Neiger, Zandberg & Meyers, Reversed memory: Commemorating the past through coverage of the present

Neiger, M., Zandberg, E. & Meyers, O. (2014). Reversed memory: Commemorating the past through coverage of the present. In: B. Zelizer & K. Tenenboim-Weinblatt, K. (Eds.). Journalism and Memory. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 113-128.

Collective memory concerns the present no less (or even more) than it refers to the past.  Moreover, in some cases, "the present of past events" – that is, new details or developments regarding significant past occurrences – become the heart of the story and the main focus of the narrative, while the details of those past occurrences are pushed aside, or rather to the background. In the following article, we explore this phenomenon and suggest the concept of reversed memory:  the cultural mechanism and journalistic practice of focusing on the present while commemorating a shared past. i.e., reversed memory is a narratological device in which temporality works in a contrary direction: from the present to the past. Unlike the well-established argument that narratives of the past adapt “the image of ancient facts to the beliefs and spiritual needs of the present” (Halbwachs, 1980 [1950]: 7), in the case of reversed memory the past is not merely narrated in the service of current objectives; rather, the past is commemorated by means of the narration of the present.

Fundamentally, collective memory deals with shared pasts "there and then" while news coverage focuses on information concerning the present "here and now". Still, despite this apparent contradiction, reversed memory storytelling technique enables the creation of narratives that qualify both as news items as well as commemorative tools and so, shared manifestations of the past  become part of the "see it now" discourse of current events news coverage. News items that are constructed as emblems of reversed memory are more evident when they are part of several, simultaneous and complementing rituals, such as   national commemorative rituals, the media rituals that revolve around such “national occasions”, and at the same time, the everyday, secular ritual of news production and dissemination.

Within this context, our chapter offers a typology of reversed memory components and illuminates the phenomenon through an analysis of contents that appeared on Israeli media (internet, print, radio & TV news) during the state Remembrance Day for the Holocaust and the Heroism during  the last decade. In such items we refer to the shift in commemorative reporting from a focus on the events of Holocaust itself to a heightened emphasis on events that followed the Holocaust, and especially the establishment of the State of Israel and the revival of the survivors in their new homeland.