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.


6 Responses

I agreed with this article until I saw that you had quoted me. Now I see that you must be wrong.

Who is this ‘Clive’ of whom you speak? Mr Clive Matthews first name is James, as any fule kno…

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Could have sworn he called himself Clive the time we met. Bah. Changed it to Nosemonkey now – happy? :)

Well, I hadn’t seen those mashups before, believe it or not, so I thought it was ace.

Guess I picked the wrong month to weed my RSS feed…

PS I know Nosemonkey, kind of, a bit, and I’ve always called him Clive – his name seems to have morphed from J Clive-Matthews to J Clive Matthews.

*waves*

Belatedly: Clive Matthews is my posh, unhyphenated double-barrelled surname (which I occasionally used to hyphenate to try and save confusion – though it rarely works). James is my forename. I write as “J Clive Matthews” because “James Clive Matthews” is too long to fit in a column in most publications, which is a bit of a bummer for a professional writer type. (When the columns are really narrow I’ve also been known to write professionally as Beatrice Sant, fact fans…)

However, throughout my life hardly anyone’s ever really called me James, and for most of the last two decades, most people I know (including the wife) have called me Clive. Even though it’s not really my name.

Yes, it causes untold confusion. And yes, this was over long for an off-topic comment.

As such: boo to the BNP! (Obviously.)