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selfies at auschwitz: nazi and zombie identity

August 1, 2014

SocialBarrel: “Auschwitz Selfies: Has the Selfie Craze Gone Too Far?” by Cicely Blain:

Many people criticize the millennial generation for their selfie-taking obsession and view it as a marker of social decay. They fear that the constant need to be online is removing ‘real’ social interaction and creating a zombie, personality-less generation. They believe that the photos are a result of narcissism and self-indulgence that is fuelled by the online world and criticize selfie-posters as desperate and vain.

the latest craze of teenagers taking selfies at landmarks with terrible historical connotations such as Auschwitz and the Holocaust Memorial.

An Israeli Facebook page roughly translated as “With my Besties at Auschwitz” displayed people taking selfies at the historical landmark. The page had over 12,000 likes before it was removed after complaints of inappropriateness.

See the source article at The New Yorker: “Should Auschwitz Be a Site for Selfies?” by Ruth Margalit – and see syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr. recent opinion “Don’t take selfies in Auschwitz” or “Selfie at Auschwitz — and why it’s wrong“:

In a place haunted by ghosts, on a thoroughfare of the damned, standing upon ground once watered by blood, Breanna Mitchell lifted a camera to take her own picture. She smiled a sunshine smile. And the Internet exploded.

Pitts thinks her action was wrong because it “feels viscerally … wrong” (like a zombie?) and that the picture makes it all about her instead of reverence for the atrocity. Recall when Obama took a selfie. And so the internet exploded. But that’s what it does best! It gets people talking! And as Blain pointed out, we can’t assume we know what these selfies mean:

This type of selfie seems inappropriate because we are convinced that taking selfies is a narcissistic and attention-seeking act. However, as Dr. Thorin Tritter of the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics comments, people may be choosing to take selfies at Auschwitz because they want a personal memory of their time remembering the history of the place and … possible to conclude that while some are just self-absorbed, vain and attention-seeking individuals, others are genuinely honouring the past in the only way the 21st century allows them to.

Consider this issue of ambiguous meaning in regards to other symbol interpretation. For example, the ongoing trademark issue of the Washington football team, the Korean Zombie’s offense at the Rising Sun symbol, and the difficulty of determining zombie meaning! Provocation for provocation’s sake is not entirely narcissism.

Speaking of which, let’s also mention that World War Z author Max Brooks mentioned Nazi’s on Bill Maher referring to the Tea Party, and that was just one week before Bill Maher started his “zombie lies” segments – with such narcissism that he acts like he coined the term – or that a comedian could speak about truth this way – though perhaps only a comedian really can. The truth is so much simpler if the goal is only a laugh or to promote another product. Note also “World War Z 2 Release Date: Expected Premiere Date to Be Set for Summer 2015” by Shilpa Chakravorty, BREATHEcast News Reporter:

the war against the zombies has just begun.

The issue of selfies and creating self-identity on the internet and symbols overloaded with historical meaning. This is only just beginning. One of the reasons that that Guy Fawkes mask is such a good symbol for Anonymous is because Guy Fawkes Night itself is so overloaded with conflicting historical meaning; it’s bonfires to celebrate the King’s successful suppression of assassination plot or is it modern celebration to honor the would be matyr terrorist for plotting against tyranny. Recall the court martial of Pfc. Moyers for Resident Evil symbols and considering a scenario in which his commanders have become zombies, would it then be treason to stop them? Of course, but…

The spirit of Anonymous is directly opposed to the spirit of selfies. These two internet cultures cannot understand each other, but they have in common an native relationship with the internet that mainstream culture still doesn’t quite understand. And once again the dichotomy is false because some people engage in both cultures. Still, when Pitts rails against irreverent selfies he is still thinking of meaning-making in a pre-internet society, when symbols held their meaning differently.

anonymous auschwitz selfie guy fawkes
star trek nazi cosplay

Remember 1968 when in Star Trek they took that trip to the Nazi world in the episode “Patterns of Force”. It’s a great episode, with a plot sort of like the movie “Apocalypse Now” (or rather the book “Heart of Darkness”). The still images of the cast in Nazi cosplay might seem somewhat offensive, and it took decades before it was allowed to broadcast in Germany, but the plot suggests that simply using Nazi insignia and methodology ultimately leads to an oppressive society even with the most benevolent of leadership intentions. The episode ends with Drs. McCoy and Spock arguing about the interpretation for human history but Kirk cuts it off with a knowing Shatner smile. After all, even in the Star Trek utopia there is a military command hierarchy. Is this authority structure necessary? What would it look like for a decentralized group to explore space?

Recall also the story of a young Max Brooks went to dinner in a Nazi uniform. His father, of course the great Mel Brooks, writer of “Springtime for Hitler” the song in the movie and musical “The Producers”, but the costume still wasn’t appropriate for the dinner table. Dragging further out of context, the hacktivist and internet troll Weev has claimed to have taught the song to white supremacists in prison. What wonderful shifting of meaning and further evidence of the alienation of authors from their works.

We never know how what we create will be read, but we should create anyway! Consider in light of today’s previous ZombieLaw posts regarding Frankenstein’s last opera and the risks of satire-and-all-speech.

And finally, consider that the meaning of history are zombies and the dead hand of the past should not be allowed to control the meaning of today. Today is a new day for the people here today. On this recently popular post to imgur, what appears as the yearbook quote of Ashley Cunningham:

I make black history everyday, I don’t need a month.
ashley cunningham makes black history everyday

These young people are making history. Let them, don’t condemn them to the meanings of the past, teach them respect but not by condemning their culture and way of experience sharing. We don’t need death threats or flame wars. We need more conversations, these controversies teach us what we value. Smiling tourist are not the problem, fanatics in either direction are, for example compare Ashely Cunningham and Breanna Mitchell to Holly Fisher — Girls of the Zombie Generation:

holly fisher fanatic guns

breanna mitchell Auschwitz selfie

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From → free expression, nazi

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