A Footnote on Historical Memory

“Everyone’s a superhero, everyone’s a Captain Kirk.”

blog spiderman


“We’re looking for a suspicious substance in the sewer.”

That’s why, said the fireman, my street is blockaded by six fire engines, five police cars, and three ambulances. That’s why my street is roadblocked, and why tomorrow I’ll have to walk .75 miles to bring my car back to the driveway. …IF I’M STILL ALIVE, THAT IS.

I think there are more emergency vehicles in spitting distance of my house than serve entire ghetto neighborhoods. I saw a pair of lights in the sky that moved waaayyy to fluidly to be anything but some kind of drone.

According to local rumor, about an hour ago an elderly couple a few houses down from me “smelled something strange” in their house and called the authorities, fearing it to be a terrorist plot. Probably just a visiting grandson smoking some marijuana, but I digress.

Excitement and a little fear has taken hold on my street. Every man and woman around, it seems, is running amok with their flashlights trying to help the authorities find this “suspicious substance.” Whether one actually exists, none of the two firemen I talked to actually confirmed, but every resident I talked to (they were eager to talk about it, it was mostly uninvited) acted like there was some kind of timebomb beneath our feet. A timebomb that, if it went off, was just for fun so of course they had time to stand around and chat, but nonetheless made for a thrilling evening.

It makes me wonder how people construct their memories when they survive minor and major historical events, and how it affects them afterward. It seems like every resident of Pearl Harbor knew what they had for breakfast the morning of December 7th, it reminds me also how everyone likes to say where they were when they first heard about the September 11th terrorism actions (or “attacks,” if you wish, if you still buy into that whole Iraq/Afghanistan War garbage.).

What is driving these people on my street who are too lazy to even do their own lawn work (I am one of few who mows his own grass) to walk up and down the street with flashlights? One man had a goddamn metal detector. I asked another man what he was looking for, and he simply repeated the “suspicious substance” thing as if that explained it. So why was he scanning everyone’s front yard with his floodlight? Why did he have a crowbar in his hand? I wish I had the nerve to ask him.

It seems like, beyond their implicit hope that they will prove themselves useful to the authorities somehow, these vigilant citizens are worried something bad is going to happen. They are less worried about whatever it is that might happen, but more worried about what story they will tell afterwards. I think Americans have some kind of complicated survivor’s guilt over 9/11, being that they were doing the most ordinary things before the even. I think, if the neighborhood should for whatever reason suffer from an explosion/gas attack/atomic fire tonight, everyone wants to be able to tell an exciting story and make it sound like they were a part of it. Even if in truth, they did nothing but meander around with a flashlight, getting in the way of the police.

wwi-poster-daddy-do-great-warMaybe this will make my point clearer. Note that this propaganda poster exploited a more or less conscious desire of people to feel like they were a part of history as it happens, and therefore might have influenced their actions. History, I think, was and is shaped in part by a consciousness of history.

TL;DR I’m trying to write something interesting for my overdue Week 2 blog, but everyone else on my street is living out their Jack Bauer fantasies.


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