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The Meme of Hitler

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On YouTube, we find ourselves trapped inside an underground bunker where enemies are constantly closing in, the ceilings low and air thick with tension; their leader appears disorientated and delusional.

These videos, created by satirists who for years have taken to editing footage and audio from “Downfall”, a 2004 German movie depicting Hitler’s demise, into stories about personal hardship and world politics. By adding new subtitles in English language to transform Hitler (Bruno Ganz) ranting against enemies before reluctantly accepting defeat into an archetype of an arrogant blowhard brought down.

hitler meme
hitler meme

Original Scene – Hitler Is Told His Reign Is Over: When told his reign is over, Hitler quickly deafens himself to reality, demonizes those responsible, vows revenge and finally succumbs to private grief. Homemade Spoofs Plugged Into this Transformation… (Subtitles reflect Hillary Clinton, John McCain & Adam Sandler.

The meme of parodies has proven surprisingly resilient. Their cultural core – and thus contagious and transmissible elements – have proven powerfully persuasive during times of turmoil; late-life Hitler seems capable of representing almost anyone when in need.

YouTube provides us with a prime platform to witness an infamous Nazi figure’s frustration with their Xbox. He seems particularly disgruntled that none of his friends are attending Burning Man, and recently has lost it over Sarah Palin not fitting as his running mate. Something in this spectacle of autocrats crumbling has widespread appeal.

Critics charged that when “Downfall” premiered in German and Austrian theaters, critics complained it too heavily humanized Hitler and reduced historical horror by turning him and his associates into soap-operatic archetypes; their downfall into an everyday human tragedy.

Parodies seem to teach us that “Downfall” was intended as an unintentional Hitler comedy. After watching these parodies prior to watching the film itself, I find it nearly impossible now to watch without laughing out loud at Ganz’s performance as Adolf Hitler; something in his character name seems to liberate him to play pure melodrama reminiscent of Jeremy Piven’s uncontrolled meltdowns as Agent Ari in “Entourage.”

Americans might enjoy viewing “Downfall” videos with American themes, but those featuring foreign subjects often have more impact. Last month, for example, a blogger scripted one featuring Abdullah Ahmad Badawi of Malaysia playing Hitler. As soon as he learns of Badawi’s decision to turn to martial law and suppress press freedom, his loyalist begins to panic that Badawi may have gone too far. As with other “Downfall” parodies, this one features regional terminology; however, you don’t need to know much about Malaysian party politics to understand Ganz’s exasperation as his champ keeps making mistakes. He even thinks I.S.A will solve his issues Eventually the entire world laughs at that “idiotic chromedome.”

Many “Downfall” parodies make an interesting choice: rather than having Ganz-as-Hitler directly ventriloquize another politician or figure of ridicule, such as in Malaysian parody, they use his performance to portray someone disappointed with a public figure instead. Perhaps this choice was intended as a way of sidestepping any moral issues associated with drawing on Hitler mustaches; or possibly by shifting focus away from Ganz himself they want their protagonist to be as funny, raw and sympathetic as his performance conveyed.

As Americans who were raised on a common understanding of Hitler as an unavoidable entity and only heard his name used by unrepentant teenagers and passionate ideologues, this slippery appropriation of Hitler for comic purposes may be difficult for us to accept. “Barack Obama Downfall Satire,” featuring Hitler as both himself and an antagonist to Obama is quite convincing. Hitler plays himself in this video as both an adversary of Obama as well as someone like Dreyfus from “Pink Panther”, becoming increasingly delusional while trying to bring down an idiotic leader like Dreyfus did in “Pink Panther”. Furthermore, its subtitles suggest they were not written by an American as Hitler initially refers to participants at an Obama rally as “some student mingers in Che Guevara T-shirts… Mingers?

As with many overwritten Hitler parodies, this one builds a rhetorical head of steam: “He’s still wearing his Senate diapers” Hitler exclaims incredulously; Hillary Clinton should have breastfed him Nonetheless, one henchman robotically volunteers that Obama will bring peace and prosperity, which caused me to stop. Though Hitler may be Obama’s adversary herein, when all the great lines come from him it seems fair to ask whether this video supports or opposes Obama?

Since the dawn of online video, people have created remixes and mashups by stitching together disparate digital parts, or forging new ones from scratch. For instance, in 2006 people mixed soundtrack, shutter speed, graphic scheme from “Brokeback Mountain” trailer with old footage from “Back to the Future”, creating a video which suggested a gay romance between Marty and Doc characters.

Collectively, the anthology of “Brokeback” parody videos made a larger statement about American mythmaking and Hollywood cliches. For instance, make-out music could be played while clips showing any two male actors interact slowly while suggestingive title cards (“a truth they couldn’t deny”) were played-any American blockbuster could then be presented as depicting love between two men.

What are the larger goals of these “Downfall” remixes?

For example, “Hillary’s Downfall,” released in May by Ganz dressed like Hitler to play Hillary Clinton is notable because she desperately attempts to disprove that Obama will become Democratic nominee by saying something along these lines: ‘These small state primaries don’t matter; superdelegates will secure my victory.”

That is when Ganz takes off his glasses with his left hand shaking in disapproval, embodying the role assigned by the parodyist by doing just this. “Hillary’s Downfall” is an outstanding parody in which Ganz plays his part by the time his glasses come off. This scene from the original film depicts Hitler upon learning of his impotence; after initially denial, his fury has begun to surface more frequently. “Hillary’s Downfall,” you won’t believe how quickly Hillary’s haircut and costume change, her Hitlerism fades and Ganz’s powerful grandpa performance takes over. Hitler becomes less the author of the Holocaust than an irrepressibly salty dog who, even in defeat, persists in puncturing pretence with heartfelt language that expresses deeply felt human needs. We may have suppressed that speak-for-the-people Hitler from “Mein Kampf,” yet in these videos he has returned as one who represents people’s interests.

Adolf Hitler was, after all, seeking that exact result – to serve as the voice of all men’s collective unconscious?

No less disconcerting is the thought that, after 60+ years of trying to understand Hitler through various versions, we may finally have one which takes him at his word.

Points of Entry to this Week’s Recommendations (see above for further explanation)

Downfall of the Uploads: Constantin-film.de, the production company for “Downfall”, has not taken kindly to YouTube users uploading clips featuring their film’s bunker scene without its authorization. When following links to such videos you’re likely to hear “This video has been removed due to copyright claims by Constantin Film Produktion GmbH”. Copyright claims can be serious business; however if you take time searching YouTube creatively you might discover some versions that have made their way back onto its site.

GANZ MESHUGENEH: Looking for something different to watch this weekend? Try Bruno Ganz’s performance in “Downfall”. Taken simply as fiction film without worrying that it pretends to comment on history, “Downfall” makes an unforgettable campy film – you can pick up its DVD for cheap on Amazon.

SPOOF THE SPOOFS: Of course it had to happen: A meta-take on Hitler parodies! In “Hitler Is a Meme,” Hitler discovers he has become an Internet laughingstock–much like Sarah Palin or “Star Wars” kid–but takes this news badly (to one of his henchmen: “I can’t believe I ever friended you”). Watch it here at Break.com (this superb parodyist, a Web developer in Philadelphia can be found here). Watch here at Break.com; (this superb parodyist can also be found there).

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