Archive for January, 2013

Disney’s Paperman

Posted: January 31, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

By: Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

Disney’s Paperman, the short film that screened before Disney’s Wreck-it Ralph back in November, was just made available online by Disney. Do yourself a favor and watch this amazing little love story; it’s just over six minutes long. (My commentary is below the video.)

(Youtube Link: http://youtu.be/aTLySbGoMX0)

A few points that I love about this film:

  • It is a gorgeous meshing of traditional hand-drawn and computer animation. The look stays true to traditional Disney characters, while still managing to fit an adult story.
  • There is no dialogue. Our two main characters have not shared a word yet and do not even know the other’s name, so why should verbalization interject? Great decision.
  • The musical score is uplifting and heartfelt. It sets the perfect tone for the film.
  • The world is black and white, except for the lipstick. The lack of colors paint the workaday world as drab and mundane, but the spark for love is in the symbolically appropriate – if not slightly cliched – red of the lipstick.
  • The form with the red lipstick plays a central role throughout, which heightens the significance of it being the only dash of color, and in a way also makes that form our third main character. Like many Disney films, we have a magical character – only this is a very unexpected one.
  • There is a nice touch of commentary about misplaced priorities and conformity. In the office, the boss glares at the male protagonist, directs him to get back to work, and all of his coworkers (all of whom look exactly the same) do jump back to work after the disturbance by the protagonist. A roomful of people all have placed importance in what appears to be meaningless work, while only our protagonist has the nerve to run out of the door in search of something more important.
  • The ending is perfect. Our main characters approach each other, she sweeps her hand through her hair, and they make eye contact – but nothing more. Had this story been handled poorly, both characters would have jumped onto the platform and into each other’s arms, twirling and kissing. But that would take more suspension of disbelief than sentient paper airplanes. These two people have not even met, really. To have them hugging and kissing would be absurd, if not altogether weird. This story isn’t about the two characters falling in love; we aren’t to that stage with them yet. (Though a few stills during the credits show us that.) This story is about the catalyst for love and the spark of fate that can lead us to it.
  • Finally, I am a sucker for a good fairytale romance in which the hands of fate intervene to lead soul mates together. Real love is never so easy and comes with countless complications and confusions that aren’t present in this film. But sometimes art is created to bring to life that which we wish was real.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.

My sister Barbara and I have some things in common, but for the most part, we are quite different. She is quiet and shy, which I am only rarely. She is humble and self-effacing, which I generally am not. She is petite, which I definitely am not. Nevertheless, she is my big sister, and she has been kind and loving to me throughout my entire life. Her literary equivalent the angelic Jane Bennet; I recognized Barbara instantly: always loving, always giving, always accepting.  It occurs to me now she and I have never had an argument. This remarkable fact is due entirely to her sweetness. Happily, Barbara and I were uncommonly close during my adolescence. She is, rather unbelievably, 10 years older than me. She was living at home after college, working and eventually enrolling in graduate school while I was in high school. We had breakfast together nearly every morning: raisin bran and orange slices. We worked together, too. She managed a Greek Restaurant where I worked weekends in the kitchen as a “salad girl.” At the restaurant, she met the man who would Imagebecome her husband. Barbara married Dana the same spring that I graduated high school. All of the “Lunt girls” were bridesmaids in the wedding.  She was delighted to be getting married “at last,” at 27 (when we all still thought 27 was old). Possibly the most perfect memory of my sweet sister Barbara is the sight of her dancing at her own wedding. She was in the middle of an enormous circle of friends and family, smiling—beaming—and swirling and swaying in uncharacteristic delight, celebrating her happiness and her beauty while dancing to Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman.”

We all learned a phrase from our mother: “pretty is, as pretty does,” which impressed to us that it was useless to only be pretty on the outside. We must be pretty inside, too.  And so, my sister Barbara is my prettiest sister—inside and out.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

Saturday mornings in my house mean listening to Weekend Edition on National Public Radio.  This Saturday, my wife and I were preparing breakfast, having our coffee, when the host of the show, Scott Simon, had a quick one minute aside about the French trying to control the English language’s dominance of social media terms.  Evidently, many of the French don’t enjoy all this English terminology within their lexicon and the term ‘hashtag’ is the latest concern.  This seemed like a light little story, until Simon reported a darker twist: One group called  Avenir de la langue française (Future of the French language) ratcheted the discourse up a couple notches by recently proclaiming that this ‘English invasion’ threatens the “French language more than the Nazis did.”  I was in awe of this hyperbole.  This crap makes me really angry.

In one sense, this story makes me feel better about American culture since I was under the delusion that this type of rhetoric was exclusively a province of American politics.  On the other hand, it frustrates me to no end when anyone plays the compare-this or that-to-Nazism game, and unfortunately, it seems this practice is becoming close to the norm in the Imagepublic arena.  The most noticeable example is in the realm of political rallies. The Tea Party has taken this to an extreme in their gatherings, especially when it comes to their disdain for President Obama.  Google ‘Tea Party Rally Obama Hitler sign’ and you will see some quite radical examples of this rhetoric.  However, this attack method is not the exclusive province of the right-wing Tea Party.  On the left, anti-war protestors had a field day making Imagesigns and posters that equated President George W. Bush to Hitler.  Hitler is an equal opportunity bogey-man in America.

If this was just the work of a couple crazies that take to the streets, that would be one thing; but, of course, it’s not. The shout of “Nazi” has also been used by our politicians in Washington on the floor of the House of Representatives.  On the satirical Daily Show, John Stewart has attacked such tactics.  Stewart has also humorously illustrated that smearing the other side with the ‘Nazi’ moniker is an everyday occurrence in the world of the 24 hour news cycle programs and talk radio.  Perhaps the most disturbingly absurd media example came in 2009, when Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor and President Obama were lambasted for Imagearguing that empathy was an important trait for a Supreme Court Justice. Glenn Beck, the most infamous ‘boy who cried Nazi’, somehow found a connection between Sotomayor’s and Obama’s belief in judicial empathy and Adolf Hitler’s supposed use of empathy to justify ‘putting down’ the sick and mentally challenged using the T4 euthanasia program.  Yikes!

It seems the rise of such name-calling goes hand-in-hand with the growing power of the internet.  Cyberspace is a sanctuary for all sorts of wackos to have their ideas heard, and not surprisingly, many Neo-Nazis find the internet as an indispensible tool for spewing their race hatred or strange conspiracy phobias.  Of course, such people are self-proclaimed Nazis, and hence, the term is not used as one of abuse in such forums. The obnoxious use of Nazi as an attack method is more common within purportedly rational discussion boards, blog posts, and social media. The description of others as Nazis, Gestapo, and/or modern day Hitlers is such a frequent occurrence in internet locales that twenty years ago a man named Mike Godwin formulated it into a ‘scientific law’. ‘Godwin’s Law’ states “as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving  Nazis or Hitler approaches… In other words…given enough time, in any online discussion—regardless of topic or scope—someone inevitably makes a comparison to Hitler or the Nazis.

So, are internet users simply using logical fallacies?  Has Avenir de la langue française overstated their case?  Is Glenn Beck drawing historical corollaries to simply smear his political opponents?  Well, yes, and that is disturbing enough. But, using the Nazi affront has even more treacherous consequences. Those who equate their political, social or cultural enemies with Nazis believe that they can clearly see the present, because they have an understanding of the past.  Beck and his ilk feel their vigilance of Nazism reborn is based upon the old cliché that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.  They repeatedly proclaim that their stark grasp of history repeating itself must be appreciated.  Those who follow ‘Godwin’s Law’ are the prophets; the solitary voices in the wilderness.

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Justice Sotomayor

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Reinhard Heydrich

Ironically though, the hyperbolic commentators are doing the opposite. They do more than simply FORGET history; they expunge it.  If a radio talk-show host equates Sonya Sotomayor’s or Barack Obama’s ideals of empathy with Reinhard Heydrich’s ideals, this is more than a horrible insult to Justice Sotomayor or Obama (which, of course, it is).  This is an insult to the millions who died in the Operation Reinhard camps (Treblinka, Sobibor, Belzec); the hundreds of thousands who were worked as slave laborers by Heydrich’s SS; the millions whose homes and lives were destroyed by the Nazi war machine.  These millions of people erased from history truly experienced Nazi ‘empathy’. Beck’s particular equation of Sotomayor’s empathy to this type of ‘empathy’ should make us take serious pause in regards to his ethics, if not his sanity.

As with all clichés, there is a good bit of truth in the statement that if we forget our past, we are doomed to repeat it.  The problem is the ridiculous usage of Nazi as an attack term makes us forget what really happened in the past.  And so, a reminder: President Obama is not Hitler; President Bush is not Himmler; and the use of ‘hashtag’ in France is not the same as the creation of the Vichy puppet government.  To make such a hyperbolic analogy is a slap in the face to us all.  

By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty.

My late demented mother had a few favorite sayings which at the time didn’t seem like anything much, but over the years they’ve gained a special place in my heart.  Out of the blue, one of her pet remarks will pop into my head and it’ll sound pithy and funny and even a bit helpful in sorting out some issue I’m trying to think through.  Here’s an example of one kind of momism:  a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

      “Big Deal!” you say, oozing buckets of incredulity.   Well, yes it is since I decided over the weekend to pen a few Flaneur inspired thoughts on a topic I know next to nothing about—hence the relevance of mom’s warning about knowledge and its dearths.   The knowledge challenged subject I wish to discuss is the Bears’ decision to hire Mr. Marc Trestman as their new head coach.

       To me, the vast wasteland of my enormous ignorance about sports notwithstanding, Imagehiring Mr. Trestman was a typically Bear style mistake.  Why?    Firstly, he’s been out of the NFL for a bunch of years.  All things considered, wouldn’t it make more sense to hire someone with a great track record in the NFL rather than in a lesser Canadian League?   Of course a more knowledgeable football fan than myself could name a few coaches who did successfully make the jump to the NFL but it strikes me that taking that chance increases the odds things won’t work out.

 Image      Secondly, he doesn’t look like an NFL coach.  What does an NFL coach look like?   Bill Belichick for one.   Our own Mike Ditka for another.   Maybe one of the Harbaughs would work.   Mr. Trestman won’t.  Now once again I know very well that looks can be deceiving and judging coaching ability and success on such a superficial quality smacks of a certain knee jerk caveman like stupidity; nonetheless there’s something to be said for looking the part.  Indeed Phil Emery, the Bears G.M., praised Trestman for being cerebral and scholarly—instead, I suppose, of looking and acting like a football player.  Well, personally, I prefer football players looking like football players, all things being equal, and scholars looking like scholars.  Sure there are outliers out there, but my feeling is you should look the part, as much as possible.  I simply can’t see this guy wearing a Belichick hoodie in December or any other month for that matter.

        Lastly, my main reason for finding Trestman disappointing is that picking him was based on the premise (or hope) that this guy can transform Jay Cutler making him into a genuine first tier quarterback on a par with Aaron Rodgers, or Tom Brady, or Drew Brees, etc.  As I see things, this is the dumbest reason yet for hiring Trestman.  No one can change Cutler, period.  Not even Cutler can change Cutler even if he wanted to which, in all candor, I don’t think he does.  That’s part of the divine mystery of being who one is.  As far as I can make out, Cutler enjoys being Cutler.  Once again I’m well aware that people do change, but we all know many don’t, and if they do, the change is modest at best.

        Certainly I’m aware my take on Trestman may prove horribly mistaken, as Mom in her wisdom had warned me long ago; still, I’m still left wondering whether Mr. Emery betting Cutler will change is as nutty as risking good money on the McCaskeys changing.   Actually, if the McCaskeys and Mr. Ted Philips, and Mr. Emery were really serious about getting a first rate quarterback, why didn’t they trade Cutler and invest in one of the new young phenoms gracing such teams as the Colts, Ravens, and 49ers?     

By Brenda Santos, RMU STUDENT!

The elusive “dream job” is what many of today’s undergraduate students aspire to attain someday. Despite unemployment, the bad economy and stagnating public trust in the government, college students across the country persevere onward against the odds.  I, on the other hand, do not. That’s not to say that I do not have a dream job, but on the contrary, I do. The current dilemma is: I don’t know what exactly that dream job is…yet. Figuring out what my ideal career, or life’s work, is perhaps one of the most difficult hardships I face on a daily basis. Although that may sound a bit dramatic, it’s really not. Deciding a career is a big decision that should require deep thought and introspection. In the following paragraphs, I will define what my ideal life’s work is, whether to follow my passion, or to simply get a job.

As of right now, I can’t exactly pinpoint specifically what my ideal, or “dream career,” is, but that doesn’t mean I have absolutely no idea of what I want to do.  To me, my ideal life’s work involves helping the surrounding community, finding fulfillment on a daily basis, and having a manageable stress level, and having a potential to go beyond the work and to make a change. It seems very vague, but it’s exactly what I want and I believe it to be unique because what most people say they want a career where they love what they do, but I say finding fulfillment. The reason for that is because finding fulfillment is something that changes more often than loving something which remains relatively unchanged.  Much, like trying to find true love, or a soul mate, finding your life’s work is a similar process. They both require time, dedication, fearlessness, and a lot of thinking.

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Drake

The phrase “follow your passion” is probably what most of us have been told. Recently, the more and more pondering into depth I do into this mantra, the more I confirm my belief that it is somewhat foolish advice. I can’t help but make a connection between this advice and the popular modern day motto of: you only live once, or yolo, for short. Yolo is a pop culture motto that is popular among teenagers of generation Y, and is also used by artists, including the rapper, Drake, in his song “The Motto.” YOLO is foolish because the widely used motto can be used as an excuse for some behaviors and even justification, but I can see the good in the motto as well, and that is, enjoying every day because, hey, you only live once. Similarly, the advice of “follow your passion” is foolish to me because if one follows their passion, it may not always work out because then they tend to focus more of what they love rather than what they must do as part of their job (making ends meet, becoming more efficient, profit, etc.)

Beggars can’t be choosers.  When following your passion doesn’t quite work out and theImage harsh reality dawns on you that the current economy isn’t catering to your needs, what good is doing something you love that isn’t bringing home the bacon to meet basic needs? Now you have to take on a side job or quit the job you love because it’s not turning out the way you hoped it would. This thought lies deep behind my mind, but creeps into the exterior sometimes. Or another possibility could be that you loved your job, but then after years and years of doing the same, repetitive job that you love it became dull, boring and eventually unbearable.  This scenario, in my mind, can be illustrated by a still of Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Life, a film in which Charlie Chaplin portrays himself as an assembly worker who eventually loses his mind from repetitive and fast-paced work at the assembly line.  Although there is no hint that Chaplin loved his work, it does make a good point that any job done repeatedly can become overwhelming over time. It also illustrates the other side of the spectrum—“just getting a job”, growing to hate it, and the employer constantly trying to get the workforce to do tasks faster and more efficiently, and along with those goals, sacrificing the workers’ well being.  In my opinion, this practice may be good for the company, but it is probably the underlying cause of the overall employee dissatisfaction. 

With these thoughts in mind, I march on to the beat of my own drum, to find the elusive dream job because I believe that passion is a powerful emotion that gradually builds on after time; it’s not something already built up inside.  Passion can be good, foolish, and scary if followed fully and blindly as well. On that note, I persevere onward with these thoughts in mind, to find my life’s work. 

BY: Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

(This post is dedicated to all of the faculty and students in RMU’s Institute of Art & Design.)

There are lots of things I can’t do. For example, I played basketball for years, but I could never dunk. I’m not confused or dumbfounded by how someone could possibly dunk. I know how it’s done; I just couldn’t do it.

But there is something that I can’t do and I don’t even understand how it’s done.

Let me start with where this thought came from:

In the news recently, there was the story about the unveiling of Kate Middleton’s first official Imageportrait. The criticism of the portrait was that it did not look entirely flattering. This, of course, is contrary to how the beautiful Dutchess of Cambridge is eminently photogenic; she looks pretty in every photo. As the news coverage discussed the criticism, I couldn’t help but agree with the noted flaws, especially that it seemed to age her.

 However, despite the criticism, I was awestruck by the attention to details in the painting: the shadows, the angles, even the precise layout of individual hairs in her eyebrows.

I have no idea how any visual artist creates art. My brain can’t wrap around it.

And I say this despite the fact that I minored in Art in college. I took lots of classes like life drawing, painting, computer graphic design, 3D modeling. I learned the basics and perhaps honed a skill set, but still I couldn’t understand how artists do it.

 I had many of those classes with my friend Kari. She was the opposite of me – an Art major with a minor in English. Just as I loved writing and dabbled in art, she loved art and dabbled in writing. Sometimes when we had art projects to complete, I would hang out with her in the painting studio and watch her go. She mixed oil paints with precision and the colors always came out perfect, and she could replicate colors over and over. (I couldn’t replicate a color unless it came straight out of the tube.) And every brushstroke was placed without hesitation. It seemed like every blank canvas was just a paint-by-numbers to her, as if there was no doubt as to how it would fill out. (I, on the other hand, would just put colors on the canvas, and whatever it kind of looked like after a while, I’d go with it.)

 When I see a basketball player dunk, I understand how it happened; I just could never get high enough to do it myself. But when watching Kari, it was like she was born with a different set of eyes and a different mind that I couldn’t even understand. It was all completely alien to me. And I still feel that way whenever I see great visual art. I don’t know how artists decide on the contours of lines, or the placement of shadows, or the gradients of colors. I don’t understand it. At all.

But it amazes me. Artists amaze me.

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Harry Kessler. Portrait by Edvard Munch.

The other day I picked up the diaries of Count Harry Kessler, and started to read….for fun.  Yes, fun.  Unfortunately, the book really is not that much fun. I must say, unless you want an extremely in-depth look at the everyday life of a German diplomat/art critic from the late 19th century into the early twentieth, this book may not be for you.  Kessler was no great artist, writer, or politician.  He would probably not be remembered today, except for his über-detailed diaries that provide gossip, art critiques, travel narratives, and mini-biographies of thousands of his acquaintances. Though the minutiae of his thoughts can get overwhelming, I was constantly chuckling in amazement at Kessler’s seemingly constant run-ins with the famous cultural and political figures of his day and age.   Let me give you a short list of the people who marked Kessler’s social gatherings, world tours, and Belle Époque ‘power lunches’:

Otto von Bismarck (German Chancellor)  Friedrich Nietzsche (Philosopher)

William Morris (English Artist)                  Paul Verlaine (French Poet)       

Auguste Rodin (French Sculptor)            Hugo von Hofmansthal (Austrian Writer)

Vaslav Nijinsky (Russian Dancer)            Pablo Picasso (Spanish/French Painter)    

Igor Stravinsky (Russian Composer)       Rainier Maria Rilke (German Poet)  

Walter Rathenau (German Industrialist)  Herbert Asquith (British Prime Minister)  

Berthold Brecht (German Playwright)      Josephine Baker (American Dancer)

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Nietzsche

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Nijinsky

This is just a small sampling.  Every day, the man seemed to rub shoulders with the people of his world who were making history.

You may notice from that list how cosmopolitan Kessler was.  He was well versed in art, philosophy, history, economics, music, languages, etc.  One day he was discussing art theory with his Dutch friend Henry van de Velde, and the next he was hobnobbing with his fellow Prussian military officers.  He identified himself as German, but he could have easily passed for English or French since he was raised in all three nations. As an adult, he lived for extended periods in Italy, Greece, America, Mexico, Germany, France and England.  His life sometimes seemed disparate, but he fit it all together since his homeland was the world.

Today, there are no more Count Harry Kesslers.  But, this is a paradox.  After all, we now live in an era of globalization, in which the world is increasingly ‘shrinking’ and becoming more ‘flat’.  If I want to peruse a Dutch stranger’s photographs, I can do so easily. (See my previous post)  Acquaintances let me know of their personal lives in California, Germany, or Norway with the help of Facebook, Twitter, and blogs.  But, I am no Harry Kessler, and neither are my social network ‘friends’. We are usually so enraptured with our own interests, beliefs, and practices that social networking simply becomes an anthropological and psychological peep-show.  No interaction between cultures; simply passive consumption.  Count Harry Kessler would be shocked at how small the world is, but how few cosmopolitans there are in it.

BY: Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

One of my favorite books, Eureka Street by Robert McLiam Wilson, opens with this line: “All stories are love stories.”

Image I read Eureka Street for the first time about ten years ago for an undergrad class. The book is brilliant, stirring, and hilarious. Set during the 1990s, it’s about two natives of Belfast, Ireland who deal with, among many things, their love lives, an absurd get-rich-quick scheme, and the ongoing war and unrest in their city.

 For as much as I love the book, it has been the first line that stuck with me more than anything over the years. In fact, of all the books and stories I’ve read, that may be the first line I remember more than any other. And the reason why I’ve remembered it is simple:

 For ten years, I’ve been asking myself if that line is true.  

 At first glance, the answer seems to be no. We sometimes use the term “love story” generically for romantic stories about two people falling in love, such as Romeo & Juliet or The Notebook. With that definition of love story, lots of stories are not love stories.

 However, romantic love is just one form of love. One of my favorite love stories is the film Love Actually, which notes at the beginning that “love actually is all around.” And it really is. There is familial love, occupational love, religious love, patriotism, and more. All throughout our days we can find examples of love that have nothing to do with hugs, kisses or Rachel McAdams.

 Still, it may seem like all stories can’t be love stories, because love is seen as “good,” while not all stories – or all things in the world – are good. That is the bleak, unfortunate kicker to this idea of all stories being love stories: love isn’t always expressed in a beautiful, productive, positive way; love can provoke selfishness, betrayal, pain, destruction.

 Taking it a step further, during my years of pondering this line I got hung up on all the bad in our world. Pick a terrible event, something like what happened in 2012 in Aurora, Colorado or in Newtown, Connecticut. How can tragedies of that magnitude ever be “love stories”? Even in Eureka Street, one chapter deals with a bombing in the fighting between Catholics and Protestants in Belfast. People die. It’s tragic. It’s ugly. How can that be a love story?

 Yet it is, because this blatantly obvious realization finally hit me: sometimes a love story is not about love; it’s about the absence of love.

 And sometimes the absence of love creates a singularity of pain that explodes like the big bang. But when that happens, that’s when love comes back to respond to all of the hurt. We see it in every tragedy: the courage, the selflessness, the humanity that comes out in response. Thus, even the worst stories are about love. 

 It’s been ten years now that I’ve been thinking about this line and it comes back to me regularly whenever I read a new book, see a new movie, watch or read the news. I tie that line to a chair in a dark room under a single, swinging light bulb and interrogate it until it weeps that it’s totally untrue. But it never works, because Robert McLiam Wilson was right:

 All stories are love stories. 

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.

Brothers and Sisters (part 2 of 6)

Both a successful businessman and a Lt. Colonel in the United States Air Force, my eldest brother, Ralph, works hard to cultivate a persona of remote seriousness. Happily, his efforts are not wholly successful, and he remains delightfully silly underneath his various stiff collars. Throughout his youth, Ralph embraced every opportunity for fun; I recall the gusto he brought to the roller rink: circling, grooving, smiling and laughing. Best of all is Ralphie’s fondness for singing, especially since his willingness to sing and capacity to do so are inversely proportional. Only William Shatner’s voice can compare for sheer indescribability, yet how fantastic to see him in action. I realized Ralph was hopeless goofball was when, upon his return from an Air Force mission to England, he introduced the family to the Rick Astely’s one hit. The fact that my brother had captured Astley’s dance moves well became clear when the song finally made it onto MTV’s rotation (where it stayed seemingly endlessly).  Ralph singing“Never Gonna Give You Up”defies description.  The notions of key and tone elude Ralph to this day. And still, he sings! He loudly sings hymns in church, carols at Christmas, and favorite tunes in his house and car. Ralph’s enthusiasm is a wonderful reminder that whether or not we possess much talent, we should all sing and dance because we are alive, and we can.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

A couple weeks ago, a friend of mine shared with me an amazing Flickr and Facebook page called Ghosts of History (or Ghosts of War).  A Dutch photographer named Jo Hedwig Teeuwisse is the creator of both.  Very concisely, Teeuwisse states on her Flickr account that she loves “making photos in places where people took a photo long time ago” (sic).  Often she does more than just replicate a photo from the past; instead she overlays the past photo onto the contemporary photo, making it look…well…ghostly.

The effect of old photos seemingly being absorbed by the new is fascinating, and I highly recommend spending a couple minutes (or hours) exploring what she has done. Teeuwisse focuses upon her Dutch homeland, and the period of the Second World War, so you can imagine that a great many of the photos are tragic, which just adds to their eeriness.  One photo is of a dead French soldier on a sidewalk that today is a quiet Dutch lane.  Such photos display the everyday tragedy that marks modern war.

One photo that struck me was this one:Image

Here is a beautiful street in Amsterdam, with tourists taking a stroll, not realizing that the Nazis had an SS station on the corner directly behind.  Underneath the infamous double lightning bolt SS symbol, is a word not quite as well known, but that signifies horror: Einsatzkommando.  The Einsatzgruppen and Einsatzkommandos were the ‘special task forces’ that swept into Nazi conquered lands after the Wehrmacht (regular army) knocked out enemy military resistance.  The goal of the Einsatzgruppen was nothing less than the destruction of Nazism’s political and ‘racial enemies’.  After the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, a couple thousand Einsatzkommando’s used small arms to methodically murder roughly 1 million Polish and Russian Jews and other ‘undesirables’.  These small groups of men were the initial actors of the Holocaust.

Teeuwisse’s photo illustrates that the Einsatzgruppen were not only active in Poland and Russia. Of course, the Einsatzgruppen did not murder their victims so openly in Holland, but they were central to the deportation of Jews and political enemies of the Nazis to ‘the East’, which in Nazi doublespeak meant an almost definite death sentence.

With such background knowledge, the happiness of the modern day tourists and day-trippers adds to the photo’s eeriness.  The dark history of this random Dutch corner is not given a second thought by those enjoying the summer sun. This photo displays the ubiquity of history, and our ignorance of it.  We have our historical shrines that we recognize as places of central importance to our historical narratives.  In America, we could point to Gettysburg with its hundreds of monuments; or Philadelphia, with the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall; perhaps the Alamo, or Pearl Harbor. Such places leave visitors hushed with reverence for those who came before.  Though it is well and right to have such memorialized shrines, we should not forget that our history is all around us, always.  These photos forcefully remind us that though we may be walking our boring everyday streets, we are never alone.  The past is always with us, no matter how we often try to forget it, or obscure it.