Tourists of History: Memory, Kitsch, and Consumerism from Okalahoma City to Ground Zero

By Neal, Arthur G. | Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA), June 2008 | Go to article overview
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Tourists of History: Memory, Kitsch, and Consumerism from Okalahoma City to Ground Zero


Neal, Arthur G., Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)


Tourists of History: Memory, Kitsch, and Consumerism from Okalahoma City to Ground Zero Marita Sturken. Duke University Press, 2007.

Professor Sturken concentrates on the many aspects of individual and collective responses to Okalahoma City bombing, the execution of Timothy McVeigh, and the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001. She frames the multiple responses to national trauma around remembrance, consumerism, and kitsch sentiment. The guide through the paranoid and fear-ridden landscape of contemporary American culture promotes the assumption of American innocence and a readiness to acquiesce to repressive governmental policies.

The author notes that while the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City and the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York are each seen as unique and exceptional events, the terrorism generated was preceded by a widespread elaboration of a culture of fear. The Columbine school shooting in Littleton, Colorado and the long festering relationship between right wing militia groups and the federal government are prime examples of the conditions promoting a sense of uneasiness with modern social life. The shootout at Ruby Ridge in Idaho and the destruction of the Branch Dividian compound in Waco, Texas were episodes leading up to the domestic terrorism of Oklahoma City.

The terrorist attack of 9/11 produced a frenzied consumer response to the lack of innocence and built upon the preexisting culture of fear. The attack produced a changed moment in American history and generated willingness to trade off civil liberties in the quest for national security. The culture of fear and the increased paranoia was accompanied by a sublimation of many aspects of retail therapy and consumer culture.

Her central thesis holds that "the past remains in the present" and is integrated into our lives on an everyday basis. This was evident in the conviction and execution of Timothy McVeigh. The execution was a spectacle that was designed to be consumed by politicians and the American public. The media constructed McVeigh's execution to be a site for the public performance of grief and victimhood. Very troubling issues were raised in the media about the American prison system and the death penalty.

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