What happens to society when tragic memories are not given a space that allows remedial effects to occur? In Rosa A. Eberly’s “Everywhere You Go, It’s There” article, she argues that events such as the 1966 University of Texas Tower Shooting need a proper public space to go that will allow generative conversations to take place. To show that Eberly’s argument works, I will apply her ideas to a writing object. This writing object is a YouTube clip of Charlie Chaplin’s famous speech from his film The Great Dictator (1940), a film that critiques Adolf Hitler and his treatment of Jewish people during the Holocaust. For this article we will specifically focus on Chaplin’s speech, not the entire film, so that we may do a close reading of the speech itself and how it converses with Eberly’s theory.
Eberly proposes that her Rhetoric 330E course has done a more productive job than popular media in giving a space where the memory of the UT Shooting can be properly discussed. Through examples of news reports and radio interviews, she explains that popular media has limits because they do not evidently allow people to do a close and deep reading of the shooting via conversation. For instance, Eberly states that “While the radio makes discourse public, it does not necessarily create public discourse” (71). Media like the radio has publically shared peoples’ thoughts and feelings on the shooting, but it does not exactly make a space for people to communicate with each other. She suggests that her Rhetoric 330E class, “The UT Tower Shooting and Public Memory,” as a better shared public space for the UT Shooting memory. Her class functions as a proto-public sphere, a space that allows learning, understanding, and generative conversations to take place. The students in her class used the tools of rhetoric to analyze all the perspectives of the shooting: “they would speak and write in common about whether and how they thought the Tower shootings were and ought to be remembered” (71). Her classroom acts as a proto-type model of how a public space should function to promote discussions on difficult topics such as the UT shooting.
Eberly’s call for public spheres to facilitate conversations on difficult memories makes me think of how a Youtube clip of Charlie Chaplin’s speech from The Great Dictator provokes public discussions of the Holocaust. Chaplin’s The Great Dictator is a satire that uses comedy to attack and bring attention to Hitler and his crimes against humanity. The Youtube clip taken from the film features the main character who is mistaken to be the dictator, a character that represents Hitler, the person originally meant to give the speech. But instead of talking like the dictator to keep his cover, he gives a liberating speech to persuade the dictator’s soldiers to fight for freedom and love instead of slavery and oppression. Although Chaplin’s speech does not model Eberly’s classroom, his speech and the circulation of it does similar work, but in a different environment and at a broader scale.
The clip of Chaplin’s speech offers an alternative way people can remember and partake in public discourse about the Holocaust. Via social networking, viewers share the Youtube link on Facebook, and then Facebook friends can like the video, leave comments, or they can share it on their own profiles. For example, the image below shows how I originally discovered Chaplin’s speech on Facebook.
As we can see, public spheres are generated from Chaplin’s speech through the circulation of social networking. Furthermore, what makes Chaplin’s speech so successful as a shared space where people can go when they want to remember and discuss the Holocaust is that Chaplin uses comedy to attack a sensitive topic. By using a popular film genre, Chaplin attracts many viewers to watch his movie; therefore, the conversations that generate from his speech are truly at a broad, public level. Chaplin’s video demonstrates Eberly’s theory on the proper placement of memory at work, but it also expands on the practice of it. Whereas public discourse on the UT shooting mostly remains in Eberly’s classroom, Chaplin’s speech can instigate public discourse on the Holocaust at a much wider scale due to social networking.
Eberly theorizes that memories belong in spaces that generate public discourse. We have seen her theory practiced in her classroom and expanded on through Chaplin’s speech. As WRTC scholars and students, as people in general, we cannot allow memories of tragic events to be hushed or hidden. Public discourse on difficult subjects must be made available, for it allows people and societies to heal, cope, and move on. Thus, if there is no way to talk or share thoughts about horrific events like the UT shooting or the Holocaust, then the fabric of society will remain torn instead of repaired.