The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed — the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress (Charlie Chaplin, 1940).
Mel Brooks’ musical “The Producers” is one of the greatest joys and regrets of my life as a parent.
Tracie P and I are big Broadway musical fans. And so it was only natural that our love of “song and dance” would rub off on our children.
Early on in our lives as parents, we had to eliminate “The Book of Mormon” from our playlists because of the pervasive profanity and the delicate subject matter. After all, my in-laws are devout Methodists.
But with a little real-time manual editing (Yiddish profanity doesn’t count), “The Producers” managed to make the cut. And our girls love it. The number “Springtime for Hitler” is their favorite and it’s their most frequently requested song (trumping even “Let it Go” from “Frozen,” believe it or not, another big hit at our house). They have no idea what it means or why it’s funny. They just love the music and the cadence of the actors (“ever eat with one?”).
We have a rule: “The Producers” can only be sung in the car, at home, or on the phone (Georgia P added that last medium for good measure) because not everyone likes “The Producers” as much as we do.
All things considered, we’ve struck a healthy balance of self-censorship and a sense of what’s appropriate at home and in public. Georgia is always the first to admonish me if she catches me humming “Keep it Gay” at the mall.
But in the light of the numerous anti-Semitic episodes that have taken place in the U.S. since the advent of Trump America (some of them very close to home), the Hitler humor that we used to enjoy together (“You’re looking for a war? Here’s World War II!”) has lost its sheen.
Less than two weeks before Christmas last year, anti-Semitic episodes were reported at the University of Houston. Our niece (Tracie’s side of the family) is in her second year of college at UH and it’s conceivable that our own children will go to school there someday. I never would have thought that anti-Semitism would still be so prevalent in my daughters’ lifetime. But evidently it’s alive and well on college campuses (and it was already on the rise before the election).
Just a few days later, it was reported that Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, Trump’s nominee for national security advisor, met with Heinz-Christian Strache, leader of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party, a political party that nearly came to power in the country’s parliamentary elections last fall, a party that espouses anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic rhetoric (remember that many Muslims are Semites), a party founded by ex-members of the Nazi party. How’s that for funny?
And just last week, swastikas and “white power” were among the graffiti spray-painted on the walls of a high school in an affluent Houston neighborhood.
My friends in New York City (where I lived for 10 years in my 30s) tell me that they have recently seen “Trump” scrawled next to swastikas on the subway. And it was only a few days after the election that Adam Yauch Park in Brooklyn Heights (Brooklyn Heights!) was defaced with swastikas and slogans of “Go Trump.” I “never, ever, ever” saw anything like that in my decade in city where the Statue of Liberty looks out over Ellis Island.
I don’t ascribe or attribute these episodes to Trump. But I do know that before the presidential campaign and election, such episodes were a rare occurrence. Now they are not.
That’s going to be a lot harder to explain to my semi-Semitic children than the humor in “The Producers.”
Hitler humor has a long and grand tradition in the U.S. Disney and Spike Jones were among the pioneers (see video below) as was Charlie Chaplin. Lenny Bruce was another (“How Hitler Got Started” is one of the brilliant sketches of the American comedy canon imho).
Mel Brooks’ musical and 1968 film by the same title are supreme expressions of that legacy. But they just aren’t funny anymore. The chord they strike now rings too close to home.
Please view and listen to Chaplin’s speech below, the finale of “The Great Dictator” (1940). His words couldn’t ring more true.
Image via Wikipedia Creative Commons.