A Danceable (Final) Solution/To Teenage Revolution

|

What is it abut Brit rockers of the 70s and a yen for the Nazi look? And, following on that, a yen for getting attacked by bored activists?

[Bryan Ferry], the 61-year-old lead singer of Roxy Music, told Germany's Welt Am Sonntag newspaper last month: "The way that the Nazis staged themselves and presented themselves, my Lord!

"I'm talking about the films of Leni Riefenstahl and the buildings of Albert Speer and the mass marches and the flags—just fantastic. Really beautiful."

In a statement, Ferry said he was "deeply upset" about the negative publicity the interview triggered… Jewish leaders in Britain, some of whom had condemned Ferry's comments and questioned whether he should be dropped by the Marks & Spencer retail chain that employs him as a model, welcomed Ferry's clarification.

Ridiculous. This isn't even the Nazi metaphor-mixing I defended back in 2005. This is a totally true statement about how Nazis had excellent design sense. C'mon, does someone want to argue that Leni Riefenstahl didn't have a great sense of aesthetics?

One wrinkle in the "does praising Nazi design mean praising Nazis?" debate is the fact that today's anti-Semites and genocidalists generally have awful design sensabilities. The fearsome brownshirt of the 1930s has given way to the beer-gutted skinhead, the Hamas quasi-ninja, and the sad-sack Iranian soldier. The only people who want to learn from/rip off Nazi iconography are savvy, politically-disinterested artists and rock stars.

NEXT: Interior Designers Speak More Freely

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. The SS looked like they were comic book heros.

    Our troops looked like they were there to fix the air conditioner.

    But hey, we won! Yaaaaayyyyyyyy frumpy!

  2. It’s true – Nazi “fine art” was atrocious, but their graphic design, architecture fashion sense and sense of spectacle was fantastic. Cold and inhuman, but fantastic.

    No wonder Reifenstahl has been ripped off by film-makers from Welles to Lucas, and David Bowie stalked the stage in a black SS coat. Hitler would have despised this adulteration of his precious symbols for decadent, sybaritic ends, so it’s fine by me.

  3. Had the Italians fascists had the military ability and fashion sense of the Nazis, they would now be today’s “stock villain” in most movies. Fortunately for them, they were busy getting kicked out of Ethiopia and looking rather plain in the process.

  4. Our troops looked like they were there to fix the air conditioner.

    In Auschwitz, air conditioner fix you.

  5. Yeah, they did try to murder entire sections of humanity and were pretty much the evilest people alive, but damn they did look good doing it.

    In all fairness Joe, the Ike Jacket and the brown kaki looked damn good. Yeah maybe not as swank as a black trench coat with a death head on it, but pretty damn good nonetheless.

  6. C’mon, does someone want to argue that Leni Riefenstahl didn’t have a great sense of aesthetics?

    I had to watch Triumph of the Will for a history class once. I thought it was to films what Mein Kampf was to literature. . . boring, over the top propaganda that went on too long. Really, did the Nazis shoot all the editors first?

    I never figured out that while Nazi is little short of a euphemism for evil nowadays, even the cultural elite have some affection for Riefenstahl’s “art.” I’d rather watch paint dry.

  7. Big school shooting in Virginia. 31 dead.

  8. The SS looked like they were comic book heros.

    Our troops looked like they were there to fix the air conditioner.

    I presume you’re talking about their combat fatigues. Their service uniforms actually looked pretty spiffy. Just look at any photo of General Marshall wearing his green jacket and khaki trousers. But even the combat fatigues of the WW2 GI look like high fashion compared to the desert camouflage fatigues that I see all the time on the Metro, and which appear to become standard office wear for soldiers assigned to the Pentagon. Those things look like pajamas, though not nearly as neat as the black pajamas that Charlie used to wear in Vietnam.

  9. They ripped off the end of Star Wars from Triumph of the Will, didn’t they?

  10. The SS looked like they were comic book heros.

    Our troops looked like they were there to fix the air conditioner.

    I presume you’re talking about their combat fatigues. Their service uniforms actually looked pretty spiffy.

    Comic book heroes? Maybe early-90s vintage:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4oU_Cz8b2sM (hilarious bit)

  11. Sadism and black leather just go together. Ironically, it also seems to be a gay thing.

    Ohhh Whip me, hurt me, Make me sing Wagner!

  12. This is the rough equivalent of saying that Hitler was a brilliant public speaker, which is also largely true.

  13. I have to concur that no other political power since the Romans have plied the symbolism = might design influence as well.

    Think of it, the marches, the banners, the flag/pole bearers, the bonfires, the rallies… even the Soviets could never master the art of powerful symbolism quite the same way. Mass murdering fuckheads maybe, but damn they looked the part!

  14. Dave Weigel:

    What if you were to rock a Hitler-style mustache?

    There’s nothing wrong with that ‘stache, per se, it’s just that human minds make weird associations.

    I love classical architecture. And a good parade.

    But the sheer terribleness of fascism was such that it toxified everything it touched.

  15. What if you were to rock a Hitler-style mustache?

    I prefer that you call it “Charlie Chaplin style.”

    Thank you.

  16. “What if you were to rock a Hitler-style mustache?”

    you’d be that dood opposite Holly Johnson in “Frankie”

  17. Ah, the fortunes of war. Today, the police in Germany wear uniforms intentionally designed to signify an authority level somewhere between bus driver and Maytag repairman and the military uniforms aren’t much better.

    I agree with Seamus that the U.S. Army dress uniforms and fatigues during WWII were “pretty spiffy” and a damned sight better than the polyester puke greens and BDUs they wear today, especially including the earlier garrison caps by contrast to those idiotic “morale boosting” black felt berets they are now forced to wear.

  18. I seem to remember Mel Brooks praising the Nazis’ outfits. Mel certianly loves the nazis’ pagentry.

  19. How about those “Death Star officer” hats worn by the Japanese officers – natty or dorky?

  20. Meanwhile, not a word said about the millions of Che T-shirts and posters.

  21. The United States takes seriously the cliche “The side with the simplest uniform wins”. Since we are not fighting anyone with a real uniform. So we had to make an outfit that is simpler then Arab street clothes. It is a race to the bottom.

    I think it is cool that the rank tab is now center of mass above the body armor batman style.

  22. Those weird half-teardrop-shaped helmets worn by the grunts who actually “fire” the Death Star: pro or con?

  23. I was one of the first people to be dumb enough to buy the new ACUs. I went to JRTC with it and was the only guy in them. One of the AARs for the exercise was “you could see that guy in the ACU’s from everywhere”. This is our new hi tech uniform. The damn thing also rips at the slightest touch and is hotter than hell. Hotter than the tree suit and I didn’t think that was possible. I can’t imagine the poor bastards in Iraq in them. The DCU was a very comfortable nice looking uniform. But of course we had to get rid of it.

  24. Meanwhile, not a word said about the millions of Che T-shirts and posters.

    Make one with your own face:

    http://www.letsgetshirtfaced.com

  25. This is the rough equivalent of saying that Hitler was a brilliant public speaker, which is also largely true.

    I never got that. He always looked like a lunatic to me.

  26. I was pretty sure I heard, when the movie version of Starship Troopers came out, that the art director or costume designer or somebody involved with the movie said that if you want military uniforms that are really cool and stylish, “you really have to look to the Third Reich.” But Google turns up nothing.

  27. “I never got that. He always looked like a lunatic to me.”

    I had a german professor in college who was also a communications PHD. Acutally Hitler’s speeches didn’t make a hell of a lot of sense even in German. But they had an almost hypnotic quality about them to the listeners. The listeners never really understood what he was saying either to a large degree. But the quality of the voice and the way it was delivered really affected people. It was just down right creepy how is speeches worked.

  28. It’s okay, so long as you dress like the good Nazis.

  29. Stevo,
    Found quite a bit on Google regarding the uniform styling, etc. but not that quote. It may have been from the Jan. 1998 Sight and Sound referenced here but I have not been able to find the text of the review online.

  30. Today, the police in Germany wear uniforms intentionally designed to signify an authority level somewhere between bus driver and Maytag repairman

    Yeah, but the MP5s I saw them carrying at the Munich El-Al terminal in 2000 tended to make up for that deficiency somewhat.

  31. Sadism and black leather just go together. Ironically, it also seems to be a gay thing.

    …or not so ironic – the SA (Brownshirts) were led by Ernst Roehm, who was gay. Most of the other SA leadership was also gay. Roehm thought that the SA would replace the Army, which horrified the Prussian officer corps. Hitler needed their support, so Himmler (Roehm’s rival) had the SA leaders killed.

    Other than Riefenstahl, there weren’t too many other Nazi artists (or German artists willing to stay in Nazi Germany) who made much of an impact. Douglas Sirk / Detlef Sierck, maybe, but I believe he left before the war started. Veit Harlan was the next best director they had, and ‘competent’ is about all you could say for him. (Regarding the construction of his films – not their content.

  32. It’s okay, so long as you dress like the good Nazis.

    Pro Lib,

    You mean like Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS?

  33. What’s up with that, anyway?

    When is it a good idea to fire an automatic weapon in an airport terminal?

    What is the situation that ends with everyone in the terminal saying, “Thank God that cop didn’t have to aim and fire each shot?” Wouldn’t the type of emergency they’re likely to face make it better to have one hand free?

    I remember thinking the same thing about the National Guardsmen in the airports after 9/11. Thanks for your service, glad you’re here, but what’s up with the M-16?

  34. But the quality of the voice and the way it was delivered really affected people. It was just down right creepy how is speeches worked.

    I’ve watched some footage of his speeches. I think John is onto something. There’s a certain rhythm that he had to his voice where he build momentum with for few beat then explode and there crowd would go nuts. I’ve never seen anything else quite like it.

  35. Yeah, but the MP5s I saw them carrying at the Munich El-Al terminal in 2000 tended to make up for that deficiency somewhat.

    I first saw that on a layover in Frankfurt in 92.

    My reaction was the same as joe’s.

  36. I remember thinking the same thing about the National Guardsmen in the airports after 9/11. Thanks for your service, glad you’re here, but what’s up with the M-16?

    1. At the time it was the only firearm they were issued or trained to use.
    2. My problem was that most of the rifles were not loaded.

  37. highnumber,

    Well, that goes without saying.

  38. I think you have to be very careful about knocking Riefenstahl for Triumph of the Will. She was tasked with making a documentary of a political convention. Not the sort of topic you usually think would result in great cinema. What she produced was a work of art, and perhaps more importantly, an invaluable historical record. Some peope forget the context of Triumph. This was the first Nazi Party Congress following the Night of the Long Knives. The men Hitler murdered were extremely popular among the rank and file. So this was a pivitol moment in Nazi history. Hitler was by no means assured a pleasant reception. He had to smooth over the resentment. And he did so through sheer audacity and spectacle. The title of the film was apt. Some people refer to Triumph as a propaganda film, but I think that is wrong. It was a progaganda event. Riefenstahl didn’t create that, she just filmed what Speer created. A critic could argue the that the manner in which she filmed the event played in to what Speer’s creation, but one could just as easily say she beautifully, and accurately captured the tone and mood of the event.

    Another point I’d like to add. You frequently see it cited that Riefenstahl’s work for Hitler in the 1930’s led to her being “blacklisted” from filmwork after the war. I could see this as being plausible today, but studio would have allowed a female director durring he 1950’s? Riefenstahl’s sex, before we even got in to her political affiliations, would have put the kibosh on her career. Women simply didn’t direct films back then, unless they happened to have won the favor of a progressive, genocidal dictator. Nazism didn’t ruin Riefenstahl’s carrer. It made it possible.

  39. I remember thinking the same thing about the National Guardsmen in the airports after 9/11.

    They’re still milling about in various NYC hotspots. The tourists don’t pose for photographs with them so much now. Maybe they woke up and realized that a Manhattan crawling with machine-gun toting soldiers isn’t so “cool” any more.

    I’ve never seen anything else quite like it.

    I agree. I speak German and I can’t make out anything he says either*, but it sure is riveting.

    *I think part of it is the heavy southern accent. But the rhythm is a big part too.

  40. “One wrinkle in the “does praising Nazi design mean praising Nazis?” debate is the fact that today’s anti-Semites and genocidalists generally have awful design sensabilities.”

    Okay, but Ahmadinejad looks amazing in his tailored suits with the open-neck dress shirts. His neatly trimmed beard contrasted against his olive skin…

    http://www.adelaideinstitute.org/images/photos2006/Ahmadinejad0.jpg

    The man knows how to dress. It may or may not trickle down to the troops, but he is the biggest fashion star on the world-leaders stage since Kennedy IMHO.

  41. Although this news item is essentially trivial it does signify an important issue involved in WWII History. We should try to understand the root cause of nazism’s appeal instead of just coding it as institutionalized anti-semitism. There was a lot more going on there than just hatred of Jews.

  42. Pro Lib,

    It needed to be said if only so I could link to a picture.

  43. highnumber,

    Hmmm. I think this answers stephen the goldberger’s query about whether Nazism rose from something more than mere antisemitism.

  44. Is this what he means by ‘good nazis‘?

  45. lunchstealer,

    Could be. They’re certainly less tainted than, say, Rommel or von Braun. Or von Stauffenberg, though I’m not sure what negatives could be associated with him. . .other than playing ball at all, anyway.

  46. LarryA,

    “1. At the time it was the only firearm they were issued or trained to use.”

    What about their sidearms? Why wouldn’t a large-caliber pistol be better in a crowded terminal? They’re probably be better off with that and a truncheon.

  47. Nazi style is the basis for modern Olympic pageantry

  48. Not one of you chumps commented on the deft headline that went with this entry.

  49. …the SA (Brownshirts) were led by Ernst Roehm, who was gay.

    Who remembers Underzog?
    I miss that lovable scamp.

  50. OK, so I’m not the first to make a reference to Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS. Just remember, the “good” Nazis only want to torture you for sexual gratification.

  51. For an underrated Naziplotation classic, check out “Last Orgy of the Third Reich”. It distingushes itself in the genre by not being afraid to directly confront the racial ideology of the Third Reich. The actresses themselves may not be Jewish (though they are the next closest thing- Italians), but the characters they play most certainly are. It also contains one of the greatest lines in cinema history, when a bunch of Nazi officers gather round a dinner table and as the food is being served one cackles, “ahh, nothing better than a pot roast of unborn Jew!”. Yes, this film is not afraid to pull any punches. The nudity is frequent, the acting solid, and the plotline suprisingly nuanced. Shades of The Night Porter.

  52. So which thread do I belong to?

  53. Today, the police in Germany wear uniforms intentionally designed to signify an authority level somewhere between bus driver and Maytag repairman and the military uniforms aren’t much better.

    Interestingly, those revolutionaries in East Germany did a pretty good job of carrying on the German uniform tradition.

  54. It isn’t quite right that the Nazis looked like comic book heroes, at least not superheroes. Superman, et al owed their flashy duds primarily to circus performers, and to the kind of comic opera costumery found in the illustrations in science fiction magazines, to the newspaper adventure strips such as Flash Gordon and The Phantom, and to a strong dose of Hollywood costume drama. Sometimes they cribbed from common sources. C.C. Beck used a costume design he had previously drawn up to illustrate The Student Prince when clothing Captain Marvel.

    Will Eisner played a good trick when he invented Blackhawk and his multinational squadron of flyers. He dressed them up in knockoffs of Third Reich wear, fighting fire with fire, so to speak.

    When Mel Brooks filmed The Producers, he included homages to the Busby Berkely movies of the 1930s. How much do you think Speer stole from those?

    Kevin

  55. I think that this vid sums up the Nazis’ bent for both sartorial sharpness and ambiguous sexuality nicely:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xZHzS1u1TCc

  56. Dave: Well-chosen title.

  57. The MP-5 and M-16 are both capable of fully automatic fire, but do not have to be used as such. You can switch them to semi-auto (one shot per trigger pull) or 3-round burst.
    I’d say they’re both a better option in an airport terminal than a large-caliber pistol. First of all, they’re both going to be easier to shoot acurrately at longer ranges, especially the M-16. Secondly, the MP5 shoots 9mm Luger and the M-16 shoots .223/5.56mm. Both of these are relatively small caliber that shouldn’t give you overpenetration problems; important around crowds. Using a large-caliber pistol instead would give you the double whammy of reduced accuracy plus greater consequences for being innaccurate.
    This often comes as a shock to people who don’t shoot, but that deer rifle your grandpa kept in his closet (let’s assume 30-06) packs a hell of a lot more punch than the ammo an M-16 uses. The fact that it has a pretty wooden stock and the M-16 is evil-looking black metal and plastic shouldn’t fool you.

  58. In the eternal argument “why do people remember the Nazis, but forget the crimes of the Communists” style certainly plays a big role, and is not mentioned enough. The early Bolsheviks looked kind of cool with their leather coats and sidearms, but by Stalin’s time the Soviet Union had already achieved the frumpy shapeless look it would carry to the end of its existence. The Communists never looked like evil master minds, more like annoying bureaucrats, which is one reason most of us in the West never took them seriously. And that’s also the reason Hollywood never made great films with evil Russians, it’s not just because Hollywood is full of leftists. The one big failure of Nazi aesthetics were the steel helmets – they look goofy on most people, the British or the American helmet is a much better choice.

    On the other hand, the Nazis were not terribly original – most of the pageantry was stolen lock, stock & barrel from the Romans. It’s ironic that the Germans did a much better job of resurrecting pagan Roman symbolism than the Italians did.

  59. On the other hand, the Nazis were not terribly original – most of the pageantry was stolen lock, stock & barrel from the Romans. It’s ironic that the Germans did a much better job of resurrecting pagan Roman symbolism than the Italians did.

    Yes, trouble is most people don’t their history well enough to understand that irony.

  60. I thought it was to films what Mein Kampf was to literature. . . boring, over the top propaganda that went on too long. Really, did the Nazis shoot all the editors first?

    That tends to be true of old movies though; at least, old movies that are supposed to be On a Large Scale. Those don’t age well, at all, because you have to realize that movies were still novel and amazing at the time.

  61. I’m not gay*, but, Mother of Pearl, Bryan Ferry is a sexy, sexy man.

    * Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

  62. The Nazis would’ve won and would’ve avoided their criminal excesses if they’d continued their Romanization and adopted the toga. Yep, it’s that simple, folks.

  63. Actually the Romans were quite adept at criminal excess themselves and probably would have admired the Nazis. The Romans had no problem at all with genocide and practiced it on numerous occasions – anyone met any Carthaginians lately? The German atrocity at Lidice (when an entire Czech village was wiped off the map in revenge for Heydrich’s assasination) would have struck a Roman general as quite a normal response.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.