Archive for Hitler

Hitlerhoff – the vimeo clip

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on 22 February, 2011 by hitlerhoff

WARNING: digital reproduction of live performance
Objects Onstage Are Closer Than They Appear Onscreen

Written and produced by Tom Doig
Directed by Erin Kelly
Starring Tobias Manderson-Galvin, Simone Page-Jones and Ezra Bix
Video by Puck Murphy and Anto Skene
Sound by Keith McDougall and Conrad Wedde
Filmed by Alex Finkle

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”.

Laughter Must Not Be Outlawed

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

(this is from a few months ago, and goes over some of the same ground – as does the articles it responds to! Since the Age haven’t published my responses, the good old double-u-double-u-double-u comes to the rescue!)

Tom Doig

874 words

The uninspired “controversy” over Melbourne artist Sam Leach’s recent self-portrait-as-Hitler only draws attention to how entrenched and uncompromising attitudes on both sides of the Hitler / Holocaust debate have become.

Both the Jewish community’s knee-jerk outrage (“Holocaust survivors are not laughing”, March 1st, 2008) and Mr Leach’s half-hearted “defence” of his portrait leave much to be desired. At the heart of this latest Fuhrer-furore is a fundamental question about what we are allowed to remember – and what we are allowed to forget, or ignore.

Mr Abramovich makes some good points about the need for “great sensitivity and understanding” when representing historical events. But the cheapening, commercialising and commodifying” of our popular culture is not confined to the Holocaust. Far from it; pop culture is distorting all aspects of our history, all the time.

Larissa Dubecki points out that while artists are not permitted to make ironic comments about Hitler, nearly everyone else is fair game (“One man’s evil is another’s pop culture”, March 4th). Mao Zedong, Joseph Stalin, Saddam Hussein and Pol Pot have all been responsible for crimes against humanity. They are also the subject of countless amusing, offensive pop-culture piss-takes. Should all mockeries of Mao be banned as well? Similarly, if Nazi figurines are morally unacceptable to Mr Abramovich, why should US-made GI Joe or Action Man toys be any less so?

If we were sincerely concerned about respecting the feelings of victims, we could not be irreverent about any of the world’s catastrophes. Banning all war and Holocaust-related movies would wipe out much of Hollywood’s back catalogue. Goodbye The Killing Fields; so long Borat; sayonara to The Pianist.

What we’re talking about here is censorship. Following Mr Abramovich’s suggestions to ban all representations of Hitler that might produce “a feel-good reaction, cosiness or comfort” leads us towards a censorship regime Joseph Goebbels would be familiar with.

While there is nothing remotely funny about the worst of Hitler’s actions, this should not exempt him from the distorting lens of pop-culture – and from ridicule. As a postgraduate student, I have spent the past 14 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 it, and for good reason.

Over 60 years after WW2 and the Holocaust, we have inherited a cultural legacy of trauma, grief and guilt, that today’s generation still needs to deal with. Laughter is one of humankind’s basic psychological coping mechanisms; it can make life seem bearable, even if it can’t make it better.

Making fun of the Fuhrer – as Charlie Chaplin, Bertolt Brecht, and many other serious artists have done over the years – provides a sense of catharsis, for Jew and Gentile alike. It also helps to discredit Nazi mythology, and to counter the lingering appeal of fascism.

Mel Brooks, director of The Producers (1968), claims that “by using the medium of comedy, we can try to rob Hitler of his posthumous power”. Dani Levy, director of Mein Fuhrer: the Truly Truest Truth about Adolf Hitler (2007), believes that “comedy is more subversive than tragedy”. This arguably makes it more effective at removing the aura of seriousness, and power, from the legacy of Hitler.

Both of these films take the piss out of Hitler, mercilessly. Both of these directors are Jewish. Surely they must have a right to express the trauma of their ancestors in their own way, even if Mr Abramovich is not amused.

However, this does not mean that Sam Leach’s Fuhrer-portrait is an insightful comment on Hitler, fascism or the continuing threat of genocide. It isn’t. Unlike Brooks’ and Levy’s films, Leach’s portrait captures all the glamour and sinister seductiveness of the fascist aesthetic – and “ironically” transfers this glamour onto himself. No matter how postmodern the portrait is, it also serves to reinforce the myth of Hitler’s power.

Leach claims that “we can’t take for granted that Nazism can’t happen again”. Sure. However, if he really wanted to make a timely point about the worst effects of Nazism – genocide and war – he has missed quite an opportunity.

Since 1998, the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo has caused an estimated 5.4 million deaths (according to an International Rescue Committee survey), making it the worst conflict since World War 2. In Darfur the UN estimates that over 400,000 people have been killed since 2003, while approximately 2.5 million people have been permanently displaced, and are at risk of starvation.

Of course, the Congolese and Sudanese communities don’t have to complain about disrespectful pop-culture representations of their suffering, because hardly anyone is bothering to represent it.

The Holocaust was, and remains, the most large-scale incident of genocide in human history. However, it not the only event of its kind, and it should not be allowed to monopolise our sense of genocide-guilt. If just some of the outrage that is expended on artistic representations of Hitler and the Holocaust was matched by a similar level of commitment to end wars and genocides occurring right now, the world would surely be a better place.

And as for Sam Leach – well, I’ve just given him some more free publicity. Which was, no doubt, his actual intention. Good luck with the Archibald, Sammy.