Thinking Through the Holocaust: A Discussion Inspired by Hilene Flanzbaum ed. 'The Americanization of the Holocaust,' Johns Hopkins, 1999
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This is an electronic version of an article published in: Jon Stratton, (2000)Thinking Through the Holocaust. A discussion inspired by Hilene Flanzbaum (ed.), The Americanization of the Holocaust, Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, Volume 14, Number 2 / July 1, pp.231 - 245
Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies is available online at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/713657704
As Hilene Flanzbaum indicates in her important collection of papers, the term 'the Americanization of the Holocaust', which she uses as her title, is not original. She identifies two earlier usages. Lawrence Langer, the trenchant discusser of Holocaust literature and testimony, was perhaps the first to use the term as long ago as 1983, in a piece entitled 'The Americanization of the Holocaust on Stage and Screen' in Sarah Blacher Cohen's book, From Hester Street to Hollywood. The other use identified by Flanzbaum is by Alvin Rosenfeld in 1995 who, as Flanzbaum notes, employs it to indicate how the Holocaust is being degraded by American popular culture. In the same year that Flanzbaum's collection was published, 1999, Peter Novick published The Holocaust in American Life. Novick argues that the American preoccupation with the Holocaust in the 1980s and 1990s has to do with the establishment of a secular American Jewish group identity and, as Novick puts it, 'not just a competition for recognition but a competition for primacy' within what he describes as a 'victim culture'. I do not want to comment on Novick's argument here, but rather make the point that, taken together, his book, Flanzbaum's collection, and the articles to which she refers, mark a significant, if not crucial, moment in the American, and the more general 'Western', understanding of the Holocaust. What these various works signify is the beginning of an interrogation of the meaning of the Holocaust in American culture.This development is momentous in its own right. However, it opens the way for the next step, the beginning of a discussion of the meaning of the 'Holocaust' itself as a key myth in the formation of the 'Western' postmodern experience. In my use of myth here I must emphasise, as does Tim Cole in his book Images of the Holocaust: The Myths of the 'Shoah Business', that I am not a Holocaust denier. Rather, identifying the Holocaust as a myth, in the semiotic sense of the term, enables us to ask how, and why, the destruction of around six million Jews has been identified as the--not 'a'--Holocaust, with a capitalised 'H,' and what this has come to mean.
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