THEATER | George Tabori's dark satire on Hitler's formative years is revived at Theatre for the New City
Hitler and a Jewish bible salesman share an apartment in Vienna. Rather than being the opening line of a joke, this is the premise for (the sadly deceased) George Tabori's play: Mein Kampf. This offbeat, surreal comedy, produced at Theatre for the New City, is a sideways look at Hitler's formative years applying for art school in Vienna, and a fictionalized account of the company he kept. Taking place over an indeterminate amount of time, we see the formation of his worldview, and his evolution into the dictator the world came to know and fear.
Daring to make Hitler the subject of humor in a human way is an interesting take. This seems to be, at least initially, Tabori's goal. Adolf is portrayed as an overly-serious, entitled young man with a mother complex and an inability to take a joke. He is puppyishly naïve, and emotionally fragile. It's funny to see him as a petulant, ineffectual child. His darkly prophetic lines are spoken earnestly to his roommate Shlomo. "I will give you an oven" he says as a token of thanks. However, as the play progresses, instead of seeing his development gradually into dictator, it's as if the switch is suddenly flipped in the second act, and he goes directly from art student to führer. A disappointing use of the concept.
John Freda as Shlomo, Omri Kadim as Hitler (Photo by Michael E. Mason)
That said, Omri Kadim is a fantastic Hitler. He masters the nuances of his behavior, and gives him a rich humanity that makes him all the more disturbing to watch. He plays the straight man to Jon Freda's Shlomo. Freda performs his character like a harried, down on his luck, Borscht-belt comedian. He's a charming stage presence, and a welcome watch, but it's not clear what the character's function is in the story. As the man who jokingly says to Hitler "You should go into politics", you would assume he would be part of a double-act. But he ends up being the main character.
Shlomo spends much of the play eulogizing, and talking about the book he is writing, which he calls 'Mein Kampf'. It is not clear whether Tabori is implying that a Jewish man wrote Hitler's infamous meisterwork, or if he just came up with the title. He talks to his other roommate (Jeff Burchfield), who claims to be god and discusses philosophy. He talks with his young virginal consort Gretchen (Andrea Lynn Green) who brings him a pet chicken and Shlomo puzzles over why she loves him. A woman called Death (Cordis Heard) visits, she seems very interested in Hitler. All of this adds up to… well, it's not clear.
John Freda as Shlomo, Andrea Lynn Green as Gretchen (Photo by Michael E. Mason)
Tabori doesn't seem to have a distinct thesis. A play about Hitler living with a Jewish man is so ripe with possibility that the product we are presented with leaves us wanting more. Director Manfred Bormann interprets Tabori to create a piece of theatre that, tonally, fits no distinct mode. The play is obviously a comedy with dramatic flair, with moments of bona fide hilarity and tragedy, but its infusions of the surreal are so down-played that it is difficult to know how to feel about the action. What here is inspired by historical fact? What is fabrication? What is the purpose of the surreal discourse? What does this information educate us to in reference to Hitler, the holocaust and the Jewish experience? The best plays present no easy answers, it's true, but they also lead you through a clear line of thought to more specific questions.
Mein Kampf is worth seeing for the performances, and for its frequent moments of exquisite dark comedy. However as a play to encourage greater social understanding or educate an audience on a grander theme, it skims past the mark. Recommended to fans of the Theatre for the New City, and the more curious and eccentric theatre-goer.
Let's take a look at Nazi-inspired fashion.
Villains always have the best outfits.
From Darth Vader's polished black space armor to The Joker's snazzy purple suit, bad guys always seem to show up their protagonists in the fashion department.
Way more handsome than Batman. static.giantbomb.com
But could there possibly be a real world equivalent to the type of over-the-top villain fashion often found in fiction? It would have to be sleek and imposing, austere and dangerous. Probably black.
Maybe it's him. Maybe it's fascist ideology.
Let's call a spade a spade. From an aesthetic standpoint, the Nazi SS outfit is very well-designed. The long coat tied around the waist with a buckle portrays a slim, sturdy visage. The leather boots and matching cap look harsh and powerful. The emblem placements on the lapel naturally suggest rank and authority. And the red armband lends a splash of color to what would otherwise be a dark monotone. If the Nazi uniform wasn't so closely tied with the atrocities they committed during WWII, it wouldn't seem out of place at Fashion Week. Perhaps not too surprising, considering many of the uniforms were made by Hugo Boss.
Pictured: A real thing Hugo Boss did. i.imgur.com
Of course, today, Nazi uniform aesthetics are inseparable from the human suffering doled out by their wearers. In most circles of civilized society, that's more than enough reason to avoid the garb in any and all fashion choices. But for some, that taboo isn't a hindrance at all–if anything, it's an added benefit.
As a result, we have Nazi chic, a fashion trend centered around the SS uniform and related Nazi imagery.
History of Nazi Chic
For the most part, Nazi chic is not characterized by Nazi sympathy. Rather, Nazi chic tends to be associated with counterculture movements that view the use of its taboo imagery as a form of shock value, and ironically, anti-authoritarianism.
The movement came to prominence in the British punk scene during the mid-1970s, with bands like the Sex Pistols and Siouxsie and the Banshees displaying swastikas on their attire alongside other provocative imagery.
Very rotten, Johnny. i.redd.it
Around this time, a film genre known as Nazisploitation also came to prominence amongst underground movie buffs. A subgenre of exploitation and sexploitation films, Naziploitation movies skewed towards D-grade fare, characterized by graphic sex scenes, violence, and gore. Plots typically surrounded female prisoners in concentration camps, subject to the sexual whims of evil SS officers, who eventually escaped and got their revenge. However, the most famous Nazisploitation film, Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS, flipped the genders.
The dorm room poster that will ensure you never get laid. images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com
Ilsa was a female SS officer and the victims were men. She spent much of the movie wearing her Nazi uniform in various states, sexually abusing men all the while. As such, Ilsa played into dominatrix fantasies. The movie was a hit on the grindhouse circuit, inspiring multiple sequels and knock-offs and solidifying Nazi aesthetics as a part of the BDSM scene.
Since then, Nazi chic fashion has been employed by various artists, from Madonna to Marilyn Manson to Lady Gaga, and has shown up in all sorts of places from leather clubs to character designs in video games and anime.
Lady Gaga looking SS-uper. nyppagesix.files.wordpress.com
Nazi Chic in Asia
Nazi chic has taken on a life of its own in Asia. And unlike Western Nazi chic, which recognizes Nazism as taboo, Asian Nazi chic seems entirely detached from any underlying ideology.
A large part of this likely has to do with the way that Holocaust education differs across cultures. In the West, we learn about the Holocaust in the context of the Nazis committing horrific crimes against humanity that affected many of our own families. The Holocaust is presented as personal and closer to our current era than we might like to think. It is something we should "never forget." Whereas in Asia, where effects of the Holocaust weren't as prominent, it's simply another aspect of WWII which, in and of itself, was just another large war. In other words, Nazi regalia in Asia might be viewed as simply another historical military outfit, albeit a particularly stylish one.
In Japan, which was much more involved with WWII than any other Asian country, Nazi chic is usually (but not always) reserved for villainous representations.
OF COURSE. i.imgur.com
That being said, J-Pop groups like Keyakizaka46 have publicly worn Nazi chic too, and the phenomena isn't limited to Japan.
In South Korea, Indonesia, and Thailand, Nazi imagery has shown up in various elements of youth culture, completely void of any moral context. For instance, in Indonesia, a Hitler-themed fried chicken restaurant opened in 2013. And in Korea, K-Pop groups like BTS and Pritz have been called out for propagating Nazi chic fashion. Usually such incidents are followed by public apologies, but the lack of historical understanding makes everything ring hollow.
So the question then: is Nazi chic a bad thing?
The answer is not so black and white.
On one hand, seeing Nazi chic on the fashion scene may dredge up painful memories for Holocaust survivors and those whose family histories were tainted. In this light, wearing Nazi-inspired garb, regardless of intent, seems disrespectful and antagonistic. Worse than that, it doesn't even seem like a slight against authority so much as a dig at actual victims of genocide.
But on the other hand, considering the fact that even the youngest people who were alive during WWII are edging 80, "forgetting the Holocaust" is a distinct possibility for younger generations. In that regard, perhaps anything that draws attention to what happened, even if it's simply through the lens of "this outfit should be seen as offensive," might not be entirely bad. This, compounded by the fact that Nazi chic is not commonly associated with actual Nazi or nationalistic sentiments, might be enough to sway some people–not necessarily to wear, like, or even appreciate its aesthetics, but rather to understand its place within counterculture.
Ultimately, one's views on Nazi chic likely come down to their own personal taste and sensibilities. For some, Nazi chic is just a style, an aesthetic preference for something that happens to be mired in historical horror. For others, the shadow of atrocity simply hangs too strong.
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Summer Walker returns and is no longer playing games.
Summer Walker loves creating music but despises the music industry.
She regularly considers retirement and ended her 2019 tour early because of social anxiety. "I hope that people understand and respect that at the end of the day I'm a person, I have feelings, I get tired, I get sad," she said in a video post. "I don't want to lose myself for someone else." She was relentlessly vilified for her decision. Fans cited stiff meet-and-greets and chalked up Walker's cancellations to a sense of entitlement.
Then she was presented with the "Best New Artist" award at the 2019 Soul Train Awards, and her hurried acceptance speech was dissected by tasteless memes all across the country. Walker's candid cries for understanding remained completely ignored by years end. The truth of the matter is that Walker suffers from anxiety and stage fright that is all but totally crippling. So she did what any misunderstood artist does, she disappeared and stopped saying anything at all.