Archive for Popular Culture

Buzzcuts review of Hitlerhoff – by Alex Grantham

Posted in media, publicity, reviews, Satire with tags , , , , , , , , , on 8 October, 2008 by hitlerhoff

(this review is transcribed from RRR FM; it was broadcast on Wednesday 1 October, at 10am.)

(In the background, Keith McDougall’s cover of the Baywatch theme plays.)

“Ever considered the disturbing similarities between Hitler’s Aryan fantasies and the blonde, blue-eyed dreamworld of Baywatch? Now you can …

HITLERHOFF JUNIOR: A hero superman, with muscles like coconuts and hair like a tsunami …

MUMMY: Oh Hoffy, how visionary!

… Hitlerhoff is an adventure into pop-culture. It fuses the life story of Adolf Hitler and star David Hasselhoff. A black comedy that raises important questions about celebrity, ambition and propaganda. The opening multimedia shots will take you back to the 90s, when blondes were best, and the sun was always shining on Venice Beach. But be ready to be shocked as the play confronts and crosses boundaries.

Holocaust humour can be uncomfortable for some, but I found Hitlerhoff to be playful and quirky, with a serious message about the similarities between American imperialism, and German fascism.

Tobias Manderson-Galvin, Ezra Bix and Simone Page Jones are a stellar cast. They will take you to confusing heights of comedy and disgust. With the use of music, multimedia and a tight script, I was absolutely titillated by Hitlerhoff. This play is not for those who are easily offended, but if you enjoy poking fun at David Hasselhoff, and want to question pop-culture’s role in fascism, then I suggest booking a ticket today.

This has been Alex Grantham, for Buzzcuts.”

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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:

http://socials.iesjuniperserra.net/images/maus_HC.gif (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 …

Seb

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.