Thursday, 23 April 2009

There's a war going on, you know! Quick, someone else write about it!

Guardian writer Tanya Gold (also of the Daily Mail) is on top form today with 947 words about how she's sick of hearing about Nazis, particularly in films specifically about Nazis that she went to see. Nazi cows, Nazi cats, actors playing depressed Nazis. It's all just Hitler porn and it disgusts me is a great example of a kind-of well-meaning, kind-of sensible thought which is argued so badly that it almost makes you want to believe the exact opposite. It's been prompted by a largely irrelevant piece of tat about "Nazi super-cows" that appeared in various papers, not for any political or newsworthy reasons, but entirely because the phrase "Nazi super-cows" is inherently funny, and the millions of cheap internet links it gained will have done wonders for the Guardian's hit count.

Gold goes on about various Nazi-themed films, but her argument begins to look shaky right about the time she does this:

I could go on[...] I could tell you about the Cats Who Look Like Hitler web page - "click here to add your Kitler".
She goes on to mention Cats That (not Who) Look Like Hitler again:

There is a point to all this Hitler porn, you may say. Snoopy Versus the Red Baron has a valuable lesson to teach us about tyranny. Cats Who Look Like Hitler have something to meow about the dangers of genocide. Bollocks, I say.
Of course, Cats That Look Like Hitler is merely a whimsical internet repository for pictures of cats that, well, I'm sure you can figure it out. It doesn't even begin to attempt to say anything about genocide, so to argue that it tries to and fails is a tad disingenuous, and runs the risk of making you look stupid even in comparison to a plainly stupid website. Gold keeps throwing out various examples of Hitler appearing in popular culture, but her problem is that she just lumps a load of unrelated instances together out of context. She mentions that 'he' (rather, a ludicrous animated version of him) appears in South Park, where he appears singing 'O Tannenbaum' in Hell, and then mentions 'Heil Honey I'm Home!', a BSkyB sitcom from 19 years ago that was cancelled after a single episode. Both these examples are of things that briefly took the piss out of Hitler, making the context completely different to the supposedly serious films like Valkyrie she mentions at the start.

So, perhaps we're to conclude that Gold is against all mentions of the Nazis (except a couple of highbrow reference points she includes). A lesser writer than myself would make the point that that sounds a bit...y'know, totalitarian itself, but I'll neatly avoid the Godwin minefield there (while still mentioning it, ahhh) and we'll move on to the compelling argument behind why we should stop making cartoons that make Hitler look ridiculous:

This disgusts me. It makes me wretch. I thought the whole point of the second world war was to eradicate Nazism from the face of the earth. No more swastikas, no more shiny boots, no more dwarf narcissists giving vegetarian dinner parties and shooting liberals.
Well, no, the Second World War wasn't about getting rid of the fucking swastika and the shiny boots, was it? Unless my understanding of history is rather warped, I would have thought the symbolism and the fashion choices of the Nazis ranked pretty low on the list of 100 Things That Worried Us About Nazism, some distance behind all the dictatorship stuff, the country-invading and the massive amounts of Jew-murdering. I don't think there were any soldiers who thought they were dying to protect their grandchildren from seeing flippant animated comedy several decades in the future.

Ultimately though, all this is a distraction from Gold's main, ridiculous point:

There are genocides happening today, and they are being shot off the front pages by Nazi cows - Nazi cows! - and interviews with Mortensen talking about playing a depressed Nazi: "I spent a lot of time in Germany just looking at people." Really? Five million have died in the Congo in the last 10 years, in a war for the minerals that we use.
The Nazi cows story wasn't on the front page of any newspaper as far as I can make out, with the exception of The Times, which used it as their picture story with a headline about how they 'terrorised Julius Caesar', rather than referring to them as 'Nazi super-cows'. The main headline was about MPs' expenses. I agree that the papers are far too full of cheap nonsense, but the problem is far more widespread than stupid stories about Nazi cows (notwithstanding the fact that most of her examples are from TV and film anyway rather than the press). In a week in which everyone's been going on about some woman who can sing quite well despite not being exactly being prime masturbation material, it seems nuts to go on about the Nazi cows piece as if it's our Nazi obsession that's keeping the Congo out of the papers. For a start, we're in an age where the obsession with celebrities means the Guardian writes almost as much pointless guff about Ashton Kutcher and Paris Hilton as the tabloids.

Of course, most of that stuff goes in its own section, as has the Nazi cows story, which papers seem to be filing under 'Quirky', so it's not quite as simple as 'every word you write about Hitler is a word you could have written about Darfur'. There are, however, people who do have a binary choice they can make about what to write about; columnists. They can write at great length about the Congo if they want to. So let's have a look at what Tanya 'shut up and start talking about important genocides' Gold has been talking about recently.

A week ago, Gold was writing about the aforementioned woman on Britain's Got Talent. The week before, she was writing about the pressing issue of how she doesn't like posh hotels any more. She's written recent articles about how much she likes a character from shit 80s soap Dynasty, and going further back an urgent public service announcement about how why you probably shouldn't go out with men that want to fuck other women. A glance through her articles sees her talking about diet pills, her weight loss regimes, dating advice, gap-year students, trying to track down her ex-boyfriends, Judith Chalmers not wearing any knickers, Carry On films...

Her Daily Mail columns (yep) are even more illuminating. Last week she was found dribbling over hunky muscle men and how she doesn't fancy geeks. Recently she's written about how she hates Valentine's Day, how she's bored with her life, an expensive dress and why people should stop telling her what to eat.

Now, all of these are perfectly valid topics for a columnist, and she tries to make some serious sociological points with many of them (and to be fair to her, she's also written a very good, very personal and important piece about rape which is well worth reading and gives an insight into a serious issue). It's perfectly fine. But if you're going to mostly use your platform as a columnist to write about the horror of staying in upmarket hotels and how you once dated a swinger, and not to educate people about the horrors in the Congo, then it kind of undermines you when you start laying on the weltschmerzen despite apparently never having bothered to write about it yourself. I couldn't find a single column in Gold's article history dedicated to actually making a point about the various worldwide genocides that are currently going on. 'There are more important things than this; you should write about them even though I'm not going to' is the kind of lazy argument lots of us fall into at times, but it doesn't make it any less rubbish.

Gold's piece kind of sums up the attitude that most people (and I'm not exempting myself from this) have towards the Congo and Sierra Leone and Sudan and all these other places; just pay lip service to how terrible it is, speak wistfully about how sad it is that no-one cares, and then go on not really caring yourself and expecting everyone else to write/do something about it.


  1. If she's so annoyed with people using the word 'Nazi' all the time she should have a quiet word with her fellow columnist Richard Littlejohn - next time he's on holiday from Florida.

  2. It does seem a bit hypocritical to criticise Nazi's for keeping Darfur out of the papers, when as you point out, the amount of vacuous shite printed by most newspapers about how famous woman X is emptying her bin WITHOUT MAKEUP etc. Seems that Gold -although she may be attempting to say something a bit deeper - still writes about the same shallow shite as everyone she is moaning about.

    Perhaps she should have dedicated this column to Darfur instead of writing about Nazi super-cows.