Monday, August 27, 2007

Third Reich funnies

Let's hope there weren't any Holocaust survivors reading the Register's business section today. Because here's the main art from the front page:

Yes, that's what you think it is. A cartoon Nazi. (I think it may actually be "Ilsa: She-Wolf of the SS.") It accompanied the latest installment of "Workbytes," the semiweekly column devoted to helping young people navigate the world of work. Today's topic was bad bosses. A sidebar included some workplace horror stories, including a truly hair-raising account by a waitress whose supervisor knowingly hired a man who had been stalking her. But none of the bad-boss tales was as shocking as the bathos with which this one was delivered:
"The boss runs the place like a concentration camp. It seems as if we are treated like second-class citizens, since we are on the lower end of the pay scale. For example, every department is entitled to a department outing. Not us. Our department hasn't had an outing for years. We also are to have all our time accounted for, even bathroom breaks. If you are scheduled to be in at 8 a.m. and get here at 8 a.m., you are late. You are supposed to be ready to work by 8, not here by 8. If you come in at 8:01, then you have to stay late a minute to make up your time."

Why, it's just like a concentration camp! At Hitler's concentration camps -- or Stalin's, or Mao's, or Pol Pot's -- people were just burned alive, or worked to death, or made to kill their own parents, or ordered to dig their own graves, or stripped of all their dignity and forced to endure hell on earth. But this guy's department didn't even get an outing. And everybody else's did! And if he comes in a minute late in the morning, he has to stay a minute late in the afternoon! He can't go home until 5:01 p.m.! No wonder the Jews were so traumatized at Auschwitz!

Look, I know hyperbole. I understand that this guy's boss was being unfair and unreasonable. I understand that someone, somewhere thinks it's funny to depict asshole bosses as "Nazis." But there's something deeply troubling about the combination of this pathetic story and the illustration.

I frequent a number of message boards for language professionals. Last year a young woman joined one of the boards with the username "Copy Nazi." When asked to explain herself, she said that she has very high standards, is very exacting, and demands strict adherence to rules. And I thought: Oh, that's what defined the Nazis? That they were just such sticklers? A bunch of anal-retentive obsessives hung up on rules? Good God. No, what defined the Nazis was the institutionalization of inhumanity. Strict adherence to petty rules was not their problem. To suggest as much just betrays ignorance. And also a lack of creativity: "Nazi" = "meticulous"? Yeah, haw haw haw, you dumbass.

There's a larger lesson here about comedy. When Jerry Seinfeld named a character the "Soup Nazi," he was deliberately going all the way over the top. The name was meant to reflect poorly not on the soup seller, but rather on Seinfeld himself, for so grossly overreacting to the man's strange behavior. Suppose the character had actually turned out to be a Nazi -- death's-head cap, Jodhpurs and all. It wouldn't have been funny; it would have been in terrible taste. It's only because the man wasn't a Nazi and wasn't depicted as one that calling him one made any comedic sense.

When the person quoted by "Workbytes" says his workplace was "like a concentration camp," it's clear he does so without any self-awareness. He just said something ridiculous, but he doesn't realize it. Because in his solipsistic little world, any workplace's adherence to silly rules is on par with the atrocities of Dachau. Probably because he has no idea what happened at Dachau. But you know? I think I could let that slide, too, if it weren't for the fucking cartoon. The combination of historical and rhetorical cluelessness makes the whole thing offensive.

(And yes, I know she's supposed to look like Col. Klink, but Hogan's Heroes went off the air 40 years ago. It's ancient history, and it's no defense.)

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