Deflecting Guilt: Using the ‘Next Generation’ as a Shield

While I was extremely disturbed by the visitor responses to “The Couple in a Cage” described in Coco Fusco’s article, I would like to focus on  Fusco’s analysis of children’s reactions to the exhibit. Last week in our class discussion on memorials, I believe Rica brought up the constant refrain of ‘educating future generations’ connected to the purpose of memorializing and questioned if it is the current generation’s way of deflecting guilt.  As if the current generation is claiming that they themselves do not need the memorial for commemorating atrocities, but rather it should function as an educational tool for future generations.

Interestingly, and relevant to this discussion about future generations, were children’s responses to “The Couple in the Cage”.  Fusco writes, “[f]or all the concern expressed about shocking children, we found that their reactions have been the most humane” and “[b]oys and girls often asked their parents excellent questions about us, prompting ethical discussions about racism and treatment of indigenous peoples” (16).  In this respect, children were able to honestly approach their feelings of discomfort and confusion and question the exhibit, rather than their adult counterparts who either ignored their feelings of discomfort or behaved as colonizers.

These two different conversations about the next generation, prompt me to question how and why do adults build up mechanisms of defense in dealing with uncomfortable situations and guilt. How does utilizing the excuse of ‘educating the next generation’ and concern over “shocking children” shield and ironically infantilize adults/the current generation? What can public historians do to counteract this shield and force adults to face and deal with uncomfortable feelings?

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