Who is Columbine? Forgetting the public in contemporary memorial sites

Schwake, Jena R., author
Dunn, Thomas, advisor
Dickinson, Greg, committee member
Fish Kashay, Jennifer, committee member
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Colorado State University. Libraries
The Columbine Memorial in Littleton, Colorado honors and remembers the thirteen victims of the Columbine High School shooting. The memorial presents itself as an open, public space in which all are welcomed to visit, mourn, or reflect as they wish upon the events of April 20, 1999; however, the memorial’s rhetorical tactics seem intended exclusively for a particular and privatized public—namely, the survivors, family members, and intimates of those killed in the shooting. Through critique of the Columbine Memorial as a public memory place, this occurrence presents a rhetorically oriented instance of “forgetting the public.” Forgetting the public, as conceived here, results from the privileging of individualized memories within public commemorative sites, ultimately leaving those visitors outside of a narrowly circumscribed public unacknowledged by the memorial site. I contend that forgetting publics prevents public identification with memorial sites, which disrupts the epideictic processes necessary for a memorial to achieve its intended civic purposes. This study critically examines the memorial’s employment of specific rhetorical tactics, as viewed through the relationship between private and public memory. This lens reveals three trends occurring within the memorial that inform our understanding of contemporary memorial sites, including Presence/Absence, Intimacy/Publicity, and Discursivity/Materiality. Specific examples within each trend demonstrate an apparent forgetting of the public, ultimately leading to the conclusion that the Columbine Memorial perpetuates the privileging of private interests over those of the general public.
Includes bibliographical references.
2015 Summer.
public memory, public forgetting, rhetoric