Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Reel Life

One of the most perspective expanding books I’ve ever had the opportunity to breathe in is James W. Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong. Loewen spent two years comparing twelve typical American history textbooks and the distortions, inaccuracies, Euro-centrism, omissions and outright lies that most of us were taught as our nation’s story. He argues that young peoples’ negative attitudes toward the study of history and the general apathy that has come to help define our national culture are the results of a campaign of misinformation regarding our nation’s narrative. I couldn’t agree more.

In a discussion about the relationship between history and memory, Loewen shares his interpretation of the East African idea of sasha and zamani. According to Loewen:

Many African societies divide humans into three categories: those still alive on earth, the sasha, and the zamani. The recently departed whose time on earth overlapped with people still here are the sasha, the living-dead. They are not wholly dead, for they still live in the memories of the living, who can call them to mind, create their likeness in art, and bring them to life in anecdote. When the last person to know an ancestor dies, that ancestor leaves the sasha for the zamani, the dead. As generalized ancestors, the zamani are not forgotten but revered.

For some reason, this concept really resonates with me, and lately I’ve been fascinated by the idea that movie-making has altered the human experience of history on a really fundamentally spiritual level.

Tony has always been a bit of a classic movies buff. I, on the other hand, had never even seen The Sound of Music until very recently. Tony’s been a great guide into the history of cinema, and I’ve seen more old movies in the past two years than in the previous thirty five. I’ve now come to have a deep appreciation for the old black-and-whites and I just keep thinking about the sense of immortality that was created with the invention of moving pictures. For a thousand generations before me, people had no real way of connecting with the zamani. The sasha remained in the memories and stories of living people, but once a person passed from the sasha to the zamani, they were lost to time. But now, I can order a movie from Netflix and connect with people who were born 150 years ago. I can see their movements and mannerisms. I can hear their voices. I can see them laugh and cry. I can, on some level, know them.

I think that’s a real paradigm shift that hasn’t yet been fully recognized. How different would our world be if we had the ability to see and hear and feel those who have been lost to time? I suppose we all sometimes wonder what the people who lived 500 years ago looked like and sounded like. The generations to come will have a powerful connection to their history that we can’t conceive. And, I just think that’s cool.


Norbit said...

They just started a new channel in Atlanta called WSB Retro. They are airing old episodes of Life Styles of the Rich & Famous (from the 80s!), amongst some other gems.

Interesting and thought provoking blog!

tiff said...

Hey, what's up. I have that book by Loewen. It was a pretty interesting read. Kinda weird for a white guy to be up on black/native american issues though... but cool.

familyman said...

Very cool insight. I've always thought there was something magical about old movies. I think you've put it into words perfectly.

Drunkbunny said...

I think about such things a lot. For example, I'm a scrapbooker but yet have no family to pass my scrapbooks onto. Then I think, well, maybe in 200 years someone will think this honest look at life at the turn of the 20th century to the 21st would be interesting. But then I remind myself that they don't need pictures for this, they have movies.

It Happened One Night is one of the the best movies ever made, in my opinion. The way it stands up to the test of time fascinates me.

familyman said...

There's still something cool and mysterious about an old photograph even if there are movies available.

Valerie - Still Riding said...

I liked the thought.

As long as one needs a thought of you here to get through their day with joy or in trouble your spirit hears and responds.

I believe that. I believe we can call, not just on the Creator, but on any of those that love us.

It works for me!

Cooper said...

I find this concept utterly fascinating! In fact, I want to learn more about it. I agree, too, about the spiritual connection that can come from watching old movies. I seem to especially be aware of this when viewing very old news clips. I am filled with awe at the realisation that every one of the human beings I am seeing before me ... breathing, talking, dancing, weeping, expressing ... are likely now dead. It puts things in persepctive. Old loves, old joys, old fears, old griefs ... the sasha and zamani, too.