Victoria Coren Mitchell Oh, do let’s be beastly to the Nazis
Nobody thinks inks Paul Hollywood wood is an actual l Nazi; we should let him dress how he likes
ANazi goes into a pub. Hang on… that’s not a Nazi! It’s the well-known baker and TV personality Paul Hollywood! In case you missed last Sunday’s shock tabloid story and the subsequent furore, abject apology, etc: Paul Hollywood has been seen in a pub dressed as a Nazi. Is this OK?
I’ll broaden the context a little. Paul Hollywood was not on the way to a rally – he was on the way to a fancy dress party. Is that OK?
Turns out these are old photos. The fancy dress party actually happened in 2003, 14 years ago. Is that OK?
The party had a theme of famous TV sitcoms. Paul Hollywood, his wife and friends were going as the cast of ’Allo ’Allo. Is that OK?
The vast majority of people seem to think not. There was a proper outcry, not just a bunch of trolls whining on Twitter because they’ve misunderstood something again. This was all over the papers. Proper ink-andpaper stuff. Politicians censured him. A spokesperson for the Campaign Against Antisemitism said: “Wearing these costumes for fun is an insult to the British soldiers and civilians who died repelling Hitler’s onslaught.”
The editor of the Jewish Chronicle said: “[Paul Hollywood] showed a complete ignorance of the horrors of the Second World War… There are certain things that are simply wrong, whoever you are.”
If you ask me (which nobody has), it’s OK to go to a costume party dressed as a Nazi. I think it’s OK to think it’s funny to dress as a Nazi. It’s OK to make jokes about Nazis and OK to laugh at jokes about Nazis. It’s OK to be turned on by dressing as a Nazi. It’s OK to be turned on by looking at someone else dressed as a Nazi. What’s not OK is to be a Nazi. I suppose I’ll say up front that many in my family were murdered by Nazis. I wasn’t a child who needed to learn about the Holocaust from books and films. I sat with relatives who had numbers on their arms. I met cousins who had been children in the camps where their siblings died. The pits, the chambers, the massacres, the torture, the unbearable monstrosity visited on us by the civilised people of Europe… It’s still in living memory now, but it was in easy living memory when I was little. It was our bedtime horror story, except the ogre really was under the bed. You don’t need to write in and let me know what isn’t funny about Nazis.
Nevertheless, I like the idea of treating them, occasionally, as a stupid joke. I like it because the Nazis would consider it the ultimate desecration, to be ridiculed by the descendants of the people who defeated them. Their preposterous, goose-stepping rallies were intended to cow and to awe; for that reason, it feels satisfying to belittle them. Mockery is a knife to the balloon of their foul pomp.
I like it because I think it’s harder to revive Nazi symbolism seriously if it’s also being done comically. I like the idea of an antisemite frowning at his swastika armband in the mirror and worrying that it would simply remind people of a celebrity baker bumbling into a Kent pub on New Year’s Eve. The far right is on the rise again, in Charlottesville and nations closer to home. That sort of nastiness has always been slower to take hold in Britain, a country that used to be quick and fearless in taking the piss out of extremism as well as standing up against it. The photo from 2003 might be a healthy little time traveller. I suspect neofascists have no fear of looking evil, but they really don’t want to look silly.
I like it because laughter can be a powerful weapon. It’s a complicated thing, laughter. My two-year-old daughter gets very upset when people laugh in “the wrong way”; she’s just starting to be sensitive to the way a laugh can be frightening if you don’t understand it or feel excluded from it. It can be an attack.
I discussed the Paul Hollywood story with Joshua Levine, author of The Secret History of the Blitz and Operation Fortitude (and the current, bestselling Dunkirk). He said: “Of course, the British were laughing at Hitler from a very early stage. The song Hitler Has Only Got One Ball was written in 1939! It was practically part of the war effort. We can talk about whether the British would ever have gone for fascism, but there’s no doubt they’d never have gone for Hitler. Too tacky, too camp, too ludicrously over the top. The idea that ‘we mustn’t make light’ is far too simple.”
Is it actually funny when a person puts a Nazi costume on “for a laugh”? Not usually, no. I don’t remember ’Allo ’Allo being that funny either. I just think it’s OK to try. I truly think it does more good than harm. Most of all, I like it because it keeps the memory alive.
I’d love to believe that all children will be told about the evil of the Nazis, seriously and carefully, for centuries to come. I fear that as the survivors and their children and grandchildren move off into history, the architects of the “Final Solution” will slither away to be lost among the other villains of the past.
Allowing them to be pantomime bogeymen, go-to Halloween costumes or the stuff of sitcom is just another way, I think, of keeping the bastards on the agenda. It gives children the chance to ask: “Why them? Why are we still harping on about/ laughing at/ dressing as those guys from 70 or 100 or 200 years ago?”
And after that, you can only hope that someone will tell them the answer.
I suspect neofascists don’t fear looking evil, but really don’t want to look silly
’Allo ’Allo: laughing at preposterous Nazis.