You know, the big news story where a supertanker ran aground somewhere in the Great Lakes and spilled 230,000 barrels of dumb-ass into the water?
From Chicago we have WGN television wishing everyone a Happy Yom Kippur, displaying a yellow star with the German “Jude” (“Jew”) on it. The star was the same star which Germany made the Jews wear up until their extermination. Mind you, this isn’t some crappy little community access channel in some backwoods hamlet. This is The Television Station run by one of the country’s largest broadcasters. Layers of editors and fact-checkers, dontcha know. And their excuse? From their general manager and news director: “WGN General Manager Greg Easterly and News Director Jennifer Lyons said the picture came from its image bank, and they ‘failed to recognize that the image was an offensive Nazi symbol.'”
No guys, the swastika you can call “an offensive Nazi symbol” (you mean there’s such a thing as a Nazi symbol that’s not offensive?); the star they made little Jewish children wear sewn to their clothes so the SA thugs would know whom to beat to death in the streets in broad daylight is a specific reminder of the most determined effort — “so far,” we now have to add, in light of Dear Leader’s handing the keys to the nuclear arsenal to Iran — made to exterminate an entire people. The swastika was worn by millions — the Nazis shoved it onto everything — who had nothing to do with murdering the Jews or anyone else. If you served in any public office, or if you were drafted into the armed services, you would have worn on your person somewhere that symbol. Pope Benedict XVI would have worn it, however briefly, when he got roped into the fray in 1945. You have, in other words, to read something else into the swastika’s symbolism to get to “offensive” (I mean, no one views symbolism of Imperial Germany as “offensive,” and they fought against us and lost a war just like the Nazis did). But that yellow Star of David, with “Jude” blazoned across it, meant and means exactly and only one thing. It was the device by which a murderous regime publicly marked its victims. Do not, please, degrade its meaning by calling it “an offensive Nazi symbol.”
And across the little water, so to speak, we have from Ontario a member — vice-chair, in fact — of a school board (!!!) and a candidate for parliament, who a number of years ago made a joke about a photograph taken at Auschwitz. She likened whatever it was to phallic symbols and . . . well, honestly, the point of her joke, which she made on a friend’s Facebook wall, escapes me. I’m not sure if she was trying to send up pretentious artistic gobbledy-gook, parody the sexualization of every-damned-thing in daily life by the folks we now know as “social justice warriors,” or lampoon “the patriarchy” or whatever. Someone doing oppo research discovered the post, got it out there, and the predictable shit-storm ensued.
I’m going to reserve judgment on the propriety of her joke. Yes you can make the point that some things simply should not figure in humor. Ever. And if such is the case then Auschwitz is certainly on that list. Even if you’re the sort who’s not willing to go that far, unless you’re clearly using that imagery to attack something contemptible (see my list of possible explanations of what she might have been getting at, above), and make sure it’s not even remotely debatable that you’re not laughing at or about Auschwitz and what it symbolizes, but rather your true target, then it still has to be considered in pretty bad taste. And maybe even then you ought to come up with something else equally outlandish to use — you know, something that doesn’t have the stench of six million murder victims to it — to talk about phallic micro-aggressions of the patriarchy. Or something like that.
But no: What really has made my head explode was this statement coming from the vice-chair of a school board: ““Well, I didn’t know what Auschwitz was, or I didn’t up until today,’ she said in an interview Tuesday night. Johnstone, who appears to be in her thirties, said she had ‘heard about concentration camps.’”
Jesusmaryjoseph, as the Irish would exclaim.
This depth of ignorance is just about beyond words. What, I mean, can you say in response to someone who’s managed to get past elementary school without knowing at least what Auschwitz was and what occurred there? It’s not like you have to know everything about the Holocaust, its causes and course. Just like you don’t need to know everything written about the GuLAG in order to appreciate the Soviets’ starving and working to death tens of millions of their fellow citizens on trumped-up charges. But how do you, in the 21st Century, construct a moral framework for your existence without tying the abstract “I’ve heard about concentration camps” to the concrete physical “and this is the most notorious surviving example; it really happened”?
Compare, by the way, the ignorance of the vice-chair of her local school board with the degree of engagement exhibited by this teen-aged girl from Alabama.