While America Watches: Televising the Holocaust

While America Watches: Televising the Holocaust

While America Watches: Televising the Holocaust

While America Watches: Televising the Holocaust


The Holocaust holds a unique place in American public culture, and, as Jeffrey Shandler argues in While America Watches, it is television, more than any other medium, that has brought the Holocaust into our homes, our hearts, and our minds. Much has been written about Holocaust film and literature, and yet the medium that brings the subject to most people--television--has been largely neglected. Now Shandler provides the first account of how television has familiarized the American people with the Holocaust. He starts with wartime newsreels of liberated concentration camps, showing how they set the moral tone for viewing scenes of genocide, and then moves to television to explain how the Holocaust and the Holocaust survivor have gained stature as moral symbols in American culture. From early teleplays to coverage of the Eichmann trial and the Holocaust miniseries, as well as documentaries, popular series such as All in the Family and Star Trek, and news reports of recent interethnic violence in Bosnia, Shandler offers an enlightening tour of television history. Shandler also examines the many controversies that televised presentations of the Holocaust have sparked, demonstrating how their impact extends well beyond the broadcasts themselves. While America Watches is sure to continue this discussion--and possibly the controversies--among many readers.


Television has become the privileged medium through which moral relations between strangers are mediated in the modern world.

--Michael Ignatieff, The Warrior's Honor: Ethnic War and the Modern Conscience

The Holocaust has become a fixture of American culture. The subject of best-selling books, major museums, and award-winning films, it is regularly invoked in speeches by national leaders and on the editorial pages of major newspapers. It also comes up in the course of ordinary small talk and can even be part of a chance encounter during the routine search for something to watch on television.

The powerful place that the Holocaust has achieved in contemporary American life is more than the result of an ongoing fascination with the fate of the Jews and other persecuted peoples during the Nazi era. This interest extends to concerns for the political and cultural consequences of the Holocaust, its "lessons," its proprietary rights, and its ontological implications, as well as to the nature of its representation. Above all, the Holocaust is valued as an ethical touchstone, demanding moral accounting not only for the atrocity that bears its name, but also for other atrocities.

This is a remarkable, perhaps singular phenomenon. For, unlike other events of modern history that have achieved iconic status in American culture -- the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the civil rights movement, the assassination of President Kennedy, America's military intervention in Vietnam and the antiwar movement, the Watergate scandal -- the Holocaust touched only a small number of Americans directly; it did not take place in the United States, nor was it engendered by national policies. And yet the Holocaust looms large in the American moral landscape, where it has become commonplace to articulate the high magnitude . . .

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