Archive for November, 2008

Hitler & the BNP video: final thoughts

24 November 2008

OK so the BNP Hitler video went quite viral (including The Times and The Telegraph). Not bad given the sound is a little out of synch and the subtitle sizing inconsistent, not to mention the fact it gets a bit repetitive in the middle. So with that and the enormous popularity of Lolgriffin phenomenon, here’s some additional thoughts & a tie-up.

I’m surprised at the great reaction – even self-professed BNP members on the YouTube comments said they liked it, which worries me a bit. Some people asked why I didn’t subtitle Hitler as Nick Griffin or a party bigwig (like the other version made) rather than just an “ordinary member” – but therein llies the true comedy of all the Downfall mashups – the pettier and more ridiculous the complaints of “Hitler”, the funnier him blowing his top. As The Guardian on the meme writes:

The contrast between one of history’s tyrants cracking up before our eyes and talk of football transfers peppered by swear words, makes for extreme comic bathos. The harsh sound of the spoken language, the grave demeanours of the officers and the instant recognisability of Hitler all add to the effect. The more banal the subtitles, the more ridiculously hilarious the result.

In writing the script (slightly shonkily, I admit), my aim was to portray Hitler as a typical BNP supporter: frustrated, sensing something “is not qute right”, feeling rejected and as an outsider, but without the wit to direct it at anything beyond the “immigrants” bogeymen conjured before their eyes. Believing themselves to be the ordinary man in the street, they are desperate to seek strength (or rather the illusion of strength) to compensate for their weakness. So they fall in with the fascists and become part of their gang. They’re not your skinhead darkie-bashing thug who make up the party hardline, but the ones who stand a few yards back happy to cheer him on while he’s doing it, all the better to drown out their sense of unease and rejection. That’s the aspect of the BNP’s support that’s almost as sad as the ideology they fawn over.

Criticism of the Hitler meme touches on this everyman approach. In the New York Times’s treatment of the “Hitler Meme”, Virginia Heffernen writes:

Hitler becomes not the author of the Holocaust but a salty dog who, though all is lost, doesn?t stop piercing pretense and speaking in slangy, heartfelt language, expressing the most deeply felt needs of the human id. We may have repressed that speak-for-the-people Hitler, the one he decided to be in ?Mein Kampf?; but in the form of these videos, he has returned. [..] Isn?t that the outcome that Adolf Hitler, the historical figure, sought? Didn?t he see himself as the brute voice of the everyman unconscious?

But I think this is a step too far. The entire point of why it’s funny (and slightly shocking) is the contrast between the banality of the subject matter and the gravity of Hitler’s situation. We recognise the man in front of us as Hitler but the comic lines printed beneath it are so far removed they might as well be in on a different planet. Once the real Hitler becomes everyman then the contrast and thus the joke is lost.

The video did get complaints. I got the odd bit of hate mail from BNP members, but all they could do was menacingly tell me: “You know where I live”.* There were also some more moderates saying I shouldn’t mock those the victims of the Second World War, but this is nonsense. I won’t claim my video is the spiritual descendant of Dad’s Army, ‘Allo ‘Allo! or The Producers, but these examples are clear that the worst war in global history and the people who instigated it are not comedy taboo. And although using the Downfall parody meme is distasteful to some, it’s surely at it’s most appropriate when the real target of the joke, the wannabe Nazis of the BNP. More so than Sheffield United, in any case.

There’s also the question of damaging the sanctity of the film & belittle the efforts of its makers. Of all the charges against me and anyone else who has made a Downfall mashup, this is the one I’m willing to acknowledge. Downfall is a great film about a serious subject, heart-breakingly tragic in some bits, and the mashups do the film’s creators and the magnificent Bruno Ganz a disservice. So do get it on DVD if you haven’t already (it’s just a fiver from Amazon).

Finally there was the question of whether it was really worth my time. And I did mull this. But in the end I think it was worth it. After all, given the leak I could have spent the time on an elaborate Google Maps mashup or postcode finder for local members, like some people have. And while initially going “Wow! Awesome!” at the leak, after some introspection I came down against publicising the data in that way; to do so would be an implicit encouragement of people to find where their local petty fascist lives. From there it’s not far from dogshit being shoved through their letterbox, or physical violence, and any self-respecting anti-fascist shouldn’t be even thinking stooping to their levels.

Instead, for once, pointing and laughing is the right thing to do. As Joe put it on Metafilter: “We confront fascism in the same way we confront every threat to our freedom and our way of life: We point and laugh at it.” Let’s mock an organisation barely capable of running itself and questioning their suitability to run a bath, let alone a country, in whatever way you can – Lolcats and Downfall mashups included. It’s easy to dismiss the likes of B3ta and 4chan as timewasters but sometimes following their lead is exactly what we should be doing.

* Clive Nosemonkey originally made that joke & I’ve shamelessly stolen it as I liked it so much.


Why you shouldn’t email (much)

23 November 2008

(Bit late on this one, sorry)

One of the things picked up and kicked around the Internet last week was the story of how Bill Clinton “only” sent two emails during his entire presidency. And one of those was a test. This is in stark contrast to the 40 million of his staff and his vice-president (who sorta invented the Internet, didn’t you know?) as well as, of course, Barack Obama’s phenomenal online success. The thing that irks me most is the use of the word “only” in that. Bill Clinton may be an extreme case, but he had the right idea: email is something where fewer is better.

E-mail is largely a terrible, terrible thing. Not just because of the problems with spam and phishing (on which there’s loads of really useful info from the EFF) – that’s an implementation problem, stemming (mostly) from a simple failure on the network’s part to authenticate who an email’s getting email from, or authenticate which servers can forward email on to others.

Email’s terribleness is a more structural problem. For starters, there’s the curse: Your email address is used nearly always as the means of confirming and authenticating your account on any website (and in these Web 2.0 days, there’s a lot of sites) and of course every time you set up such an account, you get added to the site’s mailing list, and every single last friend request, notification from them. Such email – banal messaging from someone whose address you’ve willingly given – was coined “bacn” – in an analogy to spam by some utter fuckwit. Why is this person a fuckwit? Because bacon, proper bacon, is the best thing on earth, while “bacn” is just plain annoying.

I ruthlessly purged these a few months ago – unsubscribing from them as well as nearly every email newsletter I’ve added over the years (or if there is no unsubscribe option, filtering them as spam, because that’s what they are). It’s simple and mechanistic and doable, if a surprisingly tedious process.

The other problem is more of a human one – the “forward” button and the various, terrible uses of it: lazy forwardings of virus scares to everyone they know, news stories forwarded by those annoying “email” links, tediously long and irrelevant tracts sent to me with a non-explanatory “FYI” on top. Inevitably, they only increase the noise ration and correspondingly decrease my trust or tolerance of the person who sends them to me. Filtering these is harder, as you can’t set up something to say get rid of the dull shit (GMail alas isn’t that good). Telling people to stop sending them raises the possibility of a socially awkward situation. Now with my personal email at least, I just hit delete.

What both have in common is that these messages are not conversational; they’re anti-social if anything, churning out some often inconsequential message not caring what reply they might get. Every new email is a distraction, and if it’s about nothing important, then it becomes an annoyance. So you start ignoring the annoyance, and believe me there’s nothing worse than letting them pile up and (in extreme cases) eventually declaring “email bankruptcy“. I reached the point several months ago where I just got tired of email, after using it for nearly 13 years. Hell, two more and I could do a Donald Knuth and quit using it altogether as anything other than something where I stash my Amazon receipts.

Aside: Knuth quit email in 1990, saying he had enough. 1990! It’s astounding we got where we are today without packing it all in.

Anyway, I have purged the crap and now adopt a much tighter policy on what I even read. I now get between 2-5 emails in a typical day, and the difference is remarkable – it means I can read them all. So this isn’t a rant against email per se – it’s still useful, I’ve discovered. But it really needs to be used sparingly or else it becomes no use at all.


How to win friends and influence people

19 November 2008

For years, as first an amateur geek, later a half-decent blogger and later still a professional geek posing as a marketing wonk, my thoughts on what makes you popular online were – be inventive, always be interesting, chat to your audience and always bear them in mind, and above all strive to not be formulaic nor mimic everyone else, and you’d have a happy appreciative audience and become popular and influential.

Then today I found how to actually win an audience:

Take an idea you had while hungover on Twitter and mock up photos of a Neo-Nazi gutbucket in the style of LOLCATS.

The result? All of a sudden everyone (even Techcrunch) links to your hastily-built collection of LOLworthy pictures. Jesus – it’s not even proper Web 2.0 (if it was, it’d be on Tumblr).

OK, snark apart, LOLGRIFFIN was a lot of fun to do. Out of the ones I made, this is my fave and this a close second. Many of the other good ones are not my wor, but from contributors who’d rather stay anonymous. Having not been around on the blog scene for a bit, it’s nice getting some attention again – a la the Daily Mail headline generator – and it will spur me to write a bit more often. So to 20 or so people who added me on Twitter and the few who checked out this site as a result, thank you, and to the five people or so who still subscribe to this blog: this shall spur me on to write more in the very near future. Promise. Proper promise. This time. I swear.

(No seriously guys this time I mean it. Tomorrow hear me rant about discuss exactly what it is that connects Bill Clinton, bacon and Donald Knuth. Of sorts. With swears. Just like the old days. I promise.

Followup: Oh my Gawd, Sunny, David T and Bob Piper all found it too. It’s like 2005 when I was last a blogger of some import, all over again.

Update (21/11): I’m so sorry. I couldn’t resist. Perhaps the first example of where using Hitler isn’t inappropriate for this kind of video.