Memories as Mirrors: German Women of the Holocaust in Early Twenty-First Century American Cinema

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Title: Memories as Mirrors: German Women of the Holocaust in Early Twenty-First Century American Cinema
Author: Estus, Roberta
Contributor: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Arts, Department of World Cultures 2010-2017
Publisher: Helsingin yliopisto
Date: 2020
Thesis level: master's thesis
Abstract: This thesis focuses on examining American culture in the early twenty-first century via its popular culture depiction of German culture in the 1940s. Film is used as a means to represent, recreate, and reaffirm cultural values; it provides evidence of deeply rooted beliefs and preferences. Representations on screen reflect present realities, rather than historical fact. By showing history in a certain light, we are actually showing ourselves in a certain light. In this thesis I use the categories of witness, accomplice, and perpetrator to examine three Hollywood films from 2008 and 2009 depicting German women during the Holocaust: The Reader, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, and Inglourious Basterds. I identify these archetypes as they are displayed in the films and analyze the way that history is used to reflect contemporary values, focusing on the gendered aspect of war guilt. The way that female characters are depicted in these three films says something about the prevailing expectations for women in early twenty-first century American culture, namely that they lack the agency that being responsible or guilty requires. Guilt implies full agency. If a person does not have agency, they are not guilty but instead either complicit or another victim of the real guilty party. By denying women agency, we excuse them from guilt. Prevailing beliefs about the eternal masculine and feminine are maintained when we choose to ignore the nuances of history, opting instead to reiterate simplistic binaries that satisfy audience demands.
Subject: Agency
Popular Culture
Discipline: alue- ja kulttuurintutkimus
Area and Cultural Studies
Region- och kulturstudier

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