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Hitler Chic

The Latest Dead-Celebrity Comeback

By Stephen Silver

Last year, Kurt Cobain and Elvis (among others) made visible, well-hyped posthumous comebacks. In 2003, there’s another figure from the past who’s primed for a revival: Hitler.

Coming on the heels of the twin Spielberg-driven mid-’90s fads of “Greatest Generation” romanticism/boomer guilt and increased Holocaust consciousness, it’s time for the other side of World War II to enjoy its cultural moment. And now that America is once again at war with a fascist menace halfway across the world, Nazi imagery, coincindentally, seems to be popping all over the place, from academia to comedy.

“The Producers,” of course, remains by far the most popular show on Broadway. The History Channel has maintained its traditional programming ratio of 60% Hitler, 40% other stuff. A controversial academic book last year, “The Hidden Hitler” by Lother Mochtan, posited that Hitler was in fact a closeted homosexual, leading to a deal for a TV movie and “Gay Hitler,” a recurring character played by Chris Kattan on “Saturday Night Live” (does this mean a coterie of gay fascists will emerge, calling themselves “Log Bunker Republicans?”). John Cusack is starring in a new movie called “Max,” about a Jewish art dealer who befriends the young Fuhrer in 1920s Berlin. “South Park” recently aired a memorable episode featuring the “Museum of Tolerance”- depicted as a concentration camp. And HBO’s “Oz,” which includes as a main character the unrepentent Nazi Vern Schillinger, is more popular than ever.

Some Jewish theologians have complained about this trend, arguing that any attempt to “humanize” Hitler is a disgrace to history, and to the Six Million. I say that as long as the subject is treated tastefully, without using Holocaust rhetoric for petty argumentative purposes, and without resorting to “moral equivalence” between Hitler and his victims, then I have no objections.

As for use of Hitler in a comedy context, in college I was a member of a sketch-comedy troupe that once performed a sketch called “Hitler On the Moon With Gary Coleman,” which was a ‘Producers’-like attempt to place a heavy subject like Hitler into a super-absurd situation. Maybe not as absurd as the “Gay Hitler” book, but still pretty absurd.

Just one question though- in a climate of Hitler Chic, can a Jew be elected President of the United States?

About Stephen Silver