Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Jonestown November 18th, 1978....response to Mander question

Chad Miltenberger asks this question in his reading response to Jerry Mander

Is it really possible to erase images from your memory?

My response....no, okay it is possible if you lose your memory...but without some injury to the brain (mental or physical), I don't believe you can fully erase memories. This question and Mander, got me thinking about memories I have of events I saw on tv as a child, namely the Jonestown massacre-sparked because of the CNN show this past weekend Inside the Jonestown Massacre. This month marks the 30th anniversary (sounds odd, like it is a celebration-which it is not). It's difficult for me to decipher what I thought was real at the time this massacre happened because most of what I recall about the event came from a docu-drama, taken from the real...a simulacrum of sorts. Watching the CNN show allowed me to blur that "fictional" memory I had of Jonestown, but it didn't allow me to fully erase what I believed to be true, because I saw it on tv.

Back in 1978, when Jonestown happened, we didn't have cable, in fact I don't remember watching tv at home on a daily basis, until I was about eleven. We didn't have CNN or other news channels to run 24 hour long coverage of dramatic news events, the only thing close was 60 minutes. My early tv experience mainly happened at my grandparents on their color Zenith console. On the weekends I'd stay the night there-the sleep over usually consisted of some heart stopping delicious meal and television after dinner. Typically my grandparents liked to watch cop dramas like Kojak, Barnaby Jones or Cannon. but they also gravitated towards docu-dramas (since there was no CNN to fill that gap with "real" drama). So a couple of years after the real Jonestown tragedy, this show comes on about Jonestown and I watched it with my grandparents. (You can see this clip, sorry...embedding is disabled.) This is where my memory of what was real, what was a simulation of the real, becomes grey-I cannot tell you what is fact or fiction. I don't know if I originally learned about Jonestown from the news or a tv movie. To this day, if I look at Powers Boothe, I see Jim Jones. Watching a made for tv movie was real to me, if not more, than the actual photographs and footage from the massacre (on tv news and in print).

I'm not a follower of Mander (and I love my tv) but he brings up some ideas that make me question how tv has shaped me over the years. I'd like to think I wasn't a naive television viewer as a kid, my Mom sold television advertising and I often watched the news being broadcast right in the studio. I knew how the magic worked inside that box and what supported it (ads). But I was just a kid and perhaps trying to analyse the horrible events of Jonestown was beyond my capacity..."what we don't know scares us". Here are the facts I know, I don't like Kool-Aid, I have no desire to go to Guyana, I don't care for 'leaders', and I've got issues about the tv movie Helter Skelter-this spooked me too, it took a long time for me to realize that Charles Manson was in prison and not living in my town.

Maybe in the long run, CNN has made us more sophisticated as viewers. We don't have to rely on those two hour tv movies-a dramatization of what may have happened. We can watch an event take place immediately and continue watching the talking heads analyze the event for weeks (or years) to come. Perhaps it is not sophistication, maybe sophistication is just a replacement for desensitization?

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