Imagine This for a Second

Posted: February 21, 2014 in Braak
Tags: ,

I am just saying, like, imagine this, imagine that Leni Riefenstahl made a move in the 1930s, and in that movie an army of sub-human rat-monsters tried to destroy Germany with the aid of a sneaky shape-changing mastermind with mind-control powers, and so Hermann Goering got together a Nazi Obermensch, Werner Von Braun, a berserker soldier, Ed Harris’ character from Enemy at the Gates, and the Viking war-god Tyr. And these guys got together, and without any attempt at communication or negotiation or anything, they all get together in Berlin where the manipulative shape-shifter has managed, due to the failure and incompetence of Germany’s old ruling bureaucracy, to bring his entire army of hideous rat-men to fight them. Then they just end up wrecking all the rat-monsters, finally Werner von Braun invents an atomic bomb and shoots it at the Rat King and it blows him up, and this causes a psychic backlash that annihilates the entire rat-species. Victory for the German people, &c.

If you saw that movie now — like, if someone had unearthed it from a trove of forgotten secret Leni Riefenstahl movies — you’d be really uncomfortable with it, right? At the very least, you’d watch it and think to yourself, “Yeah, that pretty much IS how the Nazis saw the world — the Germans are outnumbered surrounded by subhuman enemies, undermined by spies and traitors, governed by corrupt buffoons, and only military might and technology and the purity of their mythic heritage can win the day, and they’ve got no choice but the complete destruction of all of their enemies.”

I’m not saying that’s what the Nazis DID, obviously — they did a bunch of horrible other things. But this is how they SAW themselves, right?

I’ve just been thinking about this, it’s started to make me uncomfortable with…certain movies that I may have seen recently.

  1. Josh says:

    I did not care for The Monuments Men either.

  2. Josh says:

    (But seriously, this was why I hated Pacific Rim so much — this combined with what a retread it was and so many smart people’s inexplicable appreciation for it. The Avengers was at least surprising and entertaining, even if that probably also makes it more effective propaganda.)

  3. braak says:

    The thing is, I didn’t hate The Avengers. I enjoyed it! There were lasers, and punching, and people jumping onto things! The important part about it, I guess, is how it reveals just how badly Joss Whedon understands actual Nazism — when Loki shows up and that defiant German is all, “I knew Hitler, son, Hitler was a friend of mine, and you are no Hitler”…that’s bullshit. Hitler didn’t conquer Germany with mind control or a magic staff that shot lightning. He didn’t overpower the Nazis into becoming his army.

    Hitler took over Germany by making people feel about the world the way the Avengers makes people feel about the world.

    (This is especially galling because Stanley Tucci explains this so expertly in Captain America; between that and forgetting that Thor has a principle problem with genocide even against the subhuman races that are manifestly evil, it’s ALMOST like Joss Whedon has absolutely no respect for anyone else’s work [see also: Cabin the Woods, almost any interview he’s ever done])

  4. ronanwills says:

    Well, clearly you’re forgetting about the part where Werner Van Braun makes that one joke that was funny, or the fact that the Nazi leadership all wore uniforms that were true to real life (in contrast to the film output of the Soviet Union, such as the recent reboot of the Stalin franchise, which has been criticized for changing the man of steel’s well known outfit). This was all much appreciated by hardcore fans of totalitarian cinema and thus we should watch these movies entirely uncritically.

    (But yeah, I never thought of it that way. Good point)

  5. braak says:

    Seriously, who’d have thought that totalitarian cinema fans would be such purists.

  6. John Jackson says:

    I think actually, the larger problem is that Whedon doesn’t realize the old German guy wasn’t mirroring what Stanely Tucci said in Captain America. I mean, if the existence of Captain America implies all of those things, then you don’t even have to mention the reasoning behind Good People Who Take a Stand. If you’ve noticed, Whedon always has those GPWTaS, and they never explain themselves. Hell, when they do, they sound like libertarian militiamen in the backwoods of Montana (I’m looking at you, Malcolm Reynolds).

  7. John Jackson says:

    Also, one of the biggest problems we have in our society is that we refer to Nazis as unhuman, because they committed inhumane atrocities. We go ahead and believe that Nazis were fanatical mind-controllers, because that’s easier to believe than butchers, bakers and candlestick makers volunteering to commit atrocities. I think the old guy at the opera was pointing out that Loki told them that he was superior to them, and thus they should bow. Cause Captain America refuses to think of himself as superior, though Iron-Man brags about it, and Thor just kinda shrugs.

    Also, um, I understand negotiation as a priority, but when aliens drop out of the sky and start shooting, is there any time for it?

    And I don’t think Captain America has ever been anything but propaganda about the superiority of protestant American values. He’s not super strong because his genes are better, he’s super strong because he has humility and compassion!

    Yeah, something like that.

  8. I think there was a lack of understanding about what the Nazis were trying to do. Sure, there were tons of guys in power that were jerks, and more of them which were evil and twisted. But that came from a history of abuse and pain and periods of starvation and being stripped of all pride. When you back people into a corner like that, they are going to strike back, and do it in a way that argues their humanity broke with all the pain of the decades prior to the rise of the Nazis. But Hollywood doesn’t, as a rule, make movies to be historically accurate. They make them to be exciting, and to be exciting bad guys are unquestionably bad and good guys are innately good.

  9. braak says:

    @John: Well, look, I’d argue that constructing a plot that makes negotiation impossible is, in fact, an argument against negotiation in the first place. And, as I pointed out in my Avengers Dramaturgery, it was not impossible to make negotiation work in this story.

  10. John Jackson says:

    @braak: And you’d be right. I’d turn around and say something like negotiation scenes aren’t very exciting on film, but then that would be a lie, or at least apologist for the pillars of mediocrity.

    @TheGreatZambini: Yes, there was a lot of suffering and demagoguery, but I don’t think our failure to understand where the Nazi movement came from makes them less human. I think that we choose to hide behind the notion that ‘normal human beings’ surely, cannot do things so violent and vicious. It’s one of the nice myths of modern society, because it keeps us from worrying overmuch. But I think it’s more problematic, because it’s more delusional than one of those rule building myths.

    If I say anything more, I might start ranting, and no one wants that. I’m not so Hobbesian that I think all men are brutish and barely restrained by society, but pretending that we’re not capable of it without ‘a strong charismatic leader’ with great propaganda is problematic.

    Humans are spectacular at operating in systems, and once you systemitize brutality, you’ve made it far too easy for humans to tap into that brutish spirit.

  11. mugasofer says:

    The Nazis *worked* because they tapped into basic human psychological drives, right? Plus the local conditions and Hitler spent a lot of time and talent getting good at public speaking. But mostly the psychology.

    Whenever I have to explain the Nazis to someone, I usually start with Vampires or Pod People. But ultimately, most fantasies can be easily tweaked into full-blown Nazism – except Our Heroes are in the right, of course.

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