Dubbed Hitler – why is it funny?

After the last post on here, ‘Gazing in to the abyss’, I concluded that I needed to take off the Old Testament ‘Prophet of Doom’ robes for a little while and take a slightly lighter view of something.  Which is why, at first glance, the title of this piece may raise the odd eyebrow.

Some months ago, a clip from the film ‘Downfall’ appeared online.  The film is about the final days in the Berlin Bunker at the end of World War 2.  The scene features Hitler and his Generals studing a map, discussing a counter-attack that will never come.  Hitler goes off on a serious rant at his military commanders, eventually settling down in to an admission that it’s all over.

 So far, no great bundle of screaming laughs. But the 4 minute piece of video was then dubbed with whole new story lines – ‘Hitler discovers Michael Jackson is dead’, for example (left) is one of the funnier mashups on this theme on the Web.There are lots of others – Hitler finds out Oasis have split, that he’s been thrown off Xbox Live, that twitter is down again, that Liverpool have lost a soccer match. The list goes on.  There’s even one where Hitler rants abouyt being subtitled…

The quality varies – some are just plain nasty, others mildly amusing, some I find laugh out loud funny.What this says about my sense of humour and the sense of humour of the people who put the mashups together is what I want to look at in this post.I guess now would be a good time to put in the usual justification that seems to be required these days….no, I don’t find Hitler amusing per se. No, I’m not a Nazi sympathiser, Yes, I do appreciate that World War 2 was not funny. 

On a more practical basis, if you have even ‘schoolboy German’ the whole illusion is destroyed, so winding the sound down is quite helpful! 

And having got that out of the way…

I guess we’ve always used humour to poke fun at evil. In the 1930s George Orwell (I believe) commented that the goose-step was a ludicrous way to walk, but as the marchers had guns it was best not to laugh too loudly.

 Even during the Second World War, various rude comic songs were sung by the allied soldiers remarking on the rumour about Hitler’s single testicle – although the sentiment was expressed in less polite words – and various satires and comedies emerged from the War taking the mickey from the so-called Master Race – To Be or Not To Be and ‘The Great Dictator’ being the two most famous.  However, it’s worth remembering that both of these films were made before the sheer scale and nature of the atrocities committed by the Nazis became known; after news came out about the Concentration Camps and the extermination policies of the Nazis, it took until Mel Brooks’s ‘The Producers’ in 1968 before it became possible to laugh at the Nazis again.

It’s worth noting that this sort of humour always picks fun at the Nazis, never their actions.  There are invariably some very dark and usually unfunny attempts at humour that pick up on the cruelty of the Nazis, and occasionally even the death camps, but they’re uncommon.

The Downfall Mashups all have one thing in common; they feature Hitler ranting and raving on the behalf of the mashup creator about something that matters to them.  Hitler’s been subverted to any number of things that cause people to ‘lose it’.  Maybe he provides us with that excuse we need to really lose our rag to the degree of what might be called a ‘towering fury’.  I had one of those years ago – it was kicked off by soemthing really stupid and I went ballistic.  About 30 seconds in I KNEW I was in the wrong but what the heck, I was enjoying it so much that I genuinely didn’t want to stop – I knew I was going to have problems looking my colleagues in the eye for days afterwards, but it just felt so worth it.  I literally did feel that I was towering above the situation!

Maybe the Downfall Mashup allows us to project our feelings on to a character well known for his rants – a sort of scapegoat for acting out in public.  We can script our ‘actor’, wind him up and let him go.  We vent our spleen, and as a side benefit reduce one of history’s most evil men to the part of an actor in one of our own rants against society.  I wonder how long it will be before there’s a ‘personally abusive’ version where someone takes it out on a real, named individual that they dislike? 

 Is there a down side to the Downfall Mashup phenomenenon?  I’m not sure – there’s one school of thought that says that this actually humanises Hitler and gives young people today a view of the Fuhrer as a comic spectacle, a foil for our own humour.  This might be so, but the solution there is to ensure that we don’t forget the original evil committed by a bunch of very ordinary men with glasses, bad haircuts and bad breath who were allowed to get to where they did in life because no one stopped them.

 Or, just maybe, no one laughed at them long and hard and sent them off with their tails between their legs before they got the illusion that they were something special.  Who knows.