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Cogito Ergo Sum
A Raving Lunatic Dispatch
By Roehl Sybing (

Not too long ago, CBS aired the documentary entitled "9/11." The victims were reviled. At the same time, ESPN premiered the Bobby Knight bio-pic "A Season on the Brink," laden with obscene language typical of the former Indiana University coach. I'm sure there were some parents out there who were disgusted. And just this past week, news about the latest exhibit at New York's Jewish museum - an exhibit lending speculation on the way this overcommercialized, twenty-four-hour-news, $2M-per-Super-Bowl-advertisement world would depict the movement of Nazism if it had its prominence today - drew protesters at its doors and critics in the media (irony is funny, by the way).

We'll forget the fact that there are, after all, various mediums in this world to entertain you. I don't like what's on CBS, for example (this is not true for me, mind you, I was drawn to the documentary from the start); I think "The Practice" already started over on ABC. ESPN, on basic cable, is allowing vulgar language on its airwaves? They've got an edited simulcast of the same movie on the deuce. The exhibit at the Jewish Museum offends you? The Met's closer anyways.

Like I said, that's not the point. A prominent figure who sits in protest of the Jewish Museum's exhibit agrees with me. This is not about free speech, he says, and the museum can do whatever they want within the confines of legality. What it is about, however, is the question of good taste and sensitivity.

To most, the picture of a Holocaust victim in a concentration camp holding a can of Diet Coke is hardly in good taste, and would seldom make people smile. To many Jews, a display of a concentration camp built out of Legos - as well as a Lego character dressed in a Nazi guard's uniform - is most offensive. The art in the Jewish museum has the cruel side effect of causing emotional pain on those affected by the Holocaust, among other sensible people.

But here's the thing - and I really mean it - if a television documentary revealing the scene of Tower 2's collapse as it happened from inside the lobby opens up fresh wounds, or if the sound of Brian Dennehy spitting out obscenities at a frenetic pace makes your ears cringe, or if a long line of faces of American actors who played in motion pictures Nazi commanders, including Adolf Hitler, offends your sensibilities, make no mistake; you should be offended, but there's most likely a pretty good reason why those provocative creators arranged it that way.

Emotional response is good; it lets people know that they are, in fact, alive. And not just alive in the walking-moving sense either, but alive in the fact that they haven't lost their wits or that they haven't been desensitized in this sex-and-violence-heavy culture in which we live in. Without a doubt, we'd like to live in a world where the only emotions that come to us are happiness and joy. Perhaps love, as well, but only true love is born out of some form of suffering. It is not besides the matter, because without moments in life in which we experience pain and suffering, we would not know what those good feelings are. We would not know that we prefer joy to misery, because we don't have misery to compare to any other emotion.

The point of it all is that pain is good. Not in the idea that we should all leave our homes and hit each other in the streets with baseball bats and cattle prods. We need to be reminded every once in a while that there's some pretty bad stuff in this world, and that the bad stuff that we come upon should offend us with emotional suffering without desensitizing our emotions.

Should the Holocaust survivor who came to America and bore three children who bore children of their own show some disgust at images of Nazism enveloped in commercial icons? Absolutely. Should the family of a fallen Cantor Fitzgerald employee suffer every time CNN shows amateur video of flight 11 colliding into the north tower? Yes, without question. Should they say, "Take it away, I don't want to see it anymore"? Sure. Should it be taken away? Unconditionally, no.

I don't buy the idea of images truly burning into memory. I do know where I was on the morning of 9/11, and I remember in certain detail the twelve hours before and after that. Without a historical account every now and then, what is most often lost in the images, however, is our emotional response in those moments. Not immediately, and not in an instant; it happens slowly and fades with the passage of time, but it happens. No one recalls from memory what they felt during their fourteenth birthday, if they can recall it at all. We make up stories of what it was like to be kissed for the first time, because while we did have them, we don't remember the sense of it.

There's a reason why the phrase about history repeating itself was invented. It was because Nazism was forgotten and was reborn in the Balkans with a pretty name: ethnic cleansing. It was because America dismisses its history of Japanese internment camps and allows our Attorney-General to choke the rights and freedoms of freedom-loving citizens in the name of fighting against terrorism. It was because each time we forget history, we grow a little bit more dead inside to the injustices that could occur tomorrow.

We talk about history in the classrooms because we want to show our children what is good and what is bad in the interaction of man over the past six thousand years. We do it because those black marks in our books should never be repeated again, but in order to do it we must inflict emotional pain on those who experience history. It would be a grave injustice to reduce 9/11, or Pearl Harbor, or World War II, or the Spanish Inquisition, to the mere facts of the events. We need to be reminded that they were horrible, so we can go on with life and do all the things that are, well, not-so-horrible.

At the same time, it would also be a grave injustice to make society a cookie-cutter world that is 100% safe for our children and ourselves. First of all, it cannot be done, but more importantly we need to hear the f-word every so often to remind us that we are, in fact, offended by it.

These are the moments that become far bigger, far greater, and far more significant than our sensibilities. We need to be reminded of them, nonetheless, because in experiencing moments that offend us, in hearing things that disgust us, and seeing images that make us weep, we exhibit pain and suffering, and we feel it within, proof enough that we do, in fact, exist. Cogito ergo sum.

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