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I’m sick *cough cough*

When I read poetry written at the beginning of the 20th century, preceding WWI, I sympathize with the increasing foreboding, the growing feelings of dread and lack of agency effected by these poets.  I know these feelings, the emotionally and physically draining reality of seeing something dreadful coming, without the power to do anything to stop it.

Simply, this is how I feel during cold/flu season.

Not to belittle a major world catastrophe in which millions died.  But, for the record, the fact that most of these deaths were due to influenza, should not be overlooked.

Each year, inexplicably, I think I’m going to evade the grasp of the winter cold.  Last year I thought I had stumbled across a suitable preventive, but later learned that prolonged use of the drug could obliterate your taste buds.  Not good.

Yet, it always comes: that back of your throat/nose static, that precedes the runny nose, the puffy eyes, and then the dreaded congestion, which is basically the final nail in your social life’s coffin.  Nobody enjoys a mouth breather, especially one who is clearly contagious and looks like a walking Vicks ad.

But what’s the use of complaining? The common cold is a unifying human condition, that we all must suffer through, in miserable solidarity each winter, right?

WRONG.

Last year, buried in the Science section of the New York Times (safely, one of the least read sections of the paper) I did a double take over a seemingly innocuous headline: “Cure for the Common? Not Yet, But Possible”  Had this been the Huffington Post, I wouldn’t have given this any attention (ex: “Jennifer Garner brings Dolphin to Orgasm,” “John Mayer on the Racial Preferences of his Penis” – need I say more?), but this was the New York Times, where they do things like interview legitimate sources and fact check.

It’s true: the cure for the common cold is now a possibility, with scientists having decoded 99 strains of the virus. However, prohibitive production costs have dissuaded pharmaceutical companies from filing a patent (big surprise).

So not to get all Michael Moore on y’all, but this winter, as you stand at a party, trying to decide what you’re going to do for kleenex after depleting your hosts’ stock of toilet paper, summon up whatever iota of energy you have left beneath that haze of cold medicine and alcohol, and shake a silent, tissue-clenching fist at big health care.

necco-phelia

After a five week cold war with ATT regarding modem prices and wireless internet service fine print, I finally got wireless internet in my apartment this Tuesday.  Despite certain inconveniences derived from living off the grid, like having to spend absurd amounts of time in coffee shops, syphoning the free wifi while nursing one steadily cooling cup of coffee in an attempt to spend as little money as possible (college, yay.), I have some what enjoyed my forced relegation to a simpler time, and the carefree, relatively responsibility-free environment it facilitates (“oh sorry, I missed that extremely pointless meeting, I didn’t get the preceding six equally pointless e-mails notifying me of this eventual waste of my time – you see, I don’t have internet…).

Apparently, this is just in time, as the 90’s – and the blissful unaccountability that accompanied the Clinton era and my childhood – have officially come to an end this Valentine’s day season. In a formal statement released last month, Necco, the masterminds behind such cardboard confectionary achievements as the Necco Wafer and the Candy Heart, announced that they would be discontinuing certain dated phrases in exchange for new, more cultural relevant ones.  Beginning this Valentine’s day, office relationships among the upper age brackets and landlords will have to find another way to communicate their love, or at least turn to a less socially aware candy in which to do so (I suggest maryjanes): the phrase “fax me” has been replaced with “tweet me.”

As a conscientious Twitter objector, with a penchant for overly-complicated, outdated technologies, I was horrified by this news.  How am I supposed to solicit all my love letters written on legal pad? That paper don’t fit on the average scanner. Plus, if I lose my internet again, how would I even receive said scanned document via e-mail? No, I’ll stick to the tried and true fax machine, wire-FUL and elegantly collecting dust in the back corner of the nearest Kinkos, thank you.

So this Valentines day, as you and your loved one tweet simultaneously about the same movie, you’re both watching, on the same couch, from the smart phones you each just bought each other, think of the sacrifice that some of us – those without internet connection on our phones, who can honestly claim that most of our human contact is done face to face, not interface to interface – had to make for your little romantic tweetfest.  But most of all, think of the fax machine, stripped of its one final remaining claims to cultural relevance.

Video essays are, in many ways, new-age oral histories. I thought about this as we moved from video to video during class today.

Without this class, and without the form of the video essay, none of us would have stopped to zoom in on the minute aspects of our life that we chronicled. The necklace one wears without thinking, almost an extension of one’s physical self. The knees that support us. The boy from a past life. The pipe waiting for you in your bedroom at the end of a dizzying day. These are facets of our lives that weave in with infinite other facets, and get lost in the cacophony of our evolving self-narratives. It was exciting to see our class share such intimate details of their out-of-the-classroom lives today.

And, on the subject of oral histories, here’s a cool organization I discovered today. It’s called StoryCorps: a nonprofit whose mission is to honor each others’ lives through short video/audio pieces. StoryCorps sets up “listening” spaces across the country, and is well known for its booth in bustling Grand Central Station. Individuals can walk into these booths and interview each other — the idea here is that an intimate, unscripted interview between a mother and son, husband and wife, or two longtime friends, can reveal not only a story but the dynamics of a relationship. Each interview is recorded and preserved. The interviews are taken home by participants and sent to the Library of Congress, where they’re archived to document the America of today.

I love stories, and this organization seems like another way to herald stories into the new century. Here is StoryCorps’ section on the NPR website, and here’s their homepage.

Who am I?

Our discussion in class today about Michael’s culture and heritage left an impression on me. I wish I had a cultural heritage to push away from and become my own person. Okay, that sounds a little strange, I am aware of this. Hang in there though…hear me out.

What I am trying to say is that who says I cannot dictate my own cultural heritage? Just as Assyria is no longer a tangible place maybe there is a non-place out there for people like me. Or a non-place out there where I can create my own interpretation of the culture and reject the traditional beliefs.

This all goes back to my deep-rooted desire to rebel against something. As of now I am a rebel without a cause, but if I had a cultural heritage I could be a rebel with a cause. Essentially I am applauding Michael for being his own person and contemplating how I can define myself in a world with few boundaries.

Regret to Inform

Of all the countless things about war that infuriate and depress me, the aspect that probably gets me the most is the dehumanization of it.  In a time of war, the people most directly affected become pawns in a twisted and merciless game of chess.  Individual people become facts and figures; they become single digits in a death count.  Dehumanization is what makes war possible.  How could a soldier who enters a war having never desired to kill another, be driven to do so unless they were able to view this other as something subhuman?  I might just be naive and overly optimistic about the inherent good in people.  But I really do stand by this.

So what I appreciated most about Sonneborn’s Regret to Inform was the humanness of it.  The women in her interviews poured out their hearts and souls.  It was raw.  This movie did what the naively hopeful and optimistic me always envisions doing when it comes to war: revealing the humanity of both sides, and thus bringing the good guy/bad guy dichotomy into question.  The good guys and the bad guys don’t seem so different when you hear the real stories.  The humanizing stories.

Like other people in the class, I did question Sonneborn at first.  It irked me a little to think of the privileged American woman heading to Vietnam for the sake of her own healing process.  Seeking out these women was uncomfortably close to the kind of pillaging the Americans did during the war.  But where Sonneborn redeemed herself for me was in the care I felt she took with the women on both sides.  Although it sounds like last quarter’s class would disagree, I didn’t see this film as being melodramatic.  The soundtrack was sentimental, but appropriately so.  I wouldn’t expect any happier-sounding music, nor did I think it crossed over into pompous, in-your-face territory (like the soundtrack of Night and Fog did).  And the narration on Sonneborn’s part was minimal, and to me it simply sounded sincere.  She meant the things she was saying.  And regardless of how much healing time she has had, or that she has moved on to be happily married, I could never deny her the right to be sincerely emotional about something.  I think a lighter tone would have been unnatural for her, and out of place in the film.

Sonneborn combated dehumanization by pairing the brutality of war with the personal, heartfelt emotion of the real people affected by it.  And she bridged the gap of good guy versus bad guy by humanizing those affected on both sides of the pond.

Night and Fog is hands down the most disturbing thing I have ever watched.* It disturbs me in a very deep way, which stretches even beyond the graphic footage and the photographs that, aesthetically speaking, are clearly the most disturbing part of the film.  What I found the most chilling was the pairing of these images with footage of the peaceful, lush countryside and the historical buildings of past concentration camps.  And–with the narrator’s resounding last words about our blind eyes and deaf ears and the absence of anyone taking responsibility–I wonder if that was the point.

The stark contrast between the concentration camp scenes literally teeming with bodies (and body parts) and the site years later, devoid of any human form, was unbelievably eerie to me.  As horrified as I was by the grotesque scenes, I was almost equally horrified at the sparse shots of lush green grass–sometimes with an unidentifiable metal form here and there–which left all the horror up to my now-traumatized imagination.

The past few days, I have been grappling with this film on an ethical level.  Yes, it is necessary to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive.  It is crucial for people to understand the terror of this and other tragedies so that, among many other reasons, we can keep them from happening again.  With the ridiculous claims we still see today that deny the very actuality of the Holocaust, I cannot call it unethical to present the world with concrete proof, and to shed light on the nightmare. But where do we draw the line between necessary exposure, and gratuitous exposure?  I don’t ask this because I have a theory on the answer, but because I genuinely do not know.  I know I was physically sickened by the images in this film.  I lost my appetite, my hear rate went out of the roof, and I oftentimes couldn’t help but turn away and cover my eyes. I have read a lot and seen a lot and learned a lot when it comes to the Holocaust, but I saw and learned things I never knew in this film.

On the one hand, it does seem gratuitous to bombard a viewer with images like these without any sensitivity or care…or at the very least some time to process the living hell taking place on screen (if it is ever possible to process such a thing). And it seems completely wrong to show these naked, withering bodies knowing that these bodies all had names and families; they were humans but this movie dehumanizes them just as the Nazis did.

But on the other hand, this very action of bombarding without remorse and dehumanizing does through film what the Nazis did through systematic violence.  And if the victims of this tragedy had to actually endure all of this, who am I to say as a viewer that I can’t endure a half-hour of looking at it, especially if this means gaining a better understanding of their struggles? And if this all happened in the first place, and is actually documented on video, how can this documentation not be shared..?

And to bring yet another loaded question into play, what are the differences in ethics and responsibility when it comes to written language, versus still image, versus moving image? If I had read accounts of all of the horrors in Night and Fog, I don’t think I would have questioned the ethics of it at all.  Yet, I also probably wouldn’t have been affected quite as viscerally.

ejfdkjfhdkjfhdksjfhdkjfhdjkhkjdfghdfjkgejskfskfhsjkfhsf <—(lack of real words to express anything else about this film, and lack of ability to think straight at 1:45am)