Monday, May 9, 2011

Mixt Media Review: Lost in Laconia

Lost In Laconia is a documentary film by Gordon Dubios about the 90 year history of New Hampshire’s Laconia State School. The state school was an institution for the “feeble minded” – in other words, anyone that was unwanted by society. Conditions at Laconia for much of its existence were bleak – rows of cots, open bathrooms, showers where people were hosed down, Hundreds of Laconia “inmates” were sterilized in the name of eugenics, progressive genetics that weren’t much different than the Nazi quest for a superior Aryan race. Yet through this all there was humanity, and this is where the film comes up short. By not delving more deeply into the lives of the staff, who I believe were mostly compassionate individuals, and the lives of the survivors (the ones who are portrayed seem to be cast only in a victim role but that doesn’t tell us anything about them as people) the film remains mostly one dimensional. As a history it is far from comprehensive, but is a good introduction to a time when people preferred those who were seen as disabled (or just plain impoverished or without family or medical supports) were hidden away and treated like cattle.

One truly horrifying thought: the preamble to the film quotes George Santayana “those who can not remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. In New Hampshire (and other states) we are living in a fiscal and socially conservative era where essential support services for people are being thrown under the bus in the name of balancing the budget. For people who are not valued by the culture, the culture has decided we don’t need to worry about them any more. In New Hampshire (and elsewhere) there are politicians who think (and have even spoken aloud- to paraphrase Scrooge via Dickens) that’s what the prisons and workhouses are for.

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