Conference Agenda

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Session Overview
Session C4 1: Approaches to Education and Memorialization
Thursday, 22/July/2021:
5:30pm - 7:00pm

Session Chair: Sara Brown, Center for Holocaust, Human Rights & Genocide Education, United States of America
Location: Room 1


Frontiers of Memorialization: The Memeification of Atrocity Events

Elizabeth Topolosky

Topolosky Law Offices, United States of America

With the rise of the internet, communities across the world have never been more connected. Like offline social groups, online communities develop their own languages complete with specialized vernacular and inside jokes. These jokes often take the form of memes—pictures, videos, or text created to be posted and re-posted. While many memes are inoffensive, others contain explicit, xenophobic, sexist, and violent imagery. Some even pull images directly from atrocity events like the Holocaust, the September 11 attacks, Christchurch shooting, and Toronto Lorry attacks. We now live in a world where online groups increasingly influence real world behavior. Memes act as intertextual propaganda to unprecedently large audiences, and perpetrators reference memes while committing atrocities like the Toronto lorry attack (April 2018) and Christchurch shooting (March 2019).

This image-based talk explores three main themes: (1) why certain atrocities are memeified while others are not, (2) what influences image and messaging selection, and (3) the memorialization of atrocity events by internet subcultures separate from the larger zeitgeist. It examines image selection, intended audiences, the correlation between the level perceived anonymity and the level of explicit violence shown in atrocity memes, and factors that limit the memeification of an atrocity event.

Memorial Museums in Guatemala: The Role of Social Media and ‘Never Again’

JoAnn DiGeorgio-Lutz1, Martha Galvan Mandujano2

1Texas A&M University at Galveston, United States of America; 2California Polytechnic State University

We examine two memorial museums in Guatemala to gauge their efficacy in promoting their educative missions of “never again.” Following every genocide, ‘never again’ often accompanies the construction of memorials, especially memory museums to commemorate victims and educate about genocide in the spirit of never again. We explore the role of social media platforms to promote their educative missions. We investigate if social media allows memory museums to foster a moral responsibility on their virtual visitors to advocate for ‘never again’ in the face of genocide? The lack of improvement in human rights in Guatemala alongside growing patterns of hate worldwide drives this research. Museum visits ostensibly instruct us to be better human beings, imparting visitors with a moral obligation to create a better world. Can social media platforms replicate the physical museum experience and elicit similar responses that in-person visitors experience? We compare the comments we call memory words left by visitors in the virtual world and compare them to memory words left by visitors in the physical museums’ visitor logs collected on previous visits. We assess each museums’ typology of memory-words to consider whether they resulted in a particular message (specific to Guatemala) or a universal message of never again and if so, in what context. Our study is not without its limitations. One limitation centers on reliability and our inability to measure the longevity of sentiment. How long after one exits the physical and virtual memorial museum does the experience remain? Is the longevity of the experience necessary to promote a ‘never again’ response in the face genocide? Or is the experience of having visited the memorial museum itself a sufficient reminder to elicit a ‘never again’ response? We would expect that social media memory-words have more durability through sharing capabilities and virtual museums facilitate multiple visits.

Preventing the Normalization of Genocide: Lessons from the Cinematic Genre of Science Fiction

Daniel Conway

Texas A&M University, United States of America

In this presentation, I defend the claim that teachers and scholars in the field of genocide studies may (and should) make productive use of popular films in the genre of science fiction. The films in question are especially useful in alerting viewers to the subtle and indirect ways in which an initial refusal of genocide on the part of a nonviolent populace may give way over time to a grudging acceptance of discrimination, segregation, relocation, violence, and other measures that promote the normalization of genocide. In short, I offer, we stand to learn a great deal about ourselves, including our unknown capacities for indifference, intolerance, bystanding, and hatred, from an examination of human encounters with alien others.

Drawing on several representative films in the genre of science fiction, I will demonstrate how unfamiliar others—e.g., aliens, androids, and avatars—are subjected to escalating degrees of suspicion, fear, intolerance, emotional/psychological abuse, and hatred. I will be especially concerned to illuminate three contributing factors to the normalization of genocide: the use of demeaning language to enforce political disenfranchisement and encourage self-contempt in unwanted others; the role of the new media in exacerbating (and even fabricating) social and political crises; and the increased reliance on “experts” (and other supposed authority figures) who assure ordinary citizens that measures leading to genocide are both reasonable and just.

In this presentation, finally, I will focus on four popular films in which the prospect of genocide receives serious philosophical consideration: Blade Runner (Scott, 1982); Aliens (Cameron, 1986); District 9 (Blomkamp, 2009); and Arrival (Villeneuve, 2016).

Broadening the Bounds of Sacred Space: Peripheral Commemoration and the Case of Contemporary Rwanda

Brooke Chambers

University of Minnesota, United States of America

Scholars have long studied the power of commemorative space and ritual in post-genocide societies, and collective memory experts have showcased the power of such space and ritual to transform narratives of violence. While this power is well established, this paper seeks to delve more deeply into how its impact can differ for actors, based on both physical proximity and identity. This conceptualization, which I term peripheral commemoration, places commemorative space and ritual back into broader social space. Doing so allows for a multitude of dynamic, and otherwise potentially overlooked, impacts of commemoration to come to the fore. These different impacts of and experiences with commemorative space and ritual, I argue, both create and reify differences in knowledge within communities.

Commemoration in Rwanda proves a fitting example for an illustrative application due to the highly public nature of many sacred spaces and rituals. Many formal memorial sites in Rwanda were the sites of large-scale massacres in the 1994 genocide, where victims gathered in highly-visited, assumedly safe spaces like churches or schools. As such, many current memorial spaces (and the ritual events that often feature these memorials) are in highly visible spaces. This balance of public and sacred provides a clear example through which to investigate differential engagement with commemorative space and ritual. My application draws from ethnographic work in memorial sites and commemorative ceremonies in Rwanda, alongside 27 semi-structured interviews with young Rwandans who have varying engagement with commemorative space.

The theoretical concept of peripheral commemoration, alongside its application in contemporary Rwanda, disrupts hegemonized or universalized tendencies in conceptualizing commemorative space and events. In line with scholars of collective memory and cultural trauma, this perspective allows us to appreciate the dynamic, diverse, and wide-reaching potential of commemorative space.