September 2, 2015

On Obama in Alaska and the (Visitor) Showers at Auschwitz

Obama Alaska Souza

Hey everyone, it’s Barack.

— Whitehouse Instagram from Alaska

Resurrection Bay is one of those places that reminds you of all the beauty this country has to offer. It’s home to whales (I got to see one!)….

— Whitehouse Instagram from Alaska

Yes, Obama was touting environmentalism and the impact of global warming. And yes, it’s hot in Poland in August. My primary takeaway from the White House photographs of Obama’s trip to Alaska, however, as well as the photos of the outdoor misting stations installed to cool off visitors to Auschwitz (which have reminded some of the indoor showers) is pretty similar.

What the pictures suggest — including shot after shot by “bo” (1, 2, 3, 4) on the White House Instagram — is that, in both instances, the overriding significance of the place has been subordinated to its role as a tourist destination (and social media op).

Coincidentally, I woke up to this this morning in my Twitter feed:

Obviously, this preference (mostly amplified, as opposed to teased out by the media) does not bode well for the physical or the cultural environment, especially if the aim/necessity is a more direct historical or moral experience. And if the problem has been around for a while now, it feels like this “engagement veneer” adopted by our political and moral leaders is only getting worse — the balance really tipping now from substance to representation, from straight talk to “hey, everyone.”

(updated 7:44 am PST)

(photo 1: Pete Souza/White House via Instagram caption: My new competition. photo 2: Meyer Bolka/Instagram caption: Showers installed outside Auschwitz remind visitors of gas chambers.)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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