They say that imitation is the greatest form of flattery. That’s only mostly true. It can also be a brilliant way to mock something. In general, the premise behind parody, farce and satire is to delegitimize the subject through creative mimicry. In pop culture’s engagement with mass atrocity, the figure of Hitler presents a prime target.
Take the following two websites: Cats That Look Like Hitler.com and Hipster Hitler.com. If the name “Hitler” is now most often invoked as the world’s paradigmatic evildoer, these sites offer an excellent comedic antidote.
“Does your cat look like Adolf Hitler? Do you wake up in a cold sweat every night wondering if he’s going to up and invade Poland? …If so, this is the website for you.”
The pictures are provided by visitors to the site and they are hilarious.
Hipster Hitler is an online comic that, in the words of its creators, “satirizes both hipster culture and the exploits of the Third Reich using a combination of puns, parody, dark humor, anachronisms, and visual gags.”
The authors seem to tread carefully on their subject matter, stating that the comic is “not written with the intent of offending people and refrains from making the holocaust or any other similar horrific event as the subject matter of a strip. In constructing Hitler as a Hipster we’re offering a new way of disliking Hitler and laughing at the ‘lazy dictator’ he was, who is known for being indolent, maniacal at times, with violent bursts of enthusiasm. In the process of satirizing Hitler’s thoughts, actions and logic, we’re taking a few digs at a contemporary subculture of urban, middle-class youth that fetishize the ‘authentic’ and conform to non-conformism.” These two examples are just a few of the growing number of sites that employ the use of parody, farce and satire in reference to Hitler
It seems to me that the real work of these sites is in their demythologization of evil. In other words, to represent Hitler as cat and hipster is to critique the popular connotation of Hitler as someone like the Evil emperor Darth Sidious.** It is to deflate the myth back into a man. For a man–a failed artist, in fact–is who Adolf Hitler was.
This refiguration is important because it has the potential to draw our attention to the actual nature of perpetration and the practical ways mass killing is carried out today. For the simple fact remains that, as a single man, Hitler didn’t physically kill anyone.* By contrast, the real killers, those women and men who’ve carried out the genocides of the 20th century, and who continue to carry out those of the 21st century, are not diabolical masterminds. They are average people, civilians and soldiers like you and me. Many of them are children.
When we allow historical fact to demythologize evil, we are faced with the reality that humans (young, old, rich, poor etc) have exercised incredibly brutality, and incredible kindness, on their fellow humans. To be human, then, is to be capable of acting along this same moral spectrum. In this light, we must resist the urge to call any person “evil.” Actions may certainly be categorized as evil, but those who commit them do so out of complex motives, sometimes as a result of mental illness, but more often than not out of what they consider to be a ethical obligation given their specific set of socio-political circumstances.
In fact, the really frightening thing is the ease at which we all fall into thought patterns which can lead directly to perpetration. Here is a simple example: Consider a group of people you might say you “hate.” Have you ever felt that the world/my city/my family/my government would be a better place if these people just weren’t here/didn’t exist/lived elsewhere/were dead/became exactly like me? This is the banality of evil. How quickly our fear of difference transforms into our desire to wipe out that difference through appropriation or extermination, even if only in our imaginations. We can counter our ever so common colonizing, dehumanizing, violent, and genocidal impulses by personally getting to know someone we consider to be our other. This means sitting down with someone who is different than us, learning what they like, what they don’t, and what life experiences have brought them to those conclusions, with the sole intent not to change that person but to experience the personal growth that is the inevitable result of the simple act of listening.
* except himself, on April 30th, 1945, via gun and cyanide tablet
** there’s actually quite a lot of parodies dedicated to a Darth Vader vs. Hitler match-up: see this meme (which takes creative license with the subtitles for the film, Der Undergang, particularly the scene depicting Hitler’s rant); and the “Epic Rap Battles in History” youtube video featuring Darth Vader vs. Hitler. (Thanks to Michael R. for bringing this last to my attention!)
On meeting atrocity with farce, satire and what not:
(The Clowns take on the KKK–children’s book based on a true story)
On the nature of perpetration and evil: