Saturday, August 16, 2008

To the honour and glory of the youth of the world

When my first thought upon hearing that the Olympics had begun was that it's time to rewatch Leni Riefenstahl's Nazi-era Olympia, this was not a comment on Chinese oppression. I'm interested in the intersections between Nazi culture and our own, and there are many of them. The strongest fascist undertones and imagery I've seen in a recent movie was in 300, but if we stripped our imagination of every fantasy that Nazis tried to impose on reality, we would be culturally poorer. (Star Wars copied from Triumph of the Will, and its story, like much fantasy, is implicitly elitist.) Olympia is the greatest sports movie ever made, and its lack of overt Nazi propaganda has made some people claim that it isn't "really" Nazi at all. Why, Riefenstahl didn't even edit out Jesse Owens! Which goes to show how easily confused people are by bad ideas in nice clothes. The Nazism in Olympia is not in the occasional shot of Adolf Hitler, it's in the athletic ideals themselves, in Riefenstahl's worship of strength and discipline as something mystical and beautiful. The Nazis imposed these ideals onto real life. We don't, we just enjoy them on TV. It's a gradual difference, morally significant but the esthetics are the same. Which to me is a reminder that nazism and fascism aren't dead, only hiding in our imagination, waiting for new words to escape to reality through. You may not be at risk, but what about your grandchildren?

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