Geiger's Culture Counter: Don’t be afraid to condemn
Recently Trump was hesitant to denounce neo-Nazis and white supremacists. However, the president shouldn’t have to second-guess if he should say that Nazis aren’t good, neo- or otherwise.
An entire generation of Americans fought in a war against Nazis. One of my great uncles fought in the Battle of the Bulge, another fought in Italy and my grandfather fought in the Pacific. They would be appalled at what’s currently happening in this country.
Condemnation of a group that killed six million Jews shouldn’t be a hard or risky stance. Spotify, Discord, GoDaddy, PayPal and other tech companies have all banned Nazis from their services. Social media sites and search engines filter Nazi symbols from the web in countries, like Germany, where such imagery is banned. It would be nice if similar practices were enacted in the U.S. but that’s another column for another time. At least the ACLU has stated that white supremacist violence is not free speech.
For decades storytellers have been using Nazis as antagonists. There are no morals to debate. No character motivations to doubt. You can’t have a peaceful conversation about ideological differences when someone identifies with an ideology that advocates genocide.
Nazis are stereotypically the de facto cliché villains because they’re bad people. This isn’t a complex calculus equation. This is basic arithmetic where terrible plus horrible equals monstrous. For those who need to brush up on their history, the following are just some of my personal favorite examples of Nazis in pop culture that may serve as a study guide.
“The Blues Brothers”—The first Saturday Night Live sketch to get its own movie, the John Landis classic staring Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi is a fantastic musical comedy. It also has amazing car chase scenes. “I hate Illinois Nazis,” says Jake, right before Elwood drives their vehicle through a crowd of Nazis before they jump off the bridge. Pissed off, they pursue the brothers later to only fall from the sky and crash their car though the street. They’re just one of many silly punchlines in the movie because Nazis don’t deserve to be listened to.
“Hellboy”—Both Guillermo del Toro’s 2004 film and Mike Mignola’s comic series source material feature Nazi occultists summoning the demon Anung Un Rama in hopes of winning the war. However, the demon was only a child and found by Allied forces who named him “Hellboy.” Since his stone fist, called the Right Hand of Doom, can bring about Ragnorak, Hellboy and his team of a pyrokinetic, amphibian humanoid and others fight supernatural threats and lingering Nazis. If a demon can tell Nazis are evil, so can you.
“The Strain”—Also by Guillermo del Toro, and co-written with Chuck Hogan, the novel trilogy and FX television show are about a breed of modern vampires slowly taking over New York. Professor Abraham Setrakian, one of the protagonists, has been dealing with vampire Thomas Eichhorst his entire life. Because being a vampire clearly isn’t evil enough, Eichhorst is also a Nazi and was the commander at the concentration camp in Poland where Setrakian was held prisoner.
“Maus”—Part memoir, part historical fiction, “Maus” is a graphic novel like no other. Cartoonist Art Spiegelman interviewed his father about surviving the Holocaust for the story that became the first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize. Oh, and did I mention that all Nazis are portrayed as cats while Jews are mice? Subtle.
“Captain America”—It doesn’t matter if I’m discussing the recent Marvel films or the original comic, Captain America has been fighting Nazis practically forever. On the cover of his first issue in 1941 the character, created by two Jewish World War II veterans, is seen punching Adolf Hitler in the face. Nowadays Captain Steve Rogers focuses on defeating Hydra, a Nazi splinter group. The logo may be a sea monster instead of a swastika and the leader a red-faced supervillain, but a two-armed salute and “Hail Hydra” motto isn’t hiding their fascist terrorism.
“Raiders of the Lost Ark”—The adventures of archaeologist Indiana Jones’ first iconic movie feature the professor fighting, you guessed it, Nazis. The Army hires Jones to prevent the Nazis from finding the Ark of the Covenant in Egypt. They eventually find it and open it, believing it will make them invincible. Thankfully for Jones and the rest of the world, the Nazis instead melt, explode, shrivel and burn.
“Wolfenstein”—The video game franchise spanning decades has always revolved around shooting Nazis. In the recent reboot, “Wolfenstein: The New Order,” you play as B.J. Blazkowicz fighting back after the Nazis won the war. This fall “Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus” is set in Nazi occupied America. “If you boil it down to the core experience, it is about kicking Nazi ass,” said the creative director of the sequel. That sounds like a good time to me.
If by some reason a history textbook didn’t spell it out clearly enough for you, maybe you’ll get the hint the next time you pop in a movie, boot up a game or crack open a comic book.