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Thinking pop culture

The Fault in Our Outrage

“Have we all composed ourselves?” asked the Alpha-lass to her entourage in the row behind us. Her hands were on her hips, it’s essential to note.

Truth be told, her question could have been asked of most of the still-seated ladyfolk. (And probably the three men I counted too). Initially I thought it odd that the house lights took so long to come up: I now suspect the cinema was gifting time for mascara tidying and soiled tissue disposal.

Not that I was completely immune. Sure, I got a tad teary. Not crying - The Fault in Our Stars - didn’t wrench my heart to that extent, but it was sad. Predictably so. Akin to Jodi Picoult books, say, which I will always buy, cry and then feel slightly manipulated by.

So the hilarity of the panting-and-doe-eyed male lead Gus (Ansel Elgort) aside, the truly weird bit came when Amsterdam entered the frame.

Cancer Kids Gus and Hazel (Shailene Woodley) used up Gus’ make-a-wish wish to meet Hazel’s favourite writer, the reclusive and perpetually-inebriated van Houten (Willem Dafoe).

So the two just-friends strolled the canals, admired the skinny houses and because - as Justin Beiber can well testify - no trip to the land of the tulip would be complete without it: they visited the Anne Frank House.

And here’s where it all gets really weird.

In this house of hope and sadness, Hazel decided that there was something particularly enarmoring about Gus’ Labrador-ness in that dim attic lighting.

Weirder still that the other tourist onlookers felt motivated to applaud the kiss. Me and I’ve never felt inclined to clap on any PDAs. But then I’m a minimalist when it comes to cheerleading.

Back to Beiber.

In August last year, the tattooed poppet visited the House, left his sunglasses on and in the visitor’s book expressed his confidence that had Frank lived today that she’d be a Belieber too.

Unsurprisingly the media pounced; I - predictably - defended him just as I try to defend all victims - even those cringe-worthy Canadian ones - of a sensationalist and often-curmudgeonly press.

There are, apparently, right and wrong ways of doing a Frank House visit; sunglasses and smart-arsery don’t apparently make the cut. So - and here’s my question - what makes pashing in the house better?

Are sunglasses and stupidity worse than tonsil hockey?

I’ve visited Dachau and Theresienstadt. Those are wretched places where walking around in a state of shock and tears leaves little room for debate about whether adding accoutrements and/or affection to a visit would have been disrespectful.

Anne Frank House didn’t feel that way to me.

The site isn’t a graveyard. Anne didn’t die in that Amsterdam attic, she wasn’t subjected to unspeakable tortures there. On the contrary, there - in what served as her safe haven for a little over two years - she penned a crushes-and-menstrual-musings diary documenting her life on the cusp of womanhood.

So does this backdrop make a smooch there better or worse? Does Hazel’s oxygen tank and the fact that its kids dying of cancer locking lips make it comparatively palatable?

For the record, I wasn’t even slightly offended by The Fault in Our Stars kiss.

In fact, if I were going to be critical of the scene, it would have been because of the complete lack of subtlety: having the dying duo visit the house of a girl died before her time and yet still left an indelible mark, might have worked for its intended YA audience, but for a 34-year-old it felt kinda heavy-handed.

A sort of cute film, granted, but one most noteworthy for the questions it raises about double standards and the fickle untouchability of both cancer and the Holocaust.

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