Friday, April 26, 2013

Never Again: tragic events in our cultural consciousness

As I was starting my research for a paper on X-Men: First Class and La saga de los longevos, by Eva Garcia Saenz, I came across a movie review that called my attention. It was written by a man who was extremely upset that X-Men films had used the Holocaust as a background for Magneto. I searched for this article again but couldn't find it. I wish I could because I'd like to give the author credit for making me think. Nonetheless, I saw that more than one academic paper has studied Jewish history as reflected in the X-Men comics and films. It wasn't new to First Class. Anti-semitism has been a motif in many of the comics and films, with the Holocaust being a logical reference. 
So why is this important? The author of the article I read objected strongly to what he seemed to view as the exploitation of a tragic historical event. I'd like to suggest another point of view. 
Tragic events should be remembered. Yes, they are traumatic. Yes, they are horrible. No, they shouldn't have happened in the first place. And they should not be glorified, exploited, or treated lightly. But they have happened and they should never be forgotten. Because if we let these events slip from our cultural consciousness, we just might allow them to happen again. One way to remember is to allow such things to become part of pop-culture, thus engraving them on our cultural memory. 
For me, referencing tragedies, including the Holocaust, in popular culture is therefore both acceptable and desirable. One of the purposes of art is to help us make sense of the world around us and that means that literature, film and music should reference world events good, bad and ugly. Dealing with events through art helps us learn from them and find healing as well. If we can use art to learn from history, maybe we can start repeating only the good parts. 

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." 
This quote by George Santayana is posted on the wall of the Auschwitz concentration camp.
File:Santayana on history.jpg
On the plaque, the quote is in Polish with the English back-translation.
Here's the link to the Wikipedia file where I got it.