Part 1. The Intro
I was doom-scrolling before bed last night.
(Never a good idea.)
It was hard to look away from the computer screen, with lots of posts and articles about President Trump refusing to state that he’ll honor the results of the election.
In one way, it’s nothing new, as he equivocated in that famous 2016 debate I wrote about, as I watched in what was essentially a party at the Hammer Museum in LA.
But this felt different, for sure.
Here we are, six weeks from the election, and in addition to his attacks on mail-in voting during a pandemic, and insistence on stacking the Supreme Court for a generation, he’s now implying that he won’t leave office if he doesn’t like or trust the result.
This feels like a potential extinction-level event for American Democracy.
Get your fucking head in the game, people.
Or maybe it isn’t?
Maybe he’s just trolling all of us, talking shit, trying to distract (again) from the 200,000 dead, and his terrible poll numbers in swing states.
As I was explaining to my daughter last week, this is a man who’s biggest job, before becoming President, was saying “You’re Fired,” in a dramatic Queens accent, for reality television viewers.
He thrives on playing the heel so much, for winding up the educated liberals, the coastal elites, that the line between reality and fantasy is so blurred, even a resolute cultural critic like me is totally confused.
Is he really threatening Civil War, or the dawn of Trumpian dictatorship?
Or is he saying this shit because he knows how much we’re afraid of that, and he likes fucking with our heads?
Honestly, I don’t know.
But it’s caused me to question my relationship to this country, and turned our flag into an object that can send chills down my spine, rather than evoke pride at all times.
(Meaning, as a young child in the 70’s and 80’s, I was happy to see the flag, and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. I had no irony about it in any way.)
For example, in addition to the scary camerawork at the RNC, (which I wrote about once already,) I was watching an MMA fight on ESPN+ the other day, between a racist, bad-boy Florida-based white guy, and an African-American fighter from Ferguson, MO. (Who’d previously appeared with Sly Stallone in an action film.)
It was Colby Covington against Tyron Woodley.
I didn’t know much about the backstory, but I’d heard Covington was an asshole, and these guys didn’t like each other very much.
Unfortunately, Woodley, a former champ, is at the end of his career, so he didn’t put up much of a fight.
It ended in the 5th and final round, when Woodley appeared to quit, by tapping when he wasn’t in a submission hold, but apparently he broke his rib, and that was that.
Immediately thereafter, Covington wrapped himself in the American flag, (literally,) thanked the military and first responders, and took a call from Trump, which he put on speakerphone.
I later learned that they’re friends, (Covington and Trump,) that Eric and Don Jr had been ringside at one of his previous fights, and that Colby had trashed Brazilians, IN BRAZIL, for being “filthy animals.”
Racism at its finest, people, and that it was so associated with our flag made me feel really bad inside.
Is this just schtick?
Like the Iron Sheik, the pro wrestler back in the 80’s, only now the trolling enemy is an American?
Is he just doing it to get attention, like Conor McGregor, or is a major sports institution actively promoting MAGA, allowing the denigration of their Black fighters in real time? (England’s Leon Edwards certainly seemed to take exception.)
Who the hell knows what’s going on anymore?
Part 2. A Tough Week
It’s been a symbolic week, because I also saw “Jojo Rabbit,” the Nazi comedy directed by New Zealander Taika Waititi.
That’s right, I said Nazi comedy.
I was reluctant to watch it, because I couldn’t imagine such a concept landing, but it was a pretty smart film in many ways.
The casting and acting were spot on, because who doesn’t like Waititi, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Alfie Allen, Stephen Merchant, and Rebel Wilson?
It had cute, vulnerable kids, and Waititi plays Hitler in an over-the-top, absurdist way, as the young lead character’s imaginary best friend.
(So he’s not actually Hitler. He’s PRETEND Hitler.)
The point of the story, (even if the ending is not exactly happy,) is that when we get to know people, when they are humanized, it’s much harder to demonize them and put them in ovens.
Oh, I forgot to mention, I watched it with my kids.
My son is old enough for that sort of thing, but my 8 year old daughter didn’t really know about the Holocaust yet, so this was a strange introduction to the topic.
(We went with it.)
At one point, my son looked at me and asked, “I wonder if our ancestors would be OK with us laughing at Hitler?”
A very good question.
After I finished the film, I hit up Wikipedia, and learned that Waititi is half-Jewish, (or fully Jewish by the rules, as his mother is Jewish,) and his original last name was Cohen.
So this fits in with the contemporary tradition of people telling stories from within their own communities.
Still, a few days later, and I still don’t know what to think.
Is it OK to laugh at that kind of mega-tragedy?
Did the Germans have any idea, when Hitler was just an angry loud-mouth riling up right-wing kids to take to the streets, where things would end up?
Do we, 6 weeks out, know if America will be a functioning democracy in 2021?
Part 3. I Forgot the Trigger Warning
I should have warned you that today’s column would be heavy, but then again, how could it not be?
I was inspired by a set of photo-books that my friend Reto lent me a couple of weeks ago, as he knows I write about books for you each week. (Or most weeks anyway.)
Reto is from Switzerland, and recently told me he had some vintage German photo books, from the first half of the 20th Century, and they were fascinating for the quality of the reproductions.
That was the sum total of the build-up, and when he offered to drop them by, I said sure.
The next week, I was flipping through quickly, as he was due in 20 minutes to train Thai martial arts by our stream, and I stopped dead in my tracks when I came to the picture of a young Aryan soldier in front of the Nazi flag.
I kept flipping, and came to a super-scary image of a Zeppelin in the sky, with tall Nazi flags below, and then images of the Fuhrer himself.
At that point, I closed the cover, and saw the book was the annual from 1934.
I re-opened it, and sure enough, Hitler had written the book’s introduction.
The other two volumes were from 1928/29, and 1931, so I realized I’d looked out of order.
I started over, beginning at the beginning, and the first book actually has mostly innocuous, well-made, landscape, nature and people images.
It is the smallest of the three, (even though it covers two years,) and there are a few nudes thrown in as well. (Connecting to last week’s column.)
The graphic design of the camera and film company ads in the back is pretty great too.
By 1931, I imagine the series was more popular, as there are far more photos, and we see some images taken outside Germany as well.
Two caught my attention in particular, as they were of a young Saudi Arabian Jewish girl, swarthy, and in profile to exaggerate her nose, and an old Syrian Jewish man in Aleppo.
They are exoticized, for sure, but no Hitler in this book.
Though there are Bauhaus-style abstractions, and some more nudes.
I also noticed a few martial, sports images, as there are Jiu-Jitsu fighters included for the first time.
Finally, circling back to 1934, and it’s obvious the tone is now one of propaganda.
Lots of workers, and machinery.
And workers working with machinery.
People look happy, even the farmers, and then once you see the Nazi images, you can’t unsee them. (Plus, the pairing of pigs and women is pretty misogynistic.)
Reto offered to bring me more books from the set, as he said he has a ton of vintage photo books that his Dad collected, and I said sure, but I probably had enough of a view to write this column.
Oddly, in the 1934 book, there was an Alfred Eisenstaedt image taken of young soldiers or athletes training in the Mussolini forum, and I was surprised, because I imagined he was Jewish.
(There were no pictures of Jews in the 1934 edition.)
So I fired up Wikipedia again, and learned that Eisenstaedt was in fact Jewish, and fled to America in 1935.
This more or less represented the end of the line for him in his native country.
You can see how having all this in my head in one week is a bit much.
All we can do is hope for the best, I guess.
And vote like your life depends on it.
Because maybe it does?