Symbolic Idiocy

 
Hitler killed millions and enslaved many more. For all their political missteps and deceits, Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush should not be equated with Hitler. For opponents to smear a Hitler mustache on any of them trivializes the valid criticism and satire that each deserves. Currently, owing to the heated health care debates, President Obama has also been tarred with this despicable Nazi brand.
 
To show the utter stupidity of this kind of visual commentary, I offer various iterations, yet this is only a small sampling of what’s out there. Most are anonymous, but the first “known” Hitler image was in a 1968 issue of The East Village Other (below) of LBJ as Der Führer. A few years later, Ralph Steadman comically portrayed Richard Nixon in a characteristically Hitlerian pose (below, second). Nixon’s chiefs of staff–Bob Haldeman and John Ehrlichman–were often made out to be Nazi henchmen by cartoonists. George Bush was the president most commonly affixed with the Hitler mustache, but even almost-president Hillary Clinton has had her share. And now President Obama is the object of this ignorant symbolic opportunism. Watch Congressman Barney Frank’s brilliant response here
 
Hitler remains one of the world’s top villains. To reduce his infamous visage to a ludicrous scold is injustice to all. Remember. Symbols are powerful things: don’t waste them or wear them out.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
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About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes a weekly column for The Atlantic online and is the "Visuals" Columnist for the New York Times Book Review. He is also the author of over 160 books on design and visual culture. And he is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.

3 thoughts on “Symbolic Idiocy

  1. mkace

    Reprehensible as the rising use of Hitler imagery is, one must examine its effect beyond the dilution, (and thus the acceptablity), of this visual environment. For this we can point a finger not only at those who lack the imagination to express themselves without reverting to monstrous cliché, but to commercial interests as well, viz. the summer “Germany” issue of Heeb magazine.

    The irony here is that those who use Nazi imagery to make a statement do so in exactly the same way the Nazis did: Making a statement to which there is no possibility for reply – only the possibility for repetition.

    Who’s the Nazi now?

  2. mkace

    Reprehensible as the rising use of Hitler imagery is, one must examine its effect beyond the dilution, (and thus the acceptablity), of this visual environment. For this we can point a finger not only at those who lack the imagination to express themselves without reverting to monstrous cliché, but to commercial interests as well, viz. the summer “Germany” issue of Heeb magazine.

    The irony here is that those who use Nazi imagery to make a statement do so in exactly the same way the Nazis did: Making a statement to which there is no possibility for reply – only the possibility for repetition.

    Who’s the Nazi now?

  3. mkace

    Reprehensible as the rising use of Hitler imagery is, one must examine its effect beyond the dilution, (and thus the acceptablity), of this visual environment. For this we can point a finger not only at those who lack the imagination to express themselves without reverting to monstrous cliché, but to commercial interests as well, viz. the summer “Germany” issue of Heeb magazine.

    The irony here is that those who use Nazi imagery to make a statement do so in exactly the same way the Nazis did: Making a statement to which there is no possibility for reply – only the possibility for repetition.

    Who’s the Nazi now?

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