Backyard Holocausts: The Curse and The Zone of Interest

Curator's Note

The Curse bears a number of striking thematic and formal resonances with another recent much-discussed work, Jonathan Glazer’s 2023 film The Zone of Interest. Both revolve around homes built on sites of dispossession and genocide. In Glazer’s film, we observe daily life in and around the home of Rudolf Höss, commandant of Auschwitz, on the edge of the camp, whose infernal presence looms in the background. The Curse, meanwhile, portrays the wannabe reality TV stars Asher and Whitney Siegel, whose eco-friendly “passive house” occupies an economically depressed area of the U.S. southwest—the setting of a historical genocide, as the series insistently reminds us. The women at the center of these homes are entrepreneurs of domesticity, expert in the curation of homes, landscapes, and appropriated objects. Hedwig Höss takes pride in modeling Aryan settlerhood as she manages the household, sorts through objects looted from new arrivals at the camp, and shows off the grounds to visitors. Whitney Siegel’s identity is similarly bound up with her role as a stylist of the home and its environs, for which she frequently acquires objects that are not looted, exactly, but given, as the indigenous artist Cara Durand puts it, “whether I want to or not.”

At the root of these parallels is a settler colonial mode of habitation that simultaneously necessitates, participates in, and disavows dispossession and genocide as its enabling conditions. The so-called “interest zone” (Interessengebiet), a restricted area around the camp from which the local Polish population had been expelled, epitomized the Nazi settler colonial project.⁠1 As depicted in The Zone of Interest, the Hösses clearly understand themselves as a pioneer family. “This is our home,” Hedwig reminds her husband in the film, “this is our Lebensraum.” The Siegels inhabit a more recent version of the interest zone. They are aware of the history of colonization and genocide in North America, and the more immediate danger of gentrification—“no one is more concerned about the g-word than we are,” Asher says—but they nonetheless reenact and perpetuate the dynamics this history has produced. They could not be the heroes of Española they wish to be without its ground having been cleared and its wealth extracted (including by Whitney’s own slumlord parents). Both The Curse and The Zone of Interest scrutinize the material and psychic strategies through which these processes are selectively excluded from or invited into the domestic realm. They unsettle a pioneer romance of home by widening the aperture just enough that the atrocity on whose ground it is built comes into view.

Surprisingly, The Curse and The Zone of Interest also share an interest in the aesthetics of reality television. The former, of course, depicts the production of an HGTV house-flipping series, of the kind that proliferated after the subprime mortgage crisis of 2008. The Curse pries open the shiny sealed edifice of such shows to reveal a history of violence and predation that refuses to be renovated away.⁠2 While The Curse exposes reality TV production practices as tools of mystification, The Zone of Interest draws on their critical potential. The film’s domestic scenes adopt a fixed-camera technique associated with the social experiment game show Big Brother, creating what Glazer has called “Big Brother in the Nazi House.”⁠3 Glazer states this was intended to capture more authentic performances, but it also shifts our view into the register of observation, undermining the home’s status as the site of familial warmth.⁠4 Instead of the communal hearth, we find a realm of hierarchy underwritten by threat of punishment and expulsion, contiguous with the fascist world outside. Taken together, The Curse and The Zone of Interest suggest that working through reality television’s mediations of domesticity, as both material and resource, is essential to unsettling contemporary fantasies of the home as an ahistorical space of innocence and security.



1 A growing body of literature has traced the continuities between the Nazis’ war in the East and the practice of colonial settlement and rule. See Jürgen Zimmerer, “The Birth of the Ostland out of the Spirit of Colonialism: A Postcolonial Perspective on the Nazi Policy of Conquest and Extermination,” Patterns of Prejudice 39, no. 2 (2005): 197–291.

2 “HGTV house-flipping shows,” Robert Goldman writes, “invariably accomplish a semiotic transformation from the visually profane (defined by gritty photography that depicts blemished housing) to the visually sacred (defined by fetish photography that epitomizes a promised land of immaculate value). HGTV tracks this visual conversion of interior spaces to the exclusion of housing inequality, real estate and mortgage markets, gentrification, displacement, and dispossession. All of this and more disappears from our screen.” Robert Goldman, Renovating Value: HGTV and the Spectacle of Gentrification (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2021), 2.

3 Mark Salisbury, “Jonathan Glazer on ‘The Zone of Interest’: ‘I Wanted to Remove the Artifice of Filmmaking,’” Screendaily, November 27, 2023,

4 On Big Brother, fixed-camera documentary, and the representation of “ordinariness” in reality television, see Jonathan Bignell, “Realism and Reality Formats,” in A Companion to Reality Television, ed. Laurie Ouellette (Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2014), 97–115.

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