Is Hitler Funny?
German readers this year flocked to books about Hitler, which included a fictional book called Er Ist Wieder Da or "He's Back." in English. This work is a satire wherein The Fuhrer wakes up from 66-year-slumber in modern day Germany, and becomes an icon after his rants are treated as comedic fodder.
This gawking at Hitler in Germany is not unmatched. Here in America, too, Hitler is perceived as an object of facetious fascination that runs concurrent with his image as tyrannical villain of history and a mass murderer. At any given moment on TV, the world's most notorious Austrian's image could be on PBS documentary, a history Channel special, and reruns of South Park and Family Guy all at the same time. Needless to say, the jokes about Hitler are not politically correct (taboo subjects are the bread and butter of comedians everywhere) but what does it say about our culture that they barely even arouse real controversy anymore? Are Hitler jokes basically ok?
I am a Jewish man. I am Bar Mitzvah, circumcised, and routinely laugh at Hitler and Nazi jokes. Like many people in my generation, I am almost completely desensitized to cultural trauma, thanks to the constant glow of television, movies, video games, and the Internet. People might think this insensitivity come from my several generations of distance from the atrocities of the Holocaust, but I am not exactly a stranger to the affects of a historic tragedy. When I was a boy attending middle school in New York City, I remember clearly the shock of witnessing 9/11. Now, my personal memory of the towers falling is only as potent as the images that were on TV, and I see more references to 9/11 and bin Laden that are in jest than serious. And if a given bit about 9/11 is good enough, I laugh, just as would at a pointed joke about Hitler.
For a while, I thought I was a part of a rare breed of media junkies that could withstand poor taste, violence, and graphic material. Now, I realize that there is some semblance of addiction to shock value; over time, only the worst things make an overexposed person feel true, visceral shock. Hitler humor has existed basically since the Fuhrer was in office. For proof of this check out Charlie Chaplin's The Dictator. That film was funny, so was Inglorious Bastards, and hopefully Er Ist Wieder Da will translate well when it comes out in English later this year.