Thursday, December 10, 2009
As I was doing research for one of my books a few days ago, J and I got into a discussion about the stigma specifically associated with Adolf Hitler over other sinister leaders in history (Joseph Stalin, anyone?).
Most of my research right now is centered around Germany and Poland during WWII, a handful of high-ranking commanders in the Third Reich and details of concentration camps in that region. And I'd been happy with my description of a certain real-life commander in my story until I came across an obscure, grainy picture of him last week that looked nothing like my description. Since it's fiction I'm keeping my description regardless (the actual picture looks more like my childhood orthodontist Dr. Fehrman, who, with his neon-green-framed reading glasses -- this was 1992, people -- and southern drawl, was not scary-looking in the slightest). But it got us to thinking ...
J: "Would Hitler look evil if he wasn't so well known?"
Me: "If he wasn't Hitler? No, he'd just be another German guy with a bad '30s haircut."
J: "Maybe it would even be acceptable to have that mustache today. But not anymore. It's funny that the 'Hitler mustache' has such a stigma, but other mustaches do not. Like with Stalin -- no one picks on guys with thick 'staches, calling them 'Stalin 'staches.' Stalin's 'stache is like the 'stache to end all 'staches. So thick and luxurious. Puts Burt Reynolds to shame. But that little square patch? It's totally unacceptable."
(After a long pause)
J: "I wonder what it is about Hitler that anything remotely connected to him is now taboo while other just as reprehensible people in history have not had that effect?"
Me: "Because people recognize his face more? If you showed a picture of Stalin to someone our age today they most likely won't even know who he is. Everyone knows what Hitler looks like, but I doubt people would recognize a Stalin or Lenin."
J: "What about Saddam though?"
Me: "Saddam is recent, within our time. He's not historical yet."
J: "Right but he was also pretty horrible and no one harps on 'Saddam 'staches.' It is weird . . . Hitler is so untouchable. Most would argue that Stalin was actually worse then Hitler. Stalin systematically killed millions of his own people."
Me: "True. I mean, wasn't he doing just as horrible things if not worse like making lampshades out of people's skin? And those were his OWN people."
J: "They estimate that his regime killed 3-60 million Russians. Some were social minorities who lived in Russia."
Me: "Ah, gypsies. I read that Hitler gassed gypsies too. Why all the gypsy hate?"
J: "All that damn belly dancing. Gives rise to extremist hatred."
Me: "Like that that 'woman fight' in From Russia With Love?"
J: "Effing finger cymbals make my blood boil."
Me: "HAHAHAHHAHA. (Pause.) I think more than anything though you're right about Hitler's 'stache. If someone even accidentally cut theirs in the reminiscent shape of it all of a sudden "You look like Hitler." And if you don't shave it stat, then you must be a Hitler lover."
J: "Exactly. What if I just happen to look good with a square patch on my upper lip? I would be shafted. Or what if you have a deformity on your philtrum and only a square patch can cover it?"
Me: "Point taken."
J's mustachioed tangents aside, the overarching question here still stands: Why is that with Hitler/anything remotely resembling him there is this crushing taboo (aside from the obvious reasons), but with others just as evil if not more so (like Stalin, Lenin, Saddam) the same stigma isn't as intense?