A Memorial Day Thought


Photo from the US Army Quartermaster Museum

This Memorial Day weekend, I’ve been thinking about some images from my youth – of the Vietnam war and, especially, watching the evening news with my parents and seeing coffins of soldiers killed in action being unloaded from a plane. More than the image itself (I couldn’t find the exact one of my memory, but this comes close) was the feeling I remember sharing with my family as we sat safely in our suburban basement where a couple of years earlier we had watched a grainy image of Neil Armstrong taking one small step on our 11” black and white television. My own children have also grown up during a war – our longest – but while they know it is going on, we don’t have the shared experience of watching those killed in action return to US soil in flag-draped boxes. My children seem far more disconnected from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan than I was from Vietnam. Faulty parenting may be partially to blame, but the way we experience media (and fight wars) is so fundamentally different than it was 40 years ago that that seems the real culprit. We watch TV on a screen smaller than that old B&W of years ago, with ear buds or headphones that enable people to be in the same room while listening to different soundtracks. We can choose from an almost infinite variety, almost none of which includes news from the front. When there is news, it is of a drone strike: even killing is by remote control.

To what extent are we doomed to experience all culture in this way, individually, deaf to what goes on around us in the real world thanks to noise-canceling headphones? Or, perhaps, can an arts experience, a social experience, counteract the disconnections of our time? Or, perhaps, I should just send links of war news to my kids via text message…

[For a more nuanced perspective on Memorial Day (including a salute to the two fallen soldiers that saved my father) see this http://www.forbes.com/sites/toddessig/2016/05/28/five-ways-to-reflect-and-remember-on-memorial-day/#2105a58ddf1c ]

About lindaessig

Linda Essig is Dean of the College of Arts & Letters at Cal State LA and principal/owner of Creative Infrastructure LLC. The opinions expressed on creativeinfrastructure are her own and not those of Cal State LA. You can follow her on twitter @LindaInPhoenix.
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