Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Phenomenon of Teddy Bear Fences

This is a new feature of our cultural landscape -- new in that I have watched it happen in my lifetime, to where if I think hard enough about it, I might be able to come up with my first memory of it, like lapel ribbons (Atlanta 1978), and the phrase "it's all good" (Hammer time?).

Recall the McDonald's shooting in San Ysidro, 1984. After the incident, people drove by and stared, pointed out their car windows. Then the restaurant was torn down. Teddy bear fencing had not yet been born.

As you might expect, the Va Tech shooting followed the proscribed narrative for incidents of its kind: a provocative memorial has been erected and controversy has followed.

Dodie and I, both with close ties to Tech, held our own point/counterpoint the other night by phone. I post this on her behalf as well, since sitting at the computer too long gives her a headache.

Point the 1st: I am generally opposed to memorials at the spot where one died. I prefer to visit the spot where one is buried. Not only is the death spot tainted with sadness, it is generally too public a place (highway, newstand, college campus) or too private (someone's front yard). There is one yard in Worcester where 2 such shrines are erected, and not from the same incident. In a town near me recently, a homeowner, disturbed by the shrine in his yard and the debris it collected, removed it. Without asking the family who erected it. Guess who got villified.

The roadside shrine -- known in my vocabulary by the catch-all term Teddy Bear Fence -- is now expected as a right (also rite) of the left-behind. They may even fear that we will judge them harshly if one is not erected. Perhaps we will. which is why...

...Strangers will come. I believe that people who leave teddy bears on fences do so to draw attention to themselves rather than the dead. I do not believe they are necessarily conscious of that. I believe that their need to be part of the story -- any story -- is so overwhelming that they have to go. I believe that they are afraid that if they don't, no one will, and then it won't be on the news, and other strangers will think that no one loved this poor victimized person... even if 100 people later come to his untelevised funeral.

Someone always wrecks it for the others. And right on schedule, this happened at Tech, where at a makeshift memorial of stones for each fatality... someone added one for the shooter. And I believe these people also only do this to draw attention to themselves. Otherwise they would go into their closets and pray. Because love is not boastful. and yaddayadda. We saw this in Colorado, and should not be surprised that it happened in Va. The How To manual is quite known by now.

Get your own memorial. And here is where Doe made a fantastic point. If you want a stone for Cho, go get 32 more and make your own memorial. You don't put your own candles on another person's cake, do you?

In a case of meta-culture so strange you can't tell whether The Onion made it up, or you should just shrug and say "of course..." A shrine has also been erected in Second Life. This means of course that teddy bears can actually walk there themselves.

And while we're on the topic of teddy bears (which are creepy puppets + haunted children, by the way) would someone please explain to me how this entire line of toys made it through the marketing review?? Let's hope this is not the first of a series.

1 comment:

  1. So I should cancel the order for your Papi Chulo bear?


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