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Dun Dun Dun Dun Da-Dun Dun Da-Dun…

Hitler, and the whole Nazi Reich, were the perfect bad guys. Homogeneous (by their own efforts), sharply dressed in intimidating uniforms, a very eye-catching logo and distinct greeting gesture (quite the opposite of “Live Long and Prosper”), and a coldly mechanical and unstoppable war machine bent on global domination *evil laugh.* You can’t write a better fictitious villain or enemy if you tried.
| Jan 11, 2017 | 2 comments |

Adolf Hitler has long been the go-to guy when you need an evil comparison. I would wager that most people in positions of power have been called “Hitler” at some point or another. Not to mention that Hitler, and the whole Nazi Reich, were the perfect bad guys. Homogeneous (by their own efforts), sharply dressed in intimidating uniforms, a very eye-catching logo and distinct greeting gesture (quite the opposite of “Live Long and Prosper”), and a coldly mechanical and unstoppable war machine bent on global domination *evil laugh.* You can’t write a better fictitious villain or enemy if you tried.

That’s why many writers and filmmakers haven’t tried. Sometimes the Nazis appear in entertainment as themselves, utilizing science or even magic for their nefarious ends, e.g., Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Rocketeer, Hellboy, Captain America. The new hit series on Amazon Prime The Man in the High Castle takes place in an alternate reality where the Nazi Reich has triumphed over its enemies and now essentially rules the world, and most of the USA. Russians and Chinese make frequent appearances in movies and books as the bad guys, but the fear they impart is often due to their geographic and population size and historically anti-freedom ideologies, but since we have seen Communism fail time and again, these countries have lost much of their villainous appeal.

In a baffling reversal of fortunes, Germany is now an essential American ally, as well as being a model country of Western values and structure. There is little question that Europe would collapse if Germany were removed from the picture. On the other side of the world, Japan has also gotten its act together and has become the most advanced and one of the most prosperous countries on the planet in just a few short decades after total devastation. However, the Japanese have always lacked that je ne sais quois the Nazi Germans had that made them such appealing bad guys from a storytelling perspective.

That’s because they were truly terrifying. Atrocities have been committed by countless regimes across history, and the Japanese were massacring hordes in their own campaigns, but the concentration camps became the icon of modern villainy. Genocide and extermination have been attempted numerous times in the past, but the Nazis seemed to have a real shot at making it a worldwide reality. They were cruelly godless, targeting God’s chosen people and other races and cultures in an attempt to create a “Master Race.” How often have we seen a dastardly villain monologue about similar goals? The Nazis didn’t come up with the idea, but they made it melodramatic.

It’s no secret that the Galactic Empire in the Star Wars saga draws heavily from the Nazi Reich. I mean, they even have “stormtroopers.” The uniforms, the “Death March,” the emotionless, calculating plans for galactic domination…Hitler would have been proud. There have been many comparisons between Emperor Palpatine and Hitler, with Darth Vader being compared to Heydrich or Himmler.

With today’s global political climate churning up talk of “populism,” “nationalism,” “alt-right,” and the “police state,” will we see more Nazi-inspired villainy?

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2 Comments on "Dun Dun Dun Dun Da-Dun Dun Da-Dun…"

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Alexander Preston
Member

To me, the whole “Nazi” villain theme has long since become severely overdone and rendered into something of a cartoon. At one time it may have been fresh and original – particularly in the immediate aftermath of World War II and the Holocaust. But its continued use after being recycled so many times usually indicates a severe failure of imagination from a storytelling perspective.

As you yourself just pointed out – Hitler was neither the first nor the last of history’s villains. A case can be (and has been) made that Stalin and Mao were far worse – from a strictly numerical perspective they were responsible for far more deaths, and their animating ideas are all the more insidious for their continued influence around the world. Hitler’s ideology, on the other hand, was officially placed beyond the pale of respectable discourse by the Nuremberg trials and is held today only by a fringe element of delusional cranks. But you would hardly get that impression from much contemporary literature and cinema. And in the same vein, you would hardly know that other mass murderers even existed. It speaks to the poverty of our popular culture that so few of these other potential villains have ever been explored in fiction. It would be a breath of fresh air if we could ever see a significant fictional antagonist modeled after, say, Vladimir Lenin. At the very least it would indicate the author/director is thinking outside the box.

Jessi L. Roberts
Guest

I agree with Alexander. I think the whole “evil Nazis” thing seems like lazy writing that plays off old propaganda that’s still ingrained in the general population. I’d love to see the bad guys based off some other villains. This hasn’t just happened in Star Wars, but in many speculative fiction books where the bad guys are evil racists who have no motivation for the way they act. The only slightly original thing I’ve seen was in the fourth season of Legend of Korra where the Nazi based villains didn’t seem racist but just wanted to make their nation powerful again.(LOK had quite a few other problems.)
I also think it’s a bit dehumanizing to keep acting like every German solider was evil, especially when they were fighting against the Soviet Union, which judging by what happened in Germany after the war, they had a very good reason to fight against.