Censorship and Memory: Thinking Outside the Box with Facebook, Goebbels, and Xi Jinping
Aarhus University, DK
Wulf Kansteiner is Professor of Memory Studies and Historical Theory at Aarhus University in Denmark. His research interests include the methods and theories of memory studies; the role of visual media – TV, film, digital culture – in the formation of cultural memory; post-narrativist historical theory; and Holocaust history, memory and historiography.
Western memory and Western media do not appear to foster social peace. Academics are disappointed with the effects of the self-critical memory of the Holocaust that they have championed for three decades and that has been adopted by the UN and the EU. The cosmopolitan memory of the Holocaust has neither prevented a series of troublesome human rights violation since the 1980s nor averted the rise of right-wing, nationalistic movements in democratic societies. It might be time to retire cosmopolitan memory and develop new mnemonic strategies of violence prevention. At the same time, politicians, political activists, and journalists, inspired by the Black-Lives-Matter, the Me-Too, and the new ecological movement are frustrated with the highly efficient, digitally supercharged communication loops that reproduce racism, sexism, and climate change denial in contemporary societies. The frustrations of academics and activists point towards the need for new memory cultures that can effectively curb the social reproduction of violence, prejudice, and propaganda, for example by way of censorship. Both frustrations raise the question of how to forget the past responsibly. A look at ambitious censorship regimes in Nazi Germany, Communist China, and inside the social media giant Facebook reveals that social forgetting is an attainable goal although mnemonic censorship is a blunt, unpredictable political tool and undermines democratic exchange. The exasperation with cosmopolitan memory and digital media and the call for political intervention thus raise a veritable and frightful conundrum: does the goal of using purposeful forgetting to reduce rates of collective violence and to save the planet require dismantling basic human rights?