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Is Hitler Funny?

A Commentary By Susan Estrich

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

When I got to one of my offices yesterday (I won't say which, lest you hold it against them, which I certainly don't), people were crowded around the computer, watching the latest video on YouTube. And laughing.

You've got to see this, and I did. It's called "Hillary's Downfall." It's a subtitled clip from a German movie depicting Hitler going on a major rant, having kicked all but his top men out of the room, and then letting them have it for the failings on the Russian front. In the latest version, Hillary is Hitler. Told by her advisers that she is losing the nomination battle, she kicks all but four -- Carville, McAuliffe, Wolfson and Bill -- out of the room and then blames them, the voters and the superdelegates, and insults Obama, Howard Dean, etc. Reading this, I know, it doesn't sound funny. But believe me when I tell you that everyone I saw watch it found themselves laughing, and cringing, too, despite themselves.

When I got home and told my in-house arbiter of popular culture that I had actually seen a video he hadn't, my 15-year-old son quickly pulled up all the earlier versions of the same clip, which were, in a way, funnier still -- Hitler ranting about being kicked off of Microsoft Live, losing his Xbox account, being reduced to playing with a Wii because his World of Warcraft character had been caught botting, etc. My "find" was only the latest in a series of funny Hitler videos.

That Adolf Hitler! Ha! Ha! What a riot. A laugh a minute.

There is, obviously, something very troubling about this very popular series. Hitler is not funny. Killing six million Jews is no joke. Waging war across Europe, slaughtering millions of people because of their religion, or because they were gypsies or gay, is just not humorous. Sixty years, almost to the day, from the founding of Israel out of the ashes of the Holocaust, can it be that putting words to the rant of the most evil man of our time is the key to Internet fame, if not fortune? In the six days it's been up, "Hillary's Downfall" has received nearly 300,000 views -- and four stars out of a possible five. Nearly a thousand people have posted comments, most of them positive.

When I was growing up, the Holocaust was a fresh memory for the people of my parents' generation, and because of that, for mine as well. My Hebrew schoolteacher had a number on his arm. He made us look at the pictures, to the chagrin of some of the parents, who wondered if we weren't too young to be exposed to such horror. But of course no one was too young to be a victim. The point was never to forget.

The generation that witnessed Hitler's evil first-hand is dying. The "survivors," even the youngest of them, are old now. The Holocaust, to today's teenagers, is something that was over nearly 50 years before they were born. World War I never meant much to me personally, yet it was closer to my birth than the Holocaust is to theirs. The danger isn't simply that we will forget, but the way in which we remember.

Do the people making these videos have any idea what the "real" Hitler is actually saying? Or, even more importantly, what he did? The reality is that the kind of hatred he fed on, spewed and spread is still very much alive. It it weren't, he might be funny.

The image that stuck with me was not of Hitler ranting, but of myself, my son, my colleagues, laughing.

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