The Holocaust happened, and it is important that we not let the deniers get away with their attempts to rewrite history. That is morally obvious. What’s a little more shaded in gray is what role film and television should play in keeping the truth alive for current and future generations. This is something that I personally struggle with quite often.
As a little gay boy growing up in the 70’s, I had a mad crush on Wonder Woman — or more accurately, Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman in the TV series that made her a household name (see inset). A quote that will live in my head forever is, when a Nazi officer first hears of WW foiling their evil-plot-of-the-week, “who iz deez Vonder Voman” (spoken in typical German; that is, replace all W’s with V’s and say it in English). After she became known as the great protector of The United States, Wonder Woman had to face weekly attempts on her life — from a dancing bear trained to hug her to death to “The Baroness Von Gunther” (a tough–ass Nazi officer). Though I loved the followup series on CBS that was set in the 70’s, there was a certain thrill about the evil Nazis that always made Season 1 on ABC just a little bit more exciting to me.
In the new millennium, I started playing a MMORPG (massively multi-player online role-playing game) called City of Heroes that allowed players to create their own superhero and play against in-game villains powered by artificial intelligence. One of the gangs of villains was created to mimic the Nazis in the style of their uniforms and overall tone. After the first few months of the game launch, this set of villains was removed and replaced by a more nondescript gang. My inquiries to the manufacturer of the game about this loss of plot component was my first introduction to the idea that Nazis (and by relation The Holocaust) might not be suitable subject matter for childhood game play. Little gay boys in Tennessee probably shouldn’t grow up imitating their favorite Nazi as he asks, “who iz deez Vonder Voman” — not to mention participating in playground role play where he has to choose to either be Vonder Voman or The Baroness Von Gunther. Pretending to be Cat Woman against Batman is one thing; pretending to be an agent of the most evil, mass murdering coalition of psychopaths from our real world history is just DIFFERENT.
That was my first clue. It opened my eyes. At the time I thought that this one game maker had made a big faux pas, and that it was an isolated thing. Now, many years later, I cannot believe what an outrageous faux pas the gaming company made. In fact, I cannot believe the continual offerings by Hollywood studios. Offerings that target our young people with the idea that, though Nazis are evil, it’s still fun to play “Good Guys vs. Bad Guys” with them. IT IS NOT.
Many school classes read The Diary of Ann Frank as part of their social studies curriculum. Reading is entertainment, yes — but in this case it is also combined (hopefully) with meaningful discussion about The Holocaust. History is interesting. Horrible parts of our history entertain the mind with interest, but they do not celebrate the horror. Hollywood celebrates horror. Studios compete with one another to come up with the most grisly and frightening movies possible to thrill young audiences. I’ve never had a member of my family dismembered and eaten by a man with a chainsaw, and I’m certain that if I had, I’d have an aversion to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre as entertainment 1. The Holocaust is a little bit different. No, it’s a lot different. It is the single ugliest part of human history. It was real.
Just as NCSoft (the maker of my Nazi video game) was made to realize how inappropriate was its inclusion of Nazi material as entertainment, I believe that it is about time that our movie studios are made aware that we, the viewing public, do not want them to produce films that use Nazi imagery as a form of entertainment. I was very disturbed by the opening flash-back scenes of 20th Century–Fox’s 2011 film X-Men: First Class. I can clearly recall sitting in the theatre and nearly panicking as I tried to think of what to do.
Within the first 10 minutes of a film created largely in part to entertain children, the audience is shown a little boy interned at Auschwitz where his mother is shot in the head to elicit his cooperation with his captors. Described here in this blog entry, absent the “cool” image of young Magneto of the X-Men, does anything at all sound less than sick here?
If you really start paying attention, you’ll be surprised at how many “mainstream” movies incorporate, if not specifically Nazi-related, some sort of glorified violence. I know, sometimes it’s fun. I was a huge fan of Breaking Bad and The Sopranos. I’m a guy, and I played with toy guns. But if we have to draw the line, I say we do it at The Holocaust. When you’re thinking of taking your child to see the next Captain America movie (or anything else set in WWII times), why not do a quick Google and see if you’re going to a movie that is about Nazis and fun. Those are two things that we should just stop putting together (as if they ever belonged together).
And yes, I am talking about movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark and its many sequels which include the Nazis as the enemy. Though that series came from Stephen Spielberg, who I would call the great Jew of directing, I’m not pre-sold on his level of taste. I don’t know that Schindler’s List should have ever been made as a drama instead of a documentary. That’s a much more difficult discussion, but at least it isn’t a situation where the Nazis are sneaking into the film as cheap set dressing. At least it takes things seriously. I’ll save the argument about Nazi-comedies such as The Producers and Iron Sky for another time. For now, please just be aware of the seriousness of what you’re watching in the latest blockbuster.
SIDE NOTE: During the long isolationist period before the US entered WWII, many American companies did booming business with Germany. For example, it is well–documented that Nazi soldiers were hearty drinkers of Coca-Cola, which continued selling to Germany even after we declared war. More interesting is that the precursors of today’s big Hollywood studios helped produce many Nazi propaganda films, including the ancestor of 20th Century Fox (maker of the X-Men movie discussed here). I don’t know why, but that connection intrigues me — as if current film were somehow serving the cause in some way.
- Some might point out that this is exactly the same situation given that Chainsaw is based on a true story, the life of serial killer Ed Gein. This actually is a myth. The movie resembles in no way the actual story of Ed Gein, and I believe the connection is continually made for the extra fright provided by a “based on actual events” caption at the start of a movie. ↩