What better way to start a Sunday meditation than to contemplate the dull desiccated thoughts of the anti-laughter, anti-comedian brigade, as represented by Vic Alhadeff's Don't call me a Nazi-Nazi: trivialising a word sends the wrong message about a genocidal regime.
Now for starters, the pond reserves the right at all times to refer to the genocidal god of the Jews as an early example of Nazi behaviour. We're not just talking Pharaoh and his men and their chariots, we're talking the whole enchilada. Show us a few panels Mr. Crumb (click to enlarge):
Mass slaughter, mass extermination, and just one lucky dude and his kin and a few selected animals make the cut!
Now the only sensible response to this capricious, o'erwheening brutality seems to be laughter but Alhadeff is in the sombre and as dull as ditchwater school of life:
But then there's ''The Soup Nazi'' - an episode about a surly delicatessen owner who refuses to serve customers who flout his excessive rules of decorum. It's witty and well scripted, but it commits a cardinal offence: it trivialises the meaning of what a Nazi is, and in doing so degrades the language associated with those who devised, planned and perpetrated the most grotesque genocide in history.
It goes without saying that in this moment, Alhadeff reveals himself to be anything but a Seinfeld aficionado. He doesn't have the first clue about Seinfeld or its humour, and the moment he yabbers about a "cardinal offence" he's a fit subject for Seinfeld comedy.
Now others have mourned Israel becoming a humorless homeland (may be paywall limited, and you may have to google) and announced that the greatest threat to the country is a loss of the precious natural resource of a sense of humour (of course if it's in Haaretz, humourless right-wingers will come out in droves).
You see, Seinfeld's soup Nazi doesn't commit a cardinal offence. Nor for that matter does Mel Brooks in The Producers when he offered his show's signature tune to the world, Springtime for Hitler and Germany:
Springtime for Hitler and Germany
Deutschland is happy and gay!
We're marching to a faster pace
Look out, here comes the master race! S
pringtime for Hitler and Germany
Rhineland's a fine land once more!
Springtime for Hitler and Germany
Watch out, Europe We're going on tour!
Springtime for Hitler and Germany...
And there's a good reason that Larry David puts his Survivor episode in his top five Curb Your Enthusiasm shows. That's the season four episode where Larry's father brings a Holocaust survivor to a meal, and he gets into an argument with a Survivor of the TV series as to who is the better survivor.
Sure it skates on the edge, but all good comedy skates on the edge. There's a point to it:
Now Alhadeff goes on digging ever deeper a humourless hole, getting agitated about grammar Nazis and spelling Nazis and diet Nazis and in the search for a free kick, Glenn Beck referencing Goebbels and Rush Limbaugh doing the femi-nazi routine, and PETA doing a holocaust on your plate with its campaign relating to six billion slaughtered chickens ...
And then he comes up with the killer blow:
This is neither about censorship nor about curtailing the right to humour.
But actually it is about censorship and curtailing the right to humour, or else he wouldn't conflate Beck and Limbaugh and PETA with soup-kitchen Nazi jokes. You see Seinfeld's funny, Beck is lame. Just as the Daily Terror comparing Conroy to tyrants is lame, just as the pond is routinely lame, just as the Bolter is always lame and with it a profound absence of humour, just as any thought emerging from the Pellists and the angry Sydney Anglicans is beyond the valley of the lame.
This is easier to see when you get beyond the exceptionalist stance.
Comedians shouldn't make jokes about Mao and Stalin - two men who did more for the killing fields than Hitler ever managed?
Kurt Vonnegut shouldn't have mined the fire-bombing of Dresden for the black humour embedded in Slaughterhouse-Five?
And Lot's wife, of course, was told not to look back where all those people and their homes had been. But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human. So she was turned into a pillar of salt. So it goes.
Of course other writers have been down this path - Phillip Roth wrote a story for the New Yorker in 1958 called Defender of the Faith:
I met with opposition right off,” Roth recalls. “… The New Yorker began to get letters, dozens and dozens of letters, canceling subscriptions, by Jews, and I began to get angry phone calls from various Jewish organizations. Would you write these stories if you were in Nazi Germany? And I was suddenly being assailed as an anti-Semite. This thing that I detested all my life. And a self-hating Jew. I didn’t even know what it meant. It never dawned on me when I was writing that story that this was going to cause a conflagration. But that’s what happened when I began to write. (here)
Yes, the humourless and the righteous have always walked amongst us, always vigilant, always censoring, always undermining and clucking, and always with the best of intentions:
It is a concern about how we use language and the impact of that. Everything begins with words. That includes racist violence and genocide. When words are used irresponsibly, they lose their meaning, their power and any historical import they might carry.
The irresponsible use of words! Which implies the responsible use of words, and a life of eternal dullness. Piss off James Joyce, you're so irresponsible ...
But can anyone be more irresponsible than Alhadeff, who is quick to play the victim card:
In the context of trite Nazi references they become cheapened, the experience is diluted and the words are offensive and hurtful, particularly to those who suffered.
And then equally quick to deploy teetering logic:
Borders on blasphemy?
Uh huh. But the pond routinely indulges in blasphemy, and certainly rails against the Catholic Encyclopaedia's notion of blasphemy, and is immensely pleased that the Commonwealth of Australia doesn't recognise blasphemy as an offence and no one seems to have used the notion since the Victorian government had a go at a socialist journalist in 1919 (here).
Which is just as well if you're going to call the Abrahamic god the original Hitler (oh go away Godwin's Law, you've been abolished, thanks to Chairman Rupe) ...
So why does Alhadeff think blasphemy is a useful concept? The pond should care?
Enough already, where do we get to?
No one owns the word, yet it connotes the most catastrophic regime of modern times. So it becomes a balance between rights and responsibilities, and a matter of awareness. We need to ensure that a 14-year-old is able to tell the difference between a Nazi and a harmless radio presenter.
Indeed. But that isn't the business of comedians nor comedy. Let the 14 year old do history, and learn a lot about the curious ways of the world, and especially the censorious ways of the religious.
Let's not reduce humour and comedy to what's safe for a 14 year old.
Let them learn that life in a prison camp in the second world world war wasn't quite as imagined in Hogan's Heroes, and that relationships between the Indians and the white folk weren't quite as portrayed in F Troop. Let them discover and contemplate the meaning of the missing verse of Rolf Harris's Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport and his invitation to Bruce to let certain folk loose (for some reason the wiki seems to think it was Lou) ...
And so on and so forth, endlessly, since the world is full of cliches and stereotypes, and so the history lessons need to last a lifetime, and one of them might involve a discussion of what Charlie Chaplin was attempting in The Great Dictator.
And let the fourteen year old learn the golden rule of comedy. If you're black, you can do black jokes and use the word nigger; if you're white, you're up for a shellacking. Leave it to Chris Rock and Richard Pryor and Cedric the entertainer and the other greats ... (argue about the top ten here).
And if you're a man, and you do sexist misogynist jokes, you might end up castrated, and nothing wrong with that. And if you're a Jew and you want to do Jewish jokes, go right ahead, but it helps if you have the timing and canny sense of how far to go that Larry David and Seinfeld show ...
And some really good jokes about Vic Alhadeff wanting to reduce the adult world to what should be in the minds of fourteen year olds will be your first port of call for a successful comedy career.
And now how else to end, though not with the original, which is only a click away on YouTube, but the broader stylings (blessed by Mel Brooks' making a brief appearance) which might well raise questions about political correctness and the gay sensibility as the default for Broadway shows. So it goes.