The contemporary appeal of the supernaturally diabolical Nazi and his counterpart, the bloodthirsty lecherous slaveholder, are perhaps best illustrated by the popularity of the FX television series American Horror Story. In an attempt to sustain the audience built by the generic Americana of season one’s L.A. ghost story, the producers of American Horror Story decided in seasons two and three to adopt Nazi evil—in the supernatural exploits of Asylum’s pseudo-Mengele—and slaveholder sadism—as encapsulated in psychotic New Orleans legend, Madame LaLaurie—as the newest models of not only horror, but of American horror. The show problematizes discourses of mental health in season two, and interrogates the lasting impact of slavery on the modern landscape in its third season. However, it simultaneously defines the “horror” circumscribing these important issues as contingent on the behaviorally exceptional and easily dismissed tropes of old, in which stories about slavery and the Holocaust stage atrocity as fully contingent on accidents of fate, and the mutation of the individual is both morally inexplicable and institutionally unpreventable. Whereas popular filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino update the old slavery and Holocaust narratives, turning them campy and contemporary, AHS effectively essentializes them as integral to the fabric of our national myth.

About the speaker: Danielle Christmas is Assistant Professor of English & Comparative Literature and Endowed Delta Delta Delta Fellow in the Humanities at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She earned her B.A. in English from Washington University in St. Louis and her Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Illinois at Chicago. With appointments in both Jewish Studies and American Studies, Danielle teaches on a variety of topics including slavery and the Holocaust in American fiction and film, lynching in American literature and culture, and white nationalist culture and gender. She is currently finishing a book, "Auschwitz & the Plantation: Labor, Sex, and Death in American Holocaust and Slavery Fiction," and starting work on "The Literature of Blood & Soil: White Nationalilsm and a New American Canon." These projects have been supported by the Mellon Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, as well as UNC's provost and the Institute for the Arts & Humanities. You can find out more about Danielle's work at her website,

Humanities & Sciences: African American Studies
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