Category Archives: Racist and Nazi Propaganda

Gone With the Wind (1939)

While in London, the heroes of Army of Shadows, Jean-Pierre Melville’s great film about the French Resistance, take time to see Gone With the Wind.

Before venturing on a discussion about Gone with the Wind, it’s important to remember a few things. Classic Hollywood was great cinema, but terrible history. Michael Curtiz in The Adventures of Robin Hood and Cecil B. DeMille in The Crusades had as much concern for historical accuracy as Quentin Tarantino did in Inglourious Basterds and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Until the 1960s, American cinema was tightly censored, the Production Code implemented in 1933 having given the Catholic Church the final decision over which films got released, and which ones didn’t. And yes you read that right. By 1939, not only had the Confederate “Lost Cause” won the propaganda war, most liberals and leftists, especially East European Jewish immigrants in Hollywood, wanted to help Franklin Roosevelt keep the Southern Democratic vote, especially as it became more and more inevitable that the United States would go to war with Germany. Finally, the United States had just come out of the Great Depression, which remains, along with the Civil War, the single most traumatic event in American history.

Almost no actual Southerners were involved in making Gone With the Wind. David O. Selznick, its producer and driving force, was the son of Lithuanian Jewish immigrants from Pittsburgh. The screenwriter Sidney Howard was from Oakland, California. The director Victor Fleming was from Los Angeles. Max Steiner, an Austrian Jew, wrote the score. The cinematographer Ernest Haller was a German American from Southern California. The cast was equally of “Yankee” or European stock. Vivian Leigh was British. Olivia de Havilland was born in Tokyo, Japan, the daughter of British and French expatriates. Thomas Mitchell, who played Scarlett O’Hara’s father, was an Irish American from my own hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey. While a few of the black actors were from southern border states like Arkansas and Texas, Hattie McDaniel, who won Best Supporting Actress, was from Witchita, Kansas. Clark Gable, who played the most famous southern romantic hero in all of American cinema, didn’t even try to affect a southern accent. He was from Cadiz, Ohio, also the hometown of Edwin M. Stanton, Lincoln’s fiercely abolitionist Secretary of War. In fact, just about the only real southerner in the cast of Gone With the Wind is Alicia Rhett, who played India Wilkes, and had originally auditioned for the part of Scarlett O’Hara. After Gone With the Wind, she never acted in another film.

So why did all of these Yankees, East European Jewish and English immigrants, and yes, African Americans, come together to make a film romanticizing slavery?

I suppose for Hattie McDaniel and Butterfly McQueen, the answer is easy. There were few, if any, roles for African American women. The viciously racist Birth of a Nation 20 years earlier had not only portrayed African Americans as rapists obsessed with white women, it had no African American actors in the cast. Almost every good actor will take a badly written part in a movie with horrible politics, the idea being that you can inject enough of your own humanity into the character to override the intentions of the screenwriter. What’s more, none of the black characters in Gone with the Wind present any threat to white, southern women. Big Sam, played by Everett Brown, actually saves Scarlett O’Hara from being raped by a gang of white ruffians. Clark Gable, who was good friends with Hattie McDaniel demanded that the sets on Gone with the Wind be desegregated, refusing to act in the film if the toilets were marked “white” and “colored.” Sadly, and it says more about the United States than it does about Gone with the Wind, the studio that made Gone with the Wind was relatively enlightened for its time.

If Margaret Mitchell’s novel, published in 1936, had been a massive best seller, it hadn’t necessarily been nostalgia for the “Lost Cause.” Unlike the film, which had to pass the Catholic Church’s board of censors put into power by the Production Code, the novel is frank about sexuality. Katie Scarlett O’Hara is a feminist heroine, the kind of liberated women who came to prominence in the 1920s. While far more viciously racist than the movie, the novel is also one of the few best selling accounts of Americans living under a military occupation, told from the point of view of a young woman trying to come to terms with her own sexuality as civilization is crashing down around her. Scarlett O’Hara not only comes through the Civil War and the destruction of the old planter class, she becomes immensely wealthy, far richer than her father ever was, even at the height of slavery. Women, who buy novels, especially romance novels, at a greater rate than men, and who had just come through the Great Depression, which, once again, is along with the Civil War, by far the most traumatic event in American history, surely found her an appealing, even revolutionary character.

Neither the novel nor the film Gone With the Wind is sympathetic to the “Lost Cause.” Man for man, the Army of Northern Virginia was as tough, and brave, as any army that’s ever taken the field. For over 4 years, they fought one of the word’s great industrial powers to a draw, a draw that was only broken when Lincoln decided to let Phillip Sheridan and William Tecumseh Sherman wage total, economic warfare on the southern people. Yet early in Gone With the Wind, when Rhett Butler explains to a gathering of aristocratic planters at Twelve Oakes, the estate owned by Ashley Wilkes and his family, that the south has no chance of winning the war, young, aristocratic southern men are portrayed, not only as foolish hotheads, but as outright babies. Rand Brooks, who plays Melanie Wilkes younger brother Charles, and who foolishly challenges Rhett Butler to a duel, has soft, dough like features. It’s clear that had Butler actually accepted his challenge, it would have been murder, not a contest of honor between gentlemen. Hamilton enlists in the Confederate Army, but he’s not cut down by Yankee gunfire while leading a charge at Gettysburg. He dies of the measles. During the siege of Atlanta, Confederate soldiers are not the formidable warriors who terrorized Yankee troops with the rebel yell. They’re little boys who cry out in pain for their mommies or broken down old men who can barely limp along the road in retreat from Sherman’s juggernaut.

Women in Gone with the Wind are another story. From Scarlett herself, to Melanie Wilkes, who hides a will of iron beneath her angelic exterior, to Belle Watling, the sex worker more honorable and devoted to the southern cause than any of the film’s “respectable” women, to Mammy, the only person with the ability to stand up to Scarlett, a black woman essential to keeping a white, slave-owning family from going to pieces during Reconstruction, the women of Gone with the Wind are better soldiers than the men. Indeed, the only time we see any southerner in Gone With the Wind kill a Yankee is when Scarlett O’Hara shoots a would be rapist in the face. With the exception of Rhett Butler, men in Gone With the Wind are soft, romantic, and incompetent. Ashley Wilkes would be far more believable as an English professor teaching Shakespeare at a women’s college in New England than he is as a man who came through the ghastly Battle of Spotsylvania Court House and a Yankee prisoner of war camp. Scarlett, in turn, is more believable pining over Ashley early in the film than she is as a fully mature adult after she eats a uncooked radish from the ground and declares “as God as my witness I’ll never be hungry again.” At that point, her unrequited love for the sad Mr. Wilkes just seems baffling and self-destructive, which is, of course, exactly the point. Katie Scarlett O’Hara is now a successful lady capitalist profiting far more by using convict (slave) labor than her father ever profited using chattel (slave) laborer. We want her to forget about Ashley and live happily ever after with Rhett Butler, her soulmate.

If Rhett Butler is the only genuinely masculine male character in Gone with the Wind, it’s largely because he’s a self-interested capitalist and not a romantic aristocrat pining over the “Lost Cause.” Supposedly he’s from Charleston, but his accent is pure Mid-Atlantic bourgeois by way of California the Midwest. He does in fact do more for the Southern cause than poor little Charles Hamilton, spending most of the war as a blockade runner, then enlisting in the Confederate Army after the Battle of Atlanta, but in both cases it’s purely out of self-interest. Blockade running is profitable. A brief tour with Joseph E. Johnston’s Army against the hated Sherman and the rank of Captain were handy status symbols after the restoration of White Supremacy and the Southern Democrats in 1876. If Ashley and Melanie Wilkes represent the romantic “Lost Cause” than Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara represent the new capitalist south that emerged in the late 19th Century, the old south with a new and improved economy but with its old racial and class hierarchies largely intact. As Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa said in The Leopard, his famous novel about the unification of Italy, “if everything is to stay the same, than everything has to change.” Rhett and Scarlett are the ideal conservatives, wealthy, upper-class aristocrats who can change with the times and subvert any attempts of the working class to rise to power. This also opened the door for the successful children of Jewish immigrants like Selznick. Gone with the Wind romanticized an aristocracy, but not, it must be stressed, the “old” aristocracy. Indeed, old aristocratic WASP Americans like Ashley Wilkes would give way to a new, better, brighter, stronger elite, men like David O. Selznick, or women like Katie Scarlett O’Hara, also a first generation American.

Gone with the Wind, therefore, while not “Lost Cause” propaganda, is poisonously reactionary propaganda. Released in 1939, after capitalism came close to utter collapse during the Great Depression, and was saved by the aristocratic Franklin Roosevelt, the film says “there is a natural hierarchy. Whether under slavery or free market capitalism, aristocrats like Scarlett O’Hara, Rhett Butler, and Franklin Roosevelt deserve to rule. Keep your place and it will all work out for the best.” In contrast to the noble and sympathetic black characters of Gone with the Wind, the Big Sams and Mammys, who remain passive, upwardly mobile “white trash” like the O’Hara’s old overseer Jonas Wilkerson and his wife Emmy Slattery, are invariably vicious and spiteful. Gone With the Wind is a racist film, if only because it centers the sufferings of the white planter aristocracy and not the epic struggle of the African American freemen to resist the violence of slavery and the Klan, but the screenplay reserves most of its true hate for low class whites who take advantage of the collapse of the old order, either to elevate themselves, or to elevate the ex-slaves. One ludicrous scene of a carpet bagger promising ex slaves “40 Acres and a Mule” consciously distorts history. It wasn’t the carpet baggers who proposed giving the ex-slaves 40 Acres and a Mule. It was William Tecumseh Sherman and the Union Army, a promise the federal government ultimately reneged on.

What’s more, Gone with the Wind is an antiwar film at exactly the time an antiwar film was most dangerous. The United States in 1939 had a powerful “America First” movement led by the openly fascist Charles Lindbergh that prevented Roosevelt from declaring war on either Germany or Japan until the Japanese actually bombed Pearl Harbor and Hitler declared war on us. A film in which both romantic leading men hate the idea of war for different reasons, Ashley Wilkes because it would destroy the old South and Rhett Butler because it would destroy wealth, and which vividly depicted Southern “boys,” boys not men, crying for their mommies as their legs were sawed off without anesthesia, was rank “America First” propaganda. David O. Selznick, while Jewish, was strongly suggesting that a war against Hitler might just not be worth it. Let those Europeans take care of their own problems. We’ve already had our apocalyptic battles at Gettysburg and Atlanta. Why get American boys killed to save Poles, Frenchmen, Russians and East European Jews? Why upset a capitalist social order that had just been saved by a honey voiced Democratic Party aristocrat?

Hitler and the Nazis, of course, loved Gone with the Wind. How could they not love a film so firmly on the side of an aristocratic racial hierarchy? Ironically, while we never see Vivian Leigh and Leslie Howard kiss in Gone with the Wind –Ashley has Scarlett solidly in the “friend zone,” stringing her along for his own ego — it would have meant the death penalty in Nazi Germany. Leslie Howard, born Leslie Howard Steiner, was a Hungarian Jew from London, and sexual, or even platonic, romantic relations between Jews and Aryans had been outlawed in 1935 by the Nuremberg Laws. Perhaps that’s why Hitler’s air force found Howard’s DC-3 flying in 1943 flying over the Bay of Biscay and shot it down. It wasn’t the Yankees who killed Ashley Wilkes. It was the Nazis.

News of the air disaster rocked Britain, and delighted the Nazi propaganda minister, Dr Goebbels. Leslie Howard, while at the pinnacle of Hollywood success as the star of The Scarlet Pimpernel, Pygmalion and Gone With The Wind, had sacrificed his royalties, bought himself out of his contract, and returned to Britain in 1939, to work for the war effort. He made propaganda films for the Ministry of Information, and on his own initiative directed and starred in two films that had irritated Goebbels: Pimpernel Smith, about freeing young Jewish refugees from the Nazis, and The First Of The Few, about the designer of the Spitfire, which bolstered morale during the Battle of Britain. He broadcast letters to America designed to bring neutral USA onside, and had visited Ireland on a bridge-building mission to the anti-British premier Eamon de Valera.

It Can And Is Happening Here

I gave a quick talk about Occupy Wall Street to the Malta NY Rotary Club once. A man came up to me afterward. He looked like the aged Buster Keaton of The Railrodder and had made his living before he retired fixing CRT televisions. In the abstract I should have loved this guy.

He came up to me after my talk, clearly seeing I was Jewish and knowing my politics because I’d just given a talk about them and said “What we need to fix this problem is…a Holocaust but for the Muslims this time.”

I was horrified. I saw in his eyes that he didn’t want Muslims put in concentration camps, tortured and killed because he hated Muslims, but that he wanted to hate Muslims because deep down he wanted to see people put into concentration camps, tortured and killed. And he looked like Buster Keaton.

I went around to practically everyone I knew and described the incident. I said that without some unforeseen major event, this country would either go hard left or hard right within 5 years.

Some of them responded with sensitivity to my evident distress. Some of them shrugged it off and said something to the effect “That could never happen in the US.” (Poor Sinclair Lewis.) Almost no one seemed to take me seriously. Even if they did, I’m not sure I knew anyone who had the power to right this. I just hoped and prayed that I did and didn’t know it.

Now the president* is openly endorsing a woman who is saying, basically “We need a Holocaust, but with the Muslims this time.”

Anyone who thinks that they’re safe because they’re not latino/a so they’ll never be put in a camp, please read your history. That’s not how it works.

The racist mob wants to feel better about themselves by killing men women and children. But they never actually will feel better, so they will not stop torturing and killing men, women, and children until they are obliterated and marginalized. We need to stand together against this. We can’t be afraid to be arrested, assaulted, or worse. Never again means no more concentration camps.

The mob wants blood. They don’t care whose blood it is. In Nazi Germany, children sent their own parents to concentration camps, and officials within the Nazi party would even kill each other and lie about it in order to feel like big shots.

Leaders of the Jewish community, early on, would say “We need to work with them and then they’ll be appeased”, much like the establishment Democrats are saying now. These former leaders were, in all likelihood, gassed or shot and dumped in anonymous mass graves along with the communities that mistook their cowardice for leadership.

If you’re Jewish and think that Trump’s base won’t come after you and doesn’t hate Jews, you are delusional. Your being delusional is probably endangering the lives and safety of your friends and loved ones, and definitely endangering the lives and safety of the groups the Nazi GOP have decided to use as trial balloons to see if the US, “land of the brave, home of the free” will be fine with them throwing whoever they want into concentration camps.

Please share this with anyone you think should read it.

*I had a link in this article sourcing the president* endorsing someone who’s openly advocating for genocide against Muslims, but it was messing up the article formatting, so I’ve provided it in the comments section below.

The Decentralized Fascist Gestapo

In an article a while ago, Stan wrote that the police in this country were becoming, or maybe already were a distributed informal gestapo. In my numerous articles exploring the rapid escalation of mass shootings in the US, I brought up the question whether they represent a similar “gestapo 2.0” being established by kamikaze “loner” shooters, who overwhelming belong to the Cheeto That Rapes Peoples’ key demographic-entitled angry white men. 2 years ago I wouldn’t have figured that nothing like the massacres that occurred during the Chinese Cultural Revolution or in Indonesia in the 1960s could happen in the US in our lifetime-an officially condoned massacre of the leader’s political opponents carried out by bloodthirsty civilians given no real orders besides “we won’t prosecute you if you kill the people we want you to kill.” 

I can’t confidently say now that this isn’t a very real possibility.

Roughly a year ago I wrote in a set of predictions of how the Cheeto That Rapes People would attempt to consolidate power that a key element being overlooked was the possibility of a decentralized guerilla ground army being created through the passage of a concealed carry reciprocity law.

For those unaware of what concealed carry reciprocity is-it basically means that if a person gets a license to carry a concealed firearm in one state, all other states would have to honor this license, sorta the same way you get your driver’s license in one state but it carries over to all 50 states. The GOP is pushing a federal concealed carry reciprocity law through right now, along with ending the ban on silencers. The only realistic motivation to end silencer bans is, at best the NRA hoping to increase guns sales through the encouragement of more and more deadly lethal mass shootings, at worst the Republican party hoping to consolidate power even further through the implied threat of gun violence at the polls or public assemblies against the president, a Cheeto who rapes people. If at least one mass shooting incident doesn’t happen near a polling place during the coming midterm elections due to this passing, I would be shocked.

The NRA, the Republicans, and their leader, the Cheeto That Rapes People, have been priming their base for this since Sarah Palin put that chart with Democratic congressmen with rifle scopes over their faces on her website. Probably even earlier. Anyone thinking Russian troll farms won’t be goading white supremacists on social media to do this hasn’t been paying attention. Anyone thinking that armed intimidation at polling places couldn’t possibly happen here forgets that this was one of, possibly the primary reason for the formation of the Ku Klux Klan after the end of the Civil War.

This is the response of the “moral majority” to the senseless slaughter of thousands of 1st graders, concert-goers, minorities, and people with the audacity to try to leave their houses and live their lives. If this passes, anyone who wants to hide a gun can just go to the state with the most lax gun laws, buy whatever they want, then go back to where they want to intimidate or kill people. They can be prosecuted for murder, yes, but that doesn’t bring back peoples’ dead children, spouses, or friends. It doesn’t stop intimidation at polling places furthering the consolidation of power by a sociopathic oligarchic minority. When women worry about that weird guy with boundary issues, they will now have to worry “Is he armed?”

Given the recent developments in Robert Mueller’s investigation of likely treason committed by the Cheeto That Rapes People, the Cheeto is probably feeling cornered. All evidence on the public record suggests the Cheeto is at best a malignant narcissist and at worst a psychopath. When malignant narcissists or psychopaths are challenged, they will always resort to manipulation through threats and violence to maintain their sense of control over their victims. They will lie without remorse. They exist only for their own gratification and self-aggrandizement. They do not feel empathy when they see dead children, only the ways they might profit from them.

Erik Prince, cofounder of the private militia-for-hire company Blackwater and brother of education secretary Betsy Devos, has been pitching a private secret service that answers only to Mike Pompeo and the Cheeto. This will probably be established, given that the surest way to predict the future recently seems to be by figuring out where follow-the-money and Murphy’s law intersect.

When the Cheeto is cornered, is it that far-fetched to suggest he’ll probably make a call to his “second amendment people” to silence his opponents? He already did it once.


Mediocrity, Propaganda and Trump



History seems to move faster at certain times than others. Now is one of those times.

Karl Marx, thinking about industrialization, claimed that a newly emergent economic force/system was actually revolutionary in the sense that it reshaped all the territory and politics it touched. 100 years later, Marshall McLuhan claimed similar powers for the emergence of technology. The internet differs from prior economic revolutions in that it seeks to reshape the current geographic layout of man in order to completely replace it. It literally recreates itself by writing itself on the landscape-anyone who’s ever used Snapchat or even Pokemon Go could tell you as much. The internet, at this point being both a new technological and new political formation, presents a two-front war with all of us unfortunately trapped in the middle.


A library science professor I had in college assigned an academic paper whose author and title I forget. It dealt with the “bridging” vs. “bonding” elements in how internet communities were shaped. A “bonding” community was one that tended to increase homogeneity and insularity-it brought together people with a specific set of interests/demographics and isolated them from the outside world over time. A “bridging” community brought people together across demographics/interests. Internet communities were found to be almost exclusively “bonding”, while groups organizing on the physical proximity of persons were shown to fall more evenly across a bridge/bond spectrum.

The alt-righter thinks by himself: “If I feel wronged about anything, no matter how stupid or  illegitimate, I’m sure I can find people willing to indulge or enable me, and the more wronged and isolated I feel about the thing, the more time I’m willing to spend on the internet with these people enabling me. Because these people are now my real friends, they hold disproportionate social influence over me and my initial attraction to them doesn’t suggest strong independent thinking skills to begin with.”

The vernacular of internet discourse has centered around increasingly shocking content and progressive desensitization to extreme materials for nearly as long as the internet has existed. This is how the neo-Nazis and ISIS both recruit. This is how Gamergate happened. Etc. Etc. Etc.

The thing after neoliberalism is shaping up to be equal parts dialectics and The Producers-the far right parties have realized the worse they govern, the more terrorism they allow to happen, the more they’re rewarded under the current system.



It’s very important to remember there is always an external and an internal propaganda system. The external propaganda system legitimizes the group/regime to those outside. The internal propaganda system legitimizes and normalizes the group/regime to its members. These two systems often seem to work at cross-purposes and most propaganda doesn’t make its intended audience entirely obvious, especially to its intended audience. Why would it? Things always seem much more enticing when you’re not the person who’s supposed to be seeing them.


Let’s use the Nazis and particularly Nazi cinema to illustrate this point.

Internal propaganda systems: The Nazis were the first modern political party to use street graffiti and a large part of how the rural population was sold on Hitler was through traveling screenings of short news reels. In many of these rural German communities, access to movies of any sort was rare. These newsreel films looked partly like ones that would be shown in US theaters at the time between cartoons and features. However, the repeated visual symbols were mostly morphed copies of ones in the classic USSR silent films. Further cases of internal propaganda include the numerous lesser known Nazi features. Films like Hans Westmar, a fictionalized version of a false story of Nazi “martyr” Horst Wessel, or Jud Suss, Der Rothschilds: Aktien Auf Waterloo, etc., were sold as entertaining historical melodramas. Hans Westmar in particular broadly resembles recent sentimentalized “martyr” films like American Sniper.

External propaganda: Hitler attempted to normalize and bring prestige to his movement/country abroad the same way many state governments do-by making fancy movies and sending them abroad to festivals. These include Triumph of the Will and Olympia. While both were screened in Germany, their intended audience was abroad. The continuing public perceptions that the Nazi government was meticulously well organized (they weren’t, many high up officials including Hitler were on meth for extended periods) or that Triumph of the Will was what sold the Germans on Hitler speak to the enduring power of this strategy.


How does the internet change things?

Per Ernest Becker (by way of Otto Rank) : Man needs to be able to feel as though he is the hero of the narrative of his life.

Per Ray Kroc: Why wait 15 minutes when I can have it now?

Per Neil Postman: If you don’t think the medium of communications biases what can be communicated, try translating Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason” into smoke signals.

Per Twitter: 140 characters or less.

Per Marshall McLuhan: The content of the new medium is always the medium it’s replacing.

Trump’s rise is inconceivable without the internet. Memes are graffitti/propaganda writ large and reduced to their simplest form. TV and cartoons were more effective than any propaganda medium prior because of their immediacy; looking at a comic strip or single panel lacking words, by the time you think “do I want to read this?” you’ve likely already read it. A meme is even more immediate-it lives or dies on the extent to which we can already predict what it’s going to say. At the same time, it creates a fake sense of community built around knowing who “Scumbag Steve” or “Bad Luck Brian” is. The sense of inclusion is created by removing all communal standards beyond the basic self-referential acknowledgement the “community” exists. It allows a sense of familiarity to push out critical judgement.

I got some shit for writing about Elliott Roger’s “manifesto” more than a year ago, but in retrospect, it seems to pretty accurately reflect what can be understood about the psychology of Trump voters-how many people in this country based their self-esteem and sense of specialness on how many Pokemon cards they had? How good they were at video games? The very fact that video games seemed to offer a clearly delineated meritocracy, however meaningless? How horrible was it when they saw on the internet there would always be someone with more Pokemon cards or a higher score; who made the commonplace banality of their struggles obvious; who pierced through any notion they were special? The internet of course also had little tribes and klans collecting these fresh malcontents; sometimes they were already assembled and simply soured when they felt angry enough on realizing however ironically they were not the special snowflakes they accused everyone else of idealizing themselves as; they were just waiting to be scooped up on bodybuilding forums and other pits of the internet.

And as with toxic narcissism in all its forms, the playground taunt “I know you are but what am I?” isn’t just the mature response but the necessary one. Much has been made of the fact that the districts most reliant on subsidized health care and welfare programs overwhelmingly voted for a man promising to eradicate these programs they depend on. Much of this discourse has unfortunately taken the closed discourse of self-satisfied liberalism-“What idiots!”-instead of investigation into the mechanics of self-loathing.


How do the internal and external propaganda systems of the US work?

Internal Propaganda Systems: These consist largely of the tendency that people are reaching at when they refer to “the mainstream media”. All the major news sources, particularly those on television, work first to legitimize the current political system by overemphasis on chaos and terror, by reporting on everything from tornadoes to mass shootings to the “inherent scariness” of non-mainstream ideologies. Their first priority is to legitimize the current system in whatever form it takes, both forwards and backwards in history. This is why all the reporting when Reagan died, even from ostensibly liberal outlets like NPR, was focused on his “great statesmanship” blahblahblah, while never mentioning Iran-Contra or his exacerbation of the drug or AIDS crises. Their second priority is partisan. MSNBC is already broadcasting stuff about how “presidential” Trump looked on Tuesday night because he…took advantage of the widow of a Navy Seal he sent to die for literally no reason for a photo op. Without the prestige of the government, the banal careerism of the many reporters employed by these institutions collapses. A popular war helps the media as much as it helps the president. The internal propaganda system also places a heavy emphasis on popular media-everything from the boring politically empty celebration of civics in something like Parks and Recreation through to the superheroes-as-Blackwater Wagner-lite of the Avengers/Iron Man movies to the sleight of hand use of martyrdom to cover a broken ideology in films like American Sniper to the use of hundreds of drones during the Super Bowl to normalize their use all feed into this larger ecosystem.

External Propaganda Systems: These would involve a much larger article. Ross Snider has written about them pretty extensively on this website. Overthrowing elections, exported versions of the propaganda vehicles mentioned above, etc etc etc.


How do we innoculate ourselves and rebuild media into something humane that serves society?

Well, that’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it….

Framing the Violence Narrative


In the past few months the term “fake news” has come into the mainstream in a major way. A cursory definition based on its usage would have you believe it’s just an updated synonym for the old standby “propaganda,” but is this true? Yes and no. Our full assimilation into the information age has drastically transformed the way propaganda functions. Whereas in the past it was possible to withhold information and only present your preferred narrative, the current climate invites everybody to share all their information for the express purpose of cutting it all down and putting it on the same playing field. The idea is to put it in people’s heads that no information is reliable, no matter the source. Once this has occurred you have successfully discredited rigorous investigative journalism based on truth and fact. It’s suddenly no more credible than the .com ramblings of some kook in his rural Texas basement or perhaps more foreboding, the media apparatus of the state (i.e. @realDonaldTrump). This has long been a part of Vladimir Putin’s playbook where the cardinal rule is that in order to get people to believe in something, you first have to get them to believe in nothing.

To simplify (TL:DR in modern web speak);

Pre-information age propaganda = limiting access to information

Post-information age propaganda = discrediting all information (ie, fake news)

If information isn’t credible, framing and emotional narrative rise to the forefront of importance. What you say is less important than how you say it and the cognitive effect it has on the person you are speaking to. This is why Democrats lose election after election in spite of superior policy – Republicans know how to appeal to emotion while Democrats don’t think they have to play that game. We’re seeing how this plays out in reality, and it’s not pretty. The latest activity on this matter is the development of the “violence narrative” –  an attempt to take the riotous activity of the anarchist group Black Bloc and associate it with the entire left-wing, liberal worldview. I will explain this soon but I want to start with a more obvious example of an expert in post-information age propaganda. I don’t mean Donald Trump (though he does qualify) but another media figure who has been compared to a more verbose version of Trump. That being cartoonist Scott Adams, of Dilbert fame.

This is the first paragraph of an article he recently wrote on climate change;

Before I start, let me say as clearly as possible that I agree with the scientific consensus on climate change. If science says something is true – according to most scientists, and consistent with the scientific method – I accept their verdict.

This is the third paragraph;

“So when I say I agree with the scientific consensus on climate change, I’m endorsing the scientific consensus for the same reason I endorsed Hillary Clinton for the first part of the election – as a strategy to protect myself. I endorse the scientific consensus on climate change to protect my career and reputation. To do otherwise would be dumb, at least in my situation.”

What have here is a massive contradiction, but one stated with authority and conviction, not unlike the way President Trump plows through his own non-truths. The first thing Scott Adams wants you to know is that he accepts climate change is a real thing. It’s the first sentence in his article on the topic, so therefore it must be really really true. A professional like Mr. Adams would not dare deny the work of science when he himself is just a cultural media figure. Therefore it should come as a shock when two paragraphs later he states that the only reason he accepts the science on climate change is to protect his reputation. In other words he is saying that he doesn’t accept the scientific consensus on climate change but he wants to confuse the reader into thinking he does so that he has more credibility. He’s giving you the runaround, like the narcissist he strives to be.

If we want to take Adams at his word in that he cares about his reputation and career (and this seems reasonable given that narcissists usually do care about this stuff)  I’d posit that he has an anti-climate change agenda. Despite his claims, that’s more beneficial to him personally and professionally at this point seeing he’s become a bit of a right wing media darling in a similar vein as Mike Rowe. As the article continues Adams goes to great lengths to disguise himself as being balanced, saying hyperbolic things like “this is the only place you’ll see both sides of the issue!” That isn’t to say he doesn’t make good or interesting points but that’s always been the hallmark of good propaganda, no matter what era it comes from. It always knows just where and when to sprinkle in just enough truth to lend itself credibility.

On surface level Adams seems to be writing about the difficulty in figuring out the truth behind climate change. In the era of fake news however only suckers read things surface level. Look not at content or facts but framing and intent. Then you might see that this piece is designed not to bring people closer to truthful concepts but rather to fan the flames of debate in order to increase his popularity with his new niche audience. He is playing into the recent right wing promotion of information chaos, which in turn helps to discredit the order and limits imposed by science (liberally biased, naturally). This helps push the right’s anti-climate change agenda which they need in order to pull back all those pesky regulations that prevent enterprising American capitalists from exploiting the environment for profit er… um… I mean creating bountiful high paying jobs for the working class.

When analyzing fake news  what one says often has less importance than when they say it – timing is everything. Just like you never get a second chance at a first impression, the first statement one makes tends to be the most revealing. Adams first statement was that he accepted climate change, though he carefully omitted his reasons for this until later. He dropped in a very mainstream point of view to set the frame that he was a credible guy. Compare this tactic to one used in numerous conservative responses to the recent punching of Richard Spencer on the day of Trump’s inauguration. This article by John Nolte of conservative news blog “Daily Wire” is a perfect example, though interestingly it’s a little bit trickier than what you get from a so called “master persuader” like Scott Adams. There’s some build up, starting with the first paragraph;

“Okay, fine, somewhere in my Twitter stream you will find a joke about my not being too terribly upset over this creep Richard Spencer getting sucker-punched on TV last week. My tweet was a joke, though, and I am clearly on record, time and time again, speaking out against violence and the encouraging/excusing of violence. Also, I am not The New York Times.”

Nolte is humanizing himself by letting us all know that yeah, he felt none too bad to see physical violence enacted against the self proclaimed leader of the “alt-right” (which is now synonymous with white supremacy). He goes as far as to call the guy a creep, just to make sure we all know that Mr. Nolte in no way approves of the viewpoints of Mr. Spencer. He also clarifies the he’s very much anti-violence in any way, shape or form (he was just joking, after all!), thus further laying down the frame that he’s a decent guy with good values. What follows is an overly elaborate and hypothetical construction of Spencer as an actual Nazi. Hypothetical because in reality Nolte wants to enforce the notion that really the guy is just an unpleasant kook and nowhere on the level of actual Hitler. This is down to downplay the danger people like Spencer represent to society and in particular minorities. This is summed up in his fourth “paragraph” (just one sentence, for potency I guess);

“For argument’s sake, I am ready to stipulate that Richard Spencer is one sick and twisted piece of racist garbage.”

In his next “paragraph” (again, one sentence) he drops the true bombshell, already hinted at in paragraph one;

“Nevertheless, in its attempt to normalize and excuse and rationalize any kind of political violence against anyone, even a Nazi, The New York Times is more a Nazi than Spencer.”

Though not as direct as Adams, the tactic Nolte uses is essentially the same. Adams emphatically stated that he believed in climate change but then quickly made that belief subordinate to another point about the fuzziness of truth and unreliability of science. Nolte emphatically states that he despises Spencer and goes as far to paint a picture of him as an honest to god Nazi before revealing his true target – the NYTimes and by proxy, the liberal left. From one of the final paragraphs in his piece;

“This push for and encouragement and normalizing of violence among the left and our national media, is no joke. It’s been going on for years, in Ferguson, in Baltimore, from the Obama White House, and within the institutional left.”

Let’s overlook the fact that a death from a purely ideological left wing terrorist attack hasn’t occurred on American soil since 1981. During that same time period since then there have been numerous deaths associated with domestic right wing terrorism in multiple attacks. That’s merely a side point to the fact that right-wing motivated violence is more likely to be state sponsored than left-wing violence which tends to come in the form of civil disobedience that generally spares harming  individuals in favor of property destruction. This paradigm works very well for the right because state sponsored violence is not only legal but far more brutal and effective than anything pesky civil disobedience can muster up. The military and police have wide latitude to do what they want and not face legal repercussions, for better or worse (some may argue they need that latitude to perform a tough thankless job, but that’s another topic).

State sponsored violence however doesn’t have to come from an organized and sanctioned group.  It can also be self-defense, and thus legal (ie Trayvon Martin). This point is reinforced by the creepy way Nolte’s article ends;

“Buy guns, America. You need to be able to defend yourselves and your loved ones.”

So just like Adams wrote an article denouncing climate change disguised as an article about the fuzzy nature of truth, Nolte has written an article essentially endorsing violence disguised as an article about how the left should be villainized because they endorse violence. Left is right. Up is down, something something 1984. It’s all very confusing and intellectually draining to try and follow. What’s not confusing is how Nolte comes very close to advocating the murder of political opponents by planting the seed in people’s minds that if you don’t kill the leftist first than the leftist might… um, sucker punch you in the face.

What we have seen happen here is an example of the right wing media writing about political violence in a way that falsely frames it as purely a leftist phenomenon. Were this just some rambling kook on a right wing dumping ground then this wouldn’t be much of a problem but sadly these things don’t stay so neatly contained. The extensive media coverage of the riots at UC  Berkeley in response to a talk by Milo Yiannopoulos handed the right wing media a golden opportunity for a more concentrated effort to paint the left as violent and threatening and possibly even something worth countering with violent force of your own, if necessary. This narrative has been created and framed independently of the facts, which in the case of both Berkeley and the Spencer punching still seem rather fuzzy, lost in the tides of information and “fake news”.

There is no doubt that violence is occurring in America in 2017 but who is really being harmed? Rather than accept right wing narratives at surface level, people need to be asking deeper questions. Is the broken window at Wells Fargo bank in downtown Berkeley really more egregious than the thousands of sick and disabled people who could die with the repeal of the ACA? Is Spencer taking a sucker punch more disconcerting than the fear minorities live in thanks to the spread of his ideas? To me the answers here are obvious but perhaps the kind of violence I’m talking about is too esoteric to play well on CNN. On a logical level I think most of us know where the most harm is being committed but thanks to their expertise at controlling narratives, the right wing has put the emotional view front and center and are using it for political gain. Luckily enough their act is not a hard one to replicate, and the facts being on your side makes for a more definitive tie breaker than a Mike Pence trip to the Senate. It’s time the left learned how to beat the Breitbart’s and Daily Wire’s of the world at their own game.

Kolberg (1945) vs. 300 (2006): Contemplating Fascist Propaganda


A screenshot from the Nazi propaganda film Kolberg, which is largely free from crude appeals to antisemitism or any demonized racial “other.” But who in the world is the black actor who plays one of the French soldiers? Was he a French North African POW forced to play a role as an “extra?”

Napoleon did not lose his throne at the Battle of Waterloo. He lost it two years before at the Battle of Leipzig, by far the largest and bloodiest battle fought on European soil before the First World War. “Napoleon met his Leipzig” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as “Napoleon met his Waterloo.” It certainly should. It was the growth of German nationalism, not the British Army or the Duke of Wellington that finally brought down the mighty French Empire, but Germans simply don’t have the same skill as the British at propaganda.

It’s not that they don’t try.

Six years before the titanic Battle of Leipzig, where an alliance of 380,000 Germans and Russians defeated 225,000 Frenchmen and their Polish and Italian allies, there was another battle along the shores of the Baltic. From March to July of 1807, the Grande Armée besieged the small Pomeranian City of Kolberg, repeatedly trying, and failing to dislodge the “Freikorps” of Lieutenant Ferdinand von Schill and a small garrison led by the legendary German commander August Neidhardt von Gneisenau. While militarily insignificant, the Siege of Kolberg was also was the first time the revived Prussian Army, or any army, managed to inflict a defeat on the Napoleonic juggernaut, predating the Peninsular War in Spain by a year, and the disastrous invasion of Russia by five.

That by 1943 the Siege of Kolberg had become a potent a symbol of the German resistance, patriotism, and self-sacrifice was not lost on Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels. A year after the Battle of Stalingrad, he commissioned the legendary director Veit Harlan to make a film based on the autobiography Joachim Nettelbeck, Kolberg’s Mayor, and a hero of the German “Wars of Liberation.” While little known or viewed today, Kolberg still ranks as one of the most expensive and elaborate films ever made. From October of 1943 to August of 1944, and with a cast of 185,000 extras, many of whom were soldiers pulled off the Russian front, Harlan recreated a full scale Napoleonic battle, shooting on location in the city of Kolberg, now the Polish resort town of Kołobrzeg, and in the ancient Prussian capital of Königsberg, which is now a grim Russian naval base called Kaliningrad. Whatever else it is, Harlan’s film is a visual and historic record of two German cities that are no more.

So what else is Kolberg?

Kolberg is fascist propaganda to be sure, but unlike the grotesque, antisemitic newspaper Der Sturmer or Harlan’s earlier film Jud Süss, Kolberg is also what for lack of a better term might be called “high-class fascist propaganda.” There’s no demonized racial “other.” The enemy are just the French, none of whom are portrayed as particularly horrible, but simply as soldiers fighting for their country. The film’s Napoleon seems to understand German history better than its Germans. “If he were alive,” the French emperor says over the grave of Frederick the Great, “we never would have conquered Prussia.” There’s no appeal to antisemitism. Astonishingly, the only Jew to be seen in the whole film is Horst Caspar, the actor who plays Harlan’s idealized German hero Gneisenau. Caspar, who was one quarter Jewish, and a “Mischling,” or “mixed race person” under the Nuremberg Laws, received an exemption from Joseph Goebbels, and was allowed to continue acting. Why he agreed to appear in a Nazi propaganda film is anybody’s guess, but some hint might be provided by a 1992 interview with Kurt Meisel, the actor who plays Claus Werner, the pacifistic brother of the patriotic heroine Maria.

Meisel, who detested the Nazis, admitted he was grateful that making the film kept him off the Russian front. That Werner’s character is also in favor of surrendering to the French – his father disowns him when he agrees to drink a toast to Napoleon — probably also reflected the opinion of many Germans in 1944, who surely, by that late date, knew they would lose the war and must have preferred the idea of being occupied by the western powers to being occupied by the Soviets. But it perhaps the manner of Werner’s death that best explains why talented actors like Meisel and Caspar decided to continue working under the Nazis. After the Mayor of Kolberg has parts of the town flooded in an attempt to make it inaccessible to the French, Werner drowns trying to save his violin from the rising waters. Meisel, who went on to a long and successful career after the war, and Caspar, who became famous on the German stage acting in plays by Shakespeare and Friedrich Schiller, probably agreed to appear in the movie out of some misguided idea that they were helping to preserve a remnant of German culture, not only from the Nazis, but from the destruction brought on by the allied bombing.

If Kolberg is “high class” fascist propaganda, however, that only makes it all the more insidious. It’s one thing when fascists identify themselves as fascists. Pick up a copy of Der Sturmer and you have no illusion about being in the presence of genocidal antisemites. It’s quite another thing when fascists hide themselves behind a facade of a respectable patriotism and love of country. It takes a trained eye to see exactly what Kolberg is doing, but once you notice it, you realize exactly what an evil film you’ve just watched.

Kolberg opens with a parade of German civilians in 1813, marching on the Prussian King’s palace at Potsdam. They want permission to form themselves into militias and be sent to the front against Napoleon at Leipzig. The King, who initially believes that war should be fought only by professional soldiers, eventually gives way to Gneisenau, who argues that it was only by a general mobilization of the entire civilian population that Kolberg had been saved from the French in 1807. Indeed, the closest thing Kolberg has to a villain is the cowardly General Loucadou, who stands firm against the idea that civilians resist the enemy, and who tries to have the heroic patriot Mayor Joachim Nettelbeck hanged for mutiny. Indeed, while Gneisenau and Ferdinand von Schill figure prominently in the movie, the real heroes are old men like Nettelbeck and young women like his niece Maria, who saves the day by sneaking past enemy lines to deliver a message to Queen Louise of Mecklenburg-Strelitz – who Napoleon once called “the only real man in all of Prussia – begging her to send them a new commander. Kolberg may look like a tribute to the patriotism of the common people, who win a victory against a foreign occupier that the regular Prussian Army could not. In 1944 and 1945, it was a rationalization to send old men and Hitler youth to the front to die in a useless and suicidal last push against the mighty Soviet and Anglo American armies.


A screenshot from 300. Not only is the Persian black. Zach Snyder progressively darkens his skin as he progressively sounds more and more evil.

There’s nothing “high class” about 300, Zack Snyder’s grotesque, racist and sexually prurient realization of Frank Miller’s graphic novel about the Battle of Thermopylae. 300 is a remarkably ugly, stupid, and perverse film. Superficially, like Kolberg, the plot concerns the heroic stand of a small city against an arrogant emperor, but unlike Kolberg, where the French speak French and actually look French, the “Persians” in 300 resemble no Persian I’ve ever seen, nor, for that matter, anybody in Central Asia. They are black, like the messenger King Leonidas murders at the opening of the film or the Persian official who bribes the Spartan Ephors not to mobilize the Spartan Army, or simply a generalized demonic “other.” The Persian Empire is repeatedly described by the narrator as “many nations” and indeed, the hordes of deformed half-men, half-beasts, and actual beasts Xerxes throws at Leonidas and his 300 muscle bound Aryan superman resemble nothing so much as a fever dream of a multicultural civilization in the mind of a Trump supporter. 300 was propaganda aimed at the “alt-right” before the “alt-right” had a name.

My guess is that, had he not let any pretension towards high culture get in the way, Hitler would have loved 300. In many ways it’s an almost perfect cinematic reflection of the ideals in Mein Kampf.  300 opens with a justification for killing the handicapped. Spartan babies, we are told, are examined shortly after birth and killed if they’re found to be puny or deformed. That Miller approves of Spartan infanticide is more than attested to by the way it’s one of these deformed babies – whose parents saved him from being euthanized – who later betrays Leonidas and the 300 to their deaths. Hitler’s enemy in Mein Kampf is not only the Jews, but multiculturalism. Much is made of Hitler being Austrian and not German, but we forget exactly why he jumped the border in 1914 from the Habsburg to the Hohenzollern empires. At the start of the First World War, Hitler’s great fear was the idea that he would be drafted into the multicultural, part Slavic, Austrian Army. The Austro-Hungarian Empire, like the Persian Empire of Xerxes, was made up of “many nations.” Hitler did not, however, consider the Hohenzollern German Reich free from impurity. He considered the “Aryan race,” not the “German nation,” to be the “master race.” For Hitler, Germany was a superior nation but only because it was traditionally dominated by an elite minority of superior men. The mass of Germans were weak, lazy, easily duped. The fall of the monarchy had been a disaster, and the Weimar Republic, German democracy, was an abomination.Germans, like all other Europeans, needed a strong man to save them from themselves.

Similarly, in Zack Snyder’s film, it’s not Sparta embodies the ideal of the Spartan warrior culture, but the elite 300-man squad of “red shirts” (they all wear the same color cape) that Leonidas calls his “personal guard.” Sparta as a whole seems to be made up largely of women, children, old men, dupes of the deformed, sub human “Ephors” (who like the Jews of Nazi propaganda lust after young Aryan women), or oily and corrupt civilian politicians in the pay of Xerxes. When King Leonidas murders the Persian messenger and marches his personal guard to the “hot gates” to resist the Persian Army it is in effect a fascist coup against Spartan law and the legitimate Spartan authorities similar to Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch or Mussolini’s march on Rome. It’s a fait accompli designed to effect a military takeover of the civilian government. 300 is, in effect, the mirror image of Kolberg. Where in Kolberg, it’s Nettelbeck, the civilian mayor, who’s the patriot, and General Loucadou, the professional soldier, who’s the traitor. In 300, it’s just the opposite. It’s the civilian politician Theron – played by The Wire’s Dominic West – who conspires to open the gates of the city and Leonidas the warrior King, a man born and bred to be a soldier, determined to resist the foreign occupier. That Frank Miller is even more militaristic than Adolf Hitler – Hitler was an outsider in Prussian military culture and largely jaded about professional soldiers – does not mean that 300 and Kolberg have different ideals, only that they’ve identified different “vanguards.” What’s important is not precisely who carries the “spirit of the volk” but that whoever does – be it Kolberg’s civilians or Sparta’s professional warrior caste – take over the machinery of the state. 300’s King Leonidas and Kolberg’s August Neidhardt von Gneisenau would have instantly recognized each other as superior men with not only the the right, but the obligation to rule.

As he made clear in his attack on Occupy Wall Street in 2011, Frank Miller believes that the United States is a country ruled by Therons, and endangered by weaklings who don’t understand the existential threat posed by “radical Islam.”

Wake up, pond scum. America is at war against a ruthless enemy. In the name of decency, go home to your parents, you losers. Go back to your mommas’ basements and play with your Lords Of Warcraft. Or better yet, enlist for the real thing. Maybe our military could whip some of you into shape.

Perhaps that’s why, in the end, the American comic book movie is more Nazi than the actual Nazi propaganda film. Frank Miller needs his demonized racial other to wake us all up to a threat that doesn’t really exist. Everybody in Germany in 1945 knew their country was about to be occupied by the Russians, British, French and Americans. There was no need to blow Napoleon or his generals up into grotesque villains. The RAF’s bombs were already falling on German cities. Had Kolberg been more widely viewed in 1945 when it was released — the British and Americans had already bombed most of the movie theaters — the French artillery barrage that destroys Kolberg would have elicited gasps. An ambitious Napoleonic Marshall who trains his artillery on Kolberg’s civilians in the hope that his emperor will make him “Duke of Kolberg” was all the monster Harlan really needed. Frank Miller, on the other hand, who lives safely in a country under no threat of being invaded, is afraid nothing so much as his own shadow. So he imagines in that shadow a 9-foot-tall,  fabulous and gay Persian emperor at the head of an army of subhuman monsters and wild CGI beasts, Xerxes the living God, determined, if not to conquer the world, then at least to give the buff King of the Spartans a neck rub.

The Deer Hunter (1978)

Michael Cimino has just died.

So I will reblog my review of The Deer Hunter. I have seen Heaven’s Gate (it’s as bad as the critics say). I have not seen his other films.

The Deer Hunter is a flawed masterpiece. It’s racist, reactionary, overly long, but in the end it’s a great work of art. It’s worth seeing, if only to get an idea of how the American invasion and occupation of Vietnam ultimately destroyed America.

Reading Mein Kampf (1925)

Is there any other nation so completely identified with one man as Germany with Adolf Hitler? We don’t necessarily think of Napoleon when we think of a Frenchman or Mussolini when we think of an Italian. Winston Churchill, a bombastic liberal imperialist and wildly overrated military leader, has earned his place in history mainly because of his opposition to the Nazis. That American historians regularly conduct poll about who was the “greatest president” is proof that there is no one representative American head of state. When we imagine the typical German, on the other hand, we don’t conjure up Luther or Goethe, Beethoven, Mozart, Karl Marx, or Frederick the Great. Adolf Hitler has taken the entire history of a great nation, and swallowed it whole.

The American misconception that Hitler was “Austrian not German” points to some of the reasons why. Unlike the British or the French, the Germans do not have a nation state with a history that goes back to the Middle Ages. The Prussian Reich that Bismarck founded in 1870, and which was destroyed in 1918, is only one of many political entities that have, at one time or another, represented the German people. To argue that Hitler wasn’t a “real German” because he was born in Braunau am Inn instead of Berlin or Königsberg is simply another way of fetishizing the dead Prussian state, the ghost of which haunts the late German dictator’s well-known but infrequently studied autobiography.

Mein Kampf is not a well-written book. If anybody needed a good editor it was Adolf Hitler. Getting through all 525 pages of James Murphy’s unabridged translation felt a little bit like fighting the Battle of Stalingrad. Hitler doesn’t argue. He simply asserts, a style of writing best taken in small doses, not gulped down in long turgid paragraphs written by a man determined to make us sit through the history of every thought that’s ever come into his brain without explaining why we should care. Nevertheless critics like George Orwell who spend time criticizing Mein Kampf’s literary inadequacies miss a point that Hitler makes over and over again in the book itself. He knows he’s a shitty writer. He doesn’t care. Unlike many of his critics, he also understands that there’s a difference between “literacy” and the ability to read and write. Most Germans in 1925 could read and write. Very few were “literate.” The typical citizen, even in an advanced first world country like Germany or the United States, responds, not to the written word, but to the spoken word, not to logic, but to personal charisma and the ability to create an aura of power and authority.

In other words, think of Mein Kampf the way you’d think of the screenplay to a movie. The words are only a small part of what makes the entire production. In 1925, José Ortega y Gasset announced the death of the traditional bourgeois novel. That same year, Adolf Hitler proclaimed the death of the traditional, literate, bourgeois politician. If you can get through the bad writing, Mein Kampf is a cogent analysis of the politics of a post-literate society, well-worth looking at, if only because so little has changed. Barack Obama and Ronald Reagan have replaced Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln even as Star Wars and Lady Gaga have replaced Charles Dickens and Herman Melville. If you think you’re ever going to see anything like the Gettysburg Address or the Declaration of Independence again in your lifetime, think again. Turn on the TV instead. Look at a meme on Facebook, or go to a rap concert. Adolf Hitler figured out the way our brains work all the way back in 1925. It’s just too bad he used his insights for evil, and not good.

Adolf Hitler was born in 1889 to a lower-middle-class family in Braunau am Inn, a small city in the northwest corner of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His father, an authoritarian government employee wanted his son to follow him into the civil service. Hitler himself, convinced he had real artistic talent, wanted to be a painter. In 1907, after both his parents had died, the 16-year-old Hitler moved to Vienna, and quickly descended into the underclass. Like any would-be artist or writer, the young Hitler got through his semi-homeless days as a casual laborer thinking of his future success. His sense of identity fell apart in 1908 when he was rejected by the Vienna Academy of Art on the grounds that he was “clearly unfit for painting.” His personal disintegration reflected the political disintegration of the sprawling, multi-ethnic Habsburg Empire, a mostly Slavic state governed by an elite minority of Germans and Hungarians. I don’t think Hitler mentions the Hungarian people in Mein Kampf, not even once, but his hatred of Slavs, of Czechs, Slovaks, Serbians, Poles, and Russians becomes an obsession.

In 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated by a Serbian nationalist, and Hitler, baffled that a Slavic nationalist would murder the pro-Slavic crown prince of the Habsburg Empire, crossed the border into the German Empire to volunteer for military service. Terrified that he would be drafted into the Austro-Hungarian Army, and quite possibly have to serve in a multi-ethnic regiment, he was overjoyed when he was accepted into Kaiser Wilhelm’s Army, and sent to the western front to fight the French. For many men of Hitler’s generation, the trenches of northern France, the Battles of Ypres and Verdun, were the definition of hell on earth. Hitler, on the other hand thrived. The Imperial German Army and the powerful, majority German Hohenzollern Reich replaced the disintegrating multi-ethnic Habsburg Empire even as the idea of being a soldier replaced the idea of being a painter. Hitler’s sense of identity became so tied up with fate of the German Empire that in 1918, after German offensive against Paris was turned back — largely because of fresh troops from the United States — and the Hohenzollern monarchy fell apart, he took it as hard as he would have taken the loss of his arms or legs. What’s more, since the French, British, and American armies never pushed their way into Germany and occupied Berlin, He was convinced that the Imperial German Army would have won the war had it not been for a “stab in the back” by Jewish Marxists.

Like hundreds of thousands of other demobilized veterans, Hitler went back to Germany to swell the ranks of a newly emerging radical right. What finally distinguished him from the crowd of so many radical German nationalists was his instinctive understanding of the way propaganda works, his eccentric yet powerful reading of German history, and, quite frankly, his genius. To read Mein Kampf, to plow through hundreds of pages of turgid, badly written prose, is to realize that Adolf Hitler was essentially a brilliant advertising man who put himself in the service of a radically authoritarian political ideology. Had he been born in the United States sometime in the 1930s, he might have ended up as just another Don Draper, a Madison Avenue advertising executive selling Lucky Strikes and Coca Cola instead of anti-Semitism and mass murder. Instead, he was born in Europe in 1889. As if to fulfill his youthful dream of becoming an architect, wound up building a totalitarian state on the smoldering ruins of the Habsburg and Hohenzollern Empires.

As I read Mein Kampf, I tried to look at it from the point of view of someone reading the book in 1925, not 2016, someone who had not yet witnessed the Second World War and the Holocaust. Going through the autobiography of one of the greatest mass murderers in human history felt a bit like reading hard core pornography, something vaguely shameful, but fascinating, if only because of its forbidden quality. So I resisted the impulse to loudly and moralistically condemn the book in order to prove that I’m not a Nazi, to declare that I don’t have any latent fascist or anti-Semitic biases. Instead, the question I kept asking myself was “is the ideology in Mein Kampf harmful in and of itself or was it simply a reflection of the violence that came out of the First World War?” I also kept noting the disturbing similarity between Mein Kampf and the views of a lot of contemporary 9/11 conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones, even as I reminded myself that no 9/11 conspiracy theorist has ever committed mass murder or started a world war. The conclusion I came away with was that everybody should read the book at least once, if only to be able to see through the propaganda on the radical right.

There are about 5 or 6 basic tenants to the Nazi worldview:



Conspiracy Theory


Pseudo-Scientific Racism


In 1914, on the eve of the First World War, the largest political party in the German Reichstag was the Social Democrats. It’s important to remember that the German Social Democrats in 1914 were not simply liberals by another name like Bernie Sanders or the British Labor Party. Instead, they were a genuinely revolutionary movement officially devoted to the teachings of Karl Marx. That made it all the more shocking, therefore, when their leadership decided to support the monarchy and vote yes on declaring war against the British, French and Russians. Marxist Leninism, a more radical, and anti-parliamentary, version of social democracy came to the mainstream during the First World War, largely as a protest against the more orthodox German and French socialist surrender to militarism and nationalism. Trotsky and Lenin were allowed free passage into Russia by the German government precisely because of their anti-war views, to give them the opportunity to take Russia out of the war and free up German troops on the eastern front to join the offensive against France. Sending Trotsky and Lenin into Russia worked, but it was too little, too late. In 1918, the German monarchy, which had been starved by the Royal Navy’s blockade, and which was now facing the United States in addition to the British and the French, collapsed. The same Social Democrats who voted for the war credits in 1914, now led the German Revolution against the Kaiser. In October of 1918, Germany was an empire. In November of 1918, it was a democratic republic. Sadly for the fate of Europe, however, the vindictive French government, still resenting their defeat 50 years before in the Franco Prussian War, decided to push for a hard peace, for the return of Alsace and Lorraine, and for massive reparations that would make it difficult, if not impossible for the Weimar Republic to establish itself over the long term.

For Adolf Hitler, and for many radical German nationalists like him, the Social Democrats who led the German Revolution in 1918 were nothing more than front men for an international Jewish conspiracy. Marxism, for Hitler, was not only Judaism by another name, but a dagger aimed at the heart of the German nation itself. History was governed, not by economic forces, but by an eternal, and largely ahistorical struggle between the “Aryan” and the “Jew.” Other peoples, Slavs, blacks, Asians, the French, and even the majority Germans, were a mongrelized, easily manipulated, and degenerate mass, raw material to be fought over by the creative Aryan and the destructive Jew, the Christ and Satan of Hitler’s atheist theology. The disagreement I have with most reviews of Mein Kampf, from Adam Gopnik’s clueless and snobbish article in the New Yorker to Kenneth Burke’s classic examination of Hitler’s rhetoric as a demonic appropriation of Roman Catholicism is that they deny just how sincerely Hitler believed in what he was saying. Hitler wasn’t simply the low-class malcontent of Adam Gopnik or conscious propagandist of Kenneth Burke. He was a man of his age, a Social Darwinist who built an entire world view out of a distorted reading of natural selection and the idea of the death of God, and then built an army to put his ideology into practice.

Hitler’s fundamental insight was the idea that the only way to defeat a revolutionary ideology was with another revolutionary ideology, that the German bourgeoisie was too tame and conservative to defend its class interests against revolutionary socialism. What won Hitler the support of the German ruling class, in spite of his pretension to being anti-capitalist, was that he replaced the Marxist emphasis on economics, the idea that capitalism produced its own gravedigger in the form of the revolutionary proletariat, with a radical right wing nationalism and an ahistorical, biological essentialism. For Hitler, Germany was not a political entity like the Habsburg Empire or the Hohenzollern Reich. It was not defined by the German language, but by “blood.” The idea of forcing Poles, Czechs, and Serbians to speak German, to assimilate into a traditional Germany way of life, was horrifying. A Pole or a Czech, even if he spoke German and worshipped at a Lutheran church, was still a Pole or a Czech, a biological inferior species who degraded the German race as a whole. Human beings did not have souls, did not stand apart from or above nature in any way. For Hitler, the idea that we can master nature is Jewish, and Marxist propaganda. Like any other animal, humans are locked into a biological process that they do not control. Different races, like different species, cannot and should not interbreed. A Pole or a Czech having children with an Aryan is like a pig having a litter with a goat, an abomination of nature orchestrated by the demonic Jew.

To reduce humans to just another animal makes the idea of genocide inevitable. Whether or not someone has the power to kill 6 million Jews or not, the argument Hitler makes in Mein Kampf is that it’s his duty to try. What makes Hitler different from just another racist, anti-Semite, or conspiracy theorist is the radical break with the Judeo-Christian (and Islamic) assumption that we have souls, that we cannot be reduced to our “blood.” For the capitalist ruling class of the 1920s and 1930s, who also believed that humans could be reduced to objects, to “hands” or “human capital,” Hitler’s ideology was a useful weapon to use against revolutionary Marxism. It still is. Whether in the form of the radical French proletariat of the Paris Commune of 1871, the German Social Democratic masses of 1918, or the third world refugees of 2016 desperately streaming into fortress Europe, a class society always produces its own gravediggers. A revolutionary conservative reaction is never far behind.

Twitter: The Id of the Worrrrrld of Tomorrooooow!

“I got summer hating on me ’cause I’m hotter than the sun/got spring hating on me ’cause I ain’t never sprung/winter hating on me ’cause I’m colder than y’all/and I would never, I would never, I would never fall/I’m being hated by the seasons/so fuck y’all , hating for no reason.”

 – “Mr. Carter” by Lil Wayne (featuring Jay-Z) off of Tha Carter III (2008)

I don’t Tweet. I’ve tried a couple of times, but even for an aspiring obsessive-compulsive self-trained as a child to hunt for every worthless item within the fantasy worlds of obtuse Japanese RPGs, trying to catch up on the witticisms of those I followed after a lapse of checking my account for even a couple of days repeatedly dissuaded me. What I truly enjoy is reading about Twitter. It’s the sort of thing that makes the would-be intellectual confident they’ve earned their professorial beard and pessimistic ennui. It is the distillation of first-world humanity’s collective id, our frustrated inner child, the hole we leave in the wall right after we stub our toe, the reason we want that pack of dogs Michael Vick abused to be retrained so, if just for a day, they can eat Adrian Peterson, and then be retrained back. It’s also why we know that won’t happen, or, at least if it does, one of the dogs will maul another one of the dogs or something before they get retrained back to being nice dogs. Can you Manchurian Candidate dogs like that? I’m not sure. I’ve always been a cat person.

I’ve recently gone through a long piece about Vanessa Place, a person (a “conceptual poet”) doing a thing (okay, I’ve had my fun), specifically, tweeting the entirety of Gone with the Wind piece-by-piece, and the controversy this has garnered. Posted alongside racist caricatures and depictions of blacks from throughout history, the project is an apparent effort to draw litigation from the estate of Margaret Mitchell, calling attention to Gone with the Wind‘s racism in the process. On the other side are the sorts who mistake ever recalling any racism in history, even for the purposes of seeing that said racism is known of and acknowledged, as itself a horribly racist thing to do, because who the hell ever learned from history?

I find Gone with the Wind tepid. It’s boring, it’s racist in the special kind of way that only a 1930s love note to the institution of slavery that still wanted to sell tickets to well-to-do bourgeois in the North could have been, and it centers around film history’s coldest, most-inaccessible, most-put-out-about-not-being-an-ingenue villain, Scarlett O’Hara. While this reading may not be common, what is less common is the identification of the book and movie as being short only one Shirley Temple and one Bill Robinson of being “period pieces” of the “super-duper racist” period. Place’s Twitter account is plainly a series of excerpts deliberately paired with provocative and racist imagery to communicate that Gone with the Wind is racist. But unlike Birth of a Nation, the cinematic and technological achievements of its film adaptation were never ultimately looked at in the pall of the racist shadow cast by the film’s content. This in no small part due to Hollywood resting their heads comfortably up their own asses for the better part of a century, satisfied to coast by as “progressive” for having once given an Oscar to a black chick who played–if you’ve never seen Gone with the Wind, I shit you not–a slave called “Mammy.” And then they took 24 years to give an acting award to another black person. And after that, they took 19 more fucking years to do it again!

“Did you hear it? He talked about how people in Hollywood are ahead of the curve on social matters. He even took credit for the civil rights movement!”

As the internet finishes its assimilation of the first world and increasingly spreads through to the second and third worlds, Twitter may become not only the first world’s id, but humanity’s id. If Twitter as a social medium did serve some function during the Arab Spring, then the resultant political environments should only reinforce this notion of the role of Twitter as humanity’s id: your id can win a war for you, but it can not rule your country for you.

This brings us back around to Vanessa Place: Is she just a distraction? She’s not a distraction, mind you, but her role as a marginal artist doing an ongoing art project that’s marginally clever makes the controversy surrounding it ripe for amplification.

Did anything, for example, really change when Google began indexing blogs along with the “news?” Rather than being directed to specific articles at the sites of newspapers and cable news outlets, you are directed through an endless stream of backdoors to approved thoughts and information disseminated by those same major news outlets. I feel like I never fucking leave the Washington Post’s stupid blog section, and I don’t even go there without being linked first. The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, every mass media outlet that was initially poised to look like so much discarded lettuce on the meat patty of the Internet has morphed into much of the patty’s bone meal substance and the nutrition-less bun containing it.

The layman who hoped to one day elevate to the sort that could gripe for money about their pet peeves by first elevating themselves into “bloggers” have become the minor leagues from which the mass media calls up its newest recruits to be drafted into the ranks of bloggers the mainstream outlets have begun to employ, working from home with no editors, no oversight except toward the avoidance of ruffled feathers, and no apparent spell-check software. Whereas the “blogosphere” was supposed to be the dream of an independent and democratic platform for expression and thought, it has become the night club from which the major label poaches the rock band willing to sell out in order to help marginalize the ones not willing to sell out, and they do so now at an ever-increasing clip so as to drown out any chorus of opposition otherwise.

Where the mainstream media spins the stories of government, these bloggers in their employ spin for them the stories of society, telling you how you should be thinking about how someone else acted, or how someone else thought, but most importantly, never telling you how you could act, never telling you what you might be able to do to take the power into your own hands. Where they talk about or live-tweet protests, even ones they cover in person, they throw up the old walls of casting those concerned as the societal “other” within whatever context the “other” is represented, to ensure you do not feel solidarity with anyone working toward having a potential effect on their surrounding environment. By seizing control of the blogosphere (gesundheit!), not through brute force but through establishment of the idea of legitimate blogs as opposed to independent blogs, they can direct the social conversation in addition to the civic conversation, choosing writers who they find inoffensive or whose views tow some narrative they benefit from popularizing to whatever degree they intend to.

It is in this way that Twitter is the id of the internet, but cannot, at least in the present world in which information and social attitudes filter from the mainstream media-down, aspire to be an outlet for the superego. On Twitter, the desires of the super-ego are argued endlessly via the id, necessitated by the false scarcity of space in which to deliver a thought that will largely be seen isolated from like ones and without context. Ultimately, this is what the whole Vanessa Place argument is about: suppression of the ego, her artistic criticism of Gone with the Wind and its lauded role in our society, by the superego, demanding that challenges to the offensive not offend by showing you what the offensive is, via the medium of the id, the knee-jerk reactions and intellectual shock and awe. The id is struggling to take control of the ego and superego, and as in life, it is failing.

It is a false debate at hand. It is a conversation doomed to go nowhere, purveyed by bloggers trawling Twitter for non-information to distract from foreign bombings of hospitals and domestic police murders of blacks, of the inherent criminality of the current structure of the financial system and the mass spying into all of our personal lives. They profit as entities from information control, not from information dissemination. The conversation over Vanessa Place’s Twitter account is but one of thousands cherry-picked by bloggers themselves cherry-picked for their easy offense, an army of writers meant to shape the modern discourse, not serve it. And it is exactly what Time Warner, and News Corporation, and Comcast, and Jeff Bezos, and Tribune Publishing, and all the other mass media companies with everything to lose from truly democratic dissemination of information, want.