Innocence Abroad | Bleader

Innocence Abroad

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Conveniently for those of us with overfull bookshelves, many of the posts at History News Networks are on-the-fly book digests. Thus Marita Sturken of NYU riffs on her new Tourists of History: Memory, Kitsch, and Consumerism from Oklahoma City to Ground Zero. Using some regrettable postmodern jargon, she asks how it is that we're constantly surprised when the United States does or suffers bad things:

"This is an innocence that proclaims that we don’t know (even in the face of evidence), that we are not responsible, an innocence that is constantly perceived to be 'lost' at various moments in American history. Thus, most national crises of recent history, from the Vietnam War to 9/11 to the revelations of torture at Abu Ghraib, have been popularly described as moments of the loss of national innocence. And, we can safely predict that any future terrorist attacks within the United States will give rise to new assertions of a loss of innocence (one that must constantly be reasserted after the fact so that it can be 'lost' again). In this narrative, the United States never provokes, is never the cause of its crises, these are just events that, as was asserted about 9/11, came 'out of the blue.' ...

"National innocence must be actively, constantly maintenanced by narratives that reinscribe it [i.e., renewed by stories we tell ourselves] -- in order to be shocked when teenagers pick up guns that they have ready access to and kill their classmates, we must ascribe their acts to popular culture; in order to be shocked about the fact that our country sanctions and engages in torture, we must think it was the work of a few 'bad apples.' Innocence is a position from which such acts of aggression are easily screened out."

She's particularly unhappy with "a comfort culture that sells innocence -- in the production of kitsch.... a World Trade Center snow globe or an Oklahoma City National Memorial teddy bear, can rarely be an incitement to historical reflection or political engagement."

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