The Americanization of Memory: The Case of the Holocaust

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The Americanization of Memory: The Case of the Holocaust

Postby Hektor » 3 years 9 months ago (Mon Aug 15, 2016 7:19 pm)

When it comes to the ‘Americanization of the Holocaust’, misunderstandings abound. The phrase is well integrated into anti-American discourse; critics use such terms as ‘banalization’, ‘trivialization’,Disneyfication’, even ‘McDonaldization’ of the Holocaust (Cole 1999; Flanzbaum 1999; Junker 2000; Novick 1999; Rosenfeld 1997; Shandler 1999). This criticism, which can also be heard in Jewish circles in America, resonates with Frankfurt School criticism of America and what it perceives as mass culture. The ‘instrumentalization’ of the Holocaust has become a code word. Clearly, this is connected to a broad critique of ‘sentiment’, unmasking - so to speak - the economic or symbolic class interests of those who attempt to convey memory through different means of communication (Finkelstein 2000; Novick 1999).

In my opinion, all these thinkers believe in the existence of pure, perfect and transcendental memory, which, of course, cannot be represented by what are perceived as American consumer products, such as the soap opera Holocaust , the film Schindler’s List , or even the ‘US Holocaust Museum’. However, memory, especially in times like ours, depends on mass-mediated forms of communication. These forms, at times, transcend the boundaries of the state; at other times they are in tune with it. This is particularly true for the memory of the Holocaust, which cannot be restricted to place or space (Hansen 1996).
Furthermore, I would like to argue that if we look more closely at the so-called narrow-minded insistence on Jewish singularity and its concomitant particularism, we will find that it yields an unintentional universal message and, furthermore, that those who high-mindedly fear the Holocaust’s ‘Disneyfication’ or ‘Spielbergization’ are missing the function of this process as a gateway to the increasing universalization of the Holocaust. Therefore, a sociological rather than a normative look at Americanization can perceive it as a mode of dissemination. As such, it leads neither to homogenization nor to trivialization. Instead, through its penetration on the global and local/national level, it challenges the particularistic frameworks that were established, mostly through the interaction between American Jewish groups’ efforts to establish a clear-cut ethnic identity between the 1960s and the 1990s, and US foreign policy objectives.

There is more in the text, but I thought I'd pick those examples for representation of what this author had to write about the Holocaust in pop culture. The author uses a lot of superficial wording to sound interesting and intellectual and I'm sure he's a firm believer. But he also does expose and hint a lot of the Holocaust being part of the culture industry, which happens to produce "memories" and "experiences" for the mass of people, which may be quite distinct from reality.

If I read it correctly the author presumes that there is some cooperation of influential people and groups to establish memory (and interpretation of course) to further certain economic and political goals.

I guess the verbiage can come in useful in debates or when writing articles. It may pep up texts, that are otherwise quite boring to most people.

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