Sunday, 13 April 2014

The Amazing Race 24, Episode 7

Mount Lavinia (Sri Lanka) - Rome (Italy)

Do you travel to learn about the past? About the present? Or about the future?

That depends on who you are, of course, but also on where you go.

Visitors to Rome, for example, are expected to be interested primarily in the past. It takes a special effort to break out of those expectations and focus one’s attention on contemporary Rome, its future, and its place in the world today and tomorrow.

I don’t mean to suggest that there is nothing to be learned from history. But if I’m going to think about Rome’s history as a place from which much of the world was ruled, I want to understand how slavery and imperialism were justified to, and carried out by, Roman citizens, how the Roman inquisition was justified to, and carried out by, followers of the Roman Catholic Church, and how we can avoid the repetition of holocausts like these.

Some of the tasks assigned to the cast of The Amazing Race 24 were typical of the glorification, to and by visitors to Rome, of the worst of the city’s past.

In one challenge, one member of each team of racers had to dress up as an enslaved gladiator and act out a duel to the (mock) death with an actor dressed as another slave gladiator, while a group of actors dressed as wealthy Roman imperial “citizens” looked on and laughed.

Historical reenactments have a place and can play a useful role. Visitors to the former Federal prison on Alcatraz Island, for example, used to be given the chance to be briefly locked in a cell. Many visitors found it an unexpectedly educational experience.

But what would we think if visitors to the site of a Nazi death camp were given the chance to dress up as prisoners and be marched to a mock gas chamber by jeering actors dressed as guards?

How is this different from reenacting Roman spectator “sports” in which privileged people entertained themselves by watching slaves be forced to kill each other?

There are reasons to visit Rome, things to see and do, and things to learn from its history. But if the point of your visit is to celebrate Roman empires, count me out. I come to bury Ceasar, not to praise him.

How about you? Leave your thoughts in the comments?

Link | Posted by Edward on Sunday, 13 April 2014, 23:59 (11:59 PM)
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