• Subversion of Nostalgia as a Strategy of Engagement in Alternate History TV: 11.22.63 and The Man in the High Castle

    Tobias Steiner (see profile)
    Digital Humanists, MS Screen Arts and Culture, MS Visual Culture, Speculative and Science Fiction, Television Studies
    Television, Television--Study and teaching
    Item Type:
    Blog Post
    man in the high castle, 11.22.63, alternate history, nostalgia, Television studies
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    Beginning with television’s popularization and mass availability in the 1950s, TV has extensively been employed to transport and mediate history. From the early televisual experiments of The Twilight Zone and Star Trek to more recent examples such as Quantum Leap, The X-Files and Continuum, Science Fiction television and its subgenre of Alternate History drama have played an important role, using historical events as a foil upon which a variety of uchronic “What if”-scenarios has been played out. Incurring Jason Mittell’s call for historical situatedness in regards to genre analysis (4), my proposed presentation will briefly outline the genre’s evolution, and then introduce two of its most recent specimens: The Man in the High Castle (Amazon, 2015-) and 11.22.63 (Hulu, 2016-). With two of the U.S.’ major cultural traumata of the 20th century – WWII and its aftermath, and the assassination of John F. Kennedy – at the core of their stories, these series construct uncanny “What if?”-narratives of daily life during the 1960s in the United (or in one case: Divided) States of America. Building on Alison Landsberg’s notion of ‘historically-conscious drama’ (2015), and via short analyses of the shows and their peritexts – trailers and opening sequences, I will identify strategies at work in these alternate (hi)story drama series that consciously play with, obvert, and transcend common notions of retro and nostalgia. By creating affective proximity as well as detachment through an evocation of nostalgic feelings and simultaneous distancing effects via creative remediation and modulation of U.S. cultural memory [epistemologically understood in this context as an extension of effective (Gadamer 2004) as well as affective history (Olick 2008; Tamm 2008)], I argue that these recent cases of Alternate History TV persuade us into questioning our received conception of U.S. popular history, thus making us see the past with new eyes.
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    Last Updated:
    6 years ago


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