Don’t Forget: Memorial Day Is About Memory, Not Amnesia

We all know, all of us in America anyway, that Memorial Day weekend marks the start of summer. It’s about the downtime ahead, the vacation that’s coming, the shutting down of the serious in anticipation of fun in the sun.

Memories work on us on every level, especially when they slip out of mind. A memory exhibit at the Exploratorium Museum touches on the usual: “You get to school and realize you forgot your lunch at home. You take a test and you can’t remember half the answers. You see the new kid who just joined your class, and you can’t remember his name. Some days, it seems like your brain is taking a holiday–you can’t remember anything!”

I like to joke about my own “senior moments” but cultures have them too—and often, not always by accident. In our culture, it is often by design. The frequent references we hear to “political amnesia” is not just commentary but an allusion to a social pathology, a deliberate process of actually disconnecting us from our past and history.

A book by Andreas Huyssen takes another tact, arguing, “Rather than blaming amnesia on television or the school, Twilight Memories argues that the danger of amnesia is inherent in the information revolution. Our obsessions with cultural memory can be read as re-representing a powerful reaction against the electronic archive and they mark a shift in the way we live structures of temporality.”

Our amnesia about recent developments seems to be induced and reinforced by the very fast paced entertainment-oriented formats that we have become addicted to as sources of news and knowledge. They keep us in the present, in the now, disconnected from any larger ideas or analytical framework.

The architects of TV News know this from their market surveys and studies. It is this very media effect that they hype to lure advertisers to their real business: selling our eyeballs to sponsors, not deepening our awareness. Depoliticizing our culture is a media necessity in a society driven by consumerism. Every programmer knows the drill. It’s a market logic called “KISS:” Keep It Simple and Stupid.

So even as this dialectic is deplored, it is, sadly, quite functional.

So on Memorial Day and in the season ahead, think of how to encourage remembering, not just about the dead, but for the living. Our future depends on how we understand the past. Political Annesia is the enemy in our A.D.D culture..

New Dissector Danny Schechter edits Mediachannel.org. His new documentary feature IN DEBT WE TRUST starts screening at festivals next month. Comments to: [email protected]

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