I’ll cut to the chase. It’s Hitler. Adolf Hitler.
Yeah, I’m rather shocked myself, but it seems like Herr Fuhrer is YouTube’s latest viral go-to guy. The new black is “reich,” as it were.
If you have no clue, or you’re still digesting the last of Tay Zonday mania (remember him?), then you’ve been away from the Web for a long time. On the sliding scale of the Internet time-space continuum, a long time is equal to the distance between last Wednesday and the Wednesday previous to that multiplied by the rate of your Twitter tweeting frequency, wOOt, and ROFLMFAO, and cubed at the rate of EPIC FAIL.
The specific scene used in these YouTube videos comes from a 2004 German film called Der Untergang, or Downfall, as it’s known in English-speaking countries. Hitler is portrayed by Bruno Ganz in a bit of foam-frothing scenery munching, and in the specifically co-opted scene, he’s being debriefed by his staff. Much to his chagrin, bad news has been delivered. He summons all but his inner circle to leave the war room and, upon their exit, goes absolutely apeshit.
I attempted to find a word that’s more becoming of a respected writer. Something less crude. Something with more imagination and depth. But it can’t be done. Hitler goes apeshit, and that’s all there is to it. And therein lies the fun — I couldn’t find a better word, but because everyone in the film is speaking German, anyone with a video graphics program can find their own words, plop them on-screen as subtitles, and make Adolf into whatever they please.
For example, he can be a Taylor Swift supporter …
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/T0PwqvwyG54" width="600" height="344" allowfullscreen="true" fvars="fs=1" /]
Or a man without a car …
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/T8dl4faCpJE" width="600" height="344" allowfullscreen="true" fvars="fs=1" /]
A Sarah Palin devotee …
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/3IzNPEGWNos" width="600" height="344" allowfullscreen="true" fvars="fs=1" /]
Or a Michael Jackson fan …
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/ELyTBXzfQJ8" width="600" height="344" allowfullscreen="true" fvars="fs=1" /]
And ultimately, the meta version:
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/w9mjEF_lEDE" width="600" height="344" allowfullscreen="true" fvars="fs=1" /]
As you can imagine, some of these are funny, a few are just excuses to have Hitler “saying” very un-Hitler-like things, and a high percentage aren’t very good at all. Yet there’s an underlying vibe within these videos that hasn’t been addressed yet.
In a way, Quentin Tarantino already addressed it with his late-summer hit Inglourious Basterds. In the film a small cadre of Nazi hunters infiltrate the halls of the third reich to exact bloody revenge. After all this time, and considering how much the world has changed, including the once united, then divided, then reunited Germany, people are still haunted by Hitler.
I know some aren’t. We hear about them from time to time, we know they exist, and we sometimes have to confront the ugliness of a swastika splattered across our supposedly learned culture. But for the majority of people around the world, the specter of this man with the chop-shop mustache ascending the steps of Albert Speer’s architecture still sends chills down spines. He’s our real-life Darth Vader, our Freddy Krueger, our boogeyman who once walked the earth. His suicide pact with his mistress, Eva Braun, robbed the world of the main thing it craved throughout the final days of Nazi Germany: closure. That even the gunshot-and-cyanide scenario can’t be fully determined or verified leaves us adrift.
You could argue that by taking his own life, or by dying in a bunker explosion, or even choking on a chicken bone while hiding in Stuttgart, Hitler was elevated to this scary, mythic place because he never was forced to stand before a tribunal to espouse his opinions and rhetoric, never had to look his judges in the eyes.
We can be fairly sure he wouldn’t have offered up any words of repentance. Instead he would’ve used his perch on the stands, like Saddam Hussein, to proudly, blindly, and flaccidly “rip us a new one.” Meanwhile, the world had a chance to reconcile their fears of the Butcher of Baghdad in 2004 upon seeing the captured dictator’s disheveled beard, his scattershot bark of a voice, and, without a gun in his hand, no power to wield over fearful masses.
We remember Hussein that way now. I’ve written far too many words about how I disapproved of the Iraq war and the contrivances that got us in, but the one good thing that came of it all is that we got to see the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain — and he turned out to be no big deal.
Hussein’s ghost has been expunged from our collective psyche, but Hitler never allowed us even that, so in a way he’s as present in our minds as he ever was. And with each new YouTube “remix” of Downfall, we laugh at the incongruities and anachronisms, and how this ravaging, raging, small person is crippled by the stupidest nonsense of our modern culture, reduced in his chair to a defeated hunch. Somewhere inside we feel a “win” against him, if only subconsciously, because we’re not really looking for it. But it is there.
Probably not for long, though. If I’ve learned anything about ‘Net culture, it’s that the next viral trend is just around the corner.