In Turkey, the furor over the Fuhrer is over.
Last week, the Turkish Jewish community was enraged when a Turkish sports channel carried a shampoo commercial that featured Adolf Hitler. Over archival footage of the dictator at a rally were dubbed the words, “If you are not wearing women’s dress, you shouldn’t be using women’s shampoo either!”
A “huge insult to human rights,” said the leaders of Turkish Jewry. “Unacceptable,” said Turkey’s chief rabbi. “The ad is also demeaning to women.”
This week, Biota Laboratories pulled the spot for its shampoo.
“Decisive actions by the leaders of the Turkish Jewish Community mobilized national and international public opinion against the shockingly offensive use of Hitler imagery for commercial purposes,” said the American Jewish Committee’s David Harris.
The commercial is gone, but the brief controversy points out a phenomenon that won’t go away: Hitler and the swastika and other Nazi images are no longer verboten in popular culture. Often they employ humor, and it’s not only in Turkey.
Since my book, “Laughter in Hell” — which studied how Jewish and non-Jewish victims of the Third Reich employed humor as a form of spiritual resistance — came out in 1991, I have followed the increasing use, and acceptability, of “Holocaust humor” in once-unexpected venues.
A project by an Israeli art academy that produced an exhibit showing Hitler in laughable ways. German movies and television shows, often made by Jewish directors, which mock Hitler. Heeb magazine’s “Fake Holocaust Memoir Contest.” Various YouTube videos that use Hitler footage for such purposes as protesting the lack of parking space in Tel Aviv or boosting a political candidate in Colorado.
The list goes on, including a recent “Hipster Hitler” webcomic, and an ongoing series of films that bring an element of humor to Holocaust themes.
The conclusion is obvious: the Shoah is no longer taboo territory.
In a 1976 interview, novelist Kurt Vonnegut declared that, “I can’t imagine a humorous book or skit or whatever about Auschwitz.”
He’d reconsider today.
“Is Adolf Hitler the funniest man in the world?” a writer asked a few years ago in a prominent Canadian magazine, reacting to a spate of Hitler jokes on TV and in stand-up comedy. His answer: “Hitler comedy” is “absolutely thriving” around the world.
The Holocaust, the horrors of 1933-’45, aren’t as painful for younger generations, where irony rules, as for people who lived through World War II. Often, Jews (think Mel Brooks or Sarah Silverman) are responsible for — or guilty of, if you prefer — the new intersection of Holocaust and humor. For some people, humor is a classic means for dealing with pain. For others, humor is the last remaining way to artistically approach the subject of Nazi, all the serious themes already taken.
As last week’s shampoo commercial in Turkey illustrated, humor about the Holocaust and Hitler are here to stay — we won’t be washing that man out of our hair anytime soon.