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Scene4 Magazine-inSight

March 2012

Springtime, Madness and Muddles, or Hitler and Me

My sports-fanatic friends are immersed in the NCAA March Madness, my literary pals are off to the AWP confab in Chicago, neighbors fantasize about their gardens, tourists and tulips are busting out all over here in Washington, D.C., and political junkies are reveling in the presidential campaign. Me?  I'm thinking about Hitler.

Not that this is anything new for me.  As someone with Jewish relatives (my Dad was Jewish), who's legally blind and queer (queers and crips weren't among Hitler's greatest hits), good ol' Adolf has always been a presence in my life.  Not literally, of course.  There were no Nazis in the small Southern New Jersey town where I grew up.  My parents were born in New Jersey.  Thankfully, my folks and my grandparents were safely in the U.S. during the Holocaust.

But, as a child born just seven years after the end of World War II, the Nazis (though defeated in the War) seemed to be lurking everywhere.  I often overheard my folks and their friends talking about Hitler.  Then, the horror of the Holocaust was still fresh in the consciousness of the culture. Though it's so well-known now, that it's sometimes spoken of humorously, the impact of "The Diary of Anne Frank," when it opened on Broadway and first appeared as a movie, was stunning.

One of my earliest memories is from when, at age 11, I visited my aunt and uncle in Florida.  She and her two children escaped from Hungary when the Nazis took over.  Her first husband was lost to the Holocaust.  One evening, some friends of theirs came over for dinner.  One of the guests was a 70-something year old man.  I immediately fell in love with him because he brought me flowers, chocolates, and kissed my hand.  I'll never forget seeing the tattoo on his arm or my horror when this kind gentleman told me that he'd survived a Nazi concentration camp.  "It wasn't so bad," he told me, seeing how horrified I was, "I just had to work very hard and I didn't get much to eat."

I haven't had many other such up close and personal encounters with people who were victims of Hitler's cruelty, and mostly, I've been far more preoccupied with everything from grief, struggling to pay bills, trying to write good poetry, my family, finding an entertaining DVD to watch to the political health of the U.S., to worry about Hitler.  Yet, like the crawl that creeps along the screen on TV cable news, Hitler is always there, hovering in the recesses of my head.

Recently, the monster crawled from the bottom to the top of the TV screen of my mind. What put the Fuhrer on my radar screen? A post ("It's Oscar Time (Grumble, Grumble, Rant") from my friend and Scene4 film critic Miles David Moore's Scene4 Writers blog.

Miles is an erudite, thoughtful writer and critic, and I devour his blog postings and movie reviews.  A fellow poet, Miles and I, over good food and drink, have had lively discussions of poetry, movies, Groucho Marx and Oscar Wilde.  Over a beer, Miles helped me coin the title for this column.

Miles' post that set Hitler loose in my brain is an engaging rant about this year's Oscars.  (The Academy Awards were handed out on February 26 after our copy deadline.  As I write this, I don't know who received Oscars.)  In this lively post, Miles voiced his grumbles about the Oscars.  As part of his rant, Miles invoked a recent Hitler parody rant (one of many to be found on You Tube.)

Miles wrote, "by now it's become a You Tube staple that a scene from the German film 'Downfall' – featuring the great Bruno Ganz as Hitler, ranting at the news that the war is lost–is retooled over and over again, with subtitles expressing the latest disappointing trend in sports, entertainment, etc.  Yesterday, I saw the Downfall scene one again, this time with Der Fuhrer venting his rage that the Academy passed over Albert Brooks' performance in 'Drive' for Best Supporting Actor, nominating Jonah Hill for Moneyball instead.  'All Jonah Hill did,' Hitler shrieks via subtitle, 'was stare at Brad Pitt for two hours like a fucking sheep in heat!'"

I enjoyed reading about Miles' Oscar grumbles.  But, it's the (pretend) Hitler Oscar rant, that sticks like a craw in my cranium.  I know that the Hitler parody rants are humorous–that they're put together by funsters, mixing and mashing culture.  This is snarky and hip (often with obscenities thrown in and what's cooler than that?).  I get it.

Yet I can't help but wonder.  Given the unspeakable evil that he committed, should Hitler be a subject of parody? Yes, these rants don't spew from the real Hitler – they gush forth on subtitles written, mostly, in good fun. They're meant to satirize, not admire the Fuhrer.

Still, the image of the concentration camp's survivor's tattoo that I saw at age 11, lingers in my mind.  Along with an e-mail that I received recently from an 80-something friend Sybille, who escaped at age 7 with her family from the Nazi.  "Last night, I had dinner with some nice, bright other nice Nazi Germany refugees," wrote me, "it was a good closing of the circle for me."

"There's nothing worse than a muddle in all the world," E. M. Forster said.

I confess I'm in a muddle about Hitler and humor.  One of the best days of my life was when in 1974, I saw the 1968 original movie version of "The Producers."  The film was laugh out loud funny.  When I'm scared, I identify with Gene Wilder in the scene, where cowering in a rowboat in Central Park with Mel Brooks, Wilder says, "I'm scared and I'm wet!" (You probably have to be there, but if you have an atom of life in you, watching this will crack you up.)

The "Soup Nazi" episode of "Seinfeld" is one of the funniest things in the history of TV.  Who doesn't think (affectionately) of the "soup Nazi" when stuck in a long line and dealing with a (humorless) rigid bureaucracy or when dealing with a scold? (Coping with air travel nowadays comes to mind–think Alec Baldwin being told to stop playing Words with Friends on the plane.)

Yet, I'm still bothered by the Hitler rants parodies.  Even though, I love Mel Brooks and Seinfeld's (and they're both Jewish) fun with the Fuhrer, I find myself agreeing with my friend Penny who says, "I don't like these rants!  They trivialize the evil that Hitler did.  They soften the emotional horror and impact of what he did."

It's a muddle.  I share Penny's distaste for the You Tube Hitler rants, but I know they're funny. As a writer and creative artist, I respect satire.  I don't believe in censorship.  No way, would I want to stop any of the hipsters from creating and posting the Hitler parodies.

After watching Mary Tyler Moore receive a lifetime achievement award from the Screen Actors Guild, I decided to escape my Hitler humor muddle and watch an episode of the "Mary Tyler Moore Show."  Wouldn't you know it!  The Fuhrer appears at WJM.  A buddy foists a dog on Lou Grant.  The ill-behaved, hair-shedding pooch (who he's trying to get rid of) drives Lou nuts. "I call him Hitler," he says in frustration.  I'm a good MTM fan.  Fuhrer or no Fuhrer, this made me laugh.

"People who don't understand the subtleties of the form, won't find the Hitler parody rants funny," a friend e-mailed me, "if you don't understand it, it's easy to become too PC {politically correct}."

Everything and everyone can be a subject for satire, my writer friend George told me over the phone.   "If they'd have had You Tube in 1200, there would have been Genghis Khan rants," he quipped.

Why do I find George's quip to be funny, while I still can't laugh at the Hitler rants?  Maybe, in part, because we're so far removed from Genghis Khan.  Overly PC folks like me don't have to worry about the humor giving offense to any victims of Khan's rampages.

"Nothing assails as much as laughter," Mark Twain said.

The Hitler rant parodies are meant, I'd bet, to make us laugh at Hitler.  Yet, it's hard for me to see the humor.  I wouldn't dream of asking you to explain it. Once a woman in a video store saw me pick up a DVD of the Marx Brothers' movie "Animal Crackers."  "I don't understand the Marx Brothers," she earnestly said to me, "Would you explain the humor to me so I can laugh?"

Dear reader, I believe I suffer from SDD (satire deficiency disorder).  I'd consult a physician, but I'm afraid I'd be assailed by laughter.                 

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©2012 Kathi Wolfe
©2012 Publication Scene4 Magazine

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Kathi Wolfe is a writer, poet and a Senior Writer and columnist for Scene4.
Her reviews and commentary have also appeared in an array of publications.

For more of her commentary and articles, check the Archives

 

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March 2012

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