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On Hitler as Internet Meme

 dery hitler.png

On his True/Slant blog, the always-fascinating cultural critic Mark Dery dissects the Downfall/Hitler YouTube phenomenon and the impact of its sudden copyright-induced theft from the online world.

The Downfall meme dramatizes the cultural logic of our remixed, mashed-up times, when digital technology allows us to loot recorded history, prying loose any signifier that catches our magpie eyes and repurposing it to any end. The near-instantaneous speed with which parodists use these viral videos to respond to current events underscores the extent to which the social Web, unlike the media ecologies of Hitler’s day, is a many-to-many phenomenon, more collective cacophony than one-way rant. As well, the furor (forgive pun) over YouTube’s decision to capitulate to the movie studio’s takedown demand, rather than standing fast in defense of Fair Use (a provision in copyright law that protects the re-use of a work for purposes of parody), indicates the extent to which ordinary people feel that commercial culture is somehow theirs, to misread or misuse as the spirit moves them. In the world where mass culture has given way to microniche markets and the culture wars are dissolving the body politic into socially isolated demographic clusters, copyrighted narratives and trademarked characters–Star Wars, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Twilight–are the closest thing we have to a folk culture, the connective tissue that binds us as a society. Bruno Ganz gave Hitler life, but now he belongs to all of us, a psychopathic sock-puppet to be ventriloquized as needed.

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As always with Dery, be sure to read the whole piece.

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