Memorials as Public Displays of Affection (read: who are we loving?)

First I want to say that I only have the horizontal lines because formatting is hard and I really wanted paragraph breaks. Oh, WordPress…

In Memorial Mania: Public Feeling in America, Doss does important work in articulating how history is emotional and human, it is not unfeeling or unbiased. I appreciate that she takes time to point out that creating memorials and monuments are uniquely human processes; they are rituals. The notion of memorials as sites of national honor, grief, and religious experiences made me think about how important memorials are for framing social worth. In other words, how do memorials demonstrate who we mourn and miss?

Memorials are far more political than simply remembering someone or something. It’s a question of whose loss do we miss or notice? Another way of saying this to me is, who do we love?

This made me think of a speech by activist Mia Mingus, a disabled queer transnational adoptee who’s work focuses on social justice for survivors of sexual abuse. She gave a speech called, “Moving Toward the Ugly: A Politic Beyond Desirability” for the Femmes of Color Symposium in 2011, where she talks about embracing the Ugly as magnificent.

Doss writes a lot about how historically monuments honor “great men.” Further, Doss writes about how monuments and memorials enact “a living memory” (Doss 38). To me, monuments and memorials are spaces and objects that signal and structure our constructions of social worth. Therefore, if we are a culture that celebrates cisgender, white, heterosexual, able-bodied men in our statues and memorials–physical spaces that register important temporal moments–then we are a culture that continues to assert that man as the only human that we love, protect, preserve, and imagine as part of our nation’s future. In her talk, Mingus asks us to celebrate the ugly, to see the ugly in us–what society sees as freakish, unacceptable, or wrong–and not run away from it. She asks us to see the ugly as magnificent. I wonder what would happen if we memorialized disabled queer bodies of color? What happens when you assert the life and permanence of a specific community?

This is what I believe Doss gestures towards when she discusses the shift towards a “memorial mania,” and the increase in remembering more specific communities and acknowledging that we are a fragmented nation with many “publics.” However, I have some reservations about the new “experience”-based museums (Doss 51-52). Of course, I believe that restructuring memorials and the hierarchy of mourning and grief can greatly affect who we see as a citizen, and as a human worthy of protection. However, when Doss writes of museums like the Holocaust museum, which give each museum-goer an identification number, I wonder who their audience is. Museums assume that everyone who attends is going to learn about someone else’s experience, in which case it is helpful to try to access someone else’s lived experience. However, I wonder in what ways memorials and museums can help serve a specific community, and help that community grieve and heal. In other words, I wonder about the balanced between the internal and external when it comes to the civic duty of memorials and museums. Which population do these spaces serve, and in what ways does serving the white, heterosexual, Christian, able-bodied public prevent the grief and healing process for the rest of the public?

One thought on “Memorials as Public Displays of Affection (read: who are we loving?)

  1. I really like the idea of questioning “which population do these spaces serve?” Should we focus more on white guilt or on the problem at hand????

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