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``I want to thank Hitler,'' Mr. Brooks said, ``for being such a funny guy on stage.''
June 4, 2001 1:20 PM   Subscribe

``I want to thank Hitler,'' Mr. Brooks said, ``for being such a funny guy on stage.'' I just don't get this. I never got Hogan's Hero's. I never got Life is Beautiful. Comedy riding on the back of atrocity on any terms trivializes the atrocity. How can so many find this acceptable, to say nothing of funny?
posted by ParisParamus (104 comments total)

 
Comedy = tragedy + time
posted by luser at 1:25 PM on June 4, 2001


"Gee, if only those people in the concentration camps had been a bit more clever, they could have outwitted the guards and the SS, and no one would have died." That's the message I take from all three of the productions mentioned: a cheapening, a minimizing, a trivialization. Brooks, as well as Roberto B. are unacceptably amoral.
posted by ParisParamus at 1:27 PM on June 4, 2001


That's the message I take from all three of the productions mentioned:

How on Earth did you get that message from "The Producers"? Did you even see the play or the movie?
posted by Reggie452 at 1:30 PM on June 4, 2001


Brooks said it best on an interview I saw a while ago - I'm paraphrasing, but he said something akin to "The best way to get back at someone so evil is to laugh at him." Making Hitler an object of ridicule removes all of his teeth, and renders his legacy less harmful.

Go easy on the amorailty accusations, for some people the only way to deal with overwhelming tragedy is to make light of it. Different coping methods for different people.
posted by kokogiak at 1:31 PM on June 4, 2001


i don't think it trivializes anything. no one is saying the holocaust was anything less than an atrocity. but after time has passed, varying the approaches to viewing such an atrocity serves to expand, lighten, and vary people's experiences and perspectives of it. this isn't to say that we should destroy the holocaust musuems in favor of circuses, but that satire is just as an effective way of rendering something serious as seriousness is itself. it would also be a lot different if this wasn't coming from a jewish perspective. it's kind of like how it's okay for black people to use the word n*gga.

ever see the WWI series of Black Adder?
posted by gnutron at 1:36 PM on June 4, 2001


...unacceptably amoral

Paris, I think what you mean is that they have different morals than you. I respect that you don't find Brooks's brand of humor funny, and I agree that the premise of Hogan's Heroes was creepy when you thought about it much, but I guess we're returning to the MeFi conversation of "what's one MeFi-er's outrage is another one's amusement." Comedy riding on the back of atrocity can provide a coping strategy for dealing with that atrocity, especially for those directly affected.

I'm just chiming in to say that I think Brooks is funny, but I've also been known to laugh my ass off at Bill Hicks so perhaps there's no accounting for [good] taste here.
posted by jessamyn at 1:37 PM on June 4, 2001


Mel Brooks has used this method before. In "Blazing Saddles", Cleavon Little dons a KKK hood and robe in an attempt to foil the bad guys. The kicker was the smiley-faces on the back and "Have a nice day". And in "History of the World", Brooks skewered the Spanish Inquisition with synchronized-swimming nuns. He is pure genius, and I totally agree with jessamyn.
posted by msacheson at 1:40 PM on June 4, 2001


Remember Brooks' old "2000 Year-Old Man" routine? In one of those skits, he's asked "What's the difference between comedy and tragedy?" His reply: "'Tragedy' is when I get a hangnail. 'Comedy' is when you get attacked by a lion."
posted by Reggie452 at 1:42 PM on June 4, 2001


How on Earth did you get that message from "The Producers"? Did you even see the play or the movie?

It's not the literal message of the play/movie/show. The trivialization comes from juxtaposing humor on an inherently unfunny event.

As for comedy = tragedy+time, even assuming this is true, I don't think 35 or 50 years, with people who lived through it, as well as their children still alive, "time has "happened."
posted by ParisParamus at 1:47 PM on June 4, 2001


Re Hogan's Heroes: A POW camp is not exactly the same as a death camp y'know. I believe the man who played the French prisoner spent time in a concentration camp during the war, if he was okay with the premise I have no complaints.

Phrases like "unacceptably amoral" mean nothing to me.
posted by thirteen at 1:47 PM on June 4, 2001


Phrases like "unacceptably amoral" mean nothing to me

I am acceptably amoral. Certain others are unacceptably moral.

Does that help?
posted by luser at 1:51 PM on June 4, 2001


I never got Life is Beautiful.

I skipped over that sentence the first time I read the starter. Life is Beautiful doesn't even fit in the same category as The Producers and Hogan's Heroes, and if you think it does, I think you missed the point. By the time Life is Beautiful was over, I felt like killing myself. That movie was about a man who refused to let the bad side of life get him down, who believed that he could overcome any adversity by laughing at it and making light of it. And mostly he did that to protect his family. I laughed quite a bit, but there was nothing trivial about that film. I thought it was one of the most moving films I've ever seen, and just as powerful as Schindler's List.
posted by starvingartist at 1:54 PM on June 4, 2001


Mel Brooks = 70-something year old Jew.

if he can joke about Hitler and the Holocaust, i can laugh at it.

(and i did... i've seen the musical 3 times. effin HILIAROUS!)
posted by o2b at 1:57 PM on June 4, 2001


I think that if you're watching The Producers, Paris, and afterward thinking the holocaust wasn't so bad, that's YOUR problem. And a serious one at that. However, despite all the things you mentioned, I don't think the holocaust seems any more trivial to anyone.
posted by Doug at 1:57 PM on June 4, 2001


Paris -- If "The Producers" was making fun of the Nazi atrocities then I could see your point. But Brooks is poking fun at the whole Nazi mentality (current day Nazis included). The Hitler-adoring German in Brooks' movie is the dumbest person in the film (similar to the white racists in "Blazing Saddles" being dumber than the black sheriff). No kids will leave the theater thinking that the Nazis or the Klan are "cool" -- they'll see them as the idiots they really are. Brooks finds humor in the very idea that one group of people believe themselves to be superior to any other group. He thinks this is a valid form of commentary/entertainment, and many people agree with him.
posted by Reggie452 at 1:58 PM on June 4, 2001


Werner Klemperer (Colonel Klink) was a German Jew who fled. He made it very clear to the writers that he'd walk if the Nazis were ever shown with the upper hand, or in a less-than-buffoonish light. Comedy helps us to face the harshness of the reality.
posted by mimi at 2:00 PM on June 4, 2001


The Hitler-adoring German in Brooks' movie is the dumbest person in the film...

But that's precisely why I can't accept it; it suggests the Nazis were dumb, whereas they were just the opposite.
posted by ParisParamus at 2:01 PM on June 4, 2001


" Comedy riding on the back of atrocity on any terms trivializes the atrocity."

I reject this idea.

If we can find humor in life then I think that's a good thing. Laughing is good for you. Sitting around for 50 years dwelling on atrocity is not. If you can do both - even better.

Yes, of course we need to remember how horrible the Holocaust was. But banning any association with humor is just silly. What is the point? No matter how seriously we take the event, genocides continue around the globe.

And something tells me Brooks takes the Holocaust *very* seriously.
posted by y6y6y6 at 2:02 PM on June 4, 2001


And something tells me Brooks takes the Holocaust *very* seriously.

That may very well be the case, but I would go with an objective intent standard here.

Look, if you don't find the quote on the front page disturbing, I'm not going to convince you. Over and out.
posted by ParisParamus at 2:10 PM on June 4, 2001


it suggests the Nazis were dumb, whereas they were just the opposite.

Please tell me that I read that incorrectly...
posted by mimi at 2:11 PM on June 4, 2001


Please tell me that I read that incorrectly...

The Nazis were not dumb. They were smart and intelligent. The were also immoral, but intelligence is amoral.
posted by ParisParamus at 2:13 PM on June 4, 2001


The one thing I'm taking away from this thread is that maybe it isn't going to be as tough to get tickets to this show as I'd thought.
posted by barkingmoose at 2:19 PM on June 4, 2001


Look at Nazi ideology. Have you ever seen anything so dumb in your entire life?

That's the chastening thing about the whole sorry era for me - a country seduced by a really really stupid ideology just because it made them feel good about themsleves.

The film of the Producers (and I've alweays suspected that he intended it as a stage play) is Brook's great masterpiece, in my opinion.

And at the core of it is the irony that the "love letter to Hitler" is brought to the stage by a coalition of jews, homosexuals and social degenerates (for thus, I suppose, is Lorenzo Saint Dubois). Perhaps to make the point properly he should have thrown in a communist, but still...

And don't forget The Great Dictator and Hitler's response to it.
posted by Grangousier at 2:19 PM on June 4, 2001


Paris -- please read this article from Jewish SF about Brooks and "The Producers." It explains a lot.
posted by Reggie452 at 2:21 PM on June 4, 2001


The Nazis were not dumb. They were smart and intelligent. The were also immoral, but intelligence is amoral.

They were fuX0red in the head. They also thought that they were doing the "moral" thing.
posted by mimi at 2:23 PM on June 4, 2001


So The Producers, by showing how absurd human beings are, as examplified by Nazi Germany, is offensive, but Pearl Harbor, which makes war look fun and presents as entertainment the death of hundreds of people, is fine?
And then, really, is it only bad to trivialize the death of millions, or do you find any comedy that has a death trivializing and amoral?
I think by classifying these as immoral, you might be missing the point of what they're trying to say.
posted by Doug at 2:25 PM on June 4, 2001


"Comedy riding on the back of atrocity on any terms trivializes the atrocity."

There's an article (I warn you, it's long, but it's good) in Film Quarterly that partly examines the premise of films (esp. Life is Beautiful) that use laughter and comedy as a way to deal with the Holocaust. If done right, satire and comedy can actually underscore the horridness of such an atrocity. Sometimes, in the wake of tragedy, the only thing you can do is laugh.
posted by calistasm at 2:26 PM on June 4, 2001


Doug, personally, I find little funny in death, which may or my not be my own personal idiosyncracy. I just thought if the event gets large enough and is recent enough, other people might share the view.
posted by ParisParamus at 2:31 PM on June 4, 2001


Paris -- If you've read both of the articles linked in this thread and you still disagree with us, then I guess we'll just be going around in circles to continue this discussion. Let's just agree to disagree and go back to talking about Kaycee Nichole again.
posted by Reggie452 at 2:34 PM on June 4, 2001


Tragedy + Time = Comedy

Mocking someone who believes in something completely idiotic is a good way to show them and the rest of the world how stupid they really are.
posted by deathonion at 2:36 PM on June 4, 2001


Laughter is also a healthy way of coping with stress.

Bring on the Kaycee Nicole jokes!
posted by mimi at 2:45 PM on June 4, 2001


Look - imagine you're a hate-filled mongerer of evil, who honestly believes that non-whites are going to destroy the world and that this is the most important thing in the world, ever.

And along comes a brilliant Jewish writer/director/producer who wins multiple, record-breaking Tony awards for a musical in which all of your beliefs are skewered and laughed at.

Wouldn't that piss you off? Wouldn't that take the wind out of your sails?

That's the point - to look at these Nazis and say, "You, you windbag, you have no power over me - I laugh at you, and I am not afraid - you are a joke."
posted by gsh at 2:51 PM on June 4, 2001


That's the point - to look at these Nazis and say, "You, you windbag, you have no power over me - I laugh at you, and I am not afraid - you are a joke."

If you want to imagine that someone who murdered you had no power over you, that's up to you. Just know you might be offending someone, despite your intentions.
posted by ParisParamus at 3:01 PM on June 4, 2001


Hey guys, this is a production from the creator of Spaceballs. Have you guys seen Space Balls? How about the fart scene in Blazing Saddles?

Brooks is a comedian. He says and does funny things. One of the funny things he's done is The Producers, which steps right on the same historical festering wounds that we're all trying to tiptoe around. That's why it is funny. And it's a Jewish guy who's doing the stepping, so it's kosher.

I'm guessing that Brooks wasn't looking for a brilliant moral statement about the Holocaust. He was looking for a punchline.
posted by Zbobo at 3:01 PM on June 4, 2001


Personally, I find little funny in death, which may or my not be my own personal idiosyncracy. Probably not just you. :-) But wouldn't it be TERRIFIC if we decided to adopt NEW views about death? What if it's NEVER random? What if we really, despite all outward appearances, 'choose' our time of death? Having said that, I think (not having seen "the Producers", but knowing a bit about Mel Brooks' style) that any interpretation of history that allows us to see beyond the atrocities and the horror of death (to a larger picture) without having to disregard them, frees our spirits and helps us grow. But that may be my OWN personal idiosynchracy. ;-)
posted by thunder at 3:03 PM on June 4, 2001


WRT Hogan's Heroes, the actor Robert Clary (who played LeBeau) was a surviver of the death camps.

OK, it looks like a spoiler is needed in order to explain this.

"The Producers" isn't about glorifying Hitler, or trivializing him. The fundamental idea was this: You sell shares in a production, but you massively oversell it. In other words, you sell about 1500% of the production, use some of the money you get to put the show on. But you try deliberately to produce a show which will fail. Then you close it rapidly, and pocket the other 1400% of the money. So the idea is to make the show so terribly outrageous that it couldn't possibly succeed. You choose a play whose theme is so terrible that no-one would want to see it. You select a director who is so talentless that he couldn't direct a grade school play. You select a lead actor who can't be anything except himself. And what better than a play which glorifies Hitler? After all, no-one could possibly want to see that, eh?

The use of Hitler in the film (and play) is actually peripheral to the real story, which is about show business and ambition and fraud. It's broad satire; in many ways it paints with an even broader brush than "Blazing Saddles" did. And none of it is mean spirited. The point was precisely that glorifying Hitler was unthinkable to the guys who created the play.

Here is Roger Ebert's review of the film. It's part of his bi-weekly series of reviews of "great films".

I agree with this which has been said: If you really think this film (and play) glorifies Hitler, it's only because you haven't seen it.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 3:06 PM on June 4, 2001


The question of whether death can be funny was settled conclusively by "Raiders of the Lost Ark". I defy anyone to watch the scene with the swordsman in Cairo and not laugh uncontrollably.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 3:08 PM on June 4, 2001


I love the movie "The Producers" and can't believe how excellent Wilder and Mostel are together - you can see how Mostel influences Wilder, esp. later in his career.

Steven, I think you said it best. This show is not about Hitler, it's about show business, and it's just fantastic. Sorry to add to the noise, but my wrist is keeping me from typing much.
posted by annathea at 3:13 PM on June 4, 2001


Most people have been in the situation at school or in a bar where some bullying idiot makes the mistake of trying to pick on someone who's just too damn funny. Cue cutting and hilarious insults that force the bully to slink off in humiliation as his peers laugh at him. Same idea, right?

Plus there's the fact that for a lot of people Hitler casts such a despicable and enormous shadow over history that they can't get past the equation: Hitler = evil. If laughing at the man and the regime behind him brings him down to level whereby you can investigate him further on your own terms then I'm all for that. It's a truly fascinating subject - how did he get to power, how could he get to power, how did those seemingly insane policies become so accepted? An excellent starting point is the first volume in Ian Kershaw's recent biography of Hitler.
posted by MUD at 3:15 PM on June 4, 2001


There are some things
    a. which are never funny.
    b. about which some people are willfully humorless.

Pick one.
posted by rodii at 3:17 PM on June 4, 2001


And "The Producers" has arrived on Broadway at precisely the right time, when tourbus musicals have NYC by the throat.

Any Brits remember the furore about the episode of Brass Eye with the Yorkshire Ripper musical? Or the "Elephant!" musical at the heart of The Tall Guy with Jeff Goldblum? Brooks created the meme.
posted by holgate at 3:20 PM on June 4, 2001


Death is funny.

Death is horrible.

Death is, ultimately, inevitable. It is the shadow that dogs you every day of your life. And in the end, it will get you. So why not laugh? No matter what our attitudes are, we all end up compost. It's just a ride, man. To quote a great man who Jessamyn mentioned earlier.

We live in world where people will seriously tell you that God hid dinosaur bones in the earth to test our faith in him. That the color of your skin, or a term for a language group misapplied to a racial identity somehow makes one superior. Where people can say God is Love on the one hand and then put people to death. Where little Austrians who couldn't hold down jobs or get into art school could somehow become leaders, and initiate death by assembly line methods, and give a medal of honor to the man who inspired him, whose company will turn around and sponser a movie about those same assembly line deaths when it comes to television.

It's a bit hysterical, the laughter, but you have to laugh. It's absurd. Anyone who has ever read Catch-22 or seen Monty Python's The Life of Brian knows what I mean. Anyone who has ever found themselves at a funeral and looked into the casket at a loved one only to bite back tears of hysterical giggling because the makeup and dress are totally not what the corpse would have chosen, or who waited impatiently in a hospital lounge to see someone and when you walked in, you had to laugh because you were so relieved, or any one of a million other scenarios has experienced it.

Laughter is not always a happy thing. Sometimes, it is the only sane response we have to insanity. Laugh or scream. Sometimes you can't scream.
posted by Ezrael at 3:26 PM on June 4, 2001


Death is, ultimately, inevitable. It is the shadow that dogs you every day of your life. And in the end, it will get you. So why not laugh?

Um. Because there's a difference between death of natural causes at a ripe old age, and death at age 6? Or 19? In a gas chamber?
posted by ParisParamus at 3:38 PM on June 4, 2001


Humor is essentially based on the surprise of some sort of exaggeration. Horrible things lend themselves to parody so well because they've got a running start at being mind-blowing. Just as a spit take is funny because of it's overraction, Hitler is funny because Hitler, and the actions he inspired a nation to take, are just 180 degrees from any kind of reason or sense.

Like George Carlin once said "Try explaining Hitler to a child."

If you can't laugh at this sort of thing, what else do you do with it? Walk around in shock for eternity? Humans just don't work that way.
posted by dong_resin at 3:42 PM on June 4, 2001


Um. Because there's a difference between death of natural causes at a ripe old age, and death at age 6? Or 19? In a gas chamber?

All the more reason. Because it's arbitrary. Because it cannot be stopped, or predicted. It comes when it is going to come. You never know the day nor the hour.

I'm not going to make value judgements on how much life is enough. All I'm saying is when shock and horror strike us, sometimes we have to laugh. It's perverse, but there it is. I just spent the day in a hospital, with kids who have had their larynxes removed and people missing pieces of their faces.

They were sitting in the oncology lab telling jokes about what the doctors were doing with their missing pieces. Do you think they're building someone?

I'm not about to tell them they can't joke about it.
posted by Ezrael at 3:49 PM on June 4, 2001


If you can't laugh at this sort of thing, what else do you do with it? Walk around in shock for eternity? Humans just don't work that way.

There are clearly other alternatives. And who is in shock?

Anyway. I go home now.
posted by ParisParamus at 3:51 PM on June 4, 2001


Paris, do you read what others type, or just the bits you italicize? I can't really tell.
posted by dong_resin at 4:02 PM on June 4, 2001


I have not seen Cannibal: The Musical yet, so I don't know how well it fits with that theme.

If we were to restrict all humor to things that won't offend, it'll be "Knock, Knock" from now to eternity.

I always found it interesting that, If I am thinking of the same scene that Steve is referring to, they had intended on filming a fight sequence there, but Harrison was ill and he came up with the idea of just shooting the guy.

"Finally, if anyone's offended by anything on this site then please do notify me immediately. I like to keep track of those times when I get something right." -The man behind Ethel the blog
posted by john at 4:02 PM on June 4, 2001


Gotta admit, I may not agree with ParisParamus, but I admire the way he/she's slugging back and rolling w/ the punches (same goes to other participants). Way to stick to your principles folks, and to not let this devolve into ad hominem attacks, etc.

Great thread, made me think. Of course, Godwin's law would have had this thread stop before it ever started, but it's more fun this way ;)
posted by kokogiak at 4:09 PM on June 4, 2001


Had Hitler and the Nazis succeeded, the world might view Nazi morality, methods, and ideology differently.

The victors write history, which makes for a lot of moral relativism.
posted by ktheory at 4:09 PM on June 4, 2001


I don't know about any of you, but after reading anything by Kurt Vonnegut, I laugh at everything meant to be serious. Especially death. Ha!
posted by noisemartyr at 4:17 PM on June 4, 2001


Former NY Times columnist Russell Baker said it best years ago: There's a difference between being serious and solemn. Pearl Harbor, which was brought up here earlier, is solemn in the extreme. You can probably figure out the rest.
posted by raysmj at 4:26 PM on June 4, 2001


If you want to imagine that someone who murdered you had no power over you, that's up to you.
You're missing the boat here, Paris. Yes, those people who died are dead forever, nothing can change that, and it *is* a tragedy. But, consider the community of those who remain.
Either they can remain dominated by the shadow of this tragedy for all time, thereby acknowledging the perpetrator's influence on their society, or they can get on with their lives *despite* the horrible things which have happened. In this way they can get their best revenge on the man who attempted to destroy them.
posted by darukaru at 4:29 PM on June 4, 2001


ParisParamus: That's crazyness..

- Who defines atrocity? Why, you it appears.

- Does only speaking of a subject in hushed tones help? We're so much worse off now that we've stopped doing that so much about the sex..

- What gives you the right to judge my (or anyones) speech "acceptable"?

Shrug.. Crazyness..
posted by Leonard at 4:31 PM on June 4, 2001


If you want to imagine that someone who murdered you had no power over you, that's up to you.


They may have had power over you physically, Paris, however, no one can have power over you emotionally or spiritually. People who have died for their beliefs - religious, political or otherwise - are ones who did not allow their murders to have power over them.

Have you ever had something really horrible happen to you? Have you been tortured? Have you seen someone die? Have you lived through a natural disaster? Have you fought a war?

Neither have I. And I shant presume to say how the survivors or the nation as a whole should deal with it.
posted by thacker at 4:38 PM on June 4, 2001


If you want to imagine that someone who murdered you had no power over you, that's up to you.

had

The people left behind can fight that power by laughing at that someone. By laughing they are no longer stuck in the fear mode and can also take action to overcome.

Every revolution starts with a good laugh.
posted by Mick at 4:53 PM on June 4, 2001


Paris, you've obviously not seen the show... Despite Mel's throw-off line, you know the show is about the absurdities of the theatre business, not about Hitler or the Nazis... right? RIGHT?!
posted by m.polo at 4:58 PM on June 4, 2001


There is a book out (paper and rather slim) of concentration camp humor that I have seen but not read. I do recall the following:
A Jewish woman is cuddling her child and pleading with the nazi guard not to kill the child. The guard says "I wil save your child if you can tell me which eye of mine is glass and which is real." The woman points to the eye that is glass. the guard asks why she choose that one. "Because," she said, "It has more life in it."
posted by Postroad at 5:00 PM on June 4, 2001


I think postroad hit it on the head. The part in schindlers list were the hinge maker was taken out back to be shot. All the pistols jammed, it was ironic almost funny. The man lived. Klemperer's father was otto klemperer, the great conductor.
I worked in a hardware store once and a jolly little man and his darling wife needed help. you could not help but see the numbers on his arm. One day i asked him if recalled any moments that gave him hope whether it be humor or what have you. "I met my wife" was his big smiled reply. There are times when hate and evil are not strong enough.
posted by clavdivs at 5:20 PM on June 4, 2001


Wow, clavdivs. Thank you for that.
posted by dhartung at 9:07 PM on June 4, 2001


Paris, Paris, Paris - you are missing the point.

The dead are dead - we can't do a damn thing about that. However, the survivors and descendents of the Holocaust have thrived - they have triumphed over the greatest evil mankind has yet faced, for crying out loud.

We learn nothing - NOTHING - from these tragedies if all we do is walk around stunned and silent, scared to examine it in any manner which is not solemn and horrified. We become trapped eternally by the evil and hatred - we allow the perpetrators of that evil and hatred to win, not just over their immediate victims, but their children and relatives and friends. Bent and bowed, we make it that much easier for it to happen again.

Don't you see? Don't you get it?
posted by gsh at 9:24 PM on June 4, 2001


We learn nothing - NOTHING - from these tragedies if all we do is walk around stunned and silent, scared to examine it in any manner which is not solemn and horrified.

Stop posing false dichotomies! Who's stunned and/or silent? I'm not even sure if solemn is necessary. It's obstaining from humor near or about a black hole when you weren't in the black hole. And making money off it.
That's what offends me; it just feels wrong.
posted by ParisParamus at 9:36 PM on June 4, 2001


I may not be remembering this entirely correctly, but I recal the movie "the producers" lambasted show business, not nazi germany. the two guys plan to make a play so bad it will close, and somehow they will make money off of that; as the epitome of tastelessness, they choose to make a musical about nazi germany, the most offensive thing possible.

anyway, the point of the movie wasn't about nazi germany at all, it was about new york, and these two hapless guys trying to work the system.

rcb
posted by rebeccablood at 9:50 PM on June 4, 2001


Stop posing false dichotomies! Who's stunned and/or silent? I'm not even sure if solemn is necessary. It's obstaining from humor near or about a black hole when you weren't in the black hole. And making money off it.
That's what offends me; it just feels wrong.


Brooks is a Jew who served as a soldier during WWII: he lost family to that black hole, and fought against the man responsible. Its his black hole.

If he were writing serious(and I italicize that because it is a meaningless distinction to me) novels about his experiences, would you complain? People get paid for their art. His art is comedy. Why shouldn't he tell the story, and why shouldn't he do it in his own way? Granted, the Producers is really only peripherally about the whole situation...To Be Or Not To Be, the remake of the Jack Benny film, was a more direct jab.

I'm sorry you find the concept of The Producers offensive. I don't agree with you. One makes art out of one's obsessions, and one of Brooks' obsessions is the horror he witnessed perpetrated on his people. His People. It's his black hole, too. Hell, I would argue it's our black hole, just like the horrors of the 19th Century American Frontier, or Slavery, or the Armenian Genocide, or Kosovo...this is one hole big enough for all of us.
posted by Ezrael at 10:01 PM on June 4, 2001


Well fuck, if I can't make jokes about anything that hasn't happened to me personally, then I'm in a world of hurt.

For the record, ParisP, one may not make light of a situation that one has not personally experienced. Correct?

Then I retract every joke I've made as regards the Challenger, Jim Jones, Heaven's Gate, Waco....
posted by Awol at 10:14 PM on June 4, 2001


All in favor of making Paris rent the dammed movie say I.
Sheesh, its been around since 1968, and I never heard anyone, even my fellow "chosen ones" make such a stink about it. Adversity breeds comedy. Relish it.
posted by machaus at 10:17 PM on June 4, 2001


I don't find death at all funny, but I sincerely hope that there is lots of laughter and general merriment at my funeral. I want those I leave behind to share (what I hope are) overwhelmingly positive memories of me and to slap each other on the back and roar about all the times I was made a fool or the moments when I told a funny story and rocked the room.

By golly, if anyone is still crying after the first couple of drinks are served at the wake, I'll come back and haunt 'em!
posted by bradlands at 10:25 PM on June 4, 2001


I believe it was in "1984" that the characters believed as long as they had laughter, Big Brother wouldn't have control over them. Once they could no longer laugh at their situation, they had lost.
posted by drezdn at 11:08 PM on June 4, 2001


I think there is a large misconception about what humor is anymore. People assume that because laughing feels good that it must be triggered by a good thing. The way I see it, laughter doesn't make a person feel good, it makes them feel better. If they already feel good then they feel great, if they are suicidally depressed, it might just make them feel ok. It's a sort of regauging mechanism. The level at which a person is "ok" is a relative thing, and laughter helps when "ok" seems too far above you to ever attain again. A person doesn't need to have lived through something to be overwhelmed by it either. When a person is thinking about things like genocide, that are so massive and so alien to them, humor can help keep them from loosing all perspective.

The misconception arises because face it, as hard as our lives may seem, most of us are well in the "ok" zone most of the time, and so laughter just feels good.

That all said, The movie is not about Hitler being a grand old dude anyway, so this whole discussion is sort of off topic.
posted by Nothing at 11:35 PM on June 4, 2001


heehee
stop trying to change a guy's creed via blog, you humor nazis. this thread is way too long.
posted by elle at 11:42 PM on June 4, 2001


Humor Nazi? Humor Nazi?! THAT'S NOT FUNNY!! ;-)
posted by bradlands at 11:58 PM on June 4, 2001


No soup for you!
posted by owillis at 12:47 AM on June 5, 2001


Bradlands,

Are you going to have an open bar for your wake? How long can a wake last? I mean, we need time to grieve properly. If last call is not until say, 4am I don't think we can drown our sorrows sufficiently.
posted by john at 2:05 AM on June 5, 2001


Personally, I feel that ParisParamus' indictment of Brooks and Benigni as "unacceptably amoral" was overstated, but I have to admit that the possibility of trivialization of atrocities through satire makes me a little uneasy (though I don't necessarily place the blame on the satirists' shoulders). I remember several years ago, when the Vatican held a special (and unprecedented) private screening of La Vita è Bella for the Pope, he publicly praised the film afterwards, referring to its uplifting message which showed that "even in the Holocaust, life can be beautiful" (or something to that effect, I'm trying to quote from memory) - and that sentiment still makes my flesh crawl.

On the other hand, I'm not comfortable with any subject being categorically labeled as taboo, since it is the power of art to provoke thought and inspire change. But it's obviously sometimes a fine distinction to make (if we even dare to make it at all).
posted by topolino at 3:17 AM on June 5, 2001


For the record, ParisP, one may not make light of a situation that one has not personally experienced. Correct?

I disagree, but the larger and darker the event, the more pause I would have.
posted by ParisParamus at 4:50 AM on June 5, 2001


No soup for you!

Actually, that was a funny Seinfeld episode (there were plenty which were not). I suppose it's a question of how literal the reference is as well as the scale of the reference. But even if there became a film "Soup Nazi" (see, also fake film critic thread), it wouldn't be as literal. Good comment.
posted by ParisParamus at 5:03 AM on June 5, 2001


I disagree, but the larger and darker the event, the more pause I would have.

How long, then? How long before we're allowed to dig up and defuse an unexploded psychological landmine? (Or is the Holocaust so long and so dark that it will never be an acceptable subject?) Just because we didn't personally experience a tragedy doesn't mean that we weren't affected by it as well.
To take the Holocaust example, isn't the revelation that such evil can exist in the world a profoundly disturbing event? No, it's not on par with experiencing the evil itself. But to just say that someone not directly in the black hole isn't affected by its gravity well (so to speak) is ridiculous.
posted by darukaru at 6:28 AM on June 5, 2001


Don't tell Paris that Art Spiegelman turned the Holocaust into a (*gasp!*) comic book.
posted by whuppy at 6:34 AM on June 5, 2001


For that matter, I'm surprised he hasn't set his sights upon Spike Jones and His City Slickers.
posted by harmful at 6:42 AM on June 5, 2001


Don't tell Paris that Art Spiegelman turned the Holocaust into a (*gasp!*) comic book.

Since the treatment isn't one of "funny," at least not overall, this has nothing to do with my point.
posted by ParisParamus at 7:12 AM on June 5, 2001


"Way to stick to your principles folks, and to not let this devolve into ad hominem attacks, etc."

" Wow, clavdivs. Thank you for that."

You folks are great. Thanks for the thread. I would not have thought such thoughtful conversation would evolve from Paris' post. I second the above quotes!
posted by nofundy at 8:03 AM on June 5, 2001


The biggest problem I have with the notion that some things are too horrible to be funny: Where do you draw the line? Is the Holocaust off-limits but the Valujet Everglades plane crash is OK? Should the response to a tragedy be relative to the body count, so the Titanic rates a thousand times as much pause as the Lindbergh Baby? Is Jack the Ripper as unfunny today as Ted Bundy?
posted by rcade at 8:05 AM on June 5, 2001


Well, y'all, as you may have noticed, most of my posts here are at least attempts to be funny.
posted by ParisParamus at 8:06 AM on June 5, 2001


(here= Mefi, not this thread)
posted by ParisParamus at 8:17 AM on June 5, 2001


its uplifting message which showed that "even in the Holocaust, life can be beautiful" ... and that sentiment still makes my flesh crawl.

Really? You don't believe that people in bad situations (or really really bad situations, like the concentration camps in Germany) have, or should have, the capacity to find things that are beautiful about their lives? Should they not be able to find joy and happiness in the face of adversity?

FWIW, I agree with the Pope about Life is Beautiful's message. The point is, you have to look on the bright side of life, or your situation will crush your spirit.

most of my posts here are at least attempts to be funny

No, I hadn't noticed. :)
posted by daveadams at 8:24 AM on June 5, 2001


I agree with Dave. The idea that there could be a situation where there was no potential at all for beauty makes my skin crawl. Gallows humor, finding your life's love in a concentration camp, whatever. They are indications that hope still exists. (Of course now I have this image of a nazi guard sighting up prisoners between his fingers and saying "I'm crushing your spirit! I'm crushing your spirit!" - an image Paris will no doubt find abhorrent...)

Roger Ebert has a great quote (referring to the movie) that seems appropriate to the thread:
I remember finding myself in an elevator with Brooks and his wife, actress Anne Bancroft, in New York City a few months after "The Producers" was released. A woman got onto the elevator, recognized him and said, "I have to tell you, Mr. Brooks, that your movie is vulgar." Brooks smiled benevolently. "Lady," he said, "it rose below vulgarity."
posted by CrazyUncleJoe at 10:35 AM on June 5, 2001


The point is, you have to look on the bright side of life, or your situation will crush your spirit.

In a recent documentary with Death Camp survivors (I believe it was on HBO but it may have been TLC) a woman who was a young teen at one of the death camps was recounting one Friday night. It is, of course, the Jewish sabbath, and the woman retold the story of how she and a small group of the other kids realised that it was shabbat, and wanted to celebrate it as they had before their lives were up-ended. So they went back into a niche behind the latrines, said the traditional prayers, sang the joyous shabbat songs and danced. They prayed, sang and danced. Not in fear, not in sadness, not in mourning, but in celebration of the sabbath. They found a shred of normalcy and joy that they could hold on to and they clung to it and used it for all it was worth.

If the victims could find happiness in the midst of that horror, how then can it be unacceptably amoral for us to find humour in peripheral fun-poking at an abstract that is the "character" of "Hitler" in "The Producers?" Maybe it's tacky, but amoral is stretching by quite a bit.
posted by Dreama at 11:02 AM on June 5, 2001


Submitted without comment: The Day the Clown Cried.
posted by Skot at 11:25 AM on June 5, 2001


Dreama: there's a difference between amoral and immoral.

But more importantly, the people you describe were celebrating shabbat in their present; they weren't celebrating death, or treating it lightly.
posted by ParisParamus at 11:46 AM on June 5, 2001


The humor-sucking element here is Jerry Lewis, not Hitler.
posted by CrazyUncleJoe at 11:48 AM on June 5, 2001


The Day the Clown Cried.

Well, at least that's recognized as BAD. Funny, bad. So what's the distinction with the Producers? Maybe it's that there aren't people making money off it, and the film, I'll assume, was not intended to be funny (the issue of Jerry Lewis trying to do a serious film is another matter...).

Skot: thanks for that, really.
posted by ParisParamus at 12:00 PM on June 5, 2001


The distinction, Paris -- as many, many people have indicated in this thread -- is that The Producers isn't set in death camps. It's set in 1960s New York. The choice of Springtime for Hitler within the movie as the play meant to fail is secondary to the plotline; were Brooks making the movie now, he could have made it, oh, Abortion! or MeFi Debates SUVs: The Musical or something. If you want to argue that a jolly, irony-free musical about Hitler would be repugnant, I suspect Mel Brooks would agree with you; the main characters in The Producers certainly would.

(Side note -- Jerry Lewis has made at least one good serious film, Scorsese's The King of Comedy.)
posted by snarkout at 1:28 PM on June 5, 2001


snarkout: Makes me think of "Indira," as in Gandhi, the SCTV musical based on "Evita," the highlight being "Stand Back Rawalpandi."
posted by raysmj at 2:27 PM on June 5, 2001


La Vita è Bella struck me as just a little too close to Candide for my comfort... and I think the thing that distinguishes "The Producers" is that "Springtime for Hitler" is a play-within-a-play, explicitly swaddled by the farcical context.
posted by holgate at 2:55 PM on June 5, 2001


(Side note -- Jerry Lewis has made at least one good serious film, Scorsese's The King of Comedy.)

You are correct, sir!
posted by ParisParamus at 8:25 PM on June 5, 2001


"FWIW, I agree with the Pope about Life is Beautiful's message. The point is, you have to look on the bright side of life, or your situation will crush your spirit."

Reminds me of Monty Python's, Life of Brian, where the condemned are crucified but still manage to sing, "Always look on the bright side of life! Ta-de, ta-de".


ParisParmamus, I felt very much like you did after watching M*A*S*H (1970), the movie--2 months before I found myself in the Army. I was angrier than you about the way the movie seemed to poke fun of and trivialize war, death, and misery. It wasn't until I met up with someone in the Army who was able to show me how humor will help you cope with misery, horror and absurdity, that I finally "got it". Anger, depression and hate will eat you alive. Finding humor will heal you.
posted by rahpa-ropa at 10:49 AM on June 6, 2001


We all react differently to pain, beauty, and humor. The stand-up comedian says "I killed them tonight" and nobody blinks. Personally I'd go to see the musical "Hannibal!" with the hit song "Hello, Clarisse" if it ever was produced. Remember the motto of the Alferd E. Packer Society (the only man ever convicted of cannibalism in the U.S.), "Serving our fellow man since 1872". It still amuses me years after I first heard it. ParisParamus has the right to be angry about "The Producers", but the rest of us have the right to laugh. Maybe getting angry about PREVENTABLE genocide in the here and now might be more productive.
posted by mdbosco at 10:57 AM on June 6, 2001


I tend to forget little things like, oh mozart string quartets over load speakers in auschwitz. Goethe oak flailing itself apart. Humor as a 'confrontational tool' will not work in the face of horror, i believe the humor shows through it...a maslowian outlook perhaps..an ironic 'fuck you' to evil.
posted by clavdivs at 11:58 AM on June 6, 2001


clavdivus, could you explain???
posted by ParisParamus at 12:32 PM on June 6, 2001


MASH is an interesting comparison. But I would argue that nothing in Korea approached what happened in German and Central/Eastern Europe. Also, Nothing in Korea even approached Vietnam. Also, MASH did have episodes and parts of episodes which were serious.
posted by ParisParamus at 12:43 PM on June 6, 2001


A bit of clarification in response to Dave's comments: I wasn't criticizing the ability "to find joy and happiness in the face of adversity." I was only expressing a mild concern that putting a happier face on something as terrible as the Holocaust, and making us feel a little better about it, might have the unintended effect of incrementally lessening the horror in our collective consciousness. Although I appreciate and mostly agree with some of the opinions expressed here (that you should be able to laugh at such evils, if for no other reason than as a survival mechanism), my personal, gut reaction is that I just don't feel comfortable yet deriving laughs from the Holocaust, even if they're delivered with good intentions. Just a personal squeamishness, I guess.

And no, I wasn't knocking the Pope, either! ;-) Just a high profile example.
posted by topolino at 4:52 AM on June 7, 2001


cracking a joke wont stop a bullet.
posted by clavdivs at 7:47 AM on June 7, 2001


cracking a joke wont stop a bullet.

Yeah, but if the bullet's coming and you can't stop it, you might as well crack a joke.
posted by kindall at 8:25 AM on June 7, 2001


my personal, gut reaction is that I just don't feel comfortable yet deriving laughs from the Holocaust, even if they're delivered with good intentions. Just a personal squeamishness, I guess

Or, hopefully, your notion of decency, reluctantly stated.
posted by ParisParamus at 9:47 AM on June 7, 2001


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