Monday, November 12, 2018

How Far is Too Far?

Yes, that really happened.  Sort of.  Those are the animated titles for the aborted sitcom Heil Honey I'm Home, which was commissioned by the long defunct UK satellite channel Galaxy back in 1990.  In the event, only the pilot was transmitted: eight more episodes were recorded, but never broadcast.  (Interestingly, the pilot didn't have these titles, only the unaired episodes carried them, so they've never actually be seen on TV).  It's perhaps no surprise that Galaxy (part of the old BSB set up) got cold feet over showing the series proper.  While the makers always claimed that their aim was to satirise classic US sitcoms like I Love Lucy or Bewitched, by basing one around the most unlikely characters possible, it was inevitable that picking on the idea of the Hitlers living next door to a Jewish couple (and plotting to kill them) was going to attract the ire of the right wing press.  But it does raise the question of just what you have to do to go 'too far'?  After all, it isn't as if you can't parody the Nazis in popular culture.  Just look at the success of Mel Brooks' The Producers in it is various forms.  But then again, Springtime for Hitler, the terrible musical the titular producers are conning people into backing, exists only as a 'play within a play' and arguably doesn't the main plot of the story.  Which, perhaps, makes it somehow 'safe' in the eyes of many critics.

Nonetheless, it does constitute a pretty savage ridiculing of the Third Reich, rather than simply presenting Adolf Hitler as a character in a sitcom.  Mid you, the BBC subsequently had a big hit with a World War Two set sitcom in the shape of Allo, Allo.  Set in occupied France, this presented all manner of farcical situations centring around cafe owner Renee, who finds himself caught in the middle between the occupying Germans and the French resistance, forced to hide escaping British airmen for the resistance and looted art treasures ('the Madonna with the big boobies') for the Axis.  Why wasn't this considered as going 'too far?'  Despite some initial criticism, it became a huge audience favourite and is now considered a classic sitcom.  The usual defence of this series was that it was actually parodying the conventions of British war movies rather than the actual war against the the Nazis itself.  Yet, week in, week out, it portrayed German officers as buffoons (much in the manner of Colonel Klink in Hogan's Heroes, another WWII set sitcom in arguably dubious taste) and the Gestapo as blundering incompetents.  This latter portrayal was arguably, in view of the sort of atrocities committed by the real Gestapo, in extremely poor taste.  (Notably, they never portrayed, let alone parodied, the SS, who have, if anything, an even more toxic legacy than their colleagues in the Gestapo).  Then again, while there is always the danger of trivialising the crimes of the Nazis, some of us feel that ridiculing them is often the best way to combat their continued threat.  It's far more difficult for people to idolise a regime and its leaders who are mercilessly pilloried as lunatics and incompetents.

Mind you, to some extent modern Nazis seem to be self parodying.  Only today we saw three of them convicted of membership of a prohibited extreme right terror group.  Some of the evidence presented in court was quite bizarre:  two of them (a couple) had named their child Adolf and had photos taken of them wearing KKK type robes while cradling the child.  I mean, you can't make this stuff up, can you?  I suppose that we should be thankful that subtlety isn't their forte and that they choose to behave like sitcom characters (perhaps the writers of Heil Honey I'm Home were on to something after all), as it makes them easier to catch.  One detail which sticks in my mind is the fact that they even had swastika shaped pastry cutters in their kitchen.  Where do you even get such things?  I've never seen them in the Argos catalogue, for God's sake.  Obviously, in some respects I've lived far too sheltered a life - I can tell you where to obtain some highly unusual varieties of porn, for instance, but still have no idea where these lunatics find half of their Nazi shit.  Mind you, the government seems more intent on banning the porn than the Nazi memorabilia, despite the latter definitely being more harmful than the former.  In my opinion, at least.



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