My progress on Hitler over at the modo forums has triggered some heated reactions which go beyond the purpose of that forum, so I thought I’d formulate my views here. I understand the emotions that can be involved enough to admit that I don’t always understand the emotions involved. I’ve confronted Neo-Nazis at a market in Schadensleben, given the Hitler-greeting in East Berlin. I’ve also been attacked in a Dutch train, ignored in a Paris restaurant and escorted from a party in New York because I “am from Germany”. My Russian wife was considered a traitor for wanting to study in East Germany. A young (black) German exchange student to America was asked in ernest if he were a Nazi. I’ve been reading about a vigilent policeman who opened his front door to a thug (likely neo-nazi) who stabbed him inches from his heart. I’ve witnessed violent racism in then-Czechoslovakia and Poland, and less violent (but no less volatile) racism in the USA.
I can certainly understand caution when confronted with this kind of portrait and wieslaw_ is very right in asking in what context this figure will appear. It would be one thing to be confronted with Hitler in a heroic pose and another to see him within an ad that calls on us all to be vigilant in defending human rights, which is the case here. Sounds straight forward, but I won’t pretend that there isn’t a large realm of grey zone. The readiness to engage such critique varies greatly from culture to culture.
There are endless facets to consider – freedom of speech being high up there, but also respect for victims or – more likely in 2009 – for the traumatized children of victims as was the case in the New York party. Then there’s the need to differentiate between Nazis and neo-Nazis and the German nation as a whole – a nation that first roused itself to wave its national flag while hosting the World Cup in 2006 and understandably tires from being stigmatized.
There’s the issue of being able to digitally create images of sufficient realism that they can be misunderstood as real. There’s the issue of the rights involved in being able to put words in a historical figure’s mouth and make it look like an authentic documentary. There’s the issue of stylization as a means of implicating further clues as to the author’s intent and intended audience – above we see my own caricaturized take on the more realistic portrait. Of course, these things are progressing full speed ahead; in cinema, documentaries, you tube films, even forensics.
Here’s an interesting and mildly related action from the recent past: a re-print and distribution of a national socialist newspaper “Der Angriff” (The Attack) from 1927 in today’s modern Germany. Imagine going to your local news shop and being confronted with a polemic headline decrying Jewish treason and eschewing the nation’s superiority. At first they wanted to publish the paers uncommmented, but in the end they included a cover page to establish context – making sure no one mistook the message. Personally, I feel this to be an unfortunate but understandable decision.
Having to interpret for one’s self is so much more powerful, I feel. But then… many people haven’t learned such skills.
That Pinnochio sketch is apparently from Hitler himself, a failed art student and adamant admirer of Walt Disney.