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CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK

Mein Camp: YouTube videos vent through Hitler movie clip

Different subtitles for the scene from 2004's 'Der Untergang'('Downfall') make political statements, snipe at something or are just funny. They also continue a tradition of trivializing an evil man.

October 25, 2009|ROBERT LLOYD | TELEVISION CRITIC

In a bunker beneath Berlin, in a room crowded with staff, a tired Adolf Hitler leans over his desk. Tracing a finger across a map, an officer speaks:

"Sir, the Russian army is almost to Berlin. They are approaching from all sides but will be entering the city from the south by nightfall. We have also spotted their infantry moving in from the east with several tank divisions and about 2,000 soldiers."

"I don't care about any of this," Hitler replies, waving his hand distractedly. "Tell me about the Packers game today."

Meanwhile, in a bunker beneath Berlin, in a room crowded with staff, a tired Adolf Hitler leans over his desk. Tracing a finger across a map, an officer speaks: "Your birthday celebrations will be mostly held here and around here. This year has a sellout crowd, hence the expansion into this area here. But unfortunately Pink has pulled out as Justin Timberlake's support act."

"No problem," Hitler replies, waving his hand distractedly. "Michael Jackson can just do a longer set instead."

Meanwhile, in a bunker beneath Berlin, in a room crowded with staff, a tired Adolf Hitler leans over his desk. Tracing a finger across a map, an officer speaks: "You take the 405 and exit Sunset Boulevard. When you get to Coldwater Canyon Drive, you make a left turn. Everyone is to park their car in the back so Jessica doesn't see them. Jessica will enter the house around 8:30 and everyone screams, "Surprise!"

"OK, perfect. I'll have Tony pick me up. We'll go to the surprise party together."

But Hitler is about to learn, to his great displeasure, that Tony Romo and Jessica Simpson are no longer together, that Michael Jackson is dead and that the Packers "lost on a last-second field goal. For the second straight game." And he will go mad, and he will go mad, and he will go mad.

--

Putting words in his mouth

Welcome to what has variously been called the Hitler Internet Meme, the Hitler Rant Parodies and the "Downfall" Mash-ups, an unusually hardy strain of viral video in which a scene from Oliver Hirschbiegel's 2004 film "Der Untergang" ("Downfall"), about the last days of the Third Reich, is given new subtitles in order to comment on current events or to express displeasure with some recent bit of technology or pop cultural product. Although these clips began appearing as far back as 2007 -- I first learned of them last summer when a friend posted "Hitler finds out Michael Jackson has died" to Facebook -- the meme resurfaces regularly in the news, as it did recently when the National Republican Congressional Committee posted a link on its Twitter account to a video that pictured Hitler and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) as making common cause on healthcare.

In the original version, Hitler, played by Bruno Ganz, is informed that Berlin is surrounded by his enemies and that the counterattack he was expecting will not come; Hitler launches an extravagant, expectorating rant against his generals, followed by an exhausted, angry admission of defeat. With new subtitles, the four-minute scene has become such various works of amateur joke-making as "Hitler Finds Out Kanye West Disses Taylor Swift at the VMAs," "Hitler Learns About the New Spider-Man Villains," "Hitler vs. Hannah Montana," "Hitler Rejected for Joker in Batman 3" and "Hitler Finds Out No Camera in iPod Touch."

He learns unhappily that there is no Santa ("Why do you try to destroy my childhood innocence?"), that Twitter isn't working ("How can they expect to monetize this stupid site if it's down half the time?"), and that Dumbledore has died ("Who will kill Voldemort now? Bloody Neville Longbottom?"). He learns that Bernie Madoff has lost his money, that the real estate bubble has burst all over his investments, that he has been banned from Xbox Live, that he has gotten a girl pregnant, that his car has been stolen.

The best of them can be pretty funny; the worst are illiterate displays of spite laced with unprintable expletives. (Or, displays of expletives laced with spite.)

Like most every other tool, venue or network on the Internet, the Hitler meme adapts itself to a host of contradictory uses and opinions; it serves the insightful as well as the random, the righteous along with the wrongheaded, the clever with the stupid.

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