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By Eric Oppen

A more productive way to view our enemies? And our oppressors?

I am not old enough to remember it personally, but apparently there was a largish fuss when Hogan's Heroes was being shown in prime-time network TV. How dare those TV people make a show with funny Nazis? Never mind that the Germans shown on the show were mostly Luftwaffe personnel, not SS men, and that Colonel Klink, General Burchalter, and Sergeant Schultz were never portrayed as being party members…all World War II Germans were Nazis, and all Nazis were evil, super-efficient, inhuman monsters. Non-Nazis, or nominal-at-best Nazis, did not exist.

I tend to think that this particular attitude toward enemies is, if anything, rather counterproductive. Yes, the Nazi regime was horrible, but with this portrayal we all but guarantee that maladjusted people will develop serious fetishes for its trappings. As I write, the prices on authentic German World War II memorabilia have been bid through the roof, thanks mostly to the swastika fetishists. The number of bad books about how the evil Third Reich is going to take the world over from hiding absolutely astounds me. After 1945, I would think that the Germans would be likelier to submit to mass castration than try that again. Even science fiction, or more specifically alternate history, has gotten into the act; on the alternate-history newsgroups, there are endless scenarios on what would have happened had Hitler won the war, and the lowest-common-denominator in AH fiction is a victorious Third Reich.

Even though the trappings of Mussolini's Italy were, if anything, gaudier and showier than Nazi relics, there is very little demand for them. This is because while the Germans are seen as superhuman, the Italians are seen more as the comedy relief of the Axis powers. Captain Bertorelli, on 'Allo, 'Allo, is an excellent example of this. The Italian troops he commands in some episodes are portrayed as a cowardly rabble who'd run in fear from a couple of angry Brownie Scouts. Captain Bertorelli is a would-be lover in a medal-laden uniform, who thinks he oozes Latin charm while everybody else thinks he just oozes. Even compared with the inept, corrupt Germans on the show, the Italians are a "cowardly shower" who couldn't soldier their way out of a paper bag.

Imagine if all the World War II Germans were portrayed like Sergeant Schultz, or the ones on 'Allo, 'Allo. This would probably do far more to stop the neo-Nazi movement than all the angry indignation that is currently flung at it; who, after all, ever would want to identify with someone whose signature line is "What a mistake-a to make-a!" and whose troops are cowardly, unkempt bunglers? Or with someone like Sergeant Schultz? Imagine--getting into your brown shirt and armband, going out, and being greeted with "I see nothing, Colonel Hogan--nothing!" every time you turned around. No media attention, no huge crowds of counter-demonstrators---just people who insist on seeing you as a sort of Monty Python sketch in real life. It would take the wind out of the sails of a lot of the sort of people who go in for this sort of thing, I think.

Dean Ing, in his story "Very Proper Charlies," did something like this with terrorists; instead of directing storms of indignation at them, the protagonists organized a media campaign portraying terrorists---even ones with legitimate grievances, such as the Palestinians--as inept, laughable and contemptible. This tactic strikes me as worth exploring, at the least.

Imagine a TV show or miniseries that portrayed the Ku Klux Klan, whether in the Reconstruction era or in one of its later incarnations, not as an all-but-unstoppable force of pure evil. Instead, portray them as a bunch of inept, infighting halfwits who're being systematically swindled by their leaders, and who can't burn a cross because nobody remembered to bring any matches. This would probably do far more to make sure the Klan doesn't ever get started again than anything else. In fact, something very like this was tried by Stetson Kennedy in the 1940s. He had infiltrated the Klan in Atlanta, and provided the producers of the Superman radio show with the latest Klan passwords, for a series in which the Man of Steel took on the Grand Dragons and Imperial Wizards, with the inevitable results. By his own account, being mocked on the radio and seeing their own children playing "Superman against the Klansmen" did a great deal to lower Klan morale.

(c) 1998 by Eric Oppen

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22 November, 1998