Archive for the ethics of representing Hitler Category

Confusing, but possibly very flattering review of Hitlerhoff:

Posted in ethics of representing Hitler, media, publicity, reviews, shock and awe, sold-out season with tags , , , , , on 2 October, 2008 by hitlerhoff

(from Born Dancin – Around the Fringe in 80 Shows)


There are few things in this universe more


And that’s my review. I would like to discuss this show with others. It’s very good that way.

Hitlerhoff in the Melbourne Leader, Wednesday 17 September

Posted in ethics of representing Hitler, media, publicity with tags , , on 24 September, 2008 by hitlerhoff

Hitler, Hoff match made

(by Annika Priest, entertainment editor of the Melbourne Leader, Wednesday 17 September, 2008)

If Hitler could squeeze into David Hasselhoff’s speedos, how would he be?

An inflammatory proposal explored in the play called Hitlerhoff, is marching in to create a potential Fuhrer [sic] during this year’s Melbourne Fringe Festival.

Creative producer Tom Doig said he believes the miscreant Nazi leader and the ironically cool pop culture icon have much in common.

“They’re both huge in Germany,” said Doig, whose supervisor warned him off the idea for his Masters in creative writing at Melbourne University.

“They were both popular but know no one will admit they like them. They both have huge egos, not necessarily that much talent but lots of willpower.”

Under the sub-heading “Two wrongs don’t make a Reich”, the show finds the modern Frankenstein hanging out with lefty hippies at Vienna Beach.

Following a nervous breakdown he becomes an instant overnight celebrity and super powerful revolutionary figure.

Hitlerhoff is potentially offensive, admits Doig. Doig said that although he understands that the Holocaust is very much a sensitive issue, Hitler should not be beyond the reaches of satire.

(continues page14)

Bizarre subject in for satire

(from page 13)

“I think it’s saying something quite profound about culture, I don’t want it all to get lost in this guy with a cheeseburger down his speedos.

“I want it to be a crazy image that makes people think about the heart of darkness within popular culture.

“It’s the kind of culture where you’re encouraged to put yourself first and believe in yourself no matter what.

“It’s that quite banal, self-help motivational talk which is totally central to the success of Hitler and the horror it generated, and Hasselhoff and the tackiness it generated.”

Melbourne Fringe Festival advised Doig against incorporating a swastika into his show promos because the neo-Nazi overtones might affect the show’s appeal.

“Whilst we acknowledge it’s an area that will be potentially controversial and potentially confronting for some, our festival is about cutting-edge arts where you are going to get a sophisticated dissection of these sorts of areas,” Fringe creative producer Emily Sexton said.

According to Doig, perfomer Tobias Manderson-Galvin – who plays Hitlerhoff – was a “98-pound weakling” who was “not the exercising kind”, but with particular enthusiasm for the role he has been carbo-loading, going to the gym and using a personal trainer.

“I really hope I haven’t created a monster,” Doig said. “If I have I’m not the first.”

Tom Doig in his uni office, on YouTube, talking about his time in Berlin

Posted in ethics of representing Hitler, hitlerhoff production silliness with tags , , , , , , on 24 September, 2008 by hitlerhoff

From an in-progress documentary about the making-of Hitlerhoff, by NZ film-maker Alex Finkle.

Some thoughts about swasktikas and comedy from a friend I made in Berlin last year …

Posted in ethics of representing Hitler with tags , , , , , , on 23 September, 2008 by hitlerhoff

Hey Tom, wow – you’ve been busy!

First of all, apologies, I’ve written a ridiculously long comment – but here goes:

As I looked at these images of moustache and muscles and swastika, I actually thought that the hunt for the right imagine portrays quite accurately the main problem that may lie at the core of this project. ie, how much Hitler, and how much Hasselhoff? How much past, and how much present? How much humor and how much seriousness? How far can the humor go without crossing the boundary, or distracting from the actual message of the play?

A lot of films about Hitler have taken the humour too much to the forefront, I think, and have been watered down into insignificance, simply because the writers were afraid of burning their hands, as we say in German.

For example: the image with the fists forming the swastika is too strong, I believe. The swastika is THE taboo-symbol in Germany, as you know. The mere sight shocks people to the core. So if you use it, you better do so with a good reason, and also one that becomes more or less immediately clear to the people who see it. For me, as a German, there is just too much of Hitler and the Nazis in that image. The fists, for example are slightly reminiscent of the Nazis’ obsession with sport and a fit “people” – you might think of Leni Riefenstahl and her vainglorious Olympia film. The image is not ironic enough – it is too close to the real thing.
Here is an image (provided the damn link works) that Art Speigelman used for the cover of his comic book ‘Maus’. You probably know this: (if the link doesn’t work just google ‘Maus’ and have look)

Now this is ingenious, but it also shocks. ‘Maus’ is a deadly serious comic book, it is sad and scary and terrifying. I think this is why Spiegelman could use such a cover for it. From the beginning it is clear that this has nothing to do with little mice and kitten and superman and what have you. So in this case the use of the swastika is probably more than justifiable (by the way: these are all just things that I think and that went through my mind as I did my groceries half an hour ago!)

In the case of Hitlerhoff, it is probably more important to show the link to the ‘now’. As you said, these things are happening now, only they have different names and look differently! Your image needs to strike a good balance between Hitler and Hoff (which the play does very well).
So you’d probably want to chose an imagine that represents both, like the one with the heart, or maybe you could make the circle that Hitlerhoff’s face is in look like a life buoy, or whatever, that kind of thing. (By the way, have you checked your legal options in using David Hasselhoff’s face in such a way? In case he has the right to sue your ass from here to Timbuctu for a gazillion dollars or some bad shit like that).

One more imoprtant thing: Audiences in Germany. If there is one place where you could show this, it would probably be Berlin. But it is really REALLY important that people don’t get the impression that
a) The Holocaust is being belittled or mocked or ridiculed; that would be a disaster. Unfortunately, a lot of people react exactly this way whenever humour and Hitler or the Nazi era are brought up in the same sentence, whatever the context. I suppose there are a few walls that you won’t be able to break here. Still it is important to show why Hitler and the Hoffster are being used, and to always have the link to the ‘now’ at hand, so that you can justify the use of these two, because you don’t want to be accused of
b) doing this just to shock. People (or, me at least) are a bit sick of plays and performances that use Nazi imagery and the collective guilt and today’s society just for the sheer shock effect. That’s kindergarten, like saying “cuntfuck” when you’re having dinner with granny, just because your parents told you to please NOT say that. I sometimes have the feeling that Christof Schlingensief sometimes does that, because he despairs about our society. (In the 1998 election, he foremd his own party, and their slogan was: ‘Kill Yourself!’ it was on election posters and material in every German city!) Now, your play doesn’t just shock, since, despite all the humour, you do have an underlying message of a certain importance and weight, something that people should wake up to indeed. So it is really important that this “message” is always, or most of the time, there – without taking away the play’s energy and playfulness and quirkyness (haha, so much quirkyness, no problem here eh?!)

I think that would be the most important thing: if you were to present this thing to German audiences you would want to avoid being crushed by the Left and the Right at the same time, only to be dug up again and burned to cinders by the general Jewish community.

Well, as you see (and will probably have known all along) this is not just a can of worms but a pail of fucking radioactive mutant-killer-snakes that you have opened.

So long then. Just remember, there’s always a place for you and your folk here, no matter how many political parties and criminal and/or paramilitary organisations you may have severely pissed off by then!

Keep it up man, there’s something in your hands, don’t let it slip away …


the ethics of ironic iconography, part II

Posted in ethics of representing Hitler with tags , , , on 17 September, 2008 by hitlerhoff
putting the "itch" in "kitsch"

putting the "itch" in "kitsch"

the ethics of ironic iconography

Posted in ethics of representing Hitler with tags , , , , , on 17 September, 2008 by hitlerhoff
this image was problematic for some people. what do you think?

this image was problematic for some people. what do you think?

Beware of bad taste, bad morality – and bad logic.

Posted in ethics of representing Hitler with tags , , , , , , , , , on 4 September, 2008 by hitlerhoff

I wholeheartedly agree with Dvir Abramovich (“don’t play with the memory of the Holocaust”, 2nd September 2008) that the “Plug the Pipe” protesters’ comparisons of John Brumby with Adolf Hitler is bad taste, but calling it “bad morality” is a potentially misleading oversimplification; one that deserves much closer examination.

The absurd Brumby-Hitler “scandal” is of course just the latest example in a long, long line of “Reductio ad Hitlerum” arguments. Political philosopher Leo Strauss coined the term Reductio ad Hitlerum back in 1953, and it applies to any argument that attempts to discredit their opponent by associating them with Hitler and/or the Nazis.

This rhetorical technique of demonisation-by-association doesn’t seem likely to end any time soon. For example, in 2006 Donald Rumsfeld compared Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to Hitler; Chavez responded by saying Hitler “would be like a suckling baby” compared to George Bush.

Reductio ad Hitlerum is such a widespread phenomenon that in 1990 Mike Godwin, the general counsel for the Wikimedia Foundation, formulated an adage about it. Godwin’s Rule of Nazi Analogies states that as an internet discussion goes on and on, “the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.”

However, this does not mean that such comparisons are invalid – or immoral. Instead, Godwin argues that “overuse of Nazi and Hitler comparisons should be avoided, because it robs the valid comparisons of their impact.” While slapping a toothbrush moustache and/or sloppy fringe onto an image of someone is almost always going to be bad taste, not all Hitler-comparisons are necessarily also “abhorrent”, “manipulative”, “debased” or “false”.

Neither, for that matter, are all pop-cultural representations of Hitler. I would like to take particular issue with Mr Abramovich’s outrage over Hitler being “humanised” in feature films. As Dani Levy, director of Mein Fuehrer: the Truly Truest Truth about Adolf Hitler, argues: “it is absurd to discuss whether [Hitler] can be shown as a human”. This is the central conundrum that our culture still needs to resolve: Hitler was a man, not an evil robot, a supernatural beast or demon. Hitler’s evil was not otherworldly; and nor was it a peculiarly German cultural phenomenon. As Dani Levy’s film shows, the Nazi Party “was a man-made system, created, thought out and carried out by human beings”.

For this very reason, Hitler and his followers need to be represented, understood, and discredited, so that our culture can heal and move forward. And regardless of what Mr Abramovich thinks of Jerry Seinfeld, Sacha Baron Cohen, Levy and others, humour is regarded by many intelligent people as an effective way of achieving this goal.

As a postgraduate student, I have spent the past 20 months researching and writing an MA about the ethical implications of satirising Hitler. The subject is a minefield, but artists continue to use humour to come to terms with Germany’s Nazi past, and for good reason.

Making fun of the Fuehrer – as Charlie Chaplin, Bertolt Brecht, and many other serious artists have done over the years – can provide a sense of catharsis, for Jew and Gentile alike. Laughter is one of humankind’s basic psychological coping mechanisms; it can make life seem bearable, even if it can’t make it better.

It is important to remember that films can be funny without sacrificing their serious intent. When Levy’s Hitler says: “All the beatings that I got turned me into what I am today”, this is not a bad taste joke, or an immoral justification for Hitler’s behaviour. It is a laudable, ethically engaged attempt to understand “the Hitler problem”.

Of course, not everyone sees the value of these attempts. In her book Evil in Modern Thought, moral philosopher Susan Nieman shows that there are two fundamentally opposed attitudes towards the problem of evil. One “insists that morality demands that we make evil intelligible. The other […] insists that morality demands that we don’t.”

While both viewpoints have their respective theoretical merits, denying Hitler his innate humanity seems to me like the beginning of a slippery slope. The next “logical” step might be to deny all Nazis their humanity. And after that, all Nazi-sympathisers … where do you draw the line? After Rwanda, President of Genocide Watch Gregory Stanton observed that “dehumanisation” is the third step in an eight-step process; a process that begins with “classification” and ends with “extermination”.

I am not making a “false equivalence” here between Nazi murderers and people who are offended by representations of Hitler’s humanity. However, I am very concerned by the tendency to demonise artists and thinkers who try to comprehend the human face of evil. The most notable instance of this demonisation-by-association occurred when respected Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt was accused of being a Nazi after the publication of Eichmann in Jerusalem: a report into the banality of evil – a plainly absurd proposition, but one that made headlines nonetheless.

When Mr Abramovich implies that Dani Levy is immoral for showing Hitler playing with a toy battleship, it doesn’t help us understand Hitler’s immoral nature. All it does is transfers his existing outrage about Hitler’s historical actions onto the person representing these actions. This is a sly version of the guilt-by-association fallacy, and not all that different from the Brumby-Hitler Reductio ad Hitlerum that Mr Abramovich (rightly) objects to.

When discussing something as important, traumatic and emotionally loaded as the legacy of Adolf Hitler, we do need to watch out for bad taste and bad morality. However, we also need to watch out for bad logic – and avoid it wherever possible.

Tom Doig is a postgraduate student at the University of Melbourne’s School of Culture and Communication. He is completing an MA on the ethical implications of satirising Hitler, and writing a satirical play about David Hasselhoff and Adolf Hitler entitled “Hitlerhoff”.