Mel Brooks, The Producers and the Ethics of Satire about [email protected]

Mel Brooks, The Producers and the Ethics of Satire about [email protected]


So, um I’ve been seeing umm… alot of people recently using Mel Brooks as a sort of blanket defense of any kind of, you know Satire that transgresses societal taboos, and you know this is nothing new I’ve been seeing Mel Brooks used in this way for decades but the problem with that line of thinking is that it misunderstands what made Mel Brooks great. What makes him resonate. So today we’re going to talk about Mel Brooks The year was 2004 “You gonna eat your tots?” The United States had just invaded Iraq the black-eyed peas were getting retarded in here Zach Braff was at his artistic peak And the producers was still one of the hottest tickets on Broadway Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick had returned to the roles which they had originated which had netted event record-breaking 12 Tonys Student rush tickets were really cheap back then so I was seeing every musical that I could on Broadway. But to this day. I have never laughed harder at any stage production than at that original cast of Mel Brooks’ “The Producers” in 2004 And if you’ve only seen the movie adaptation of the stage musical you might be wondering Really?? “work work work work work work” And yes. I can’t even really explain what was lost in translation in the movie adaptation of the musical. It’s functionally identical Perhaps too identical because everything that made it work on stage it just doesn’t work on film. that the aesthetics of breaking the fourth wall on film are just different than on stage? “Why Bloom go so far camera right?” The stage Musical is also a big love letter to the heydays of the 40s and 50s Musical pageantry and the world of the stage in General we all love this thing go for theater the movie version Either did not know how to capture this or did not care to capture this on film But maybe it’s just being in the same room with these world-class Trained showgirls tap dancing and stormtrooper outfits is just hilarious. We’re on screen. It’s like It just feels tired. It feels like we’ve been here before “I was born in Dusseldorf, and that is why they call me Rolf.” “Don’t be stupid, be a smarty, come and join the Nazi party.” You guys want to talk about mel brooks and where when and how he was a comedy innovator? Then let’s talk about mel brooks Mel Brooks was born Melvin Kaminsky in Brooklyn New York in 1926 his father died when he was 2 and the youngest of four boys He was a small sickly kid who got picked on a lot. Brooks would later go on to say that this was where he learned to use comedy as a defense mechanism to cloak his pain in humor. “I want to thank Hitler.” “For being such a funny guy on stage” Mel Brooks would also like you to know that he is a Jew. Behind me you see a Phalanx an avalanche of Jews who have come with Their I? Don’t like the way, you’re walking you’ll get into the sacramental wine again After serving as a corporal in world war II in Germany engaging in such operations as defusing landmines Brooks was hired by sid Caesar to be a television comedy writer It was during this period as a television writer that Brooks developed his comedy ethos Which is basically throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. Do Muster shoot on adrenaline? You see this in his most popular movies It’s just joke after joke after joke if there is a dud there’s hardly time for it to land before the next joke starts “Well, that’s the end of this suit.” So while Brooks definitely had an ethos, biases and the point of view in his comedy The Rapid-Fire nature of it kind of make it clear that he didn’t think through the implications of a lot of it “You’ve just entered the territory of Robin Hood and his merry men.” “No, no, we’re straight. Just merry.” Some of Brook’s comedy with gay characters in particular has aged poorly while Brooks was certainly not adverse to physical comedy and slapstick His bread-and-butter tended to rest more on transgression of Societal taboos some of it has aged well gone “How about a good old *bleep* work song?” “I get no kick from champagne…” Some of it has not. “Watch me faggot.” And here’s why that doesn’t bother me personally as a viewer Comedy is the quickest to age and the most likely to age poorly. Yes, some of it even a lot of it is problematic Yes, you can still enjoy it. I do his 1974 film Blazing saddles is one of the great transgressive comedies of all time here. We take the good time in trouble too slow or every last thing in the west and for what? So then your point is share. It’s blacker than any Indian. From top to bottom Blazing Saddles is a razor-sharp skewering of the absurdity of racism these are people of the land the common Claims a new West And this is part of what makes Brooks so Fondly remembered today where the likes of, say, David Zucker are Kind of sad well people still think airplane is funny. So there’s that As an outgrowth from his difficult childhood Brooks wasn’t just about comedy for comedies sake Comedy could be a weapon and one of brooks’s favorite targets happened to be history’s greatest monster heckler on High Brooks saw comedy not just as a weapon of ridicule But as a way of robbing Hitler of his posthumous power Brooks’s approach of Reductio ad absurdum To Nazis was a catharsis for Jewish identity and this hardly started with brooks Yiddish folklore is full of these trickster bugs bunny style characters who confront corrupt and unjust power structures using nothing, but their wits Hershel of Ostropol being one of the most well known “the inquisition look out see we have our mission to convert to the Jews” With real subjects also weren’t limited to Nazi violence against the Jews Take one of the more famous scenes in history of the world part one. It’s better to lose your skull cap than your skull Oh my God There you have Brooks on film making light of a period of history that while nowhere near the holocaust in terms of scale, still openly targeted Jewish citizens And it’s debatable how mining Jewish suffering even if you are Jewish for comedy in the Spanish inquisition Differs from the Holocaust which brooks has always avoided depicting directly But he has also gone on record as saying that the root of a lot of his humor is anger specifically anger at antisemitism The problem with this kind of media created by a jew as an expression of Jewish identity to be consumed largely however by a gentile audience is that And there’s a little bit of troubling history of things that Jews say and do be misrepresented and used against them let’s go back now way back back before brooks – what laid the groundwork for Springtime for Hitler to even survive and thrive in the first place yes, let’s go back to the big h in question marks no Film about World War II was box-office gold before the united states even entered the war and most everything that came out during that time Glorified the war machine just as much as anything germany was charting out film and literature about the war were used to boost a narrative of American exceptionalism and great according to Thomas Doherty: But while this American ascendancy was fueled by images of the machine of war Little confronted the actual ideology of Fascism or the true horrors perpetrated in the name of Hitler’s Reich One of the earliest and most well known examples of satirizing Hitler’s brand of Fascism came in the form of Charlie Chaplin’s the great dictator A huge chunk of the great dictator is a very surreal watch today it consists of cute wacky Hijinx in the Jewish Ghetto in the fictional Country of Tomainia. See, concentration camps were certainly a thing in 1940 and it was a seeing American knew about have any idea would you’d have to look forward to if you stayed here “9 chances out of 10 we both wind up at a concentration Camp. Isn’t that true?” But the scope of it was not the scope We know today the great dictator was made in a time when Hitler’s death machine was only a possibility and not a historical reality The Great Dictator is unique not only in that it confronts Hitler’s ideology “Greed has poisoned men’s souls.” Has barricaded the world with hate has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed But that it also puts Hitler’s biggest targets the Jews at the Forefront : oh His excellency has just referred to the Jewish people But Chaplin gives neither hitler nor the Nazis even the dignity of being named the Hitler analogue adenoid Hynkel Is not even given a language the great dictator dictates in Gibberish But the Jews are given a name the great dictator does not pussyfoot around about who exactly Adenoid Hynkel intends to exterminate The Jews are given a name and an identity where Hitler is only alluded to Less well known World War II era comedy following in Chaplin’s Footsteps was ernst lubitsch’s to be or not to be which follows the exploits of Jews in occupied Warsaw Mel Brooks loved this movie So much that he remade it in the 80s, and that did not go over as well as The Producers or Blazing Saddles While the Great Dictator was a success. It was not without controversy with resistance against the film coming from isolationist Americans and fascist sympathizers despite the success of the great dictator few in Hollywood Dared Follow in Chaplin’s footsteps by openly addressing Hitler’s ideology But this did not go on to start a trend of films that were terribly concerned with the plight of the Jews in Germany and the rest of Europe because Americans weren’t Terribly sympathetic to the plight of the jews in 1942 put it in perspective Americans are more receptive to the idea of welcoming syrian refugees into America today than they were Jewish refugees in 1939 there was a lot of World War II themed media during and after the war But not a whole lot followed in Chaplin’s footsteps In 1963 political theorist Hannah Arendt herself a German Jew who fled the Reich during Hitler’s rise to power reported on adolf Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem in a series of essays for the new Yorker called Eichmann in Jerusalem A report on the banality of Evil Eichmann who was on trial for Nazi War crimes showed No remorse and claimed no responsibility for what he had taken pardon He was remarkable for his unremarkable ‘ti the israeli government sent no fewer than six psychologists to examine Eichmann none of whom found any trace of mental illness Arendt essays discredited the idea that nazi criminals were psychopathic or different from normal people as Eichmann saw it, he was just doing his job. He not only obeyed orders he also obeyed the law “…discussed verbally there was no place for discussions these were orders.” Eichmann proved that you do not have to be a born-and-bred monster to do monstrous things That anyone was capable of this Arms Report in addition to a wider cultural understanding in America of the breadth and scope of Hitler’s atrocities began to cause a shift in the American relationship with the mere idea of war especially With the looming threat in Vietnam where earlier films about world war two seemed heroic and necessary this shift began to see such films omissions of Hitler’s atrocities as unpalatable There was a need to reconcile the humanity of the nazis with their actions in order to continue making media about them But the reality that evil is really quite banal did not make for compelling, Hollywood cinema According to barlow the Nature of Evil itself argues Hannah Arendt is thought defying Because thought tries to reach some depths to go to the roots and the moment it concerns itself with Evil It is frustrated because there is nothing that is its finality in the two decades following the end of the war a Changing understanding of Hitler’s atrocities and their relationship to the American identity would shape the way that nazis were portrayed in film in Regard to depicting the German Nazis seen by American film and culture Aaron Barlow outlines two phases an initial one generated by the needs of war and a later one reacting to that earlier version a Major characteristic of that later phase reacting to that earlier phase was the attempt to grapple with the unthinkable evil encompassed by the holocaust What about the rest of the world? They did not know the intentions of the third Reich Did not hear the words of Hitler’s broadcast all over the world But an increasingly complex understanding of World War II moving away from the machine of war and moving towards the tragedy of the holocaust Began to Dampen American Desires to see World War II portrayed on screen There’s just no real glory in conquest when you know what those soldiers are going to discover on the other side of those woods so exit, best years of our lives and sands of iwo, Jima enter the diary of Anne Frank the Pawnbroker and Judgment at Nuremberg “Where’s the responsibility of the work leader Winston Churchill who said in an open letter to the London times in 1938 1938 your honor Were England to suffer national disaster should pray to god to send a man of the strength of mind and will of an Adolf Hitler Are we now to find Winston Churchill guilty?” Part of the problem with attempts to come to terms with the unbelievable horrors of the holocaust Also came to be an unwillingness to delve too deeply into the commonality of Evil that shows real negotiation with the American people’s own culpability “Where’s the responsibility of those American industrialists who helped Hitler rebuild his armaments?” Aaron Barlow contends that Americans began to push away the questions raised Turning the perpetrators into unhuman villains into parodies of villainy into something that we can live with for it becomes absolutely Removed from us Hollywood’s later approach would escalate to the likes of Steven Spielberg adding literal supernatural elements to a seemingly supernatural evil in films like raiders of the lost ark we see this perhaps most explicitly with Captain America and Hydra where the red skull is posed as making the Nazis look like the lesser evil compared to hydra Even though from their look to their coconspirator to their goals to their goofy salute. They are functionally identical to the nazis Hey Glider also holocaust what holocaust but in the 1960s at the still early stage in American identity Reconciling its relationship to the holocaust the horrors were still too fresh for the kind of direct representation We would see in the 90s and 2000’s with the likes of Schindler’s list The Pianist and Life is Beautiful finding a way to keep world war two narratives relevant in sympathetic was proving increasingly difficult in light of the new cultural Concerns and As the war receded even further and further into the past and possibilities for spectacle reached their limit Which is to say nothing about that other cloud hanging over the world at the time? that mushroom cloud Dr.. Strangelove, or how I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb according to Pauline kael opened a new movie Era indeed Strangelove seems to be where the switch flipped both in the wider cultures relationship to its past and to its doomed Present in the film’s own subtitle how I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb and Boy yeah had to stop worrying and love the bomb in the 1960s just to live Like today, we do not appreciate how close we came several times to total nuclear war kind of a miracle We still exist the Nazi presence in Strangelove is more subtext than text with the titular Strangelove an implied former Nazi War criminal who now works for the global Nuclear war machine The evil of the Nazi is almost trivial when pitted against cold war era global nuclear annihilation. The effect of this was not to trivialize Nazism but to give filmmakers new tools with which to explore the horrors both of their past their present and an increasingly unlikely Future and if dark comedy and satire were used to come to terms with the sword of Damocles hanging over the head of every American And Russia and well, everyone during the cold war Then so too could dark comedy be used to come to terms with and explore the horrors of Hitler’s Reich Andrew Gross and Suzanne Rohr describe the problem of comedy tackling heavy subject matters as a perception of comedy being generally considered less sophisticated read Incapable than the more so-called noble genres such as tragedy or conventional historical drama Part of what makes a societal taboo a taboo is the presumption that it should not be touched or discussed even by higher arts much less lower arts like comedy This of course does not give comedy particularly black comedy It’s due credit black comedy is sometimes the best means for challenging harmful Societal constructs and mores According to Aaron Barlow comedy is most persuasive Which is perhaps to say? Instructive when put in the morally realistic context of tragic potential thus much of what is called black humor and its attendant Infinity derives from the recognition that the truest fiction requires fusion of the tragic and the college, what do you think of Mr.? “I gave him my baby to kiss, and he bit it.” Farce allows obscenity to succeed or at least be dealt with in Situations where otherwise audiences would be offended and even non-existent. “Life’s a piece of shit when you look at it.” It might be argued that Farce was not only inevitable but necessary in order to prime audiences for dealing with more realistic sombre portrayals and holocaust fiction when used smartly Comedy puts the unspeakable into understandable symbols through absurdism Without dragging marginalized groups through the mud through farce the problems that were arising within filmic presentations of the Nazi Problems arising from new recognition that the simplistic diversions into good and bad that had been useful for the war effort bit that were of little real validity could be sidestepped. Prima fachy evil the Nazi could always be insulted and abused or turned around the Nazi can lose without sympathy this turn to Farce aloud World War II film to survive even as aspects of it that now seem troubling began to fade from the Genre The late 1960s also saw a rise in films that took a more farcical bent to approaching Hitler’s regime including the dirty dozen hogan’s heroes CatcH-22 and of course the producers for money Producers tells the story of Max Bialystock played by Zero Mostel, a washed-up hack Broadway producer who talks Leopold Bloom played by Gene Wilder a mousy emasculated accountant seeks comfort in his blanket into creating an intentional Broadway flop in order to write off the business losses and steal the money from the financed ears But when the worst show they can find springtime for hitler at gay romp with a dolphin Ava through Burt’s Garden becomes an unexpected success the two end up in prison One of the studios brooks initially approached said that they would make the producers if and only if brooks changed it to springtime for Mussolini universal because they said Hitler is too strong too menacing How about springtime for Mussolini? Given that Mussolini’s depiction in American media in comparison to Hitler seem mostly to be about making fun of Fascism and being BFFs with Hitler while not having to get our hands dirty with that whole holocaust thing and when we talk about the Producers now especially as a defense of a joke about Whatever one facet of the gestation of the producers is that it was actually pretty controversial upon initial Release time has been kinder to the producers than critics were in 1968 the Busby Berkeley musical Centerpiece springtime for Hitler caused considerable offense prompting numerous mostly Jewish Walkouts during the film’s initial release in Brooks’s own words: It was only after Peter Sellers gave the film a glowing public Endorsement in variety that the film gradually built up a cult audience and brooks eventually won an academy award for best original screenplay for the producers But while the joke in the film is that Bialystok had found the most offensive musical possible guaranteeing a flop in his mind Brooks’s use of Hitler as its subject was not Arbitrary. In Brooks’s own words: Brooks later stated in an interview at 60 Minutes: though The Producers was initially met with mixed reviews the film has since become Celebrated for the way at ridiculed fascism in the same vein as Chaplin’s the great dictator particularly Springtime for Hitler film Historian Robert Rhymer celebrate springtime as a triumph of anti-fascist satire Susan gubar interprets as parody of Fascism as racial camp mocking the shoddy theatricality of Fascism both gubar and rhymer side with brooks in their interpretation of the springtime number that ridicule of Nazi Propaganda Methods does Rob hitler of some of his posthumous power But again this praise of the producers is not universal film historian Petrol Ral takes a much colder view on the producers in addition to finding many of the comedic elements thoughtless and hypocritical. Oh like what did these people expect in a musical called Springtime for Hitler? she particularly takes issue with Brooks’s appropriation of fascist imagery there’s one frame during the springtime for Hitler number wherein the dancers moved to form a swastika on the stage a direct reference to Leni Riefenstahl doing the same in Nazi Propaganda rell argues that the tools of fascist theatricality are not shoddy as brooks describes and Are rather highly effective propaganda tools? That’s why they weren’t merely recreating the tools of fascism in a heightened cartoonish state is not enough to create satisfying satire and in that way Brooks’s use of Hitler can feel almost incidental Really making a play about the most offensive thing imaginable could have been about anything Since the butt of the joke is really Bialystock and Bloom underestimating the audience not Hitler himself So the question then becomes where does satire cross the line from being a valid? Transgressive Art that challenges harmful Societal constructs to to subtle and perhaps in danger of people missing the point entirely and That’s the problem there isn’t a line. This is a journey into money Nodes of money there is an episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s Podcast Revisionist history, which is called the satire Paradox which with apologies. I will borrow from a great deal here The episode begins with a discussion on Harry Enfield a well-known comedian in Britain and also an avowed leftist who hated Margaret thatcher no nigel no bad dog nigel Enfield in his partner Paul Whitehouse dreamt up a character to embody thatcher’s England and it sort of just became this of thing like really where? We just go loads of money about everything. You know his name was loads the money He was a construction worker catapulted to suddenly delirious wealth by the eighties building room So we sort of did it the other way which is just to go look at me aren’t I great isn’t money great? Everything else is Rubbish only money is good But the lesson Enfield took from the whole thing was despite the clear derision with which loads of money was framed People only took it as it was intended if they already were aligned with Enfield politically.
You know I mean It’s great fun to do but generally you know. It’s just about questioning. What’s there because we’re allowed to question What’s there so we do? But it doesn’t ever change anyone’s mind Same with Stephen Colbert. The real Colbert has never made a secret of the fact that he holds liberal political views in real life everybody Was saying has America lost his mind and the answer is evidently backed off buddy We got 300 million guns and we’re kind of stressed right now But conservative viewers of the Colbert report don’t see his character the same way Liberal viewers do. Yes, obviously the Colbert of the Colbert report was a character, but where the left-leaning viewer sees a character to be mocked. I’m sorry I’ve never been a fan of books I Don’t trust them The conservative leaning viewer sees a funny man speaking truth to power I think I would have made a fabulous press secretary I have nothing but contempt for these people So essentially they saw what they wanted to see so the big takeaway here of this study was that this is what we would call Motivated cognition or biased perception see also tina fey’s Sarah Palin. I can see russia from my house This character might have been made by and for liberals But Palin was just so darn likable that Conservatives who supported Palin were endeared to it too. Tina Fey even went on to make an episode of 30 Rock about this very paradox I put after take a moment here Instead of my testicles earlier and the heft of my body smashed them to smithereens Okay, start working on the way the in universe shows parody of a dangerously inept political candidate ends up making him more endearing Because it’s making him likable. He’s actually very mean, but with Tracy Jordan playing. He’s a lovable buffoon They’re just talking about how funny tracy is And Fey’s character Liz Lemon is faced with the dilemma of what to do with this But these are all examples of deliberate satire the issue gets even more thorny when you look at representations That is not satire American history x is a great example of the satire Paradox or something that is not satire the text of the film is explicitly? anti-fascist a cautionary tale that unmistakably condemns white supremacy, but you know what group loves the imagery in American History X? Neo-Nazis Neo-Nazis love the imagery in this movie the text shows neo nazism and white supremacy is bad, but isn’t it also kind of badass Isn’t it kind of cool the way? He’s framed is an Edward Norton of badass when he’s an uncooked Neo-Nazi Alpha, and then there’s hans Landa from inglourious basterds Who has become more of a symbol for fun and charm and Charisma than of evil? That’s a bingo And you might argue that that’s the point But how valuable is that point if what people remember most about the movie is how fun the evil Nazi was? Audiences might have lost the thread of the intended point And then there’s Tomorrow Belongs to Me, a chilling moment from the film version of Cabaret Which has recently been adopted by some white nationalists as an anthem, but do you know what hasn’t? “Springtime for Hitler and…” So we have explicitly anti-fascist dramas where the text has been appropriated by white supremacists But in this case the comedy which satirically praises Hitler has not which lends credence to Brooks’s notion that Highlighting the absurdism a fascist theatricality actually does rob hitler of his posthumous power But just because you can’t help what the world will do with your representation be it satirical or non-satirical It doesn’t mean that satire is free from criticism Satire needs intent. It needs logic. It needs to be making a statement about the thing it is satirizing, or else. It’s bad satire Brooks describes this as satire of the shoddy theatrics of Fascism To Row’s credit the theatrical techniques of Fascism were highly effective, but they were also extremely fragile Which is why the police state maintains such a stranglehold on the press you weren’t allowed to ridicule fascism in Nazi Germany Because it’s the ettrick ality at its core could not survive ridicule will you please shut up dose cut that? “You are the audience. I am the author. I outrank you!” This is what hyper nationalism looks like women dressed as pretzels and beer this is what Nazi theatricality looks like tap dancing Stormtroopers and marching and swastika formation that image is lifted directly from Nazi Propaganda and it doesn’t take a lot of modification to make it look Ridiculous see this particular scene is all about lens the Nazi vision in the producers is the text written by a literal Nazi Produced through a Jewish lens for a gentile audience Would you ever believe in a million years you’d ever love a show called “Springtime for Hitler”? The story the framing and who is telling the story is all relevant So this isn’t just hitler for Hitler’s sake this is heightened theatricality that unmistakably showcases the absurdity of Ethno-nationalism Which is why white nationalists tend not to like it in the way that they like American history x you can’t make it not Absurd we had lesbian hitters we had the you name it They were hit live in all shapes and sizes So the idea that brooks wanted to make a musical out of the most offensive thing and just kind of picked Nazis at Random is False brooks had something to say about the nazis about the way they viewed themselves And the way they presented themselves to the world But this also rubs up against that satire Paradox perhaps the intended target of the satire goes missed by a large portion of the audience Man, you know I kind of missed the days when it was like taken as a given by most people that a joke at the expense of hitler isn’t the same as a Joke at the Expense of millions of murdered Jews, but yeah the times They are a-changin, and I guess this is a discussion that needs to be had “Heil Trump. Heil our people. Heil victory.” given the rise of Far-right Movements Fascism and neo Nazism in the last two years all over the western world much debate has arisen as to the ethical concerns of laughing at the devil As Brooks has done do films like the producers rob Nazis of their power Or do they create an atmosphere that encourages audience not to take a serious issue seriously? It is fallacious to say that the answer to that question is either/or It’s a little of column a and a little of Column B the seriousness of the holocaust was not lost on brooks and according to brooks all comedy must have limits and Intent in the Spiegel interview Brooks says: So where does Brooks draw the line? “Welcome to hanging house not to worry Everyone is equal in my eye.” In 1974 I produced the western parody blazing saddles he continues in which the n-Word was used constantly “I’ve got to talk to you. Come here. You’ve gone berserk. Can’t you see that that man is a ni–” “Baby, you are so talented. And they are so dumb.” and there’s been a lot of debate as to whether or not Brooks is liberal use of the n-word and blazing saddles is helpful or Harmful, and I’m not going to go into that today “Good morning, ma’am. And isn’t it a lovely morning?” “Up yours *bleep*” But the point here is Brooks believes that not all comedic targets are created equal. “Aw prairie shit. Everybody.” Comedy is by its very nature Transgressive and borders and norms do need to be challenged even surrounding such sensitive topics as the Holocaust but in order to be effective that transgression must be used carefully and within the offense bar is also much higher now unlike with the original film which caused a flurry of controversy when the broadway show and subsequently the Adaptation of the Musical got released these barely got an indifferent shrug on the issue of depiction of Nazis by this point even moms Don’t find it Edgy. We’re gonna Post South Park World a post family guy world a post Downfall Meme world so perhaps hitler is too Powerless and when people Express concerns about Literal Nazis or not the adjacent useful idiots a little to be white It’s to be a striver a crusader it is our inheritance and it belongs to us The responses become why do you have to call everyone you disagree with a nazi? But this cartman ization of nazism is also a sign of changing times. Just like the producers was a sign of changing times in 1967 and I’m not even saying that that’s a bad thing But it is having an effect on the way that we treat our history media like South Park Reinforces a worldview where nothing really matters and everything is fair game. And South park has historically gotten away with this because the message and intent is clear But South Park’s imitators seem not to understand why South Park gets away with transgressive humor with relatively little blowback And they don’t how is your representation framed is it romantic, or is it derisive? Or is it comedic and most importantly at whose expense Is the joke? “Have you gone berserk? Can’t you see that that man is a ni–?” all humor is based on some form of Transgression even a pie in the face is a very tiny tiny societal transgression I’m not saying don’t transgress, and I’m not saying societal mores and constructs don’t need to be challenged however if you are going to make a joke at the expense of a historically Shadowkhan group That is not your own You need to accept also that there might be consequences and people might not think you’re funny. Number one There is no such thing as equal opportunity offenses because not all groups exist on equal footing Maybe one day probably never but right now We are nowhere near that. Brooks cited the near lynching of Bart in Blazing Saddles is a line he would not cross There is nothing funny about the image of a black man being lynched and Brooks owns the fact that he a white Jewish comedian Has no business depicting the image of a black man being lynched used for comedy. Number two Brooks is not down with gentiles appropriating Jewish suffering and genocide Let alone shocking for shocking sake and ridiculing Hitler’s theatricality is not the same thing as making a joke about Jewish genocide It’s just not mel brooks is a 91 year old man He spends a lot of time these days going on tour and jumping around on stage doing interviews talking about what? Guy gene wilder was and I hope he keeps doing that It was such a wonderful part of my life. Yeah I hope he spends his twilight years reflecting on his Successes and doesn’t find out that a very large portion of the gentile internet is using him as a defense for why gentiles making anti-semitic? Jokes is really okay? Because all satire is created equal look at the producers Even if you only call a satire after the fact because your joke didn’t land so yeah You can totally joke about whatever for the time being free speech is the law of the land but if you’re looking for a defense for your edge Lord satire may be the Jewish man who served in Germany during World War two? Who has publicly spoken out against media that trivializes the suffering of the holocaust? Who has stated several times that there are lines that should not be crossed out of respect for oppressed groups? Who has maintained that comedy is a weapon and even owing the fact that you will fuck up its target should be Considered with caution and care and never with the intent of upholding unjust power structures rather than dismantling them Maybe this guy this guy is not your best defense my I’m a german ethel Merman don’t you know crossing border the New world? here

100 thoughts on “Mel Brooks, The Producers and the Ethics of Satire about [email protected]

  1. Unfortunately, a lot of people aren't always that intelligent. Many things people will assume to be satire or sarcasm, will go completely missed by many people. So, unfortunately, one has to be careful about whatever meaning they intended being as you've pointed out, completely subverted because they chose to see something else in it(I've met Conservatives who love Colbert cause they miss the point). Great analysis.

  2. Comedy is where you find it. At 36:59 when the "superman" is telling his audience how great it is to be white, the orange lard ball gets up to wander around.  C'mon, that's funny.

  3. Sad-funny: "nazi" was a nickname for 'ignatz' and had the same status in Germany that "Cletus" or "Billy Ray" has in the United States, for better or worse. We've all adopted the term of the political opposition, but we've also forgotten that we did so.

  4. I'm not sure Tarantino really belongs in this discussion, what he was trying to do is something completely different. Inglourious Basterds is less about WW2 or Nazis than it is about WW2 movies.

    Likewise Cabaret, for a few reasons – the main one being that it wasn't trying to satirize Nazism at all, or to be transgressive in its portrayal of Nazism; to the extent Nazism entered the story, it was meant as a caution: this is the downside to Weimar escapism, the Nazis are taking over while you're living in your escapist entertainment world. Life is NOT, as it turns out, a Cabaret, no matter how seductive the idea that it is can be. The scene isn't meant to be the least bit absurd or funny, it's meant to be chilling, as is the final shot in the movie. Those scenes are a slap in the face to the viewer, reminding them that with the exception of Sally and possibly (but very possibly not) Brian, all of the characters we love in the movie are likely to be dead within a decade or so. Yes, it's regrettable that an unironic and non-satirical portrayal of Nazis can be the source of enjoyment for modern Nazi sympathizers, but the alternative is never unironically portraying Nazis onscreen, and that's worse.

    Dammit, now I have to go watch Cabaret again. I do love that movie.

  5. The thing about all the people complaining “Mel Brooks couldn’t make ‘Blazing Saddles’ these days?” don’t really want Mel Brooks to make a transgressive film taking aim at racial prejudice, they want to be able to openly make N word jokes at parties and want to lament PC culture making them feel bad.

  6. Love this video! We need videos like this, especially now. It makes me upset when people try to argue that you shouldn’t ever analyze humor or try to examine it or critique it. Analyzing humor and satire is what makes it work, what makes it worthwhile. Humor is wonderful and transgressive, but if you refuse to examine it, you run into that satire paradox. It matters so much what the joke is trying to say, what the point is. Good humor and satire stands up to examination, and when people whine that analyzing jokes ruins them, it really just means the jokes were bad.

  7. Oh, it's so confusing. The movie adaptation of the stage adaptation of the movie.
    @36:50 May I see that again. That was cool.

  8. Cant seem to get rid of the subtitles on this thing, but for some reason i find the fact they say Harry Infield instead of Enfield and Donald Drumf instead of Trump funny

  9. One thing I've been wondering about recently:

    While comedy movies involving lots of zany slapstick and sight gags haven't gone anywhere, the particular style "pioneered" by Mel Brooks and the Zucker Brothers seems to have fallen by the wayside. By the Brooks/Zucker style of comedy, I mean specifically comedies where the slapstick and sight gags are taken to absurdist/surrealist extremes (like someone's nose literally stretching out Pinocchio-style when he lies, or part of an Old Western villain's posse being Nazis, or intentionally anachronistic or 4th-wall-breaking references). In comedy movies today, by comparison, slapstick is present but more grounded in the "reality" or logic of the world the story is set in.

    The best modern comparisons to the Brooks/Zucker style of comedy I can think of are the Seltzerberg "Parody" movies (Scary Movie, Date Movie, Epic Movie, etc.), Excel Saga, and maybe to some extent Deadpool.

    What happened? Did it just go out of style?

  10. People comparing their own crap offensive jokes to Mel Brooks is a bit like when pseudo-scientists compare themselves to Galileo.

    Galileo wasn't great BECAUSE his views were rejected… he was great because his views were correct.

    And Mel Brooks isn't great BECAUSE his comedy was offensive… he is great because he's really fucking funny!

  11. You know… there's not a lot of almost an hour long Youtube videos that are worth watching. Yours definitely is, it's the first one I watched by you, I know its 2 years since this one came out but still, keep up the brilliant work!

  12. I love your content Lindsay. You are smart and poignant in your observations and reads of the arts and their texts and subtexts. I have watched a bunch of your video essays and also find them really entertaining, funny, as well as nicely edited. I studied cultural and media science for a while at university, which makes me relate to almost all your ideas and conclusions. Keep up the good work and thanks for your input.

  13. He was able to make his own representation in mainstream film. So that pretty cool, not many others were doing that at the time.

  14. For the Inquisition bit from “History of the World Pt 1” the horrifying fact was there were no Jews left in Spain at the time. Most who were persecuted were recently converted “Conversos” or the children of Conversos. internet snob leaves lol

  15. “All comedy must have limits and intent”
    I wish all the idiots on Twitter claiming comedy is dead because of “woke culture” would get this little tidbit. They think offensive jokes for the sake of offending ANYONE for no reason is somehow the holy grail of comedy.

  16. You don't know how right you are. My grandfather was lieutenant in WW2 (26 years old 1945, German side) and came out of the war with serious illnesses. His bullet wounds healed but he had severe panic attacks and claustrophobia. He could never watch movies like American History X. He would panic even knowing the Nazi would never have a happy ending. Despite that he told me The Producers and other Nazi parodies helped him cope with his fears. I can't even imagine how it is to grow up in a dictatorship that uses fear to produce immense amounts of social pressure. All his family members died in the war. Parents and siblings. After the war he was completely alone, he met my grandmother a few years after. I never understood why he would like goofy Nazi plays but now I understand that he had a black block of fear in his mind that he didn't dare to think of and that those parodies helped softening that somehow. Maybe showed that that the Nazis are really gone because art like this was possible and not censored or it took power from the Nazis in his memory. Sadly he died in 2006 but his wife is still alive and I visit her every Friday. Over the years we talked a lot about his and her memories of that time period. (She is 87 now) The tragic story doesn't end with the war. They live in the Communist side of Germany until they got robbed of all their goods by the government in '59 and fled to the other side. Really puts in perspective how easy my life is in comparison.

  17. So, I gave this video a thumbs up, however I disagree with the ending premise and the final point made. First, the reason(s) I gave it a thumbs up was for a great delivery, logical and well defined narrative and arguments, but ESPECIALLY for not following the example of so many others these days by attacking those who hols differing or opposing views, as if the ad-hominem attacks were counterpoints in themselves…

    The bottom line is: If people laugh, the joke is funny – even if you didn't laugh – but ESPECIALLY if you are being offended on another person, or group's, behalf — that is the same as saying you know, or are personally, better than them, and know better about what they [should] find offensive or not. They are fully capable of speaking out themselves, and announcing your opinion is what is best for one particular group or another, is belittling and degrading to that group…

  18. The introduction to what I suppose is the cons part of this pro-con evaluation of satire about Nazis does not seem to justify the position you then hold.
    Is "satisfying satire" the criterion for whether or not something succeeds as mockery?
    Further on, the connection is explicitly made with Nazis enjoying material specifically designed to critique Nazism, which seems unsurprising to me, given the realistic dearth of pro-Nazi content. Of course they enjoy the imagery, it's the only way they can enjoy their own imagery in cinema. If I were to criticise a neo-Nazi for being anti-Semitic, they would proudly proclaim that they are. The fact that these nutjobs do not make the connection of how evil their beliefs are should not deter us from making a mockery of them.
    This kind of leads back to a point you made moments before this, namely how Loadsa Money and suchlike only appealed as intended by an audience that already believed what the creator did. This is a double-edged sword; on the one hand, if satire is unable to alter beliefs then it would be a mistake to assume they are capable of creating a positive image of Nazism to anyone but Nazis. On the other hand, I would argue that satire doesn't necessarily have to change someone's mind right there and then for it to be effective. That's just not how people work; even if you have a debate where you perfectly reason without ever devolving into sophistry, chances are people will still need to sleep on it. The sum of comedic and direct argumentation should not be discounted as ineffective simply due to anecdotes about confirmation bias as a reaction to satire.
    It all seems to build to what is the major disagreement I have, namely is making good satire necessary for making ethical satire?
    No, surely it cannot be so. It cannot be necessary to be skilled at making satire before it becomes morally acceptable to do so. I have it on good authority that skill comes from practice, not some genetic or divine gift, not some random accident but the result of trying again and again. If it is morally objectionable to make bad satire then it is clear that it is morally objectionable to learn how to make satire.
    It's easy to say that what was needed was clearer lines, or better ways of determining what was or was not okay to joke about, but I think this overlooks how much this skill is a part in doing precisely these things. The criticisms of this video, nominally the ethics about satire about Nazis, is more appropriately described as the aesthetics about satire about Nazi.

    TL;DR I know it's not a big distinction (even though I spent tons of words on it), but it is worse to be a bad person than a bad comedian.

  19. I liked Life Is Beautiful. I mean, they did make light of the holocaust in certain ways, but it is a tragedy. The father's comedy came at a cost, and I really think one of my favorite things about the movie – is the theme concerning fatherhood, and the sacrifices you have to make for the well-being and/or quality of life for your son/daughter.

  20. This movie was the first to let me know that other minorities were also hunted down.
    I didn't know about gay's being hunted untill this movie.

  21. I think Trump got away with so much because he we've been mocking him for years. The man shouldn't be taken as a threat etc. His wrongdoings always seem kind of comedic in a way.

    Of course the people that vote for him wished those things were true. So the more we mocked his policies, the more it got spread. Best example is "epic rap battles of history" that stands to mock both Trump and Hillary. And while the makers are definitely anti-Trump, they accidentally made him look like the bigger badass!

  22. Brooks' To Be Or Not To Be was disliked? Aw man, I never knew. I personally found it hilarious. Granted, I haven't seen the original.

  23. I wonder. If american society has such a complex relationship with nazi portrayal and holocaust, how does it look for the people of the countries who took it all first-hand? Like Poland or even Germany itself? Most of people in the world are shocked at just how easily something of this scale could happen, how must it feel to have an ancestor who was in the SS, or even really just the gray man really following orders? Or being a jewish kid rescued and sent to a different family, with no idea of their family members' fate?

  24. I think this is all a little too concerned with what an audience takes away from a piece of art. If a creator is that concerned with what somebody believes after viewing their work, couldn't it be defined as propaganda? I thought art is simply a means of communicating thoughts and feelings in a way that can be experienced vicariously. If the reaction to that experience is contrary to the artist's intent, it means that people aren't as easy to manipulate as the artist thought… Which is probably a good thing.

  25. These kinds of controversy had always met pushback, before and today. A joke at the expense of Hitler was always taken as mocking the holocaust. Comedy, much as Philosophy only finds it's real place through the lens of history. As for the statement – Yeah, people can get over anything – and if you read Man's search for meaning humor was a big thing in the camps – but the fact that we can get over anything doesn't mean we should. And it's definitely not what the movie saysin my opinion. Notice tho, how Brooks is criticizing the guys work, not his character.
    Cancel culture really isn't the answer, becasue it makes light of the subjects that it claims should be taken seriously much more than bad comedy does. It is trying to Disregard the person's intent and put in what they find their intent to be, instead of taking it for what it is, we no longer criticize the work of people we criticize a personality – or rather what we made out this personality to be. If everyone is a nazi, no one is a nazi, real assholes can hide behind Ethan Klain (a liberal jew) being called a nazi for talking with Peterson, who also isn't a nazi. Or behind Rammstein being called nazis casue they are edgelords who sing in german. Just becasue neo-nazis like something that does not change its content, these movies are still anti-fascist no matter how neo-nazis would like to use the visuals of them. For the first time, I think it matters more who you are than what you do, we are too involved in the personal matters of entertainers, and more so their political views. Liberals fight with other liberals to prove who is more liberal. I find it ridiculous.

    Making a film, regardless of if it's a comedy or not, about a subject like that is really ticky. We have to use critical thinking, and accept that bias will always be a part of us. Just becasue Neonazis claim something as their own, doesn't make it so, And just becasue actual racist propaganda can pass as comedy, doesn't make it a comedy. But who decides what's propaganda and what's a joke – only the person making them know the intent behind it.
    supremacists love to be taken seriously, so mocking them Is fine in my book – that doesn't mean you can make a shit joke and not get it criticized. I'm just saying criticize the act itself, but don't try and fit a person's character into your criticism. You cannot argue that intent doesn't matter about an anti-fascist movie when it ends up used as propaganda by the fascists. and that it's all that matters when it's an obvious case of a joke flopping.

  26. One quick note is that satire is not inherently comedic. Watchmen or The Stand are excellent satires that are very rarely funny.

  27. 2:02 So true. I never saw the movie or the stage show (closest I saw was the PBS making of documentary for the Broadway show), but having been to enough theatrical productions, I can easily imagine this "stage right" joke getting a ton of laughs where the movie "camera right" version just seems mislaced and unfunny. There's always a comedic tension with breaking the fourth wall onstage. You go in as an audience member kind of hoping for it and when it lands it's aces.

  28. "everything is funny, or nothing is" it is sad that the youngns of today dont know comedy and cry about everything. that is until they leave school, the social media/internet and find out the real world dont care about feelings. folks need to unplug and not be like the schoolmarm from days of old. enjoy, laugh and make people genuinely happy. its not hard. cheers

  29. The quickest and most accurate explanation I ever heard for why Mel Brooks' edgy satire worked so well is that he always punched up, never down.

    He also had some great collaborators, like Richard Pryor on Blazing Saddles and Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein, when it came to writers. And some great comediennes who didn't get such great material elsewhere.

  30. I hope freedom of speech stays forever. So don't say "law of the land for now." Discourse and conversation is what makes people step away from the ledge that is extremism.

  31. In life, it seems like Mel Brooks is used the same way George Carlin has been in death: justifying bad comedy by bad faith actors. It shouldn't have happened to either.

  32. He lied about EU banning cocktail crisps, and about Britain sending a shit-ton of money to the EU (latter written on a bus.) Likely to cover up search results, he told a "quirky" story about drawing buses for fun

  33. John Oliver himself did a piece on Boris Johnson and his facade (like trying to close legislation, he failed, so noone could vote against no-deal, bad-for-economy brexit)

  34. Dont forget many political "beliefs" are only conjured to give people something to vote them for, like what happened with Trump being "new" that people are just now being sensitized to.

  35. And people don't check sources, so when Trump says he increases jobs despite job growth being up and him inheriting a healthy economy, people believe it.

  36. Trump also faked a weather map that had at that point been changed due to info from weather tech, and lied about a New York Times OP Ed apology to him that never hapened. And praised dictatorship

  37. yo white supremacist guy who gave you the inheritance. I mean I'm jewish and I don't own other jewish peeps stuff after they die. And what do you even mean by crusader lol having less pigment doesn't make you more likely to take over a nation, nor have you met the vast majority of non-white people. Humans make patterns from coincidence all the time

  38. Well, hey, hey! You're Mel Brooks! Sure. I'll give you a ride! Thank you. On the way we can do that $2,000 man thing. You be Carl Reiner, and I'll be Police Chief Wiggum. Listen. Why don't you play Carl Reiner and let me play Police Chief Wiggum? I hate Carl Reiner!

  39. Many excellent points. My favorite part is when Lindsey shows how neo-nazis love the movies/media/songs intended to demonstrate how bad that life is/was, but none of them are singing "Springtime for Hitler".

  40. When you claim something has been adopted by, “white supremacists” you should explain how you know that. Is this a group you personally keep tabs on? How?

  41. Now I wonder what your thoughts on Jojo Rabbit is, considering Taika Waititi is almost on a similar vein with Mel Brooks now that I think about it…

  42. Please go and see "allo allo" series for best of british facist satire (also see "heil honey i'm home" for opposite)

  43. Mel Brooks once climbed an electric pole playing german propaganda during the Ardennes. He rewired it to play funny jewish broadway songs back to the Germans. Apparently all the Americans were laughing their asses off and he was getting shot at the entire time.

  44. 30:27 something about remembering how fun the evil nazie was.. Ever seen the anime Jojo's Bizarre Adventure? In part 5 of that anime they have the worlds friendliest nazie xD

  45. I think the reason why such a liberal use of the word "nazi" in today's discourse is a problem is because it's implying facisim can only wear one hat. When people call another person a nazi today, they don't mean a literal nazi, they're calling the other person a facist. But by replacing facisim with nazism in cultural vernacular, it makes us blind to the true evil of facisim, which is that it can be so varied. It raises concerns of what happens when true facisim returns and people say "oh, they can't be facists, they aren't nazis".

    The danger of making the words "nazi" and "facist" inherently interchangable is that it makes us start to see facism as a single, solitary thing, which makes it easier for more modern facists to slip through the cracks and rise to power because they aren't exactly that single, solitary thing. It's dangerous because it'll make people ignore the red flags solely because those red flags don't have swastikas on them.

  46. I always found it so strange that people thought Hans Landa was charismatic and fun instead of just outright terrifying. His scenes are absolutely tense since it's made extremely clear that his 'charm' are just very thinly veiled threats and probing for information. Even the way it's framed is more about the control he's holding over the people he interrogates. It's only really in his last scenes where he's 'fun'.

    The Satire Paradox is an utterly fascinating and kind of rather unnerving thing.

  47. Mel Brooks comedy style was "throw it against the wall and see what sticks"
    Mel Brooks argues with Gene wilder for 2 hours over a joke in young Frankenstein and aerosmith writes a song about it…

  48. The reason Mel Brooks could use the n word was that it was in a movie set in the old west. It's historically accurate to that time, regardless of it being politically incorrect (or really just incorrect) language now. It was still wrong that it was used in those days, but it was and you can't change history. If you make a movie set in that time period and pretend that racism wasn't a thing, then that's just wrong.

  49. I know this is late and I'm not sure if others have already said. Tomorrow Belongs to Me was a hit with Neo Nazi groups until they found out the song was written by two Jewish men.

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