Cinema General Fiction

The Problem With Nazi Imagery Isn’t What You Think It Is

Things are rarely as complex as the public believes. Nazi Imagery can be a powerful storytelling device in fiction, or an indication of laziness. How does Game of Thrones and Star Wars fit into this?

For those who have not caught up on Game of Thrones, (here be spoilers) Daenerys Targaryen gave a speech among the ruins of King’s Landing. Taking cues from Adolf Hitler and other dictators, Emilia Clarke constructed her speech to be mesmorizing and threatening.

“In giving all these speeches in fake languages, I watched a lot of videos of — now it seems funny — dictators and powerful leaders speaking a different language to see if I could understand what they were saying without knowing the language. And you can! You absolutely can understand what Hitler’s f—ing saying, these single-focus orators speaking a foreign language. So I thought, “If I can believe every single word I’m saying, the audience won’t need to be looking at the subtitles too much.”

Emilia Clarke, actress of Daenerys Targaryen

Predictably, The Mary Sue has responded expressing their disdain and discomfort. My first instinct was to say that creators can adopt any ideology within their works, and Nazism shouldn’t be an exception to that. Throughout history, film directors and authors have used imagery from other regimes, such as the Soviet Union and North Korea. Why can authors borrow from some evil empires, and not others? Who decides, and why them?

Daenerys went from being seen as a hero to daughter of Adolf Hitler. This development is interesting.

Using Nazi imagery doesn’t mean you endorsing the ideology or cheapening it. Fiction is always an expression of reality- whether it’s Stephen King tackling child abuse in It, or Tolkien analysing World Wars in epic fantasy. It would be dishonest and offensive to not let Nazism play a role in fantasy.

That being said, I understand why people react against Nazi imagery. Most of the time, I find it cheap and lazy. If you are going to create a villain, give us reasons to think they are evil. Show, don’t tell. It’s easy to give your villain a swatstika tattoo, what’s alot harder is letting them be an active character who makes decisions that affect the plot.

That’s my problem with General Hux from the Star Wars sequels- he’s an obvious Nazi parallel, but he rarely makes key decisions in the story. Besides blowing up a star system and looking smug, he is not a man of decisive action. He’s a way for Hollywood to say ‘look, he’s a Nazi therefore a bad person.’ It’s simplistic and childish. Adding onto that, it’s also manipulative. By Hux being a Nazi, that means we are going to root for the people who oppose him, even if we are not given any good reasons to.

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Good writing does not do that. If you, the writer, wants your readers to root for a certain character, you have to give a good damn reason for your readers to. The reason ‘they are against Nazis’ does not cut it. You don’t get a cookie for opposing Nazism. You know who opposed the Nazis? Stalin, one of the biggest monsters of all time. Get real, writers. The problem with Nazi imagery is that it is frequently lazy and is a replacement for good story.

I thought Daenerys Targaryen was a parallel to Nazism in many ways, but I didn’t find it poor writing. Because the comparisons to tyrants such as Adolf Hitler wasn’t in-your-face, I could even appreciate the parallels. What also helped Daenerys was that she got to move the plot forward. Her decisions were given dramatic weight, despite being horrifying. Not for a single moment, do D&D or Emilia Clarke, use Nazi imagery as a substitute for good story. Instead, it’s used in a way to get the audience to think. I don’t think Disney wants to do that with General Hux- a character that Disney hits us over the head with shallow stereotypes.

I’m bored with characters whose only personality trait is that they are evil Nazis who must be stopped by ‘heroic’ characters.

As for claims of Nazi imagery being sexist or racist- I think it’s alot more complex than that. A writer making a character a Nazi does not make the overall text offensive. I mean, c’mon. If you can’t tell the difference between depiction and endorsement, then maybe you shouldn’t be commenting on this matter. Fiction isn’t always going to be set in a coffeeshop, people! Sometimes, fiction has to be ugly and vicious.

The Mary Sue also claims that there are ramifications to portraying a once-heroic character like that. I think that’s a ludicrous claim. Humans do not fit into boxes of good or evil, and it’s barbaric to expect fictional characters to either. There are gray areas, and sometimes the hero of the story can also turn into a villain. That is hard for people to digest.

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Nazi Imagery- when done right- gets the audience to think about the real and the fictional. When done poorly, it results in no thought from the audience. A fantastic example of Nazi imagery done right is in the Alan Moore graphic novel ‘Watchmen‘- where characters like Rorschach and the Comedian are linked to Nazism. Moore is effective at not appeasing the readers’ perceptions about the world, he wants to challenge them. We need brave fiction in our lives, and if that involves some Nazi imagery, then so be it.

Rorschach from “Watchmen” is a fantastic character because he’s tragic and evokes strong emotion and thought from the readers

I also want to make it clear- if you love a character who has been ‘Nazi-coded’ like Kylo Ren, General Hux or Daenerys Targaryen- that’s okay. Engage with fiction in a way that suits and stimulates you. I have no intention to spend my time blogging to condemn whole groups of people who happen to love the ‘incorrect’ character. I also find it patronizing, the idea that audiences and readers can’t tell for themselves that Nazism is harmful. The main goal of fiction is to not upset anyone, after all.

It’s okay to love a character that’s been coded as a Nazi. I know that will ruffle feathers, and I won’t apologise for saying that. Just as The Mary Sue has a right to voice their opinion, you have every right to engage with fiction in any way you see fit.

To conclude this post, I’d urge everyone to think before they quickly judge or jump to assumptions when someone uses Nazi imagery, or likes a Nazi-coded character. Things aren’t as simple as people wish they were.

What do you think? Comment below! If you’d like, check out my blog post about Nazism in alternative literature.

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