The Auschwitz Tattoo in Visual Memory

Stranger Things

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Stranger Things S01E02, Duffer Brothers, USA 2016

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In this sequence from the first season of the Netflix series “Stranger Things” Eleven, a survivor of “medical” experiments - an indirect reference to Magneto in X-men - presents the number tattooed on her forearm to Mike who had discovered her in the woods. Illustrating the coping of teenagers with hostile social environments, Stranger Things indirectly refers to the visual memory of the Holocaust in a decontextualizing way that still aims towards using the symbolic notion connected to the iconic symbol of the number tattoo. Correspondingly, the sequence is an allusive reenactment of the historical footage including the particular gesture as well as the close-up shot. Furthermore, the number is directly connected to the topic of humiliating experiments with humans, thereby referring to the specific context of the shots. Eleven’s haircut furthermore marks her as a “survivor” as well as her fear and inability to communicate her pain. On the other hand, Mike’s reaction demonstrates the inability of her surroundings to understand the meaning of the number that replaced her name, identity and history.

Consequently, the series does not only show the struggles with the “darker side” of humankind, as the fourth season demonstrates, Stranger Things is also about exploring a hidden trauma and revisiting a lost past. And though direct historical reference are made solely to the Cold War with the Soviet Union, the Holocaust provides an important background for the series, which is also illustrated by the frequent use of close-ups of number tattoos in other episodes and seasons.

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