Erika Doss Lecture Series Extra Credit

Erika Doss presented a lecture on “Cultural Vandalism and Public Memory: Anger, Citizenship, and Memorials in Contemporary America.” It was very interesting to learn about the different meanings of memorials, and also the deep responses in the people that view them. For some people, it can touch a deeply personal nerve, sometimes good and sometimes bad. In the good cases, it can bring peace to a death of a loved one that died in a tragedy or war; it can honor great men/women who changed our country for the better. In situations that create iconoclasm, are instances of memorials bringing up painful memories; i.e. the raping or murder of a culture; or the social injustices brought to a race of people. These can be grandeur large statues or makeshift arts/crafts memorials (i.e. scene of a tragic death with flowers, photographs, personal items). Regardless of the form, there is a lot to learn about instances of vandalism and anger towards these memorials.

Doss speaks about how anger is deeply rooted into our current politics and how as a culture it is both respected and normal to be angry and speak loudly about our political feelings. Doss speaks, “anger is key to ‘Memorial Mania’ [term she references to this topic and social acts towards memorials]. Memorials themselves are not angry, but disputed narratives of identity, belonging, control fires up people.” When anger induces an act of vandalism, the people are reconfiguring the history on their own terms. I think that this idea is incredibly interesting, because we can ask ourselves what marks an act of vandalism. Some argue that the vandalism should stay there, because it shows the meaning in its true light, and reveals its true nature/knowledge. It is the nature of memorials to change or come and go. For example she explains, “like a human body, it might live for only a time, being created and destroyed. They can be altered or changed with the onset of new politics.” If a country’s politics or social identity has changed, they might want to remove old memorials that are not relative to their present beliefs.

I think it is fascinating how understanding peoples’ reactions to memorials as art figures, really allows us to examine our emotional relationship to history itself. The monument is asking the question, “How do you feel about what I represent?” The responses really just allow us to see how people view the past events, tragedies, and victories. It is not about the art of the monument or the memorial itself at all, and we can see into the hearts of the people as the opinions and feelings change over time.

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