In the 1930s radio had been around for a few decades, but it was only just becoming commonplace, and it was still an exciting new technology that was rapidly connecting the world and contributing to social and political change. In the US, radio was defining President Roosevelt's man-of-the-people image, with his inviting and personable fireside chats. In Europe, however, radio's effect was amplifying a much more virulent form of populism.

hitler and mussolini

Fascism was finding its voice. The blended pride and humiliation of national ego, and the simultaneously mocking and fearful portrayal of the weak and terrifying other, were tapping into impulses that were deeply human and capable of immeasurable cruelty. But by the 1950s, the world had adapted to its new interconnectedness, and it seemed certain that we had left true fascism behind for good. It wasn't until recently, with a new technology to connect us more than ever, that the cycle returned and society began finding its way back to those ancient and ruinous tribal divisions around the world.

This is the what comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, best known for his portrayal of Borat in the film of the same name, and for his cutting political series Who Is America?, was speaking to on Thursday night. He was giving a speech at the Anti Defamation League's International Leadership summit, when he said that "all this hate and violence is being facilitated by a handful of internet companies that amount to the greatest propaganda machine in history."

borat joke

The incredible communicative power of the Internet has the potential to unite us with the kind of populism that brought us the New Deal—or indeed the Green New Deal—or to divide us with a new era of fascism and hate. If CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page, and Jack Dorsey are unable or unwilling to face the tremendous responsibility this power places on their shoulders, we must either wrench this power from them through any regulatory means at our disposal, or face devastation that may well exceed the ravages of World War II.


Taika Waititi Stars as Adolf Hitler in Satirical "Jojo Rabbit" Trailer

Taika Waititi plays Hitler in Jojo Rabbit

Walt Disney Studios

New Zealand-born director Taika Waititi is best known for his comedies, namely vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows and Thor: Ragnorak (the only good Thor movie).

But even for someone who loves Waititi's screwball sensibilities, the premise of his newest film, Jojo Rabbit, might come as a shock. See, in his newest movie, Waititi (who's half-Māori and half-Russian-Jewish, by the way) plays Adolf Hitler. No, not the real Adolf Hitler! Just a child's good-natured, imaginary best friend version of Adolf Hitler. If that sounds absolutely bats**t insane, that's because it is. You can watch the whole trailer here:

JOJO RABBIT Trailer (2019) Taika Waititi, Scarlett Johansson

The craziest thing about the Jojo Rabbit trailer is that it actually looks very promising. Although maybe that shouldn't be a surprise considering Waititi's excellent track record.

Billed as an "anti-hate satire," the plot of JoJo Rabbit focuses on a young boy in Nazi Germany who befriends an idealized, imaginary version of his hero, Adolf Hitler. As the young boy makes his way through Hitler Youth camp, his secretly anti-Nazi mother (Scarlett Johansson) harbors a young Jewish girl in their home.

The cast also includes Sam Rockwell as the Hitler Youth camp leader, Captain Klenzendorf; Alfie Allen as his second-in-command, Finkel; and Rebel Wilson as a brutish instructor, Fräulein Rahm.

Love it or hate it, there's no denying that this is one of the most original premises to hit movie theaters in ages.

JoJo Rabbit is set to be released on October 18th, 2019.


Best War Movies to Watch on Memorial Day

Celebrate Memorial Day with the power of cinema.

Warner Bros.

Memorial Day is a somber holiday dedicated to honoring the fallen members of our armed forces.

While movies are often a great medium for escapist entertainment, they can also serve to help us explore unfamiliar perspectives and experiences. So if you're looking for a good way to contemplate the trials and tribulations of war on your day off, look no further than these cinematic tales of war:

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'Mein Kampf': the Hitler comedy

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.