June 29, 2013

Pictures and words

This week there was a bit of a kerfluffle related to my daughter's university, Texas A&M. 

Some background on the two things involved...

First, incoming freshman have the opportunity to attend a camp-style orientation called "Fish Camp".  At Fish Camp, students are supposed to learn the school's traditions, words to school Yells (cheers for you non-A&M folks) and songs, history about the institution, and the etiquette associated with all of the aforementioned activities.  There are places on campus that you aren't supposed to set foot, where one does not wear a hat, where hushed tones are spoken out of respect, along with the loud and fun traditions that all college campuses have.  Kids go to Fish Camp just before moving in, and, if nothing else, meet a new friend or two that is just as lost as they are heading off to college.

Second, is Bonfire Memorial.  On November 18, 1999 at 2:42 am, 11 students and one former student were killed when the bonfire stack that was under construction on the A&M campus, collapsed.  Today, on that site, at the northeast corner of the campus, there is a beautiful memorial structure.  Steeped with symbolism and maintained in pristine condition, it is dedicated to the spirit of those that lost their lives on that very spot.

Last weekend, a group of student Fish Camp counselors gathered on campus and took some pictures.  This is something each group of camp counselors does during their training and bonding process.  Unfortunately, this group of students, that is being entrusted with teaching incoming students about A&M traditions, chose to take their photographs at the memorial site.  Check that.  They chose to stand (and lay) on and within the structures dedicated to specific individuals, making stupid and suggestive poses

Internet justice has been swift and harsh.  While I certainly have my opinion on this subject - it brings to mind bigger-picture issues.

My blood boiled when I visited Pearl Harbor and was elbowed out of the way by Japanese tourists taking photos of themselves with attack artifacts, cheesy grins and all.

And yet, I have a picture of two of my kids in a German tank bunker near Normandy - heads poking out, smiling.   I have a photo of my daughter at the gates of Auschwitz, standing under the words, "Arbeit Mach Frei".  She isn't smiling, and it wasn't an intentional pose - she was walking ahead as I stopped to take the photo and I called out to her to stop and turn around.  I think I wanted to memorialize that she had been there (she was five at the time), but I still don't feel quite right when I look at it.  The fact that I can still explain the exact circumstances sounds like a weak justification for something that I wish I hadn't done.

Certainly, some places are more sacred than others, whether it be for personal reasons or patriotic ones.  There are places that no one should desecrate with their actions, words, or photos.  There is a world of difference between a photo taken while visiting a site to pay respects versus letting your butt cheeks hang out of your daisy duke shorts as you pose on the symbolic headstone of someone's child. 

I am left thinking that if it takes a thousand words to explain, justify, or apologize for a picture, it shouldn't have been taken. 

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