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Feb 20, 2003 to Feb 6, 2013

Exciter Function

About twenty five years ago I went to see a showing of the Holocaust film, Shoah. For those who aren’t familiar, this is a ten hour documentary, normally shown in two parts consecutively, with a small meal break. The film is notably devastating in effect for its lack of gore, absent of explicit rendering of atrocity. All that unfolds hits the viewer as reverberation. The mind, and heart can and must fill in the blanks. What’s shown is verbatim testimony of the everyday execution of the tasks set before the hard working members of the newly ascendant Nazi party. Schedules, Daily Rounds, Routines of Construction and Mainenence. 

I became a student of this subject early in my adult life, and have filled too many hours with contemplation of this grave facet of history.  On one side of my lineage, all but my great-grandfather were exterminated in Poland. Those relatives never reached the camps, they were shot in front of their house, as far we know. Hard to believe that may be considered a lucky break of sorts, but so it goes.  What I’m going to relate now, in the light of this is so trivial, so minuscule, so remote as to almost be ridiculous. But for some reason it sticks in my mind as we see the daily unfolding of our incoming regime change.

About an hour into the screening of Shoah, the sound cut out. Bear in mind, there is very little in they way of visual action in this film, it’s largely oral history.  The screening was on a college campus and nobody in the theater knew what to do. An event organizer came out after the projector was stopped, and suggested to people that they could either get their money back, or come back another day when the equipment was in working order. This news did not go down well. As it turned out, my expensive film school education was to come in handy here. 

I knew that the sound for a film is generated when the optical track of a film runs over the Exciter Bulb, which in turn sends a translation of the waveform signal to a processor which then amplifies it and passes it on to speakers. I also knew that these bulbs tend to burn out after awhile, and not infrequently, a spare bulb is taped into the projectors case, just in case. This speck of knowledge allowed me to ‘save the day’, and the screening resumed, letting us all experience the mortification and education we had come for. 

Why do I relate this anecdote now? Metaphorical, maybe? I’m guessing it comes to mind because one never knows the effects of small actions. Even the slightest, most seemingly insignificant act, might allow some light to be shed for someone who then in turn, illuminates another, or is inspired themselves to shine some light. We may never know the ultimate consequences of our tiny vigilance or oblique contributions. But not doing what is really in fact easy, may let the darkness and disappointment gather more than it should.


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baby steps

Sounds like a great film... but I like difficult things to watch.

I had a similar experience at a Chuck Brown concert. He came out and started to play but there was no sound. I saw that his cord wasn't plugged into the lamp and pointed it out. Back in business!

But the real message is that everyone can do something and even little things can have great impacts. Put out a pot with flowers and then your neighbors follow. Soon the whole neighborhood has flowers.

A lot of time, I've found, people don't want to do something because they are waiting for permission. Someone needs to tell them that it is OK to do it, or feel it, or think it, or say it. We've built up many norms that punish people for being the one that speaks out. It's always good to ignore them.

Here at iBrattleboro, we've been celebrating and encouraging speaking out for over a decade, and remain a really local alternative with a local audience of people interested in what's happening here. Almost always, when someone offers up a good argument and reasons, others join forces. I've seen town finances cleaned up, a skatepark moved, a fire station exterior improved, rules about shooting dogs,a CPCC formed, and much more.

Everything starts as an idea. I think if everyone resolves to act on some of their ideas now, take some baby steps in a positive direction, and exercise some of that free speech and right to assembly, that we can accomplish some things together.

And it really shouldn't be "because of Trump." That might be an impetus for some, but this should lead to changing our behavior entirely because we need to do it. I haven't forgotten that one duty of being alive is to leave a better place for those that follow, but I can't do it alone.


Before it's too late

In addition to remaining aware, and carrying a spark of courage, or vigilance, in my view there's an equally important point here.

The filmmaker, Claude Lanzmann, released a sequel to Shoah a few years ago, titled, 'The Last of the Unjust'. The film was shot before major filming of Shoah. The subject is Rabbi Murmelstein, an elder from Vienna who was charged with internal operations of managing the Final Solution, from within his city and congregation.

Murmelstein insists his actions were necessary, judicious, even heroic. He claims his discretion saved countless lives. To this day, many Jews hold him in even greater contempt than Nazis or Vichy in carrying out these barbaric orders. It's a dilemma of the highest magnitude. Lanzmann, as is his forté, presents the interview without judgment.

The idea here being; complicity is slippery, and mundane and perhaps inescapable collaboration tends to not only be rationalized, it always snowballs.


well, yeah...

Well, that's sort of the other side of it. A little bit of dislike and can morph into hate and that can lead to extinctions.

Students of the holocaust are generally taught to try to stop discrimination, as that can lead to hate speech, which can lead to hateful actions. We had a wall in the Re4member the Children exhibit at the children's museum in DC that showed a progression from a small insult to despising a race, and it offered up suggestions for stopping the behavior all along the path.

Also showed what could happen if one sat there doing nothing.

So, in addition to paying attention, it's important to speak up and speak out against injustices, however small. If we all look out for someone a bit less fortunate than us, a lot of people would be looked out for.


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