WHILE AMERICA WATCHES by Jeffrey Shandler

WHILE AMERICA WATCHES

Televising the Holocaust
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KIRKUS REVIEW

This first book by Shandler, a teaching fellow in New York University’s department of Judaic studies, examines one of the few relatively neglected areas of Holocaust scholarship—its treatment by American television. In recent years, as Shandler notes in his introduction, there’s been much discussion of the Holocaust’s so-called Americanization. With the success of the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and the subsequent opening of several others around the US, questions of cultural appropriation and appropriateness have emerged prominently in the debate over how best to remember the mass murder of six million Jews by the Nazis. Ironically, Shandler observes at several pivotal moments, the history of television and the history of Holocaust memory coincide rather neatly. He traces three stages in television’s coverage of the Holocaust: the “[creation] of the viewer” in the 1950s; the emergence of the Holocaust as an important topic in the ’60s and ’70s, spurred by the Adolf Eichmann trial in1961 and by the TV miniseries Holocaust in 1978; and the 1980s and ’90s, when the subject has come to seem almost omnipresent on our various screens. Shandler’s most valuable contribution is that he has reviewed hours of footage until now unavailable to all but scholars. He recounts TV dramas from the 1950s, hosted or directed by such luminaries of the medium as Rod Serling and Paddy Chayefsky, and offers tantalizing bits of trivia, such as the fact that ’40s radical documentarian Leo Hurwitz directed American television coverage of the Eichmann trial. But the author seems curiously reluctant to take a position on many key issues, and he allows quotations from others to speak in a tediously balanced fashion. And his writing is the dullest and deadest of academic prose. A regrettably lifeless examination of a potentially charged topic. (28 photos, 2 illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-19-511935-5
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1998