The commemoration of and education around the issue of the Holocaust becomes an increasingly complicated task. As survivors die out and the attention span of the younger generation shrinks at a dazzling pace, it gets challenging to keep the stories from that time relevant and relatable. In an attempt to tackle this problem, Israeli high-tech entrepreneur Mati Kochavi and his daughter, Maya, opened an Instagram account in which they sought to document the last months of Eva Hayman, a 13-year old Hungarian Jew who was murdered in the Holocaust. The project, titled Eva’s Story, has so far been watched by millions of viewers and generated a worldwide social-media sensation, while being the subject of both laudatory endorsements and harsh criticism.
The creation of the fake Instagram account had cost the Israeli entrepreneur nearly $5 million to make, and involved roughly 400 actors, extras, and crew members. Shot in Lviv, Ukraine, the production sought to re-create the world of Eva Hayman as it is described in her personal journal, which commences on February 13, 1944 (her 13th birthday) and ends on May 30 of that year, just days before her deportation to Auschwitz. Unlike your typical Holocaust movie, however, this project was filmed exclusively through the lens of Eva’s Instagram story, and is replete, in some sections, with hashtags, GIFs, and emojis.
Following an elaborate media campaign and a teaser that was uploaded to the fake account last week, Eva’s Story was finally released in 70 increments on Wednesday afternoon, right at the onset of Israel’s annual Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day. Eva’s last Instagram story, which captures the moment in which she was shoved on a cattle train that would take her to her death, was uploaded to the account on Thursday morning—as sirens were heard throughout Israel, calling for a moment of mourning.
By the time Eva’s last story aired, the account had garnered nearly one million followers and its content had been watched by over 100 million people across the globe. Roughly 200 million Google searches of Eva’s Story were registered on Google and the project had been covered by media outlets in over 50 countries. Among the enthused endorsers of Eva’s Insta account were Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the White House, who shared it on its official IG account.
Yet alongside the global hype surrounding the project were countless critiques by individuals who found this initiative offensive and disrespectful. In an Op-Ed for Haaretz newspaper, civics-teacher and musician Yuval Mendelson wrote, “First of all, we are talking about a display of bad taste. Second, and much worse, there will be consequences. The path from ‘Eva’s Story’ to selfie-taking at the gates of Auschwitz-Birkenau is short and steep, and in the end all those tut-tutters and head shakers will join in telling us about the lost and disconnected youth, devoid of values and shameless.”
Mendelson’s opinion of the project was echoed by many others who sensed Eva’s Story encouraged the ‘cheapening’ of the Holocaust, and who believed that depicting her dreadful experience through an Instagram story is simply inappropriate.
The creators of the project, however, maintain an entirely different position, believing that social media can be used as a tool to keep the conversation around the Holocaust alive among the young generation. In an interview for The New York Times, Mati Kochavi stated, “Why disrespectful? It’s the way people communicate. I have no doubt in my mind that young people around the world want to have serious content and be connected in the right way.” In a subsequent interview for Ynet, Kochavi added that, “This is the way to make the Holocaust accessible to the young crowd. Only 2.7 percent of the total discussion about the Holocaust around the world today is initiated by the younger generation, which is a significant decline in comparison to previous years.”
Eva’s Story certainly raises serious questions not only about how to handle the subject of the Holocaust in the post-millennial age and keep future generations aware and engaged, but about how to utilise the various platforms of social media to document and discuss world events and tragedies without trivialising them. It seems that the project’s creators would have dodged some of the criticism launched against them had they not embarked on a glitzy campaign, which included the hanging of massive banners across Israel, depicting a girl’s hand holding an iPhone over barbed-wire against the background of the trademark purple-and-yellow Insta shades. It is clear why many across Israel felt that combining the most populistic and commercial aspects of Instagram with an issue like the Holocaust is both disrespectful and offensive.
One thing is certain, though: social media isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and Kochavi is right when he says that “This is where the kids are.” It only makes sense then to utilise platforms such as Instagram in order to expose young people to serious content and keep them informed about both historical and current world affairs. It is equally as necessary, however, to ensure that topics such as the Holocaust are handled with extra sensitivity and respect, so as not to, inadvertently, depict them as yet another sensationalist fad.
Being ‘gender fluid’ and tackling the binary, whether that’s toxic masculinity or what’s expected of your gender, have only recently entered the conversation among the masses. Toxic masculinity has become a popular debate, from what it means, to the effects it has on society and men themselves. It’s also what inspired the photography series Blah, Blah, Blah, Genitals, a social experiment exploring the formation of gender identity in boys.
While couch surfing through Barcelona, creative duo Julia Falkner and Lorena Hydeman wanted to ask the question, how do boys see manhood? With all these debates around what it means to be a man today, has toxic masculinity become a thing of the past?
We sometimes have a rose-tinted lens towards the future. As generations progress, there’s this idea that those that come after us will be more open-minded. McCrindle’s consultancy predicts that there are 2.5 million more Generation Alphas being born every week. These are the children of millennials and born around the year 2010. Generation Z is those born around the 2000s. These generations are expected to be the longest living generations as well as the wealthiest.
In order to respond to this, through family and friends, and with the permission of their parents, Falkner the photographer and Hydeman interviewed and photographed 17 boys aged between 6-16 on what masculinity meant to them.
Dressing up in what is usually deemed to be feminine clothing and playing with makeup, Falker noticed that though the boys enjoyed experimenting with this treasure chest of options, they were also aware that they couldn’t wear this to school in case they were made fun of. “All the boys were really intelligent and shooting with children is always a raw and honest experience but the one thing I did notice was how open the boys depended on which parent/guardian was in the room”.
Many of the boys had one thing in common: their fathers were not present in their lives and those that were raised in single-parent households were more receptive to feminity. “When I asked Rio, who was playing basketball and was already wearing basketball shorts, what he wanted to wear, he went into his mother’s wardrobe and picked out her wedding corset,” says Hydeman. “What was endearing was when he was trying it on, he was saying how he felt so bad that his mother had to wear this on her wedding day and he was just so empathetic towards her”.
When speaking to Screen Shot about how the experiment reflected different minorities’ relationship to gender fluidity, Hydeman said that what became clear was the impact of what fathers thought on the children’s choice of clothes and makeup. “One thing that stands out to me is this conversation I was having with Taye and Tyrell’s mum and how their dad didn’t want them to be a part of it. Coming from a Jamaican background, there’s this alpha male machoness that was prided on. Almost as if how tough your boys are mirrors how much you’ve left an impression on them”.
During the process of the experiment, the creative duo themselves said they had to check their own stereotypes; who they thought would be the least receptive participants to the experiment, often turned out to be the most engaged. For example, boys in their teens were just as open-minded as six-year-olds. “Most of the boys became more feminine than I thought they would,” says Hydeman. “I misjudged them and thought that the sporty boys wouldn’t want to wear heeled boots but that was the complete opposite.”
When exploring how masculinity and toxic masculinity has shaped these boys’ lives, what was apparent was how toxic masculinity in Generation Z and Alphas would perhaps look different from what it does today. Throughout the experiment, what was clear was how the boys, especially the younger boys, were open to the idea of wearing a dress. “They realised it’s just a silhouette at the end of the day,” Falker and Hydeman both say.
While talking to the boys about what it meant to them to be a man or a woman, both Falker and Hydeman reported how respectful and appreciative these young boys were of the women in their lives—something that might have been shaped through discourse around women’s rights. “Maybe toxic masculinity had to become so bad that the next generation would want it to be different,” says Hydeman. Maybe this is a sign of better things to come. A sense of hope and openness via the younger generations ahead.
Blah Blah Genitals went on to be exhibited at the Photo Vogue Festival 2018 in Milan as part of the group exhibition, Embracing Diversity, and as a solo exhibition at Galleria Lattuada.