How my film is(not) like a busload of Chinese tourists looking at a famous war memorial

This morning, I did a driveby at the Iwo Jima Memorial (there had been a big formation of Marines there earlier in the day). Whatever Americans know of Iwo Jima today, it's almost certain they recognize the statue. It was based on a photograph by Life Magazine combat cameraman, Joe Rosenthal [ has good background information.] Within 72 hours, the first 3-dimensional version, sculpted in clay by Felix deWeldon. The monument followed on a wave of popular sentiment.

As I drove by, a busload of Chinese tourists was busy snapping pictures of each other with the monument in the background. Only, they were all at the "head" of the monument, on the "wrong" axis of the sculpture/photograph. At first, I smirked at their cluelessness, but then its source became obvious, and the monument's utter dependence on the photo alarmed me.

I would bet they had no knowledge of the monument's (formal) origins. A monument that is inextricably linked to an image will eventually have to serve people who have no shared cultural experience, who haven't been "trained" through repeated viewing of an image (and through history taught with this image). It ends up serving as a monument to the WWII-era American public's media-driven remembrance; we are still living in the shadow of that memory.

Iwo Jima is at least one or two generations closer, historical distance-wise, than the WWI memorials in Souvenir November 2001, but the separation of the memorial and the cultural memory is already showing.

Since 2001 here at, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting that time.

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