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Totalitarian Aesthetics of Mass Bodily Display During the 1930s

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It is a widespread belief that totalitarian societies signify their ‘total unity’ through spectacles involving the display of large, sectored masses of bodies and the levelling off of differences between individual bodies by exalting the uniformity and mechanized synchronization of dynamic, interconnected groups. This belief owes much to fragmentary images of Nazi rallies in the 1930s. But a closer examination of mass spectacles in totalitarian societies of the 1930s reveals considerable differences in their approaches to the mass display of bodies, and these differences result from the unique goals motivating the totalitarian organization of a society. This article compares strategies of mass display of bodies to create a ‘total unity’ of society in relation to the Ku Klux Klan, Japanese imperialism, Italian Fascism, Communism and Nazi Germany.
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Keywords: Communism; Italian Fascism; Japanese imperialism; Ku Klux Klan; Nazi spectacle; corporeal politics; political theatre; totalitarian performance

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: San Jose State University

Publication date: April 1, 2019

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  • The Journal of Curatorial Studies is an international, peer-reviewed publication that explores the cultural functioning of curating and its relation to exhibitions, institutions, audiences, aesthetics and display culture. The journal takes a wide perspective in the inquiry into what constitutes "the curatorial." Curating has evolved considerably from the connoisseurship model of arranging objects to now encompass performative, virtual and interventionist strategies. While curating as a spatialized discourse of art objects remains important, the expanded cultural practice of curating not only produces exhibitions for audiences to view, but also plays a catalytic role in redefining aesthetic experience, framing cultural conditions in institutions and communities, and inquiring into constructions of knowledge and ideology.
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