Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Ubiquity of Hitler and Godwin's Law

I have mentioned in the past that my wife and I take in a foreign exchange student occasionally. Our past two have been from Germany. When you have a young German in your house, watching television, listening to the news and conversation over dinner, you begin to realize how often Hitler is referenced. It is interesting because you can tell that these kids are sensitive to the subject, but since they were born after the Berlin Wall came down, it has little to do with them. They have about as much to do with Hitler as I do with slavery. But it is an uncomfortable subject nonetheless. 

I have become sensitive to the subject myself. I was beginning to think that it came up every day. So I began to keep a log for a month to see if this was true. It didn't come up everyday, closer to every other day. Only once did it come up in conversation. It was mostly from media. I only counted direct mentions of Hitler or any form of his name, not Nazis or any other general references. It appears that we, as a culture, need our boogie men. Comparing people to Hitler is a phenomenon that is difficult to stomach. I can understand comparing Assad to Hitler since he is actually killing lots of people indiscriminately, but a US President ... um, NO ... at least not a president who was in office in my lifetime. Do people need to put things in easy categories of good and evil to comprehend the madness of the modern world? Do the "bad guys" mentioned on the 24 hour news networks actually exist or are they just ordinary people thrust into bad situations making very bad choices? If I remember Machiavelli correctly, power corrupts everyone, not just "bad" people. Our news networks and internet feeds read like a comic book. I half expect Magneto or Doctor Doom to appear in Iraq or Afghanistan fighting Captain America.

If you Google the words "comparing people," the first suggestion that you get is "comparing people to Hitler." It seems I am not alone in my observation of this phenomenon. Godwin's Law was created way back in 1990 to describe it, back when only losers like me had reign over the net. At the time, it only applied to discussions on Usenet groups. Godwin's Law of Nazi Analogies says that the probability that someone will be compared to Hitler or Nazis grows larger the longer that conversation gets. Apparently, you can invoke Godwin's Law the moment someone makes the comparison to declare yourself a winner in any argument. I plan to do so.

Let get a grip folks! Yes, I can see some value to comparing some despotic leader to Hitler or Stalin or Pol Pot, but comparing a US President to them when he is trying to reform health care or even using drones. Again NO, I see no use of such hyperbole. I definitely don't see any value in comparing some stranger you disagree with to Hitler either. I am going out on a limb and say that anyone who does so "is just like Hitler." **deep sigh**

Here is my log:

9/11 - An episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
9/12 - On the Netflix show Derek
9/13 - Slate's Political Gabfest Facebook feed
9/15 - Stephen Colbert's Facebook feed
9/16 - KCRW's Left, Right and Center podcast mentioned how Assad is being compared to Hitler
9/17 - NPR's On the Media podcast did a story about Nazi's working with Hollywood to sensor        American films in Germany
9/18 - On NPR's Wait Wait Don't Tell Me (podcast from June 15th), Bobcat Goldthwait suggested naming a rat Hitler
9/20 - Bill Maher invoked Hitler on HBO's Real Time
9/22 - Fox's Futurama made a joke about Hitler
9/24 - Slate's sports Hang Up and Listen podcast (made reference to sieg heil and Auschwitz). I am not sure if they mentioned Hitler directly. If I remember correctly, some soccer fans were doing the Nazi salute.
9/25 - The Daily Show mentions "Springtime for Hitler" from Mel Brooks' The Producers.
9/26 - Whack-job Republican Ted Cruz on the Senate floor compares Obamacare (aka the Affordable Care Act) to Nazi appeasement. Of course, Jon Stewart mentions Hitler on The Daily Show in reference to this speech.
9/29 - My wife mentioned that Hitler was referenced in the version of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice that she saw in Stratford, Ontario which was obviously modernized.
9/30 - There is more talk about Cruz invoking Hitler on NPR's On Point Week in the News. Cruz comparing members of his own party to Nazi appeasers. 
10/1 - On The Daily Show it came up in a conversation with Bill O'Reilly.
10/2 - On NPR's Wait Wait Don't Tell Me there was a story about someone mistaking
 Colonel Sanders for Hitler.

No comments: