Streaming the Holocaust with Marat Grinberg

Marat Grinberg joins us to speak about how the Holocaust is portrayed and represented in popular culture, particularly in contemporary television.

Listen in as we dive into how the Holocaust has played a role in the tv landscape, from “The Plot Against America” (the recent adaptation of Philip Roth’s novel) and “The Man in the High Castle” to “Hunters” and “Judah.”

How do we depict history in popular culture? How does television and other popular media play a role in shaping the historical viewpoints of everyday people? And what is the relationship between historical truth and plain fiction?

Marat Grinberg is a scholar of Jewish and Russian literature and culture, and of cinema, and an associate professor of Russian and humanities at Reed College. He is the author of “I am to Be Read not from Left to Right, but in Jewish: from Right to Left”: The Poetics of Boris Slutsky (2011), and Aleksandr Askoldov: The Commissar (2016). His next book, forthcoming from Brandeis University Press in 2022, is titled “The Soviet Jewish Bookshelf: Jewish Culture and Identity Between the Lines.” He also has written a fantastic chapter on this topic, which is what brought us to record this episode, titled “Representing the Holocaust and Jewishness in Contemporary Television,” in the 2021 book The Holocaust Across Borders: Trauma, Atrocity, and Representation in Literature and Culture.

This whole issue of Holocaust representation, as we’ll get into today, is a huge topic: How do we tell the story of the Holocaust? To use the phrase from the early 1990s conference on the topic—what are the “limits of representation”? That is to say, what are the boundary lines for how we talk about the Holocaust? The development of contemporary TV that engages with the Holocaust and other related topics, in the genres of alternate history, science fiction, vampires, and so on all stretch the limits of how we can talk about historical events. And it has even led to some criticism that these depictions are so ahistorical that they lead to misinformation or otherwise disrespect the deeply personal histories and experiences related to the Holocaust.

Altogether, recent depictions in shows like “The Man in the High Castle,” an adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s novel of the same name that tells an alternate history in which the Nazis won World War II, or “Hunters,” a show about Nazi hunters in the 1970s, raise very important and challenging questions about the meaning and value of history. How does history inform these fictional accounts? How does fiction treat history respectfully? In what ways does history matter as we think about the contemporary cultural landscape? And how does the changing landscape of our media – streaming services and all that – affect the way that the Holocaust finds its way into the worldwide media that we consume?

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