Wednesday, July 7, 2010


By now, Readers Mine, you know the drill: today is all about books. What I’ve been reading, what I’m reading now, and what I’ll read next.

Genre-ally Speaking: I finally finished The Television Genre Book, edited by Glen Creeber. I have to admit this was not the most gripping read, but it was an excellent introduction to the use of genre theory in the critical analysis of television. As I read, however, I became more and more convinced that genre theory today has limited applications. Modern television often thoroughly mixes genres (generic hybridization in academese) to the point where attempting to analyze a show on the basis of genre is fruitless. For example, was The X-Files horror, science fiction, fantasy, soap opera, cop show, or character drama? Well, yes. Containing elements of all of these genres and more, The X-Files defies generic analysis and classification. This is not to say that genre theory is irrelevant. As Stacey Abbott points out in Angel, television shows can often push the generic envelope, particularly when it comes to network censorship by a kind of Trojan horse technique, as when the results of physical violence are graphically depicted in the police procedural CSI, or body penetration horror in the loosely noir-detective framework of Angel. Still I doubt I’d be able to philosophize along these lines without having read Creeber’s book, so it’s worth a look.

Historical Horrors: Currently, I’m not quite half-way through Masters of Death by Richard Rhodes. Masters of Death details the history of the Nazi SS-Einsatzgruppen, or “special task groups,” on the Eastern/Russian Front during World War II, and the emergence of the Holocaust. The Einsatzgruppen followed the German Army east after the invasions of Poland and the USSR. At first used to “decapitate” the political leadership of conquered territories as well as elements that might serve as rallying points for resistance to the Nazis, the groups quickly became the vehicles for the execution of the Jews by mass shootings. These are the creators of the hundreds of mass graves and burial pits throughout Eastern Europe, for atrocities such as Babi Yar, and for the development of the truly industrial means of mass murder eventually used at places like Auschwitz.

This is an excellent history, but a hard one. Rhodes details the psychology and methodology of both the highest and the lowest, from Hitler and Himmler to the rank and file. It is brutal stuff, men women and children shot to death by the tens of thousands day after day. Entire villages wiped out in a morning, and children tossed into the air before being shot lest the bullets, passing completely through their little bodies should cause dangerous ricochets. The book overwhelms the reader, and I think I’m going to start something very light and fun to read before bed, relegating Rhodes excellent work to hours long before sleep. As difficult as such histories are to read, though, they are of vital importance. We cannot turn away from the darker places in our past, lest we create a sanitized version of history that allows or even encourages us to forget the people who didn’t have to worry about reading the history because they died trying to live through it.

Next Up: Lord God, something light! Some more Jack Williamson, maybe, or H. Rider Haggard, even Lermontov, but definitely fiction, and hopefully with a nice, happy ending.

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