Laughing at Evil

 

 

“They can’t make that (Blazing Saddles) movie today because everybody’s so politically correct. You know, the NAACP would stop a great movie that would do such a great service to black people because of the N-word,” says Brooks. “You’ve got to really examine these things and see what’s right and what’s wrong. Politically correct is absolutely wrong. Because it inhibits the freedom of thought. I’m so lucky that they weren’t so strong then and that the people that let things happen on the screen weren’t so powerful then. I was very lucky.”

Mel Brooks, 2014

(I originally posted this at The American Catholic, and I thought the culture mavens of Almost Chosen People might enjoy it)

To back up the words of Mr. Brooks:

Olney Theatre’s production of Mel Brooks’s 2001 musical The Producers only has three more performances, but it’s not going to close without a bit of manufactured controversy. Audience members at Montgomery County playhouse are going to have to walk past a small coterie protesting the show’s play-within-the-play, because, the demonstrators say, it makes light of Adolf Hitler and the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany.

“I understand the intent is satire,” says Jeffrey Imm, who is organizing the demonstration through his anti-discrimination group, Responsible for Equality And Liberty. “This is the point of morality: some things we have to recognize as absolute evil. When 6 million people are murdered, we don’t view it with knee-slapping, we view it with reverence.”

Go here to read the rest. Mr. Imm’s group is completely wrong-headed.  Too often Hitler, murderous little jumped up thug, is elevated into being some sort of grand demonic personification of evil.  This is precisely the wrong way to remember the psychopath and the movement he led.  Far better to make him into a clownish figure and condemn him throughout history with laughter and ridicule. 

The late Werner Klemperer, who portrayed Colonel Klink on the old sitcom Hogan’s Heroes, was a German Jewish refugee to America from the Third Reich, who served in the US Army during World War II.  He was once asked how he could play a Nazi.  He replied that he would go to his grave happy knowing that he helped make the Nazis look ridiculous.  Precisely!  That is why I love the Hitler Downfall parodies, and why I have always relished this cartoon:

 

“The devil…that proud spirit…cannot endure to be mocked.”

Saint Thomas More

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9 Comments

  1. If Conrad Veidt had not died one year after Casablanca, he would probably have said the same. Hollywood at the time was full of German and European refugees who were all too delighted to use their skills to mock, insult and expose their tormentors. And you are quite right, Hitler was a demagogue of little talent who got lucky because the whole German ruling class had discredited itself. (I don’t know what you think of Trump, but…)

    • Let me say in regard to Donald Trump that he, and whoever the Democrat party nominates, can be assured of not having my vote.

  2. Comedy is a great way to test the prejudices of an audience; but it’s also a great way to test power differentials in society.

    A mark of progress for any faction is how easily others laugh at that faction. Regardless of what people say, there are no equal opportunity offenders. A comedian in Cleveland generally will not insult Cleveland.

    People who pretend that all humor will dry up if certain jokes stop being funny are deluded. What was funny to most Americans in 1954 will not be funny to them in 2014. It isn’t “political correctness.” It’s actual social change.

    • “A mark of progress for any faction is how easily others laugh at that faction.”

      I disagree. For example Irish jokes were quite popular in the 19th century when the Irish were a despised minority.

      “What was funny to most Americans in 1954 will not be funny to them in 2014.”

      Disagree. The Three Stooges and the Marx Brothers are just as funny now as they were in their day. Topical humor does become dated, but that is merely a sliver of the humor universe. Fashions come and go to an extent in humor, but the truly funny will still be laughed at centuries hence:
      http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/285606/Henry-V-Movie-Clip-With-Right-And-Conscience.html

    • ” For example Irish jokes were quite popular in the 19th century when the Irish were a despised minority.”

      You disagree with an example that proves my point. The Irish were weak and accordingly, people had no problem laughing at them. I believe you may have assumed a different direction of progress from my words than I intended. As a faction becomes more powerful, it is more difficult to make jokes at their expense.

      “The Three Stooges and the Marx Brothers are just as funny now as they were in their day.”

      Not in terms of sales or popularity. Maybe your personal taste, sure. However, the elements of their routines that are “universal” will remain funny. But the humor is contingent on how well the jokes approximate today’s culture.

      • “I believe you may have assumed a different direction of progress from my words than I intended.”

        I did, although I think the opposite is not necessarily true. For example, Jews remain targets of humor even though it would be hard to regard them as powerless. Likewise, lawyer jokes, often very bitter ones, have never gone out of fashion.

        “Not in terms of sales or popularity.”

        Of course not, because they are not new products. Humor is humor and topical humor, a small subset of humor, tends to have a short shelf life which is why humorists who rely upon it often are forgotten soon after their passing. The prat falls and obscenities in Aristophanes can be appreciated by all, while his political jokes can be appreciated only by the historian.

      • “For example, Jews remain targets of humor even though it would be hard to regard them as powerless.”

        Jew jokes are very mild and rarely occur. Any time anyone says anything that is nearly as edgy as common jokes about blacks, mexicans, or gays, the Anti-Defamation League is on the case with charges of anti-semitism. People tiptoe around jews. Even racist movements online are relatively careful about what they say regarding jews. And that’s no accident.

        ‘ The prat falls and obscenities in Aristophanes can be appreciated by all,’

        Because a lot of those situations still occur in modern cultures. Humor is only humor to the extent it still approximates current culture. Blackface is no longer particularly funny because culture has changed. I’m not sure what’s so disagreeable about that notion.

      • Outside of the US fairly bitter anti-Jewish humor is quite common and in the US it is not unknown:

        http://adland.tv/content/seth-macfarlane-isnt-anti-semitic-hes-anti-semitic-schmuck

        I note that you did not comment on my lawyer example.

        “Humor is only humor to the extent it still approximates current culture.”

        Not necessarily. Puncturing current sacred cows can be quite funny.

      • ‘Outside of the US fairly bitter anti-Jewish humor is quite common and in the US it is not unknown:’

        Yes, because jews are less powerful in other places like continental Europe.

        ‘I note that you did not comment on my lawyer example.’

        Because few comedians make their livings talking about lawyers. A lot make their living talking about ethnic groups. Nevertheless, lawyers, among the “learn-ed” occupations, probably command the least respect and power.

        ‘Not necessarily. Puncturing current sacred cows can be quite funny.’

        That’s well within ‘approximating current culture.’ For example, we are in a time where people are becoming more aware of other experiences in America — the rise of PC culture. However, many individual secretly still do not care about other cultures and experiences and only value their own. That is why humor poking fun at PC culture is funny. We are trying to preach values that we ourselves do not yet fully hold.


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