Originally posted on my blog, pH: public History basics on acid.
Although sites like the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Auschwitz, Toul Sleng Genocide Museum, and Choeung Ek (Killing Fields) may be quiet, visitors are tweeting away. In the process of exploring the world of Twitter for my class assignment this week, I recalled an article documenting photos taken at concentration camps and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin, posted on Twitter or Instagram, and accompanied by often downright offensive hashtags. Even the milder photos (by milder I mean that no one was smiling, jumping inappropriately on the memorial, or doing a thumbs up) took on an offensive and often ignorant tone when accompanied with hashtags like #chillin in #dachau, #beautiful, #Nice #Life, #Yolocaust, #Fantastic #Perfect #country, #hungry #and #cold, and #missing #this. How do hashtags change the meaning and tone of photos, especially those taken at sites of conscience?
On one of my first days in Siem Reap, Cambodia last year, I visited Wat Thmei, where a stupa holds the bones of some of the victims of the Khmer Rouge. My tuk-tuk driver waited patiently and watched me from the shade as I looked at the stupa and I took a few pictures. As I was getting ready to leave, he pointed to my camera and told me that he would take my photo in front of the stupa. I felt uncomfortable with the idea of taking a touristy shot in front of the bones of those killed under Pol Pot’s oppressive regime, so I politely refused. He insisted and said that it would be no problem and it would be a beautiful picture. Not yet accustomed to resisting persistent tuk-tuk drivers, I agreed. He said, “smile!” and counted to three.