The following is from a series of musings on trauma, memory, community, and place. The introduction to the series and beginning essay [link] explains the purpose of this month of entries.
I remember at the “Victory from God” rally there was also a museum which contained souvenirs of the war and such.
I returned a few days later with some other friends.
Outside stood the turret of a destroyed tank from the invading army.
Little children were playing on it.
As if on cue, a vaguely European-ish looking photographer crouched down to frame his prey.
I could hear the thought forming in his mind.
It makes for much of the mediation of this region.
I could see the future caption on the frame for the photograph hanging in “The Half King”.
I could read his name in the credit for the picture accompanying the story on the front page of the New York Times.
I moved forward, turned, crossed my arms, and stared down at him as I bodily blocked his shot.
He looked up and then back at his camera, feigned fixing his lens, and walked away.
It was the first time in my life that my perceived identity was in any way empowering.
This took me quite by surprise.
I only meant to point out that his action was patently offensive.
I also knew that his action would have repercussions.
He perhaps wasn’t even aware of them.
Which makes it all the worse.
I spent many vacations of my youth in American cities entirely devoted to their Civil War heritage.
This was not of my choice, I feel compelled to add.
The photographer’s reaction would not be the same if witnessing, say, children running on the deck of the USS Enterprise’s “Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum”.
Which is marketed to children in no small way.
Or if they were playing on the cannons surrounding the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument in Riverside Park.
Which I’ve seen children doing.
Or taking in panoramic war scenes in Gettysburg.
Or virtually killing each other on networked video games.
I’ll leave it at that for now.
The framer and those framed need share common ground.
Otherwise their manifested images are entirely worthless.
I mean to say photographs taken and consumed by a disconnected audience separated by geographical, cultural, and class differences are often only validated in terms of their historical propaganda value decades later.
Often in direct contradiction to or inversion of their derivative events.
Just ask Sharbat Gula, or Florence Owens Thompson, or Phan Thi Kim Phuc.
A theft of soul, fear the Indigenous.
Perhaps they are not so far off.
In the meantime, such thievery is great for self-promotion.
The soul is quite a commodity.
Just ask CNN.
Or Tina Brown.
I remember when I worked at her execrable Talk magazine.
Speaking of trauma.
If I recall correctly, there were six of us on the art team.
We worked all over each other in a small conference room.
Between us all there were decades of magazine publishing experience.
But this means nothing when someone is hellbent on redefining what “magazine” means.
By that I mean to say “has pretenses to come up with something that hasn’t been done before”.
We were like those proverbial monkeys pounding away at typewriters.
While someone constantly reminded us: “Not Shakespeare!”
Here I’m talking as if the content even mattered.
The byline of that magazine should have been something like:
“The spin of it just has to match the hype of it.”
Then it doesn’t really matter what is produced.
We had finally put the first issue to rest.
There was a story where Hillary Clinton spoke of her husband’s infidelity.
You know, something extremely important to know about.
And then John Kennedy, Jr. went and downed his plane just short of Martha’s Vineyard.
Before it even registered what had happened, the demand came for us to find every picture available of him in New York City.
The rolodexes spun; the calls went out; the messengers started arriving with portfolios.
We were to categorize the pictures according to stages of his life.
It was nothing if not maudlin and perverse.
We worked in silence.
At one point in the afternoon, we couldn’t much take it anymore.
I suggested we go across the street, grab a drink, and then continue our work.
As we were heading out the door, Tina showed up.
“Where are you all going?” she demanded.
The illustration editor spoke: “We’re going to take a little break; we’ll be right back.”
She didn’t want us to leave.
The art director spoke: “We won’t be gone long; we need a break.”
She demanded to know why.
The photo editor spoke: “It’s too much; it’s just really depressing looking at these pictures!”
She didn’t miss a beat.
She said: “Yes, but it’s great for the magazine!”
Anything for capital-‘B’ “Buzz”.
I just stared at her in stunned disbelief.
Within a week I had quit.
I admit readily that I couldn’t take the work “environment”.
Where grown women ripped up our work with their feet.
In the photocopy room which served as our “secret” layout review space.
And which was locked at night.
Because of a fear that the night cleaning staff might steal ideas.
Oh, I could write a book.
Examining the masthead of the first issues of the magazine, it seems many followed my lead.
As rats leaving a sinking ship.
I’m not sure how I survived New York City.
In any case, it has become a rather unpalatable place.
Where market-driven branded Buzz now defines a whole generation.
And wipes out every other one preceding it.
Or every one that doesn’t fit its idea of, well, “fitting”.
Where no one “knows”, but everyone is “in the know”.
Where everyone wears a cynical individualism and sarcastic jadedness on their sleeve.
Like a badge of honor.
It’s a put on, and an affectation.
One I’m glad to have left behind.
The regrets remain, unfortunately.
I think what upset me most about quitting was the look on my art director’s face.
That, and our silent tears.
There are gravitational incentives to work together.
And there are equally forceful gravities that pull us apart.
And we lean in a particular direction, along a spectrum of communal-mindedness.
It takes a lot for me to turn my back on colleagues.
“Every man for himself” is not something I’ve really ever understood.
It goes against our nature.
By “nature”, I mean our basic primate-human needs and reason.
By “our”, I mean all of us, collectively speaking.
I won’t belabor the point.
When I look back at the summer of 2006, I’m not filled with such despair.
Don’t misunderstand me, I had my moments.
And they haunt me at times.
But we persevere; and we move on.
Note: I am speaking in the present tense.
And it all travels with us.
Borne together, it makes moving forward even possible.
Carried alone, it bogs one down.
And freezes one in place.
Image: Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument | Date: August, 2000 | Place: Riverside Park; Manhattan | Camera: Kodak Retina 35mm/1950s | Caption: This monument features cast cannons and accompanying stacks of cannonballs. It was erected in memory of those who served the Union during the Civil War.