“Downfall” of the Hitler Meme

Movie producers are pulling clips from the Internet, robbing us of laughs at the Fuhrer's expense

It may be April, but it's no longer springtime for the Hitler "Downfall" Internet meme.

The popular parody videos revolve around the climatic scene of the acclaimed 2005 German-language film "Downfall," which traces Hitler's final days.

Scores of “Downfall” take-offs have popped up in the last couple years, with jokesters adding different subtitles to the same four-minute clip. We've seen the Fuhrer ranting about everything from Sarah Palin's resignation as Alaska governor to Jay Leno's "Tonight Show" return to the iPad ("I wanted to watch videos of LOLcats while laying on the couch. But no, they won't even give it Flash support!")

Now the movie’s producers, Constantin Film, are starting to pull down the clips, citing copyright infringement, TechCrunch and the BBC report.

The move seems silly and short sighted. For the producers, the meme has given additional exposure to what, on this side of the Atlantic, was a relatively obscure film – and judging from the clip and critics, a powerful one worth catching.

For the rest of us, the videos offer a chance for a chuckle at the absurdity of Hitler raving about political and pop culture news of the day (Hitler’s not a Kanye West fan: “What the hell did Taylor Swift every do to him?”).

There’s nothing remotely funny, of course, about the evil Hitler wrought. But there's great value in being able to laugh at the madman – as Mel Brooks, who gleefully mocked the Nazi leader as a prancing fool in "The Producers," showed us four decades ago.

“By using the medium of comedy, we can try to rob Hitler of his posthumous power and myths,” Brooks told the German magazine Spiegel in 2006 (in the same interview, he declared the deadly serious “Downfall” to be “excellent.”)

The parodies also display growing the prevalence of sites like YouTube and Funny or Die as platforms for do-it-yourself comedy, and the Internet’s knack for quickly spreading humor, even if some might find this meme in dubious taste.

Taking down the “Downfall” lampoons “is a task that can never be completed,” Martin Moszkowicz, an executive at Constantin Film conceded to the BBC. “They are popping up whenever we are taking one down."

As we wait for the next “Downfall” parody – in which Hitler will no doubt angrily bemoan the removal of “Downfall” parodies – head to YouTube and Funny or Die to check out some past videos before they’re gone.

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NY City News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

Copyright FREEL - NBC Local Media
Contact Us