Missing Pieces of the Puzzle
One of the first scenes in X:Men First Class is devoted to a concentration camp … and Nazis. I turned to my friend, asking, “Why?”
She said, “They are the obvious bad guys.”
When we saw Shutter Island, I wondered. “What do the Nazis have to do with DiCaprio‘s character being crazy?” Maybe I missed something?
Inside Man was a great film. Fantastic build-up of suspension. The Clive Owen, Denzel Washington face-off is terrific. The bank-heist, but not-bank-heist concept was fascinating and riveting. Everything was on point, except for the reasoning behind the act. Let’s just say, it had something to do with – you guessed it – Nazis. It didn’t have to be the driver of the film, because anything more intimate, emotional, and feasible would have made more sense. It didn’t work as the glue that would have held the film together.
Even the over-hyped, critically acclaimed, creepy yet coma-inducing film American Beauty included a coming-right-out-of-left-field Nazi connection. If Chris Cooper’s character was a Confederate flag waving, KKK sympathizer, I could understand the subtext, but that kind of link never gets made. So the significance of the Nazi stuff was never clear to me. As far as I can recall, the film had no black or Jewish people.
Hollywood’s Historical Revisionism
I was reluctant to watch Inglorious Basterds. I avoid films about WWII. It got rave reviews, which made me suspicious. Whether a Hollywood film is good, bad, or indifferent, if it includes Nazis it automatically wins an Oscar. Sort of like being handed a Nobel Peace Prize, because they like the individual. It is not due to a significant paradigm changing action on the winner’s part.
Was it worth seeing? Christoph Waltz and Michael Fassbender (hotness) steal the show. It was an interesting dramedy, entirely tongue-in-cheek. It rewrote history. I wont give away much more than that. However, watching an ultra-blond Brad Pitt (Lt. Aldo Raine) say, “Nazis” with a southern drawl, over and over and over again struck me as bizarre. And his character is named Aldo? Okay.
I get that Raine was doing his patriotic duty at that time. But did America really have that kind of antagonism towards the Germans? I suspect it existed for the Japanese, based on the creation of internment camps. I read that German prisoners of war were treated better than black American troops. During that time, America quite easily turned away Jews fleeing Europe. Plus, let’s not forget the southern pastime of lynching blacks.
I guess historical revisionism makes for “fun” fiction, and that’s what Hollywood does so well.
From Flag Waving Patriots to Something Else
There are two ways of looking at Hollywood’s portrayal of WWII: the time during the war, and the films that came after. Movies were very patriotic from the 1930s to 1950s. Those movies supported the country, its soldiers and citizens. They seemed over-the-top and a bit corny, but they never wavered from the subject of doing the “right thing”: saving a civilization’s freedom and liberty. It had its flaws, but it certainly was better than what the Axis (Germany, Japan, Italy, et al.) offered.
However, once this era passed, Hollywood’s movies shifted from blatant patriotism to something else.
The Indiana Jones film series has always been top among my favorites. Yet I found it odd when he said that he hated “Nazis” in the same vein as snakes. Why did I find it odd? Jones never came across as the flag waving type. Maybe if I saw the films again, that ethos is there, but I never felt that fueled his motives. It was always about the glorification of Jones, not America. He’s a hero for his self-interests, not because he was doing it for the “greater good”.
I also wondered, why would Nazis bother him? The movie franchise showed him in countries, territories, or colonies full of non-white natives he had no trouble shooting at, destroying their environments, ignoring their laws, and all other manner of conduct filled with blatant disdain. How was he any better than the “bad” Germans?
The Easy Choice Keeps Mutating
Movies have been remaking Nazis and turning them into something far worse than ever before. Various genres have cast them as sinister, time traveling, never aging, alien(?), world altering (Hellboy shows us it’s the Nazis’ fault again!), genetic mutating, and all consuming end-of-humanity evil geniuses to be vanquished. With those superhuman superpowers, it’s a wonder the “good guys” ever won, or will win, in these never-ending Hollywood movie wars.
Right. Right. I get that they are the obviously easy choice in today’s multi-polar everyone-gets-their turn-at-being-bad-and-evil kind of world. ‘Cause if the bad guys aren’t Nazis, then it must be an individual from the US military, or the entire government defense apparatus. In today’s Hollywood, it’s one or the other. Absolute patriotism is unfashionable. Plus, there’s a world market to sell out to.
And looking back in this manner to WWII, it is way easier to focus on Nazis than by offending the nutjobs that inhabit the world today.
The Reflection in the Mirror
With each and every film devoted to Nazis in measures big or small, I suspect subjective seepage. In some ways, Hollywood itself promotes a Nazi-like form of white supremacy. Unfortunately, the industry is blind to itself and lacks self-awareness. They are certain that they are the most creative, media savvy, “hippest”, smartest, and quite possibly the most moral, wise and knowing people on the planet. Outside of ensuring they get paid with the same ruthlessness of drug dealers, they are here to bestow knowledge on us dumb and ignorant “little” people.
And don’t we require their sage guidance? Otherwise, movies wouldn’t be filled with these preening dregs of society who often lecture us about what they think a politically ideal, environmentally pure, non-judgmental, perfect world is really like.
Nazis believed that blonds are the ultimate beauty and superior form of humanity. So does Hollywood. The word “blond” is treated as synonymous with “beauty” no matter what that woman actually looks like. Nearly every pale-skinned woman in the media must become a bleached blond. Otherwise, she’s not getting any work. Just glance around and note that every film, every TV show, every cable channel, every news broadcast, and every magazine cover must have a blond woman.
The Nazis wanted to rid the world of “subhuman” (mostly dark-skinned) races to create the perfect society. This elimination theme sometimes creeps into Hollywood films, TV shows, and other venues. Black and minority characters are often the first to die, no matter how idiotically. I can still remember the cheering over the death of that Nigerian character in District 9. Usually, the stupidest scenes are where black people volunteer to be killed: The Taking of Pelham 123 (’09), Mimic (’97), X-Men: First Class (’11), The Shining (’80), etc. I’m sure there’s more, but I’m not documenting every film ever made.
So, When Will the Well Go Dry?
I’m not asking Hollywood to stop making movies about WWII, or any that focus exclusively on the Holocaust, Nazis, blond women, or their favorite character Adolf Hitler. They are free to do so, since it is an easy money maker, crowd pleaser and scores Oscars without difficulty.
At the end of the day, it is all they can think of, since the well of ideas is going dry.
Yet, still, why the obsession with Nazis? I have a hunch that if Germans were deep frying people of color during WWII, there wouldn’t be peep or mention of it in any Hollywood movie what-so-ever. I bet we’d never see a Nazi in any film, sort of like how there’s never any mention, show, or display of slave owners, white American supremacists, small town sheriffs, or national guard members shooting, lynching and killing black people and keeping their body parts as souvenirs.
Is the obsession with Nazis due to some kind of freakish admiration? I believe that their ideology has survived, undergone some mutation, going on to be adopted worldwide via the media and its corrupt offspring the fashion industry. (See designer John Galliano for a clue. He’s not a bug; he’s a feature.)
Then again, adding Nazis to every film could just be a cheap, quick, and lazy rendering of history and riven-of-meaning plot device. Outside of my evaluation, they’re just movies after all, even if people increasingly treat them as historical fact.
Captain America awaits you. Set back in WWII it will, of course, come with no surprises.