides an excellent opportunity to enhance classroom studies on the Renaissance.” Yet, the faire makes no pretense at being a museum. The actual is never presented alongside the virtual in a show of truth. Shows such as “The Brothers Grime,” also known as the mud pit show, do not make any attempt whatsoever at historical accuracy or even reference it. Instead, one of their shows presents a take-off of the modern day children’s show, Pee-wee’s Playhouse. Historical inaccuracies abound, such as nachos, paddleboats, skimpy corsets, chainsaw jugglers, Captain Jack Swallow from the movie, Pirates of the Caribbean, fairy wings, and the list goes on and on. Thus, there is no guarantee that a field trip to the NYRF will actually educate. Indeed, it may even create confusion if a patron mistakes one clock for another (for instance if someone thought Robin Hood actually worked for Queen Elizabeth).
Actors and shopkeepers also struggle with the competing clocks. Faire workers are not given history lessons beyond the scripts they must memorize and perform. Thus, when patrons engage faire folk in an unscripted dialogue, as they are encouraged to do, there is no strict adherence to any one of the multiple histories at play. When MacKrell was asked, while in character, what year it was, he responded, “Tuesday.” Later he confided that this was because he didn’t know what historical year it was supposed to be, although he considered his answer acceptable since his character was a stupid peasant. Actors have to live in all of the clocks at one moment. Often times, an actor will favor one clock over another. MacKrell favors the inner NYRF clock over the historical or folklore clocks, choosing the authenticity of his character over the authenticity of 1588 or folklore.
Despite these difficulties, the NYRF is a popular destination for tourists. For most, the commingling of multiple clocks and narratives does not create a large problem. Edward M. Bruner finds that tourists do not value authenticity as highly as “a good show” (Culture on Tour, 3). If anything, the NYRF is a capitalist enterprise that always seeks to put on a good show.
Posted by Lisa Reinke at 6:43 PM
Connecting the Past and Present through Performance
Posted by Siobhan Robinson at 5:46 PM
November 11, 2005
Sunday Tenement Sunday
In The New History in an Old Museum: Creating the Past at Colonial Williamsburg, Richard Handler and Eric Gable employ anthropological research tactics to analyze Colonial Williamsburg as a museological enterprise revealing of cultural politics inherent in history display. Their questions are not atypical to the discourse on museum politics; they ask how value is assigned to the past and who is given the right to make such valuations? Their research technique strays from typical analysis of museum display.
After identifying the museum mission as a representation of new social history which challenged the previous “celebration” of history at Colonial Williamsburg, Handler and Gable looked for all aspects of museum functioning (back end and front end) that contributed to the achievement of the museum mission. Rather than limit their research to the interaction between viewer and display, Handler and Gable approached Colonial Williamsburg as anthropologist approach a village; no aspect was outside the realm of their interest and they collected interviews, recorded tours, participated in educational programs, and sifted through archives that contained information regarding policies, statistics, and budgets. The format they used was to describe the site, identify conflicts over the site, and out of this identify their main question: how does Colonial Williamsburg reveal reconciliation of different views of the past? They used anthropological data collection to understand how the different social organisms of Colonial Williamsburg contribute to the way museum meanings are made (10). This same format was reiterated throughout their chapters. From particular areas of focus, they analyzed aspects of the site within the framework of the focused theme. For instance, they explored the importance of “image making” within Colonial Williamsburg by tracing the history of the site to Rockefeller, connecting the importance of image at the site to the importance of image to the Rockefeller family.
This technique can easily be applied (on a smaller scale) to my analysis of Sepharad ’92. As Kirhsenblatt-Gimblett states, “heritage is the transvaluation of the obsolete, the mistaken, the outmoded, the dead and the defunct” (149). I will attempt to show how Sepharad ‘92 took the opportunity of an anniversary of an ill fated historical moment to go through the process of “documentation, reenactment, display, and performance,” described by Kirshenblatt-Gimblett as the process of becoming heritage. I will point out through news publications that the community creating Sepharad ’92 were self conscious of their relationship to their past and perceived a lack of present tense relevance. Applying Handler and Gable’s format, I will start by mapping the global events of Sepharad ’92 as a way of describing the “site.” Through newspaper articles, I will describe themes that arose in the planning, organization, and documentation of Sepharad ’92; one such theme being Sephardic Jewry’s attempt at reclaiming a communal position commensurate with past cultural glories. I will then focus on a particular event, the Odyssey Cruise that brought American Jews to Europe and Israel, stopping at points along the way that offered safe haven to expelled Spanish Jews. I will connect the specifics of this event to the larger themes identified through the news articles.
The Odyssey Cruise of 1992 created a situation where American Jews were offered the opportunity to “retrace the steps” of their ancestors as they were expelled from Spain. This physical act of retracing steps is one of the most significant common denominators between Ellis Island, Plymouth Plantation, Colonial Williamsburg, and the Lower East Side Tenement Museum (LESTM). These four sites create an environment that fosters an empathetic process by which contemporary humans attempt to feel the past by movements through a space characterized by its past inhabitants. The degree to which a participant can retrace the past is an element of focus in the design and set up of these sites. For instance, The Confino apartment went a step beyond other apartments in the LESTM by adding a narrator who role played the era on display and requesting viewers to role play as immigrants. The viewer of other LESTM apartments can retrace steps only through visual observation but with Confino, the viewer retraces through mimicry. Retracing refers to action external to the body but roll playing implies transforming the body into a past being and internally digesting the history involved.
Like the other sites, visitors at Plymouth Plantation “negotiate a path” of participation into the past (192). However, as a combined site of “actual” objects on display at the museum and “virtual” life represented in the village, Plymouth Plantation conveys the message that actual objects fall short in conveying historical messages and that the “virtual” representations do the imagining for the viewer, filling in an image the presenters are not confident viewers would create otherwise. Looking at the relationship between actual object and virtual reenactment, it is interesting to think about the Confino apartment as a virtual reenactment where even the objects are not actual. The objects are at the mercy of the virtual. They are real somethings but not real artifacts of the time frame being virtualized. At the LESTM the only actual is the building itself. Had the building itself been considered a successful prescient tool for communicating history, none of the theatrics would need be applied to the space.
The sites share a death sequence or a point when the site had “outlived its usefulness” (178). Often, topics related to the site death become the key message in the present incarnation of the site. For instance, Ellis Island became obsolete when immigration laws where changed and a heavy theme of the Ellis Island present site is to get people thinking about immigration laws. The tenement of the LESTM (97 Orchard Street) died in 1935 when housing laws made such living conditions illegal. One of the aims of the site is to make people think about present day immigrant rights and opportunities. I participated in The Kitchen Conversation at the end of the tour which in ways well beyond the theatrical apartment visited, revealed the topics considered most important by the museum. Questions the mediator asked in order to encourage dialogue included “how do you answer the question, where are you from?” “What is going on in your community,” “Are there many immigrants in your community?” etc. I understood the focus to be on tolerance. This was confirmed by the mission statement available in their training guide, “our mission is to promote tolerance and historical perspective….” Historical perspective I would like to consider more within the context of the apartment exhibits.
All four sites represent the American narrative of immigrant based origins progressing into an improved American life story. The degree to which they show reverence for this narrative varies from Ellis Island’s oversimplified glorification of this narrative through Colonial Williamsburg’s less reverent attempts to foster historical critique. All of these sites mask elaborate federal beurocracy or civic challenges as historical process: Ellis turns difficult immigration process into a pleasurable, unstressful, nonburdened puzzle and game for viewers; the LESTM turns horrible living conditions into a pleasurable Sunday afternoon role play and dialogue over cookies; and Plymouth Rock applies a sameness to all past American immigrants that just doesn’t exist.
Kirshenblatt-Gimblett describes that history is not being used as a learning tool but as an eraser dulling the errors of human past. I observed this at the LESTM where I felt specificity was neutralized in order to widen the appeal of the museum. There is a clear attempt to soften the “Jewish” particularity of the history of the street, building, apartments and families on display, in order to attract a wider audience and to achieve the mission of presenting a variety of immigrant experiences. Exhibits at the LESTM are organized around general “immigrant” stories or “depression” stories or “garment workers” stories and not to Jewish experience in America despite the predominant Jewish history involved. When introduced to Victoria Confino, there was little mention of her Jewish background, what it was like to be Jewish at the time, or how that Jewishness manifested itself, other than when I, role playing as a curious immigrant, asked if she went to synagogue. Instead, focus was on how to survive as an immigrant, who to speak to in order to rent space, what conditions as general non-sectarian immigrants they lived under, and what equipment we, the new immigrants, should buy for our homes first.
Likewise, the gift shop of the LESTM is another interesting space of mass general appeal. It both serves the greater public as a rather interesting store of books and chotchkes in a charming neighborhood and stands in as the ticket booth for the apartment tours and the meeting spot for all tours. It is full of action and congestion and would also warrant further investigation. The presence of Jewish themed paraphernalia, books, stickers, and holiday items, alludes to the Jewish orientation of the site but is mitigated by the larger selection of general interest books and objects that create a store representative of the typical Lower East Side boutique. Jewishness here is subdued.
If I were not already emerged within a topic, I would go further with the LESTM. It seems a fantastic location for field work with interesting dynamics between the current neighborhood and its interaction with the site, compared to the building and its placement within the neighborhoods of the past. The gift shop/ticket booth set up seems rich for investigation, as well as the roles of the Kitchen conversation mediators and the introduction guides, like Rose Teitelbaum, whose job it was to introduce me to “Victoria Confino.”
Posted by Erin Madorsky at 7:42 PM
Heritage is one of those words that when asked what it means, every person could answer something different. If asked to define in simple words before the readings I’d have said it has something to do with personal background and inherited identity. As the world’s population continues to organize and structure itself in ways that recognize global interaction, it has become necessary to define heritage in all its elements, tangible and intangible alike. Heritage, then, has become a contested topic. Through the process of examining, defining, and structuring something notably amorphic, heritage has become a space of powerful negotiations between personal and public, universal and individual, past and present, owned and inherited, borrowed, or stolen. Heritage has been turned into a measuring rod, a tool used to shape economics and politics. Through heritage, highly public bodies enter the personal; international political groups have formed in order to structure policy around controlling and mediating community relationships and cultural exchanges.
Globalization is as important a figure here as heritage. It is the motivating force for sculpting heritage in an international arena like WIPO. Although Steven Feld states that globalization is written about with either anxiety or celebration, throughout the readings there appeared to be more of a neutral consensus regarding the fact that globalization has brought more people into contact and as such, the emergent cultural exchange requires regulation and the establishment of ground rules. All of the articles deal with the complex relationship between the global community and cultural groupings. Feld describes globalization as an opportunity for highlighting cultural particularities as heard in music; Kirshenblatt-Gimblett describes the affects of globalization on pressuring destinations to define their uniqueness, as seen in museums and tourist marketing; Shand describes “cultural resistance” (57) as a response to neutralizing affects of contact between dominant cultural ethos and indigenous peoples; and Hafstein articulates globalization as a cultural shift towards integrative community approaches over individualism that requires legal change in order to match new modes of society.
The UNESCO conference in 2003 and the WIPO overview of policy objectives and core principles attempts to regulate the rules of cross cultural creative contact. WIPO acknowledges that no blanket law will work to monitor such practices but nonetheless seeks to define core principles and arrive at some form of consensus. (Who gets to participate in this consensus?) I found it interesting that a government produced document contained words like “balance,” “shared,” “interest of communities,” and “holistic cultural identity.” These terms and concepts seem so counter to the capitalist engine of world governments, yet these are the very engines that are trying to organize heritage and culture and are using terminology, thinking and practices of this engine to apply to something like a global holistic practice of protecting heritage. There is something disjointed about this.
UNESCO conceptualizes heritage as something that needs to be safeguarded. In order to work with such a topic, they characterize and subdivide heritage into three main categories of tangible, intangible, and natural. In World Heritage and Cultural Economics, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett conceptualizes heritage as a vehicle through which we envision a “global cultural commons” (7). Heritage is articulated as a transition zone, it is the point at which culture turns into an artifact of itself. Through display, endangered cultural elements are given a second chance at relevance yet the act of display changes this relevance and changes the relationship between the original cultural aspects and their creators. Something new and emergent is created when culture becomes heritage (10). Kirshenblatt-Gimblett looks at the UNESCO process of safeguarding (defined as defining, identifying, documenting, and presenting particular cultural tradition and practitioners) and redefines their three main heritage categories: tangible heritage equals inert objects; intangible heritage is inseparable from people; and natural heritage refers to the cultural space that involves people with an environment.
It is significant to note this process of protecting heritage is an inclusive process that allows people in, contrary to traditional creative protection laws which are designed to exclude people (BKG, 21). Hafstein’s Politics of Origin focuses on legal understandings of creativity in order to point out where systems of creative protection have failed to stay current with global contact and diverse forms of creative theory and practice. Through Intellectual Property and Patent law, the United States protects creativity, ingenuity, and industriousness of individuals. To earn such protection, the idea or creative element needs to have a proven and identifiable origin. This process precludes protection of communally originated creativity which creates a situation in which people of certain backgrounds automatically benefit from their system of creativity and others are automatically excluded. Hafstein identifies how intellectual property law fails, gives examples of how this failure cause community abuses, and requests folklore theory as well as government reconsider “copying as a creative act and creation as an act of reproduction” (310) to account for social creativity in places other than the genius of individual westerners. In so doing, heritage is conceived of as something of fiscal value. If no dollar amount could be attached, or no abuses to certain groups were made by way of appropriation without compensation, the topic would not even be debated. The UNESCO questions again arise as to how to value something intangible? Who gets credit and how? But in all of these questions, the focus is economic.
In A Sweet Lullaby for World Music, Steven Feld gets into particular detail about what takes place when such intellectual property laws are inadequate and cultural production of one group is exploited by a dominant, well oiled marketing machine, the music industry. Feld describes the progression of “world music” from an academic topic to a full fledged genre of packaged music. I recall the suddenness with which “World music” appeared on the genre cards labeling cds in my local music store. The word automatically makes me picture palm trees and animals and its connotation is nature and people making music that are in touch with nature. This was really a massive marketing success. Intellectual property policy failed as tribal sounds and recordings were appropriated, unrecognized, and profited from without giving proper credit or compensation to the artistic source. Feld's usage of the term heritage implies measurement of value. Heritage here is something owned and something stolen. Foundational to legislating and regulating heritage, is the lofty task of defining and monitoring creative process. The creative process is under scrutiny here and the path to improvement seems riddled with challenges to come up with a set of practices and guidelines that will make sense without compromising the spontaneity of creativity. Again I sense disjointedness. The authors want to improve the situation yet they use the language of that which is being rejected (flawed capitalism). These ideas sit outside the confines of the cultures they look to protect. It just seems at odds to apply economic structure to places where there is none, to benefit where there is none, and expect no change to happen to the source along the way. Clearly protection and organization is needed but it seems there must be some effect on creativity in general.
Posted by Erin Madorsky at 7:20 PM
November 9, 2005
Here is an article from the Village Voice about Hasidic Jews, Psychogeography and the eRuv
Posted by Sarah Zoogman at 8:19 PM
November 8, 2005
Several students requested that I post my bullet points for yesterday's class, so here they are. They are my notes on interesting points that came up in your postings and that I thought would be good to discuss.
Leah: Jewish education
• plus the problem of the “work,” the “it,” vs its performance, iterations
• “diversity of cultural expressions” issue
• preservation vs safeguarding vs protection
• nostalgia as a comment on the present
• play and discuss recordings
• individual, community, humanity
• non-proprietary approach to IP issues
• her questions
Guzman: Day of the Dead in Mexico
• protection from commercialization (not preservation per se), maybe too alive
Aniko: post-communist Central European nations
• national contexts: her distinctions
• paradox: feed or abet nationalism
• comparison with theater (i.e. the collaborative arts)
• customary law, taxonomies, downside of insisting on collective creation (Shand: disempowerment)
• recourse to the past: whose past, what past
Pilar: East Timor; San; Latin America (Nestor Canclini on folklorization)
• definitional issues if everything is potentially heritage
• humanity issue in relation to diversity of producers
• inclusion in representation but political disenfranchisement (participation in process issues: Sandy; who decides who decides)
• what diversity means: she says people. Look at goods
• Dark picture: what to propose constructively
• Foreclosure idea, exhibition value [raise the modernity theme]
• Dark: what to propose constructively
• History vs heritage: explore distinction more fully
• Sampling: implications for the Deep Forest controversy. What performance studies might offer this analysis
• Ephemerality vs disappearance
• Ephemerality vs material registration as the basis for protection
• Individual/collective creation issue
• UNESCO and contamination!!!! Question this argument. Natural vs artificial….
• “own” culture
• collective/individual creation
• item-centered problem (relate to UNESCO and inventories)
• NB: Her last few questions!!!!
• Read against Sandra’s last questions
• Tolerance vs celebration of difference/diversity
• Politics of origin
Sarah Zoogman: Williamsburg
• Metacultural definition of heritage
• Remembering and forgetting
• Diversity (celebrating diversity) vs relativity (tolerating difference)
• Dark: solution?
• Concept too broad
• Extinction not a real criteria in practice
Justine: Ugg Boot
• Tourism/heritage connection (Silk Roads)
• Recontextualization as heritage
Senti Toy: Nagaland
• Cultural diversity treaty--USA’s objectives
• Indigenous appropriations--go to her explanations
• Celebrating diversity / toleration difference
• Culture vs heritage (and who should be the judge)
Scott: International House festival; LESTM (irony); Jamaica
• My arguments re foreign context, exhibition value, etc.
• “What is the deal with living treasures?”
• “You’re damned either way”
Posted by BKG at 9:36 PM
November 7, 2005
Leah on heritage
I was most intrigued by the recurring interplay between notions of the “individual” and the “collective” regarding the issue of “heritages” and their preservation and how these ideas played out on a wide variety of levels of activity. The word “heritage” usually implies a collectivity, whether it is referring to those receiving it, those who produce it or to the cultural materials and practices themselves. Current legal understandings of intellectual property favor the product of individual creativity.
Heritage, then, whatever cultural product it is referring to, requires for its preservation the construct of a categorization that allows it to maintain a sense of collectivity while being somehow unique. Hence it seems to me not accidental that the full name of the WIPO Committee which deals with these issues draws an implicit parallel with the most personal individual physical matter identified by science as well as by law: it is called “the Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, traditional Knowledge and Folklore.” (It seems to me as well that the field of intellectual property has grown out of a similar movement to redefine individual property so that “intellectual” productions can be claimed as property in the same way as land, real estate, stocks, etc.
Again, there is an economic motivation here in a world whose global economy is enabled and hence dominated by a variety of business devoted to intellectual productions and the materials that they put out in the marketplace.) It is the economic salience of “intellectual property” that allows for “invisible cultural heritage” to enter the legal realm as a product that can be practicably defined and hence defended from appropriation. As Hafstein noted in “The Politics of Origins: Collective Creation Revisited,” “The criteria of originality and novelty are central to copyright and patent law, as well as to various intellectual property rights of more recent vintage.” (p. 305) I also thought of the difference between “heritage” and “heirloom” (a particular item of property) and how each is defined and inherited. I also found Hafstein’s description of the development of performance theory in folklore interesting because one theoretical move that shifts “heritage” from the collective to the individual is the shift from the “material” itself to the “performance” of it – with each performer offering a unique interpretation of the material. If the invisible material of heritage is difficult to identify for the purposes of legal protection, the performance of it or the delineation of a tourist destination as a “heritage” site are different iterations that facilitate both production and protection along these lines.
The preservation of heritage may also be motivated by ideological beliefs or arguments, but the upkeep of preservation requires economic resources of various kinds. Hence, heritage must be conceptually packaged as something which can yield economic activity and, as Kirshenblatt-Gimblett points out, developing and evoking the very notion of “preservation” is one mode of doing so. In the development of heritage sites for tourism the collective audience is not necessarily one that feels a sense of ownership towards the heritage being presented. In “Destination Museum” Kirshenblatt-Gimblett describes museums as places for the consumption of such messages, producers of heritage designed to attract tourists on a journey where “The destination is collective self-understanding.” (p. 139) For the most expansive economic possibilities to be realizable, this ability to generate “self-understanding” must be achievable by both those tourists who come seeking to understand their own cultural heritage and by hose tourists who come to see an example of the “other” or a past to which their ancestors do not claim direct connection. This reliance on tourism creates an opportunity for those organizations that work on a global scale to enter the arena of heritage as legal and cultural arbiters. This includes both businesses who service and benefit from the use of industries that enable tourism to heritage destinations as well as organizations such as WIPO and, most notable UNESCO, that work to regulate and mediate international exchanges of various kinds.
The dichotomy between “individual” and “collective” also plays out on the global scale: as the world grows more inter-connected and communications more extensive and immediate the “individuality” of particular cultures and their heritages become more endangered. (One might consider this as the wear and tear of tourism usage magnified by the opportunities of “virtual” travel.) A visit to the UNESCO Web site and its page on “Culture” (under “Themes” on the home page) leads to an article about a general conference held last month which included the passing of a resolution on an “international normative instrument” designed for “the protection and promotion of the diversity of cultural expression.” This instrument builds on a resolution passed in 2001, the “UNESCO declaration on Cultural Diversity,” and a request in 2003 to realize the operation of this resolution “to pursue its normative action to defend human creativity.” The article goes on to specify that “a series of Guiding Principles (Article Two) guarantees that all measures aimed at protecting and promoting the diversity of cultural expressions does not hinder respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.” This caveat makes clear that part of the power over cultural preservation that is being claimed by UNESCO is related to the protection of human rights, the prime territory of the UN and all of its operations. The bottom line here is the largest ideological endeavor on the global scale: the protection of individual human rights world-wide. Cultural preservation is elevated to the same level on the world stage but does not trump the pride of place given to the collective world project of ensuring individual human rights. The interplay between individual and collective on this level is also striking: that a collective global body can claim the position of preserving humanity’s rights and treasures on a global scale.
This too is business on a global scale, but one developed under the rubric of international exchanges along governmental and political lines. In other words, the richness of heritage is important to protect but only if it conforms with peaceful co-existence and respect for others. The collectivity of humanity supercedes the individuality of cultures if they impede on other cultures. In “World Heritage and Cultural Economic” Kirshenblatt-Gimblett argues that “world heritage is a vehicle for envisioning and constituting a global polity within the conceptual space of a global cultural commons.” She discusses the “tension between diversity and relativity” among cultures, and the need for co-existence in order to ensure peace and prosperity for all, to reiterate the goals of UNESCO. I wonder how the creation of an “instrument” by UNESCO which can be used by the organization to monitor and judge activities around preservation of heritage might become contentious: much will depend on how the instrument is used, what authority UNESCO claims or is able to assert, and how the instrument works in the field and is perceived by those whose work is evaluated by it. The shift from grand intention to implementing the practice of guiding or potentially reinforcing practice is in itself a possible site for future debates about human rights and power.
A number of the readings touch upon the idea of “nostalgia” as a motivator for the production of heritage experiences; the article “U.S. Department of Retro Warns: ‘We May Be Running Out of Past.” Reading this article reminded me of the extent to which my “generation” (Generation X) was the target of critique during the waves of retro fashion in the 90s that focused on the 70s and 80s. The critique implied that a generation that was barely grown up should not be already yearning for the simplicity of its childhood years. The term “nostalgia” refers to homesickness, a yearning to return to home. I wonder what message might be understood by older generations if the youngest generation of adults develops – or responds so readily to the production of - such a strong case of nostalgia for the recent past. What does this say about the conditions of the present?
I am also interested in notions of “heritage” and how it should be preserved and reproduced because I work in a field, Jewish education, which ostensibly revolves around the purpose of “transmitting” a “heritage” for its “preservation” or ongoing “production” across generations. The tensions that often surfaces in Jewish education arise from the endeavor being predicated on the assumption that enrolling one’s children in an educational program ensures they will “receive” the transmission of heritage and in turn be committed to ensuring its reproduction with the next generation after them. What usually remains unacknowledged or unexamined is how these students feel about what is being transmitted to them, whether they find the heritage received – or the attached expectations – meaningful, and how their affective reactions help to shape the way the “heritage” being taught will be transmitted. The modes of preservation in Jewish education sometimes include the kinds of activities and settings (museums, production of cultural and artistic materials) discussed in our readings, but the primary vehicles of preservation in Jewish education are the students (and teachers) themselves, both as individuals and as a collective or set of collectives.
Implicit in these latter two examples is also the question of whether heritage, or the cultural productions which are being framed and valued in particular ways, are meant to be seen as inescapably “past” or “present.” And, if present, are they meant to be “preserved” and “re-enacted” whole-scale as they were received? At a conference of young Jewish educators that I attended in 1998 a participant shared her sudden revelation regarding the then-cutting edge term of “Jewish continuity” (still in usage) as applied to Jewish education and cultural endeavors. “Oh now I get it,” she said, “they want us to preserve it – they don’t want us to change it.” Hence, what are the boundaries of the performance or re-enactment of heritage and how are they shaped by ideological suppositions? For students who live in a multi-cultural world of global scale these questions are not theoretical as they grapple with how and in what way to proffer a particular heritage and its practices in a multitude of humanity. The onus is often then on the valuing of particular heritage to be both compelling and consonant with the global vision for world peace and prosperity. The balance that UNESCO tries to strike is one answer to this dilemma on the largest scale.
Posted by BKG at 10:58 AM
The establishment of the safeguarding system of heritage
In "The Politics of Origins," Valdimar Tr. Hafstein, exposes the problem that folklore, which does not fall into the category of the creation of the individual, is not, in most cases, under the protection of the intellectual property laws. Further, he also indicates the problematic process of privatizing knowledge of the indigenous, which can be regarded as another form of colonialization of the Third world.
In Valdimar Tr. Hafstein's article, he also introduces R.Barthes' notion of intertextuality, whcih abolishes the search of origins of the texts (307). With this insight, the creativity is never individual, rahter it is communal and exists only in certain social ambiance and cultural milieu. As Valdimar Tr. Hafstein concludes in the last paragraph, folklore can be read as "communal origination through individual re-creation." The rejection of the dicothomy of traditional creativity and indivudual novelty can give people a new insight into the making of the intellectual property laws.
In Kirshenblatt-Gimblett's Destination Culture, part II, Destination Museum, she deciphers the creation of tourist destionations. By referring to the advertisements of the tourism in New Zealand, Kirshenblatt-Gimblett indicates that stressing the uniqueness of a geographical location is essential to turning it into a tourist destination (140). In this part of the book, as its name implies, deals with how tourism induces the policy of the destination museums, or more precisely, how tourism indirectly manipulates museums' selections of the diaplayed objects and the running of the museums in general.
When reading "Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage and WIPO", I have an impression that, despite the nuances between different policy statements, they have something in common in terms of their coming into shape. They are both produced on the basis of certain theoratical, ideological, or even philosophical ground. As Hafstein has mentioned in "The Politics of Origins" that the making of the intellectual property law is mainly based on the thoughts of Hegel and Kant, the statements of policy also have their own basis. They are the concretization of the abstract theories and thoughts.
These readings on heritage, safeguarding heritage, and the problem of legality inspire me to think about the historical events in Chinese history (I use "Chinese" as a cultural adjective, instead of a political one). I have to aplogize in advence if any of you finds these events taking place in a Pacific island irrelevant to explaining the concept of safeguarding heritage as a matter of selection based on certain ideology, on political stance.
There was a time that speaking Taiwanese in public was restricted, or even prohibitted in Taiwan. Such policy was the result of KMT government's mainderine movement, which stressed the importance of preserving the Chinese traditional culture as well as asserting the legitimacy of the Chiang Kai-Shek (CKS) administration forced to Taiwan by the Chinese Communist party. In the process of evacuating to Taiwan, the KMT government/Chiang Kai-Shek administration, took a considerable number of precious ancient Chinese artifacts with them and established the National Palace Museum in Taipei. I personally think, the National Palace Museum can be read as CKS' reminiscence of the mainland China. To some extend, the safeguarding of these cultural heritage was/is the continuation of the Chinese culture and the proof of CKS' legitimacy as the leader of "the whole" China. Now the political atmousphere has changed. The DPP government, which replaced KMT and came to power couple of years ago, advocates the indigenization movement that prioritizes the Taiwanese and aboriginal cultures as the objects of reservation and objective of development. The DPP government alters the proportion between old Chinese and modern Chinese (my term) in high school textbooks, in hope that students can have more exposure to Taiwanese literature and identify themselves as Taiwanese, rather than Chinese.
In my opinion, though highly political, the two movements of safeguarding cultural heritage have their own drawbacks and "positive side-effects." To read things in a more possitive way, here, I would like to omit the drawbacks and elaborate on the possitive effects created by these movements. CKS' carrying Chinese artifacts unintentionally prevented those cultural heritage/national treasure from the devastating sabotage during the "Cultural Revolution" launched by Chinese Communist. The DPP's indigenization movement make people like me, who is genealogically Taiwanese but speaks broken Taiwanese, to refamiliarize myself with this culture.
The safeguarding of cultural heritage, no matter tangible or not tangible, involves with a process of selection based on certain criterion. I personally think that no one can be one hundred percent certain about what kind of result such safeguarding may lead to.
I apologize for me terrible lateness. My computer crashed and I sent quite a lot of time fixing it. It is not a good excuse, but I do want to give all of you an explanation. Sorry again!
Posted by Stella Yu-Wen Wang at 4:03 AM
November 6, 2005
Global Heritage and Legal Heritage
In reading the various texts on heritage for this week, I noted two main conceptualizations of the problem of heritage: the first, as introduced by UNESCO’s “Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage” initiative and Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett in her writings on the Silk Road and the museum, is the preservation of heritage insofar as it is a humanitarian effort - the safeguarding of heritage for the sake of humanity. This conceptualization of heritage is characterized by an anxiety that humanity is at risk of losing its heritage(s) to globalization. Paradoxically, as BKG notes in “World Heritage and Economics”, heritage initiatives depend on the very same processes of globalization that they purport to protect against.
In the case of museums, festivals, and other cultural “sights”, global tourism is economically necessary for these cultural institutions (and the practices they house and protect) to be maintained. In these cases, the one of the guiding forces behind heritage’s protection/production is that it belongs to all of humanity.
On the other side of the spectrum we have those thinkers and those initiatives who attempt to deal with heritage in terms of Intellectual Property. This is also, in a way, an attempt to protect traditions from disappearance, but more than that, it seems that they are attempting to protect the producers and “proprietors” of those cultural expressions from having their cultural forms appropriated and exploited by politically and economically dominant outsiders.
These two angles on heritage are interrelated and also strangely antithetical: how can something be simultaneously one’s and everyone’s? How can something belong to both a community, and to all of humanity? Maybe a roundabout answer is that the UNESCO heritage safeguarding program and the WIPO program are operating in different discursive disciplines. The former is operating in the zone of ideology, of not only nation-building but world-building, becoming what BKG calls a “meta-cultural” term, and I would suggest, even a meta-cultural value. The latter is operating within the “legal system”, but in the case of intellectual property law, the attempt to create an international system within a complex network of existing legal systems.
Oddly enough, though the legal discourse of IP seems to be dealing in pragmatics and actualities, in reading the WIPO document on “The protection of Traditional Cultural Expressions/ Expressions of Folklore” it becomes clear that this is not actually a body of law yet, but a series of “suggestions” and proposals towards how to make this complex protection mechanism effective when it does come into being. “The objectives and principles set out in this document are suggestions only. They do not seek to place limits on the parameters of the debate concerning TCEs/EoF protection, to prescribe any particular outcomes or solutions, nor to define the legal form that they may take.”(WIPO document Intro p 5). Part of the difficulty, as is laid out by Hafstein and Rikoon, is that the Western legal system is based on the concept of property, and while WIPO attempts to account for that by including the directive to consider “non-proprietary” ways of considering TCEs/EoF,actual examples of how to do this are not given, and the extent to which “non-proprietary” models for understanding culture might undermine the goal of the protection of intellectual property is not considered. Rikoon suggests that in order to reconcile the seemingly disparate notions of intellectual property and communally imagined/created cultural expression we must pay more attention to the community and context from which each “item” emerges rather than place so much weight on the “item” itself. If a more context-based approach is taken, the “item” is relieved of the pressure to prove its “originality”, which, as most of the readings of the week would agree, is inappropriate in the case of traditional cultural expressions that are not “unique”, “original”, or “authored” in the western legal sense.
If, as BKG claims, ‘heritage’ is produced, is something new, then what is the ‘heritage’ produced by WIPO and intellectual property/legal discourse, and how does it differ from the ‘heritage’ produced by UNESCO and other “safeguarding” initiatives? While these two notions of heritage are undoubtedly different, they are alike in that they are both responses to the various threats posed to heritage by the looming phenomenon of globalization. Both notions try to “work with what is there” rather than halt or reverse the path of the current system. Global tourism, and human mobility in general have made both exhibition and exploitation of culture possible, and both notions of heritage (theoretically) seek to empower heritage practitioners.
Posted by Sarah Klein at 9:46 PM
Whose Heritage Is It, Anyway?
The most striking element of all of these various readings was, to me, the fact that all of them tied the discussion of “heritage” intimately with UNESCO, or at least with government and politics generally. Whereas in previous weeks we have discusses issues of economics, capitalism, and even government “Big Brother”-like control, this week seems to be primarily focused on the political machine and its interaction with tourism in the zone known as “heritage.”
The most striking element of all of these various readings was, to me, the fact that all of them tied the discussion of “heritage” intimately with UNESCO, or at least with government and politics generally. Whereas in previous weeks we have discusses issues of economics, capitalism, and even government “Big Brother”-like control, this week seems to be primarily focused on the political machine and its interaction with tourism in the zone known as “heritage.”
The problem with “heritage,” of course, is much like the “problem” with Performance Studies – just how the heck do you define it!? (Though at least you don’t have to keep relatives at every family gathering asking you, “Oh, really, heritage? And what is that, exactly?) In the context of all of these readings, every author (or authorial committee/entity) seems to provide a different definition. Rather than quoting directly from the texts, finding a moment where “heritage” is clearly and succinctly defined, I think it will be more interesting to give a broad, general summary of how, as I saw it, each of these writings describes heritage.
Now, lest it be said that this is just the lazy man’s approach to this week’s reading questions, I do have a reason for this. Although it is simple enough to write an article in which you provide a definition of “heritage,” actually keeping to that definition as you go along with your writing is another matter, entirely. To return to the Performance Studies example, I’m sure that many of us define the field to our friends and family in a matter that doesn’t actually reflect our current course of studies (or at least I do that – perhaps I’m the only big fake hypocrite in the class, though). What I’m getting at is that I think it will be more useful, in certain ways, to provide my impression of how each of these articles defines heritage, as a very general overview without going back to grab specific quotes, and then leave those impressions up for discussion, argument, attack, ad hominem insults, etc.
My own work ethic now (hopefully) preserved, it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty, which I think I’ll approach in good-ole-fashioned list form:
BKG, Destination Museum – Arising as it does out of a general book-
length survey of tourism, as it interacts with the cultural aspects of the societies it influences (which, in our era, is essentially all societies), it is unsurprising that this article explores heritage in the context of tourist studies. More specifically, it explores “heritage” as a process involved with – perhaps even growing out of – “museumfication.” However, it is not a process of taking living culture and enshrining that, but of exhibiting practices and performances from a culture which have a certain tradition behind them, whether or not that tradition is still strong today or not. Perhaps most importantly, BKG looks at heritage as something defined by its very exhibition, including all the processes, practices, and methodology that go into that exhibition.
UNESCO, Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural
Heritage – Coming from the United Nations, it is no surprise that the definition of “heritage” here is an overtly political one, essentially viewing it as the cultural commodity of a nation which the citizenry of that nation require to be preserved. However, two issues arise in this document. The first is, of course, the strongly paternalistic attitude of the UN needing to come in and rescue these poor nations whose heritage is at risk due to the forces of modernism/post-modernism. The second is the issue surrounding a word I used earlier in this definition – “commodity.” In reading through the document, I certainly got the feeling that heritage was seen as an economic matter, as something a country has to offer rather than something inherently worthwhile to its citizens.
WIPO, Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and
Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore – Although less overtly political and economically commodifying as the UNESCO document, this report does seem to share the same general “heritage” definition, viewing it as a cultural commodity. Most intriguingly, the massive document never seems to clearly explain just why the preservation of heritage (or, in their terminology, traditional cultural expressions (TCEs)/expressions of folklore (EoF)) is actually important, it just works off of that assumption without providing a reason.
BKG, World Heritage and Cultural Economics – In this article, BKG still
seems to rely upon the same definition of heritage that she utilized in Destination Museum, and indeed uses the UNESCO/WIPO process of enshrining heritage, with the Silk Road project as a lengthy case study, to defend and expand upon that definition. In the process, she also interrogates and questions UNESCO’s skewed way of viewing heritage.
Valdimar Tr. Hafstein, The Politics of Origin: Collective Creation Revisited – Akin to BKG’s World Heritage article, Hafstein here responds to the WIPO conference/document, and thus the article constitutes a reaction to the “official” definition of heritage. Hafstein reacts by examining the relationship between heritage (or folklore, as he calls it – or at least a related idea close enough to it) and intellectual property, calling into question the nature of individuality or collectivity in the creation of folklore/heritage, and how that can be applied to national and international laws of copyright.
Steven Feld, A Sweet Lullaby for World Music – Feld’s article is a much larger and longer examination of a concept that Hafstein also addresses in his essay, namely “World Music.” He considers the issue of primitivism and paternalism that surround World Music, and in doing so responds to the attitude behind UNESCO and WIPO which created these same feelings for me when I read those two “official” documents. Additionally, he speaks of the commodification of this music, much as UNESCO’s document seemed to overly commodify the very concept of “heritage” itself.
Peter Shand, Scenes from the Colonial Catwalk – In examining the issue of cultural appropriation in the context of the Maori, and once again approaches issues of international copyright law. Essentially, Shand (like the other scholars from this week) criticizes the international community’s approach to heritage as it relates to “indigenous peoples” (in Shand’s terminology), and worries that the commodification of heritage allows for those indigenous peoples to be taken advantage of, legally and artistically.
What one gets out of these varying definitions is a multitude of definitions, with one thread running throughout – scholars reacting with skepticism to the “official line” of UNESCO and WIPO. I can’t help but wonder whether or not these political bodies consulted scholars of heritage. If not, then why not? And if so, why not pay more attention to their objections? Or, to be fair, perhaps the readings assigned to us do reflect a particular scholarly reaction that isn’t shared by all such scholars.
As interesting as all of these readings are, I feel that, ultimately, the issue of heritage has very little to do with my project on Old Bethpage. Although Old Bethpage could very clearly and very easily be examined through the lens of heritage – the way in which it enshrines, preserves, and reenacts Long Island’s past (today!) – I intentionally do not want to utilize this lens, since I want to look at Old Bethpage as a theme park, rather than as a heritage park. I want to examine the immersive, environmental experience of Old Bethpage, rather than examining the cultural, heritage-based aspects of its historical preservation process.
Finally, my apologies to the class for posting this so late – it shan’t happen again.
Posted by Andrew Friedenthal at 5:48 PM
This week's readings offer definitions of Heritage that complement eachother: according to Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, heritage is the outcome of a process,a new product she calls "metaculture", i.e. "what is created-as opposed to safeguarded-when culture becomes heritage" (Museum Frictions, 10).Valdimar Hafstein focuses more on the makers of heritage when he talks about "communal origination through individual re-creation", while Peter Shand emphasizes the nature of this new object as "artificial" and inclusive of "many facets"(48).
These readings underline the fate of culture, whether tangible or intangible, when a "safeguarding" process is achieved. Rather than preserve an artifact or a performance, the preservation transforms its object into something else.
We seem to face a no-win situation: either we leave the culture alone, with the risk of having elements disappear with time, or we try to preserve it, with the risk of altering its nature. Unless we follow Diana Taylor's path, according to which intangible treasures (such as performances) are preserved in the repertoire and the scenarios, without the need of a traditional fixating archive (books, tapes, recordings). Or we look at what some indigenous people do with archival technology, and how they use it to their advantage (I think of the Kayapo Indians and their use of video).
While preservation seems like a generous idea, it creates a number of problems:
- who owns the culture that is preserved, and what is the purpose of preservation? Is is sheer necessity to keep a gem, or are they political goals, economic goals or is it a way of reappropriating a culture (as in the New Zealand/Maori case)?
- who owns the rights of reproduction? (a people or a person, the colonial government or the indigenous people, the copyright holder or nobody at all?)
- How much is being altered by the preservation process (I especially think of the risk of synchretism, dilution and partial - rosy- view)?
At the same time, the issue of transormation of culture for the sake of preserving it informs us of the essential role played by the external audience (from anthropologists to tourists to reporters to UNESCO envoys)and its gaze.
Another issue at stake is the role of international organizations in deciding what needs to be preserved, shortlisted, and funded. Unfortunately, their principles obey political and economical pressures, and I'm not sure an international body is the best place to decide what is worth safeguarding, and how to hierarchize heritage sites.
While my research doesn't deal litterally with heritage, I still found the readings thought-provoking in two ways:
- Memorials, like museums, have become part of tourism circuits: how does this affect the design and construction of contemporary memorials (such as the Holocaust memorial in Berlin) and how that is alter the function of a memorial, i.e., its role in remembering a tragedy?
- when a memorial is built by the perpetrators of a mass killing, or their descendants, should we suspect some kind of reappropriation of the tragedy for political purposes, decades after that tragedy? in concrete terms, does the fact that contemporary Germany spent so much time, prime-real-estate ground, and money to be a Holocaust memorial in downtown Berlin show some kind of reappropriation of Holocaust memory today, to offer a positive, honest and candid image of "the new Germany", while, at the same time, turning the page on the darkest chapter of its history?
to be continued...
Posted by Brigitte Sion at 5:33 PM
so much info...gahhhhh
Heritage. It is apparent the word is being misused, abused, and it is slowly becoming devoid of meaning. It was impossible to go through each reading without referring to the definition again and again. In her text Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, and Heritage, BKG offers a definition of heritage which should definitely be adopted by heritage organizations. It follows: "Heritage produces something new in the present that has recourse to the past" (150). It seems as though the past is often times overlooked.
The Onion article made it clear that we soon will have no past if we keep bringing back yesterday today. It appears that heritage organizations are blurring today and yesterday to develop a purpose for their objective. UNESCO's ambition to "safeguard" heritage undoubtedly develops a tourist economic basis. "Heritage and tourism are collaborative industries, heritage converting locations into destinations and tourism making them economically viable as exhibits of themselves" (51). Heritage organizations undoubtedly fall into the category of the "conciousness industry" where the art world and museums realize that they "must be profitable to survive and so are looking to cultural tourism for income" (144).
UNESCO illustrates a “Presentation of their Masterpieces” online and when browsing through the website I came upon UNESCO’s effort to preserve Mexico’s El Dia De Los Muertos. UNESCO actually states that “the tradition faces no major threat” but “its significance for practitioners could easily be lost” and therefore needs immediate protection. Its action plan declares that “The festivity’s metaphysical and aesthetic dimensions will be protected from the growing number of non-indigenous commercial and recreational activities that tend to obscure its spiritual character” meaning that UNESCO is interested in protecting the tradition from organizations who find it acceptable to impose--much like themselves.
When looking back at the above example (El Dia De Los Muertos), it is evident that the event is in no danger, but legal protection is purposed for the festival and activities. In his essay "The Politics of Origins: Collective Creation Revisited," Valdimar Tr. Hafstein presents WIPO's attempts to acquire legal protection for cultural practices exploited by dominant countries, and explores the controversy between originality and tradition. Hafstein purposes the following concept: Communal origination through individual re-creation. Maybe it is my unfamiliarity with the issue, but is possibly too late to apply this folklore? How is it possible for new concepts of originality to exist when heritage organizations are fixed on "designating" and "saving" the old ones?
In a lecture presented to our intro class this past summer, BKG purposed that it just might be that disappearance is a good thing. This notion is further explored in her article "World Heritage and Cultural Economics" where she reinforces her statement, "If [heritage] is truly vital, it does not need safeguarding; if it is almost dead, safeguarding will not help" (7).
Posted by Alma Guzman at 3:32 PM
Whose is this right anyway?
The following definition of ‘heritage’ can be derived from BKG’s article, “Destination Museum”: heritage is a form of cultural industry that produces, re-evaluates the present of the local as a virtual recourse to the past for the purpose of export (146). What is clear from my slightly contrived extraction is that ’world heritage’ is a power construction: it is constructed to practice the power to produce, canonize and ultimately (in a most optimistic reading) to protect the natural, intangible and tangible heritage through organizations such as UNESCO and WIPO.
In the investigation of Intangible Heritage a most important distinction needs to be made. Although the “Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage” differentiates between “national” (III) and “international” (IV) levels, neither UNESCO nor the WIPO recognizes that the politics of heritage is radically different in the postcolonial, indigenous context from the local folklore of Eurasian nation-states. This distinction is needed not only because of the earlier oppressing power-relations between the West and the colonies, but also because of the different roles that the heritage of folklore and cultural heritage of indigenous communities plays in contemporary societies and communities. While national folklore is not a significant identity-forming force in contemporary nation-states (with the exception of the nationalist discourse), the tradition of indigenous cultures is still a most important component in their identity-formation. Therefore, interpreting ‘world heritage’ as a ‘metacultural’ production which belongs to humanity (BKG 1994, 2005) set different kinds of dynamics into motion. In the context of the Eurasian nation-states, the incorporation of folklore into the realm of ‘world heritage’ creates a controversial situation: while folklore, a most essential instrument, feeds nationalism on a local level, in a supranational context it becomes an instrument to “prevent resurgent nationalism” (26). In the nationalist discourse, the ownership of ‘humanity’ will be reduced to the ownership of the ‘nation’.
The incorporation of the cultural traditions of the indigenous peoples into ‘world heritage’ create other controversies; many of them are formulated by BKG (“World Heritage and Cultural Economics”) Valdimar Tr. Hafstein (”The Politics of Origins”), Peter Shand (“Scenes from the Colonial Catwalk”) and Steven Feld (“A Sweet Lullaby for World Music). The common idea that links these articles together are the laws of intellectual properties in postcolonial folklore. The case studies of these articles explore the ways in which intellectual properties should be acknowledged and balanced in form of royalties or other compensation to indigenous cultures.
What makes the recognition of intellectual property difficult in the arena of folklore is its ‘communal’ nature. Intellectual Property laws are made to protect the individual author’s right, and as such are incapable of regulating communal creations, whether it is in the field of tradition or contemporary art. (For instance, while playwrights, directors, composers and choreographers are acknowledged as a theatre performance’s “creators” and receive a certain per cent of box office income as royalties, this privilege is denied from the actors, although they equally contribute to the creative process.) Therefore, it is important to recognize and emphasize that intellectual property rights of communal creations need to be developed both in the West and in indigenous folklore, as well as contemporary art.
Why is the case then different with indigenous art? Although neither of the above mentioned authors argue explicitly for this distinction, their focus on postcolonial context suggests that indigenous art is a more fragile sphere when it comes to copyrights, patents, etc. And they include several arguments into their essays: Hafstein quotes the Russian delegate claiming that “the majority of the holders are poor and poorly educated” (301). Shand claims that ‘intellectual property’ needs to be reconceptualized in indigenous art, since they define their own intellectual property in a different way and “treat tangible heritage differently from knowledge”, resisting the “taxonomical division of intellectual or other areas” (60), while Feld argues that the concept of the oral tradition "can easily be manipulated, from signifying that which is vocally communal to signifying that which belongs to no one in particular" (161).
Hafstein’s proposal, “the social concept of creativity” and the interpretation of traditions as a post-modern intertextual network (306), is appropriate. However, I argue that it is only applicable to nation-state folklore for two different reasons. First, let me recall our starting point, the definition of ‘world heritage’ as “ a new mode of cultural production in the present that has recourse to the past.” (BKG: 149). However, the question here is what kind of past is in recourse. Whether it is a mosaic of “meta-retro”; encompassing different moments of a nation’s own history and traditions, or a past of oppression; a history of peoples deprived of any kind of human or cultural rights. Rikoon argues, with good reason, that in this latter context “grand theories of intertextuality and interdependence actually may serve as means of disempowerment” (330).
Second, even more importantly, the post-modern intertextuality presupposes reciprocity. I have the right to access and take anything I want from your culture, and in turn your culture has the right to take whatever it wants from mine. However, in the case of indigenous cultures, this mutual relationship still needs to be established. In the centuries of oppression, it has never become part of their cultural practice to incorporate elements from different traditions.
Once again, ‘world heritage’ is a forceful power, and as with every power-structure, it is equally easy to use and abuse. If we agree with BKG that ‘world heritage’ belongs to humanity, then we also need to recognize that being part of this heritage might easily turn into a Catch 22 situation: the moment the ‘world heritage’ forms (or transforms into) a global public sphere (BKG, 2005:23), the real challenge becomes how to protect world heritage (see authenticity, intellectual property, etc.) in/from the global public sphere.
Ideally, the formation of the ‘world heritage’ should be a gradual process, similar to the EU or the United Nations. Cultures should join when they are politically/financially/culturally ready to do so. Unfortunately, this is not the case. In the age of globalization, most cultures simultaneously and automatically have become part of this ‘global public sphere’. Therefore, the best that can be hoped for is the establishment of a kind of “cast-system”, in which the “olders” (in this case the West) protect the younger (the indigenous, who are in fact older) from power abuse. And in my reading this is what BKG, Hafstein, Rikoon, Feld and Shand encourages in different ways.
Posted by Aniko Szucs at 2:06 PM
Save our Heritage.
On the one hand, the idea of legislating the Heritage of Humanity seems absurd and unfair and it is an alienating meta-cultural operation. On the other hand, it may be seen as a politically-neutral way of preventing genocide.
Independence celebration East Timor 2002
The first challenge the project of safeguarding of the heritage of humanity has, is how to define itself. Keeping in mind it is the project of consensus of an international group of legal and diplomatically minded actors, the absurd qualities of its definition should come as no surprise. As the Atlantic Monthly articles making fun of it highlights, everyone has intangible heritage. But what makes the cut? The primary mechanism for creating world heritage is the creation of universal standards for designating masterpieces. For a cultural expression to qualify as a masterpiece of human heritage, it must be distinctive, distinguished, as well as endangered –and yet, but sufficiently intact. While all people, in theory, have the same universal human rights, some cultural expressions are more worth saving than others.
A second disturbing element of the heritage of humanity project is the alienation that occurs between producer and product when the habitus of one group becomes part of the global public domain. In “World Heritage and Cultural Economics,” Kishenblatt-Gimblett “demonstrate[s] how valorization, regulation, and instrumentalization alter the relationship of cultural assets to those who are identified with them, as well as to others. More specifically, such instrumentalizations produce an asymmetry between the diversity of those who produce cultural assets in the first place and the humanity to which those assets come to belong as world heritage” (2). An improvement over previous salvage models of folklore, intangible heritage initiatives are meant to protect and promote the culture-producers rather than jus their goods. However, as Kirshenblatt-Gimblett recognizes, in safe guarding, there is the potential to make “human zoos” (Destination Museum). For example, the San of South Africa were moved off an endangered species reserve, then moved back on to be part of the spectacle. In John Marshall’s films, we find them neither able to hunt, as they traditionally did, nor to develop agriculture since it is not their “culture.” Their unviable lifestyle (due to the fact that they are not politically able to maintain their rights to land) keeps them in dependence on NGOs that keep them in thrall as a spectacle. Heritage of humanity has the potential to function like an endangered species reserve.
Reading the UNESCO web pages on Heritage, I encountered a lot of political double-talk that we cannot possibly understand from the written texts. I wonder what is really going on in these meetings. Nestor Garcia Canclini points out that “folklorization” has been a means by which nation-building projects symbolically incorporate and coopt diverse cultures while denying them real political enfranchisement. In addition to its uses the world over by national governments, could this not also be a weapon of the weak?
“Culture” and “customs” seem harmless. As any social science researcher knows, it is tough to get clearance to study conflict, it’s easy to get permission t study “customs.” By the same token, diplomatically and militarily, it is really hard to stop ethnic cleansing. It takes the international community a long time to figure out what is going on in militarized situations. Are the people in question freedom fighters? Dissidents? Freeloaders encroaching on valuable private property? National sovereignty is at stake when the decision is made to send in outside forces send peace-keeping troops. Plus, not everyone is willing to finance military intervention. On the other hand, it is really easy to give governments money in celebration of their “rich heritage,” to preserve the cute customs of their minority peoples. Lots of liberal people would happily donate money to preserve arts and crafts or folk music. Some would even be willing to visit.
Framing the protection of “diversity” as the property of “humanity” is a problematic strategy. We are witnessing the formation of an inter-national bureaucratic structure that protects ethnic diversity of vulnerable sub-national groups. While recognition in this arena does not grant groups sovereignty, it does give them some kind of cultural capital and political leverage. It asymmetrically frames some people in this world as the entertainers and some as the spectators. And it is a meta-cultural operation that, making habitus into heritage, contains it, depicts it as safely in the past, and protects it. While it is alienating to the people whose habitus has become the property of humanity, it does give them spectators and sympathizers on the world stage, and a strange meta-pidgin language with which to communicate to them. At this moment when tourism and non-Western forms of cultural production are so lucrative and important to developing national economies, for some vulnerable groups in need of protection from their national governments, becoming part of the Heritage of Humanity may function as a kind of refugee camp, where instead of having their human rights protected by soldiers, while living in sub-human conditions, they enact a relationship to aspects of their culture, to which, in so doing, they become alienated.
Deploying “cultural” initiatives rather than military might be like indicting mafia leaders for mail fraud instead of murder. It gets the job done. Maybe I am attributing too much astuteness to the members of this UNESCO Division. Especially as Kirshenblatt-Gimblett points out, the chief products so far have been lists and proclamations.
Posted by Pilar Rau at 1:59 PM
the gods (UNESCO & WIPO) must be crazy
The chapter “Destination Museum” in Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, and Heritage, acts as a vehicle of transport between the overlapping and porous discourses of tourism and heritage. Exposing the intimate connections between tourism and museums i.e. museums as surrogates for travel (132), whole countries marketed as “open air museums” (131), museums’ reproduction of protocols of travel (135), Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett displays the reciprocal and recursive nature of the two as: “the exhibition of the world and the world as exhibition of itself.” (144)
From this discourse emerges a notion of heritage defined as “a new mode of cultural production in the present that has recourse to the past.” (149) This conceptualization of heritage is distinct from earlier notions precisely because of the emphasis on the creative aspects of its production in the present. The remainder of the chapter is a tour of the backstage area of heritage productions. This insightful discussion of heritage and its operational aspects prove particularly useful in navigating the terrain of the heritage industry and its challenges. All seven aspects of heritage elucidated have a profound and far reaching consequences on the heritage industry. For instance, of particular significance in relation to the UNESCO project for the safeguarding of intangible heritage, is the discussion of heritage as a process that forecloses what is shown. (159-165) It is disquieting, for example, that - among others - the notion that “documentation and exhibition are implicated in the disappearance of what they show” (162) is significantly missing from UNESCO’s discourse of safeguarding.
In “World Heritage and Cultural Economics,” Kirshenblatt-Gimblett takes UNESCO’s safeguarding efforts to task. While exposing the asymmetry and paradoxical character of the global cultural commons, Kirshenblatt-Gimblett shows how world heritage is created through Metacultural operations that extend museological values and methods to living persons. (1) In this scenario “Living National Treasures” experience a new Metacultural relationship to what once was merely “habitus.” (1-2)
“Indigenous and local communities justly cherish traditional knowledge (TK) as a part of their very cultural identities.” , proclaims the opening statement of a booklet published by The World Intellectual Property Organization. But how is it possible to encapsulate the complex and nuanced web of relationships that various indigenous groups and local communities have to themselves and their traditional knowledge, in such a broadly sweeping generalization? In the aftermath of colonization and the onset of globalization many cultures termed as “traditional” are in fact rejecting their own cultural identities. The overwhelmingly oppressive rhetoric of colonization has instilled self-hatred in many indigenous populations. The repercussions of the global expansion of the commercial market have cemented the job by fabricating and spreading infectious desire for consumption. The seemingly insatiable fascination with the “West” and the desire to emulate the American life-style plagues numerous “local communities” and acts as an impetus for the rejection, completely or in part, of their own “cultural identity.”
At the present, one would be hard pressed to find a “traditional” society where the objects of the Western market have not leaked. “Pure” societies no longer exist. There is no escaping it. If it’s not the Coca-Cola bottle that falls on the head of the Junt-wasi of the Kalahara Desert, there will be another herald.
Since the Second World War UNESCO has been developing several world heritage initiatives, namely the tangible, the natural and most recently the intangible heritage initiative. In attempting to define the parameters of intangible heritage UNESCO has formerly associated the term with folklore. In recent years, however, there has been a marked shift in the concept of intangible heritage. Whereas formerly its meaning referred to masterpieces only, now it includes the masters.
The establishment of a cultural heritage policy is extremely problematic and raises a multitude of questions, which cannot be contended with easily. UNESCO purports to be the guardians of “intangible heritage”, but isn’t this a more subtle form of cultural colonization? A possible scenario: the state actors of UNESCO will promote a living national treasure to the status in which he or she will be mummified alive. Specially trained cultural heritage workers will encroach, with their cameras and sound recording devices in hand, and proceed to carefully document and create an archive. What’s more they will generously intercede and teach the local and indigenous people how to turn themselves into subjects of study, dissection and preservation. Discreetly, under the guise of safeguarding, they will perpetrate an inconspicuous form of forced assimilation. This sort of intervention, although well intended, is nothing more than the imposition of the Western anthropological model on non-Western societies, the result of which might be a well-oiled culture machine manufacturing and reproducing the recipients of traditional knowledge.
The goals of well-intentioned (?) organizations such as UNESCO or WIPO, should not be so flippantly dismissed. There are certainly ethical responsibilities that “first world” countries have to face for their continued suppression of indigenous people, as witnessed by the asymmetry of intellectual property rights in the world music phenomenon. In a crushing transnational market economy financial backing of indigenous groups is indispensable. This can be regarded as financial retribution for the theft and exploitation perpetrated on indigenous peoples. However, the proposed intangible heritage and other cultural policy projects must be carefully reexamined.
Posted by Dominika Bennacer at 1:46 PM
Typing like the proverbial Dickens
The breadth of topics in today’s reading does a good job of demonstrating just how far ranging the conceptions of heritage are. Despite various approaches to aspects of the topic by Feld, UNESCO, Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Shand and Hafstein, any concrete definition continues to elude me. Instead, I find myself confronted by varying interpretations of a slippery term, each dependent upon the agenda of the person making the definition, and their relationship with the “heritage” material.
Feld presents a good illustration of the disparity in perceptions of heritage in his recounting of the history of the “Rorogwela.” Rather than proposing a solution to the Rorogwela issue, he shows how many viewpoints are at play. There’s the UNESCO view that the lullaby belongs to a long history of oral tradition for the people of the Solomon Islands, the most recognizable version “composed” by Afunakwa. Tied to this view is the view of the ethnomusicologist that first recorded the music. Hugo Zemp acknowledges the cultural heritage of the Solomon’s that generated this music, but now has his own personal interest in it. Though he advocates for credit to be given to Afunakwa and her people, he also seeks credit for himself as the original recorder responsible for introducing the world to the cultural artifact of the song. Thus, he is an integral part of “Rorogwela’s” heritage.
Before proceeding, I wish to make clear that I’m not using the terms heritage and history interchangeably. Rather, I think that history is contained within the definition of heritage as an inseparable part.
Now then, from Zemp, we move to Deep Forest who views the song as merely an exotic oddity or worse. As Feld writes on 165, “From the initial standpoint of the sampler, Afunakwa is not a person but a sound, from the subsequent standpoint of the arranger that sound is a melody and not a distinct performance.” The latter portion of this quote covers the views of Garbarek, while the first part that of Deep Forest.
What Feld’s article does then, in addition to exposing the many legal issues surrounding heritage and cultural property, is to show the subjective nature of the definition of heritage. To the people of the Solomon Islands, their music is a tradition, a cultural practice from as far back as probably any one person can recall. They likely don’t term it heritage, as it exists as a practice in the present. To Zemp and UNESCO, it’s an aspect of their heritage, their cultural/religious/artistic/historical/tradition, and most importantly, a disappearing one that needs to be preserved. This seems to be UNESCO’s general position, that an inherent part of heritage is its ephemerality. This creates a state of continual crisis, no doubt sustained in an attempt to garner support out of fear of loss. The statistics on their website of the number of languages disappearing, and their methods of preservation, designating “human heritage treasures” to pass along knowledge, for example, all speak to a perpetual loss of heritage and UNESCO’s semi-effective attempts to catch the sand as it falls from the hourglass, efforts which could always use more support. I’ll leave aside the problems I find with this approach for now, to continue along with Feld.
Deep Forest, looking/listening to the same artifact as UNESCO and Zemp, don’t recognize heritage at all. In their view, the song is a product, cut off from the people and the heritage that produced it. It’s a means to reaching their artistic and commercial goals. Garbarek takes a similar view, though for him, the artifact and its connection to the indigenous people of the Solomon’s are little more than a set of legal hurdles. He feels that he should be able to navigate any issues of heritage plundering through money and the law. He literally paid his dues, and he should have no further responsibility in the matter.
What all of this is leading up to is my view that heritage does not exist other than as a construct employed in various ways to serve the people that have constructed it. Hafstein presents good support for this position in his discussion of the debate between individual and collective creation. Artists that have the awareness, and legal means, seek to obtain singular credit and recognition based on an outdated Enlightenment ideal. (This is increasingly true even among “primitive” artists, as they become more aware of the monetary opportunities.) Folklorists, groups like UNESCO, and certain tribal representatives seek recognition and recompense for group creation, based on collective creativity. Hafstein advocates a “communal origination through individual re-creation” (310) model, which I find quite sound theoretically. However, in the eyes of the law under a capitalist economic model, I don’t think this view will ever prevail in the main, a belief that Shand attests to in his coverage of Maori koru. While Shand presents incidents of mutual beneficiality as that between Moontide Swimwear and indigenous artists, these are undoubtedly the exception rather than the rule.
Though she approaches a rather different arena of heritage, Kirshenblatt-Gimblett’s definition still figures easily into my overall discussion. I would that I had her book in front of me to quote some of her definitions of heritage on 149. Alas, I do not. But I would like to recall a very interesting point made on 161, in which BKG illustrates how tourist industry members will negate culture to archaize it, then reverse the previously held negative view of the act since some distance has been gained from it, and then represent the aspect of culture as heritage. Here again we see heritage as a conscious construct driven by capitalism and used for personal ends, rather than an organic aspect of cultural awareness.
I run short on time, but I wish to raise what I find to be a highly problematic issue with regard to heritage preservation. While on the one hand I admire the efforts of an organization like UNESCO, on the other, I view their efforts as misplaced tamperings with the natural course of time and change. I can understand wanting to record aspects of heritage for posterity, but this desire to preserve them as well seems unnatural. I fear that through their efforts, they’re contaminating the cultures they try to preserve by imposing an outside value system on the culture’s products, influencing the way that a culture views its own practices and hampering a natural change over time, no matter how undesirable it may seem.
I don’t see today’s reading figuring too largely into my final project, except for BKG’s mention of the palimpsest in landmarking, (156) which I think will tie in nicely with Cardiff. The missing church at Cluny may also figure in as a type of cultural “phantom limb.”
Posted by Tyler Sinclair at 1:08 PM
What does it mean to own culture? The readings for this week posit different answers to this question, offering varying perspectives on how the question has been resolved within nation-states, supranational bodies, as well as local communities. Many of the articles reveal the difficulty of addressing culture from the legal realm of ownership and property rights. Indeed, the latter assume something is owned or patentable if it was invented, created, bought, or found by an individual or a set of individuals. However, as Hafstein argues, cultural expressions cannot simply be inserted into such a framework. Culture is created collectively and is based on continuity, not innovation (306). Hafstein brings up the concept of “intertextuality” as a useful way of understanding how culture is created and developed, mixing elements, quoting others, and thus, constantly regenerating (307). Thus, if cultural creativity is, as he argues, a social process that is nurtured by intertextual relations, how can it be placed within some sort of legal regime to protect it? Should it be placed within such a framework?
Steven Feld in his “A Sweet Lullaby for World Music” certainly seems to think so. He shows how the commodification of ethnicity through global soundscapes has developed into a form of exploitation based on unequal power relations. For Feld, cultural property rights are at the heart of the matter, even though Western property laws do not seem to be appropriate (162). Indeed, he too sees the downsides of a legal system that stresses individual authorship, over communal reproduction. However, he does not seem to be proposing a concrete solution. J. Sanford Rikoon, shifts the argument away from a legal recognition of communal cultural creativity, a property-oriented policy, to a people-centered one (326). He argues against placing culture within the realm of artifacts to be owned, protected, safeguarded. Indeed, protecting cultural rights is for Rikoon one more piece of the puzzle dominated by neoliberal ideology and economic globalization (328). Far from believing in Hafstein’s intertextual model of cultural quotations, Rikoon argues that “we must simultaneously recognize the dependencies and the polyphony as well as the power of place and community to produce knowledge and other forms of cultutal expression imprinted with very real local power and meaning” (331). Thus, protecting culture cannot be item-centered (as in the UNESCO lists, for example), but needs to take social context into consideration. Although he seems highly critical of the institution forms of heritage protection, the author shows that local versions of intellectual property rights need to be taken into consideration and even used as models (334).
Pluralism, difference, diversity seem to be the key themes that underlie all of the authors read for this week’s works. All seem to point out the fact that the mechanisms that have been designed (largely from above) precisely to protect, enrich and enforce diversity and cultural identities, are precisely having the opposite effect. Perhaps the most critical stance is that of Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett in her article “World Heritage, Cultural Economics.”Here, she shows how the heritage industry, mostly represented by international organizations such as WIPO and UNESCO, have in fact displaced diversity and dispossessed peoples of their cultural uniqueness in favor of a human whole with open access (20, 21). Furthermore, they have driven culture outside the realm of the priceless and sacred, and into a world of economic valuation and valorization, cast as the new star of a model of economic development and tourist attractions (3), a true mark of modernity (19). They have created an “implicit cultural hierarchy” where not all cultural expressions make the cut and where the criteria is always exclusionary (8). Heritage is in many ways culture’s death. Indeed, Kirshenblatt-Gimblett has shown that heritage is always produced. It is a strategy to give culture, habitus, habitat, a second life (1998:149). This is what the author means when she states that “heritage is a mode of metacultural production that produces something new, which though it has recourse to the past, is fundamentally different from it” (32). However, does a second life necessarily imply the death of the first? Is heritage always the result of a death? Is there such a thing as live “heritage” that is an active and generative component of culture? Could there be unforeseen consequences of heritage production that actually create something else?
Posted by Sandra Rozental at 1:03 PM
The readings for this week were extremely extensive and contained a deluge of information, all of which was very new to me. The first thing I searched for was major issues and similarities in the texts, and there is one that stands out among the rest. That is this issue with heritage. It seems that there is such a fear and ignorance about heritage and culture that world conferences are held to figure out how to protect it. They try to discover ways to protect heritage, and in my opinion culture as well, from what I believe to be globalization. It seems that when anything leaves its original place (music, dance, art, etc.) and gets into the hands of mainstream society (through tourism and other venues) a sense of loss takes place. There is loss of culture, loss of meaning, loss of understanding, and in my opinion loss of appreciation.
There is even a need to give the term “heritage” a concrete definition. Barbara Kirsheblatt-Gimblett discusses in her essay UNESCO’s effort to define and protect world heritage. I believe this need and effort to protect and define would not be necessary if the “world” had more tolerance to music, dance, art, etc, of other cultures. I too, agree with the fact that there is a difference between celebrating diversity and tolerating diversity. To ask the world to celebrate something that (because of the world) needs to be protected is unrealistic. I think we have a better chance as a culture to push for toleration. For example, the Ashur and the Bamiyan Valley which were destroyed by the Taliban in March 2001. This occurred due to intolerance. I also believe there is a tension between tolerance and heritage when I examine issues such as the Confederate Flag being raised over the South Carolina statehouse. Granted, I don’t think that the Confederate Flag has anything to due with heritage. I believe it has more to do with ignorance masked as one’s heritage, but for people who do believe it is their heritage, how do we draw a line of tolerance for people who disapprove of the flag?
I would like to provide some other examples where I feel heritage is feared and misrepresented. In the article about the U.S. department’s warnings of retro, I see people like U.S. Secretary Anson Williams, who warns against a national retro crisis for fear that present or future events will bring a “retro-ironic appreciation.” The spread of the Koru/Maori from an object that has spiritual and cultural meaning to being just a design on an ashtray also shows how heritage is misrepresented when going from a cultural artifact to the mainstream.
In addition, I feel that intangible cultural heritage brings a threat that was not adequately discussed in the readings. In the reading on the convention for the safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage, they discuss the purpose of the convention. They would like to build a mutual respect among communities, groups, and individuals by building an understanding and appreciation for intangible cultural heritage. They discuss the transmission of cultural heritage from generation to generation being constantly recreated by communities and groups in response to their environment, their interaction with nature and their history, thus providing them with a sense of identity and continuity, which promotes respect for cultural diversity and human creativity. My question is what if this recreation gets into the hands of communities, groups, or individuals who do not understand or have an appreciation for intangible cultural heritage, or who simply want to profit from it? What is significant to one person might just be a paycheck for another, so how can we differentiate the two? How can we ensure that someone will not abuse another’s heritage through their recreation process? What if their environment or their understanding of history does not bring about a mutual respect for cultural diversity and creativity? What do we do then? Everyone has a very different understanding of various aspects of history, and if intangible heritage is the vital source of identity deeply rooted in history (especially for minorities and indigenous populations) how can we not believe that identity will be skewed?
I have always believe that world music had been viewed by the West as third world music, but I was not cognizant of the many instances where world musicians received less recognition and pay due to that stigma. I also feel that the problem of focus becomes a problem for heritage because heritage is a construct that I believe ceases to exist without people. When the focus of inter- and intragovernmental discussion on traditional knowledge and folklore becomes property focused instead of people centered, heritage to me no longer exists.
I am extremely confused concerning the politics of origin. How can one possibly determine the owner for an expression of folklore? A folksong, dress, pattern, dance, music, medicinal properties of a plant, etc. can always be traced to multiple cultures, from multiple time periods. There is much diversity among such expressions, but there is also always a connection, relationship, or interconnectedness among cultures. Due to colonization and globalization, how can anyone put a stamp on something and say, “This originally belonged to me?” It is a phenomenon I simply do not understand.
The reading on Destination Museum really helped me figure out some of the things I should be looking for when viewing the Slavery in New York Exhibit for my research project. I would not have known to examine time and space before doing this reading. The fact that the museum itself is an undrawn map of all the places from which the material has come, the floor plan, which determines where people walk and go, and essential what they see really illuminates some things for me. When I think about it now, there was a floor plan that told me exactly where to go and what to see next in the Slavery in New York exhibit. This is something I need to pay more close attention to for I believe it will elucidate some information.
Many of these conferences and documents are needed because of globalization and the need for authenticity, which requires the protection of a culture and heritage. Because of this I feel that the politics of representation sometimes defines heritage more so than culture, and this is a problem.
Posted by Siobhan Robinson at 12:59 PM
Documentation Doesn't Keep My Heritage Alive!
If heritage is defined as creating something new -- "a metacultural operation" (Kirshenblatt-Gimblett) and "a living entity" (Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, UNESCO) then the policies to protect intangible heritage must be about more than documentation, but about supporting the whole ecosystem, the community in which culture is produced. If heritage is about living people who produce and transmit this knowledge, than these people need to be accorded full subjecthood and not be treated as objects (i.e. Feld's "A Sweet Lullaby for World Music") Developed countries need to engage in a soul-searching to root out deep-seated entitlement that allows them to unreflexively appropriate and commodify living heritage. Only if this occurs in there the potential for a positive public sphere. (Kirshenblatt-Gimblett) Otherwise, the "paradox of heritage" (Kirshenblatt-Gimblett) will end up perpetuating an unequal relationship between the producers of heritage and those who consume it. Moreover, the "humanity" to whom heritage belongs will only include those in developed countries who have the luxury to sample from the smorgosboard of difference. Legal protections must be put into place that protect communally produced products such as heritage so there will be legal recourse against the financial profitable appropriation Feld and Shand describe.
Kirshenblatt-Gimblett in "Destination museum" provides an overview of how heritage functions. Importantly, Kirshenblatt-Gimblett feels that "heritage produces something new in the present that has resource to the past." (149) Marking something "heritage" does not fix a custom that is in danger of dying out, but rather it creates a new product and web of relationships; it is a metacultural process. Heritage is not about going back to the past, but rather it is about creating something new in the present. Heritage changes the relationship that producers have to their cultural products by labeling them cultures and starting a new web of dynamics of interactions: "By production, I do not mean that the result is not 'authentic' or that it is wholly invented. Rather, I wish to underscore that heritage is not lost and found, stolen and reclaimed. It is a mode of cultural production in the present that has recourse to the past." (150)
One key aspects of heritage is that it "adds value to existing assets that have either ceased to be viable . . . or that never were economically production . . ." (150) Time travel, traveling to a world that no longer exists i.e. through a museum exhibition of artifacts or visiting an indigenous village, is a key trope of heritage. Heritage and tourism are symbiotic processes; heritage creates destinations and the tourism industry gets people to visit those destinations. In order to distinguish one destination from the next the difference, or salient features of a particular local must to successfully articulated. Although if one wants an escape vacation, a "get away" vacation of sand, sun, sea, sea, than once beach location can become interchangeable from the next.
Tourism imports tourists to buy and consume goods and services and export them back to your home location. Heritage produces something new through the way that heritage in marketed and packaged for tourist consumption; these systems of transfer often have a deleterious effect on the objects or way of life that is being displayed. These instruments for adding value are often ignored and the traditions being presented are what are recognized. Indeed, "a hallmark of heritage productions - perhaps their defining feature - is precisely the foreignness of the 'tradition' to it context of presentation. This estrangement produces an effect more Brechtian, more alienating, than mimetic and makes the interface a critical site for the production of meanings other than the 'heritage' message." (157)
As much as heritage is about remembering, it is also about forgetting. Indeed, through the conscious exhibiting of cultural practices choice are made about what one gets to see and the lens through which one views what one sees, the way events are narraritized. Heritage presentation provides a particular frame that leaves out more than it puts in and what is puts in it frames the interpretation for the viewer. For example, the 2002 Smithsonian Folklore Festival, "The Silk Road: Connecting Cultures, Creating Trust," made the traveler the hero and the market "became a model for free exchange and of connection, interdependence, and . . . trust." (12) The darker side the Silk Road -- invasions, wars, empires, vassal states etc -- was kept out of the frame.
Heritage, particularly in the display of objects in a museum, often displays objects separates from their ties to people and communities. Recent efforts, like at the Manawatu Museum in Palmerston North, New Zealand, have created an exhibition of objects that evokes the "living links to taonga that never died." (165)
Heritage productions are about virtuality, whether or not there are actualities, which increase the importance of experience. In the absence of actualities, or complete actualities (in the case of the phantom Abbey Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul), experience becomes the barometer with which one measures how satisfying the touristic experience was.
Expanding upon the notion of heritage as "produc[ing] something new in the present that has resource to the past." (149) articulated in "Destination museum," in "World Heritage and Cultural Economics," Kirshenblatt-Gimblett describes how "heritage is created through metacultural operations that extend museological values and methods . . . to living persons, their knowledge, practices, artifacts, social worlds, and life spaces." (1) What was habitus becomes heritage, changing the relationships that cultural producers have to their "cultural assets." (1) These is a fundamental paradox and asymmetry; those who produce cultural assets are defined by their "diversity," while those assets come to belong to all of "humanity." This asymmetry is related to the difference between cultural diversity and cultural relativity, which translates into the difference between celebrating diversity and tolerating difference. As Kirshenblatt-Gimblett states: "The tension between diversity and relativity - and their relationship to universal human rights - informs my analysis of the role of world heritage in defining a global cultural commons and global public sphere, consistent with UNESCO's twin goals of peace and prosperity." (2) "World heritage offers a way to make culture part of the solution," (2) by helping to create prosperity that can allow for peace. Kirshenblatt-Gimblett sees heritage as having the potential to create a global public sphere: "The conversion of habitus into heritage and heritage into cultural assets, cultural capital, and cultural good, a process that is integral to concepts of public domain, public goods, fair use, and global cultural commons, can engender the kind of public debate associated with a public sphere." (31)
As outlined in UNESCO's 2003 document from "The Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage" and Kirshenblatt-Gimblett's "World Heritage and Cultural Economics," UNESCO has a particular definition of heritage and policy initiates which stem from that definition. UNESCO created the category of intangible heritage as a place to recognize cultural productions of developing countries whose heritage did not fall under the categories of tangible or natural heritage. Intangible heritage now refers not only to the things produced, but also to the people who produced them. These has been an acknowledgement of how unlike the archive, knowledge in the repertoire is passed down through embodied knowledge; practitioners are the key transmitters of this cultural knowledge. (Diana Taylor) Instead of simply documenting traditions, UNESCO is now trying to help to sustain living, and often threatened, traditions. Intangible heritage is alive and therefore "the task . . . is to sustain the whole system as a living entity and not just to collect 'intangible artifacts.'" UNESCO originally tried to protect intangible heritage using legal concepts such as copyright and intellectual property. That endeavor failed because these laws are predicated on the notion of an individual producer, while intangible heritage was understood as a communal creation that exists in a variety of different forms. UNESCO shifted its focus from legal protection to preservation measures.
In keeping with this shift of conceptualizing intangible heritage as a living system, rather than simply documenting cultural forms, UNESCO defines intangible heritage using a "holistic and conceptual approach," identifying it in the 2001 document as "All forms of traditional and popular or folk culture, i.e. collective works originating in a given community and based on tradition." (5) UNESCO also provides a definition of intangible heritage that is more of an inventory: "Its forms are among others, language, literature, music, dance, games, mythology, rituals, customs, handicrafts, architecture and other arts," referencing earlier efforts to define, categorize and record intangible heritage.
Because UNESCO understands intangible heritage as "works originating in a given community" -- the local and situated nature of intangible heritage -- it encourages state actors to safeguard intangible heritage within its national boundaries (6) Moreover, UNESCO sees its role as providing leadership and guidance to international, state and local actors. UNESCO makes recommendations and raises awareness. UNESCO's list of intangible heritage is an example of a particular instrument meant to "promote awareness, dialogue, and respect," (6) stemming out of UNESCO recognition that intangible heritage is important because "these processes provide living communities with a sense of continuity with previous generations and are important to cultural identity, as well as to the safeguarding of cultural diversity and creativity of humanity." (5)
The 2002 Smithsonian Folklore Festival, "The Silk Road: Connecting Cultures, Creating Trust," provided a slightly different notion of heritage and therefore a different set of practices. The Folklore Festival was "[c]onceived as 'a living exhibition'" (11). The organizers defined heritage as a living, embodied practice. The organizers also de-emphasized national boundaries and emphasized interconnectedness and free exchange. To that end, the layout of the festival conveyed the silk route itself and cultural exchange. (12) Interestingly, on the homepage of The Silk Road website, there is a picture of people walking through the festival. There are hanging mats?, curtains?, seemingly from an exhibition on the upper part of the picture. The United States capital building is imposing and stable in the background, as if to say: "National boundaries overall might be minimized, but let's not forget which nation has organized this nexus of cultures." The website is set up as virtual time and space travel; not only can you click on links to go to any of the stops on the Silk Road, but you are also traveling back in time to when the Silk Road was a major trade root! The website strives to be experiential, to evoke experience rather than simply educate.
On the website there is a link for fashion where there is a summary of all the designers from various countries along the Silk Road who designed clothes and then pictures of models wearing their designs. The appropriation of cultural forms and lack of intellectual property law raises issues addressed in Feld's "A Sweet Lullaby for World Music" and "Scenes from a Colonial Catwalk: Cultural Appropriation and Intellectual Property Rights, and Fashion" and that WIPO has attempted to address through modification to intellectual property law.
Hafstein in "The Politics of Origin," articulates what is at stake in identifying intangible heritage/folklore as the production of an individual producer or a collective creation. Intellectual property and copyright law is designed to protect the individual producer of a unique, new product. In contrast, folklore is often understood as being communally created and therefore not under the protection of intellectual property law. WIPO has been meeting both to determine whether folklore could be reconceptualized as produced by individuals and hence covered under current intellectual property laws or whether new protections need to be implement to cover community creations such as folklore. Because heritage is conceived as communal, existing as part of a ecosystem that is passed down through time, there is a need to set up protections that run counter to the modernist privileging of the "genius" and "inventor." There is a need for protections that value the "ab-original." Perhaps moreover, there is a need to reconceptualize the whole notion of originality -- recognizing that all things participate in mimesis and the complex interplay of intertextuality.
Feld's "A Sweet Lullaby for World Music" and Shand's "Scenes from a Colonial Catwalk Cultural Appropriation and Intellectual Property Rights," provide eye-opening examples of the way that when heritage circulates it becomes divorced from its place of origin. Also, how the communities who produced that heritage receive no monetary benefit, while cultural producers in developed countries use intellectual property laws to financially profit. The paradoxical relationship Kirshenblatt-Gimblett articulated in "World Heritage and Cultural Economics" -- where those who produce cultural assets are defined by their "diversity," while those assets come to belong to all of "humanity" -- is put into sharp relief. These examples highlight the need for intellectual property laws that protect heritage and also the resistance of artists in developed countries to fully conceptualize what is the "right" amount of commendation to give to people whose heritage was appropriated. As Feld rhetorically asks: "How else could one read Deep Forrest and Jan Garbarek presenting themselves as the victims in a history where they are guaranteed vastly disproportionate gain to their muses?" (167)
In terms of how these reading could apply to my project, the ideas of cultural diversity and cultural relativity, i.e. celebrating diversity and tolerating difference, I think could be very helpful. What are the limits of relativity and tolerance? Walking around Hasidic Williamsburg, I have been struck by the number of groups living in such close proximity while in (seemingly) self-contained, non-mixing communities. Going from North to South along the East River, there is the Polish neighborhood of Greenpoint, the Hipster neighborhood right near the Bedford L train stop, the Hispanic neighborhood, and the Hasidic Jewish neighborhood. In addition, I recently read Bharucha's The Politics of Cultural Practice where he discuses intra and inter cultural theater as opposed to multicultural theater. With the prefix intra- he sees a space for difference to exist, without the homogenizing effects of state-sponsored, "let's all hold hands," multiculturalism. How does the relationship between the Hasidic population and other population in Williamsburg compare to the relationship between the large Muslim population in Holland and other Dutch populations? When can difference be tolerated and when does it destabilize the nation state? Or conflict with universal notions of human rights? (i.e female circumcision)
Posted by Sarah Zoogman at 12:53 PM
Power and Preservation
This week’s readings on heritage move us beyond the individual “tourist experience,” and expand the realm of inquiry to encompass the politics of preservation as they are enacted on a global scale. Ultimately, these selections wrestle with questions of power: Considering the violent history of international trade and cultural exploitation, how can transnational bodies of governance and law safeguard that which was lost to processes of globalization without performing the very racist valuations of life that made “progress” possible in the first place? Anchoring neutral terms like heritage, folklore, diversity, and humanity are time-tested dichotomies of power distribution: colonized/colonizer, rest/The West, third/first worlds. In regards to tourist practices these readings illuminate those aspects that cultural displays, panoramas, “world music” and the Silk Roads projects do not: the dimensions of economic exploitation, market desire, and guilt that fuel such global projects.
Though each piece conceptualizes and uses the term heritage slightly differently, those with a theoretical bent successfully de-naturalize and de-neutralize the term. BKG’s chapter in Destination Culture noted that heritage projects effectively give “outmoded” life-worlds a second life (born again, as it were). Heritage is no longer associated with the past – it is conceived as a term that points to a creative reconstruction occurring squarely in the contemporary moment. The forces exhibiting and displaying alternate cultural modes are inherently productive -- i.e., heritage produces “places” from “spaces” and configures a range of somatic, intellectual, and collective visitor experiences. Simultaneously, heritage can be destructive by sanctioning “zones of repudiation” out of that which is “left behind.” The past – in its actuality – is not (and can never be) wholly reconstituted. What is displayed is an idea/ideal of the past, romantic in its conception, sanitized in its reconstruction. These ideas were helpful in thinking through the building of the Ground Zero memorial and the soundwalk memorial – in both instances, a past moment of violence is remembered and reconstituted using highly contemporary and highly advanced technologies. September 11th is being recast as a sacred, national day of remembrance – heritage-building is slowly occurring on and around this space.
Heritage, then, functions in a particular way. BKG’s essay on world heritage expands on this idea and shows how this term functions on a global scale. Protecting the “intangible cultural heritage of humanity” notes the document from the UNESCO convention, is a “universal will and common concern.” Such good-intentioned and sweeping declarations give theorists pause, and rightly so. As BKG notes, world heritage (like world music) is posited as an antidote to the homogenizing effects of globalization. Nonetheless, it is a global project made possible by planetary networks and, by setting universal value standards, may actually contribute to homogenizing processes. Again, heritage-preservation both creates and destroys. A look at the list of those “intangibles” to be preserved highlights the arbitrariness of such a process – how can one justifiably value some life worlds over others? At the same time, how can institutions of power “stand by” while these forms slip away into the cemetery of the past? A complicated question indeed, one that gets at the heart of how global justice is to be conceived.
Furthermore, it seems that “humanity” (in the UNESCO docs) operates as a code word for “the West” while “diversity” and “culture” are code words for “the other.” That is, it feels as if the theoretical underpinnings of enlightenment-era political liberalism implicitly fuel such a project. Humanity owns and protects diversity, just as the agent of political liberalism owns and possesses life, liberty and property. The human with the “right” in universal human rights law has to be a distinctive citizen of a nation (in order to be protected by the law). Now, in safeguarding intangible heritage, rights to life are born from cultural (rather than national) distinctions. And, as BKG asks towards the end of the essay, what happens to cultural diversity when it belongs to humanity? Heritage, the great global diplomat, may be undoing distinction by positing universal standards of “what is best” for humanity to remember, inherit, and incorporate.
Issues of safeguarding diversity through recourse to global governing bodies of law arise in the Haftein, Feld, and Shand pieces. All authors operate under the assumption that legislation is needed to protect community rights to their creative expressions. At the heart of these discussions is, as Feld states, a barrage “uneven rewards, unsettling representations, and complexly entangled desires that lie underneath the commercial rhetoric of global connection, that is, the rhetoric of ‘free’ flow and ‘greater’ access.” The same, it seems, can be said for tourism. Again, the question becomes, how can “we” dignify and retain diversity in an era of contact, erosion, change, and travel? Constructing value-heavy dichotomies between the traditional, folkloric reproduction and the contemporary, original innovation does not help.
Music, healing, fashion, and design – “culture” as it were – are all flowing freely through new global channels (e.g., the internet); yet, this metaphor of the “free market” always obscures the realities of drastic inequality. As Feld notes, “the existence and success of world music returns to one of globalization's basic economic clichés: the drive for more and more markets and market niches.” Replace the category “world music” with “tourism” and we are back to looking squarely at the industry of culture. Ultimately, these readings helped me think through the ways that international sight-seeing, pilgrimage, and tourism are part of a changing global landscape. In conceptualizing my own project, it will be necessary to take into account these global flows and governing institutions, thereby connecting the individual touristic experience to questions of politics and the power of heritage-building.
Posted by Brynn Noelle Saito at 12:14 PM
Blowing my Nose in Kleenex Lotion Tissues is Endangered Intangible Cultural Heritage Because I Can't Afford to Buy Them Anymore.
According to the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, “intangible cultural heritage” includes practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, and skills. The convention also acknowledges that “intangible cultural heritage” is constantly recreated by “communities and groups in response to their environment, their interaction with nature and their history” (2). It manifests itself in oral traditions (including language), performing arts, social practices, rituals and festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe, and traditional craftsmanship (Article 2).
This definition is so broad that it seems as if “intangible cultural heritage” is the very basis of human existence. It might as well be called the body of knowledge held by human beings, which continuously constructs and reconstructs peoples’ sense of identity through various social interactions. In order to reasonably negotiate a definition that applies to almost all behavior, an additional requirement must be added. In order to be added to the list, the behavior must be in danger of extinction.
UNESCO has currently proclaimed 47 "Masterpieces of the Oral and
Intangible Heritage of Humanity" from all regions of the world (http://portal.unesco.org/culture/en/ev.php-URL_ID=19326&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html
). Even though Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett maintains that heritage is “a mode of metacultural production that produces something new, which, though it has recourse to the past, is fundamentally different from it” (32). Despite the possible negative results that may occur by being included in the list of "Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity,” many parties seek entry into the list. On November 21-24, the International Jury Meeting for the Third Proclamation will occur in Paris. Originally, the meeting was scheduled for July. However, it had to be moved back because 70 groups are filing for inclusion in the list.
In order to apply for inclusion, one needs to fill out the UNESCO form, present a 2-hour VHS tape, and present a 10-minute film, of professional quality, to be shown during the final assembly. The 10-minute tape must describe the subject, show how it is of exceptional value, show how it is in danger of extinction, and present a plan of action. Applicants are encouraged to look at the website presenting the 47 proclaimed masterpieces to get a more precise idea of
the type of oral and intangible heritage which retained the Jury's attention at the first two. However, the website does little to substantiate the requirement of “danger of extinction.” When looking under the heading “risk of disappearance” for Japan’s Ningyo Johruri Bunraku Puppet Theatre, it reads, “it faces no serious threat nowadays” http://www.unesco.org/culture/intangible-heritage/masterpiece.php?id=68&lg=en
). That is because in 1955, the Japanese government declared Bunraku “Important Intangible Cultural Property” and spent a lot of money building and subsidizing a Bunraku theatre in Osaka. (Incidentally, the Japanese government is now repeating this procedure by building a theatre for the native dances of Okinawa.) Clearly, there is a large discrepancy between Bunraku and groups like The Royal Ballet of Cambodia, which was almost completely erased during the Khmer Rouge rule.
Once the extinction rule is taken out of play in the UNESCO definition of “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” almost anything, including the white lie, can be legitimately submitted to the list. In fact, when looking at the phrase Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity,” there is no reason to automatically assume the idea of endangerment. Of the upcoming 70 applicants, how will UNESCO be able to legitimately turn down any party? It might fall strictly to presentation savvy.
Taken at a Shinto Shrine, on the top of a hill in Kurashiki, Japan. This is a picture of Kyogen, which is the more comedic bent of Nohgaku (one of the first Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity). Kyogen is played before or in-between Noh pieces.
2: Traditional dance of Cambodia, performed for tourists in a restaurant in Siem
Reap. If I remember correctly, this
particular dance is drawn from fishing and gathering methods.