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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 5/30/13

Collective Occlusion: American Narratives and Silencing of Important Cultural Memories

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/>Maui 2011 042 by M I K E M O R R I S

Maui 2011 042 by M I K E M O R R I S

I have taken a lot of time to write on collective memory in film and society over the years.  I have written, for example on the Holocaust and on the presentation of memory in Germany and commemorations and/or memorials in other lands. I have written about memories of WWII on three continents.  Finally, I have written about the Vietnam era and post-Vietnam war education--and memories surround the movie Forrest Gump and the film's relationship to images used in other films, i.e. its relationship to the reality on the ground of which it represents


Recently, I came across an older--but trailblazing--article on the topic of USA history and how society teaches it:  " What Can Forrest Gump Tell Us about Students' Historical Understanding?" It was published in 2001 by Sam Wineburg, Susan Mosborg, and Dan Porat in a journal on social education. Again, in this article, the topic of Forrest Gump, the film, is used to make the case that media may have a stronger influence on the teaching of Vietnam Era history in America than do any classroom experiences of our American students in either our primary or secondary schools these days.  


The authors go further, though, and indicating that media is also overwhelming possible family practices in educating our youth about America's own history. The authors of the article,  " What Can Forrest Gump Tell Us about Students' Historical Understanding?" were concerned with how America students are acquiring their American history up through the period of the 9-11 events (which have since transformed further our Vietnam era memories). The article exposes the initial findings of both a social-educational experiment and a set of investigations involving students in their last years of high school.  Moreover, it also involved the students and their parents in extensive interviews and engaged them in written responses on similar historical topics, themes, events, and images. [1] Note:  As it has been claimed that even more than the Vietnam War, the events of 9-11 have supposedly changed living-American-generations' filters of history. I would certainly like to see similar new research (as undertaken by Weinburg, et. al) to be undertaken today.


I personally find that the Cold War-Era with its own particular narrations have, however, continued to fuel American memory even as the period of Global Terrorism has supposedly overtaken our current new conceptualizations of reality and memory.


The article by Weinburg et. al. begins [2] as follows: " HISTORICAL NARRATIVES envelop us everywhere--at home, at church, at the movies; in the buildings we inhabit, the parks we visit, the stamps we lick; in the days we take off from work, the newspapers we read, and the six-o'clock news we receive from Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings, and Dan Rather. By the time young people reach their eighteenth birthday in our culture, they possess a rich narrative of origins--how the United States came into being, the roots of the race issue that divides American society, something about Pilgrims, colonists, and settlers. In terms of impact and influence, no algebra or French teacher can compete with such famous history teachers as Steven Spielberg or Oliver Stone, whose devoted students number in multiples of millions.


Each of us grows up in a home with a distinct history and a distinct perspective on the meaning of larger historical events. Our parents' stories shape our historical consciousness, as do the stories of the ethnic, racial, and religious groups that number us as members. We attend churches, dubs, and neighborhood associations that further mold our collective and individual historical selves. We visit museums. We travel to national landmarks in the summer. We camp out in front of the TV and absorb, often unknowingly, an unending barrage of historical images. By the time children have celebrated a decade of Thanksgivings and Martin Luther King Days, they are already seasoned students of American culture and history.


But, the notion that all these sources form a coherent whole mocks the complexity of social life. Historical consciousness does not emanate like neat concentric circles from the individual to the family to the nation and to the world. Lessons learned at home contravene those learned at school. What we hear at school conflicts with what we hear at church or synagogue--if not in the pews then certainly in the bathrooms. If we pay attention to the lyrics of rap music or tune our dials to Rush Limbaugh or Howard Stern, we confront more disjunctures. To make historical sense, we must navigate the shoals of the competing narratives that vie for our allegiance.[ p. 55]"

Collective Occlusion In writing their piece for a social education journal, Weinburg et. al. have decided to use the wording "collective occlusion" to describe what concerns them the most in the wake of their research on cohort generations [3] of America, their media, and their education in history, specifically Vietnam War Era social education.  The researchers and authors explain that they prefer the term "collective occlusion" to a term, such as "collective amnesia" for several different reasons. 


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KEVIN STODA-has been blessed to have either traveled in or worked in nearly 100 countries on five continents over the past two and a half decades.--He sees himself as a peace educator and have been-- a promoter of good economic and social development--making-him an enemy of my homelands humongous DEFENSE SPENDING and its focus on using weapons to try and solve global (more...)

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