Sunday, August 8, 2010

My Old School

A couple nights ago, as part of my long penitential march through Michael Haneke, I watched Benny's Video, and was reminded of an incident from my high school days.  This is one of those things that, looking back on it, I can hardly believe it actually happened -- that it wasn't just a dream I had.  Like the time I was flipping through channels of German television around Christmas time in 1990, and stumbled across a show titled "King Size Dick singt Weihnachtslieder."  Until I had the internet to back me up, I spent a few years mistrusting my memory -- did that really happen?

Here's what happened: I was in a "U.S. Government"class that every student was required to take in their senior year.  As usual for these classes in which everyone is thrown together haphazardly, the thing had the feel of a gym class -- the buzz of low levels of aggressive annoyance from a bunch of students who really didn't want to be there.  It was taught at a low enough level that anyone could understand the material, which made it tedious for most, and deadly dull for everyone.  The teacher was a recycled Driver's Ed guy who, like us, really didn't care about the material.  What he did care about was showing movies during class, which meant less hassle for all concerned.

The Incident involved a particular one of these films -- a movie on the women's suffrage movement that we were watching one day, which was actually pretty interesting -- lots of original footage.  One of the more colorful (and by "colorful" I mean, inter alia, "bomb-throwing") figures of the movement in the UK was Emily Davison, who was killed by the King's horse at the Epsom Derby in 1913, as she sprung out in front of the racers as part of a suffragette protest.  Her death was captured on film, and was part of the movie we were watching in class.  When we got to the part where she jumped onto the track and was cut down by the horse, the teacher quickly jumped up and stopped the film.  He then turned to the class and said -- "Ok, everybody -- want to see that AGAIN?"  At which the other students all yelled "YEAHHHH!"  So he rewound the film, and once again played the footage of Emily Davison's death -- this time with the class cheering and clapping as she dashed onto the track, was crushed by the horse, and fell, mortally wounded.  I just put my head down on the desk -- all I could muster by way of feeble protest.

I still remember watching it unfold as if in a dream -- as if it never really happened.  I thought of it when my high school class had its 25th reunion last month.

The jockey whose horse killed Emily Davison was "haunted by that woman's face," and committed suicide years later.