HBO Should Absolutely Make an Alt-History Slavery Show

But Benioff and Weiss should have nothing to do with it.

Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images

HBO announced on Thursday that the planned series Confederate is officially canceled.

The series was slated to be helmed by Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss and had already received extensive criticism as "Slavery Fan Fiction." Despite Weiss and Benioff's best efforts to defend themselves from this response, everyone involved clearly lost the enthusiasm to see it through. Now we'll never know if the white guys who created such a tasteful depiction of the savage, dark-skinned Dothraki—and then basically murdered them all in a throw away moment in the trash-fire of season 8—would have handled the topic of slavery with the care and sensitivity it deserves.

Jason Momoa as Khal Drogo

Anyone even loosely engaged with culture could have predicted the criticism two white guys would invite by offering to tell a story about the South winning the Civil War—particularly at a time in our country when people are fighting over statues of Confederate "heroes" and particularly when it's two white guys whose sloppy approach to TV writing has so recently earned them universal disdain. But is the concept itself such a bad idea?

In the hands of a Nazi—or even a descendant of Nazis—an alt-history in which Germany wins WWII sounds deeply unpleasant, but there's a reason The Man in the High Castle makes for compelling material. It's not often that the course of history hangs so completely in the balance, determined by the outcome of one major conflict. And while the world has largely found ways to move forward from the bloodshed of the 1930s and 40s (despite the cyclic persistence of fascist ideology) in many ways the United States has never healed from the divide that nearly tore us apart in the 1860s—let alone the centuries of racialized chattel slavery that preceded it.

America is now more politically divided than it has been at any time since the Civil War. And while we continue to make movies that take place in that era—highlighting the horrors and inventing revenge fantasies—they haven't erased the idealized image of the antebellum South sold by Gone With the Wind, or the concerted effort to recast the slave states as noble underdogs fighting purely for the principle of "states rights." A responsible approach to an alt-history could explore the forms of oppression that American slavery pioneered, the subliminal ways in which many have persisted through failed reconstruction, sharecropping, Jim Crow laws, the carceral state, and recent attacks on voting rights.

Prison plantation The Atlantic

If HBO were a little bit smarter, they would take the seed of this idea—which Weiss and Benioff should obviously never have touched—and give it to a black creator who could explore both the horrors of Confederate victory and the ways in which the South never truly lost. Maybe Roxane Gay could work on it—or N.K. Jemisin, or Jordan Peele, or all of the above. There's no shortage of people who could do the concept justice—basically anyone but Kanye


Nazi-Chic: The Aesthetics of Fascism

Let's take a look at Nazi-inspired fashion.

Villains always have the best outfits.

From Darth Vader's polished black space armor to The Joker's snazzy purple suit, bad guys always seem to show up their protagonists in the fashion department.

Way more handsome than Batman.

But could there possibly be a real world equivalent to the type of over-the-top villain fashion often found in fiction? It would have to be sleek and imposing, austere and dangerous. Probably black.

Maybe it's him. Maybe it's fascist ideology.

Oh, right.

Let's call a spade a spade. From an aesthetic standpoint, the Nazi SS outfit is very well-designed. The long coat tied around the waist with a buckle portrays a slim, sturdy visage. The leather boots and matching cap look harsh and powerful. The emblem placements on the lapel naturally suggest rank and authority. And the red armband lends a splash of color to what would otherwise be a dark monotone. If the Nazi uniform wasn't so closely tied with the atrocities they committed during WWII, it wouldn't seem out of place at Fashion Week. Perhaps not too surprising, considering many of the uniforms were made by Hugo Boss.

Pictured: A real thing Hugo Boss did.

Of course, today, Nazi uniform aesthetics are inseparable from the human suffering doled out by their wearers. In most circles of civilized society, that's more than enough reason to avoid the garb in any and all fashion choices. But for some, that taboo isn't a hindrance at all–if anything, it's an added benefit.

As a result, we have Nazi chic, a fashion trend centered around the SS uniform and related Nazi imagery.

History of Nazi Chic

For the most part, Nazi chic is not characterized by Nazi sympathy. Rather, Nazi chic tends to be associated with counterculture movements that view the use of its taboo imagery as a form of shock value, and ironically, anti-authoritarianism.

The movement came to prominence in the British punk scene during the mid-1970s, with bands like the Sex Pistols and Siouxsie and the Banshees displaying swastikas on their attire alongside other provocative imagery.

Very rotten, Johnny.

Around this time, a film genre known as Nazisploitation also came to prominence amongst underground movie buffs. A subgenre of exploitation and sexploitation films, Naziploitation movies skewed towards D-grade fare, characterized by graphic sex scenes, violence, and gore. Plots typically surrounded female prisoners in concentration camps, subject to the sexual whims of evil SS officers, who eventually escaped and got their revenge. However, the most famous Nazisploitation film, Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS, flipped the genders.

The dorm room poster that will ensure you never get laid.

Ilsa was a female SS officer and the victims were men. She spent much of the movie wearing her Nazi uniform in various states, sexually abusing men all the while. As such, Ilsa played into dominatrix fantasies. The movie was a hit on the grindhouse circuit, inspiring multiple sequels and knock-offs and solidifying Nazi aesthetics as a part of the BDSM scene.

Since then, Nazi chic fashion has been employed by various artists, from Madonna to Marilyn Manson to Lady Gaga, and has shown up in all sorts of places from leather clubs to character designs in video games and anime.

Lady Gaga looking SS-uper.

Nazi Chic in Asia

Nazi chic has taken on a life of its own in Asia. And unlike Western Nazi chic, which recognizes Nazism as taboo, Asian Nazi chic seems entirely detached from any underlying ideology.

A large part of this likely has to do with the way that Holocaust education differs across cultures. In the West, we learn about the Holocaust in the context of the Nazis committing horrific crimes against humanity that affected many of our own families. The Holocaust is presented as personal and closer to our current era than we might like to think. It is something we should "never forget." Whereas in Asia, where effects of the Holocaust weren't as prominent, it's simply another aspect of WWII which, in and of itself, was just another large war. In other words, Nazi regalia in Asia might be viewed as simply another historical military outfit, albeit a particularly stylish one.

In Japan, which was much more involved with WWII than any other Asian country, Nazi chic is usually (but not always) reserved for villainous representations.


That being said, J-Pop groups like Keyakizaka46 have publicly worn Nazi chic too, and the phenomena isn't limited to Japan.

In South Korea, Indonesia, and Thailand, Nazi imagery has shown up in various elements of youth culture, completely void of any moral context. For instance, in Indonesia, a Hitler-themed fried chicken restaurant opened in 2013. And in Korea, K-Pop groups like BTS and Pritz have been called out for propagating Nazi chic fashion. Usually such incidents are followed by public apologies, but the lack of historical understanding makes everything ring hollow.


So the question then: is Nazi chic a bad thing?

The answer is not so black and white.

On one hand, seeing Nazi chic on the fashion scene may dredge up painful memories for Holocaust survivors and those whose family histories were tainted. In this light, wearing Nazi-inspired garb, regardless of intent, seems disrespectful and antagonistic. Worse than that, it doesn't even seem like a slight against authority so much as a dig at actual victims of genocide.

But on the other hand, considering the fact that even the youngest people who were alive during WWII are edging 80, "forgetting the Holocaust" is a distinct possibility for younger generations. In that regard, perhaps anything that draws attention to what happened, even if it's simply through the lens of "this outfit should be seen as offensive," might not be entirely bad. This, compounded by the fact that Nazi chic is not commonly associated with actual Nazi or nationalistic sentiments, might be enough to sway some people–not necessarily to wear, like, or even appreciate its aesthetics, but rather to understand its place within counterculture.

Ultimately, one's views on Nazi chic likely come down to their own personal taste and sensibilities. For some, Nazi chic is just a style, an aesthetic preference for something that happens to be mired in historical horror. For others, the shadow of atrocity simply hangs too strong.