The important things in life

THE internet tells me it was 1995, which sounds about right. I was a sheltered teenager who had just started listening regularly to Radio One, which to my naïve ears seemed impossibly edgy compared to local commercial radio’s diet of phone pranks, DJ patter about dubious surveys culled from page 26 of the Daily Mirror, adverts for Charnock Richard Cycles and endless timechecks. (It’s 5.41.)

It helped that 1995 was a time when Radio One’s comedy remit extended beyond the mockery of TV talent show contestants and ringing up Americans with funny names. (“Hello, is that Randy Arseface?” “Yes, it is.” “Thank you, goodbye. Ha ha ha.”)

Back then, there was room for a bit of wit and whimsy, which was what had drawn me to Collins and Maconie’s Hit Parade. Each week, Andrew Collins and Stuart Maconie would be joined by two guests, generally a hip young comedian who liked Bill Hicks and a journalist from Melody Maker, to trade amusing quips about the latest Menswear single. David Quantick would chip in with a finely-honed monologue that flipped between weary sarcasm and flagrant surrealism with frightening ease.

One week, the panel reviewed a song called Enemy Maker by Dub War (Wikipedia: “A four-piece metal band from Newport, South Wales”), which laid into the music press with about as much subtlety as a BBC Three documentary. It did not impress that week’s music journalist.

(I forget who she was, but I imagine she earns a living now either by narrating ITV2 celebrity documentaries or writing annoying first-person lifestyle columns for Sunday broadsheet newspaper colour supplements.)

“Well, if they want to have a pop at the music press, that’s fine,” she harrumphed. “I just think there are more important things to get worked up about, like the war in Bosnia.”

Having dismissed the asininity of those who focused on the trivial at a time when thousands were dying in bloody conflict, the journalist went back to talking about pop music for the rest of the show.

It was an important message, and perhaps one I should have heeded more on this blog. Too often I have written about the ephemeral and the irrelevant when I could have used this space for something more profound. So today, I’m going to write about spoof Adolf Hitler videos on YouTube.

They’re still making them, you know. Four-and-a-half years after someone first had the idea of sticking fake subtitles on the most famous scene from Downfall – in which Hitler erupts with rage on learning of the encirclement of Berlin – to give the impression that he was ranting about some sporting mishap, people are STILL doing it. There’s one that went up four days ago in which Hitler tries to take on Sepp Blatter for the FIFA presidency.

A quick search for ‘Hitler’ and ‘Downfall’ on YouTube will bring up a spoof related to just about every team in the Premier League and Championship. There are about a dozen related to Manchester United, probably about half that number on Newcastle and a couple on Norwich, in which Hitler vents his spleen at their 2009 relegation. (Most bizarrely of all, there’s even one in which he blows his top at the poor organisation of club cycle rides in the Coventry area.)

I’m not saying this stuff is old hat, but the Sunday Times did an excellent article on the YouTube Downfall parody craze as long ago as November 2008. Almost a year later, with the craze still going strong, the Daily Telegraph was prompted to pick out the best 25 parodies (a list which itself probably gives you an idea as to just how many they had to choose from). The Telegraph piece expressed a hope that the popularity of the Downfall mickey-takings might be starting to fade.

My favourite Downfall spoof isn’t football related. As a fully paid-up smart arse, I have a particular fondness for the skit in which Hitler rages at the number of Downfall parodies on YouTube. I think it makes its point well.

But at the risk of sounding like the grumpy music journalist on Collins and Maconie’s Hit Parade all those years ago, I can’t help but feel that most of the other parodies are excessively trivial.

Downfall was actually a groundbreaking film when it was released in 2004, the first German language film to make Hitler its central character – and therefore not only an important piece of cinematic history, but a cultural landmark too for a nation that has worked hard to confront its horrific past.

Bruno Ganz, the Swiss actor who played Hitler in the film, spent four months researching the role and gives a staggering performance. It’s a shame that, for every person who has seen the film, there’s another who will look at Ganz and think of Hitler flying into a rage because Sol Campbell walked out on Notts County after one game.

The plethora of Downfall spoofs also exposes the derivative nature of a lot of the ‘funny’ videos on YouTube. Never have there been such opportunities for those with a creative bent to make a short film and get it seen by the public. Given that golden opportunity, an awful lot of people have decided to do something that’s a lot like something produced by someone else. Still, it’s a step up from having an argument about political correctness in the comments field with someone you’ve never met, I suppose.

Oliver Hirschbiegel, Downfall’s director, said in an interview last year that the parodies were a fitting extension of the film’s purpose. “The point of the film was to kick these terrible people off the throne that made them demons, making them real and their actions into reality,” he told New York magazine.

Well, maybe. But most of them are not exactly Dad’s Army, are they?

Anyway, I think I’ve made my point, so I’ll stop there, as I’ve a blog post to write about footballers’ haircuts…


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