Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Cultural Meaning of Hitler

Today would be Adolf Hitler's 122nd birthday. Author of Mein Kampf and architect of genocide, his name is used to imply extreme evil, but all too often that is equivalent to "someone who doesn't agree with me." It seems as if the power is diminished by overuse.

Additionally, comics, especially Jewish comedians have made Hitler the butt of jokes. Lenny Bruce had his classic "Adolph Hitler and the M.C.A." bit, while Mel Brooks has made a career of it from The Producers, to his remake of To Be or Not To Be, a quick shot in Blazing Saddles, to "Hitler on Ice" in History of the World, Part I. Do these treatments, which are reasonable coping mechanisms for a generation still haunted by the Holocaust, have the unintended effect of minimizing the cultural meaning of Hitler?

Has Hitler become a cartoon character? Has he been made into an icon without the connotative power?