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Wednesday, 7 May 2014

What is Our Propaganda?

My aunt, grandmother, mother, uncle and grandfather sifting through family photos in 1936 Germany

I saw the film, Lore, at the weekend. The film looks at a German family at the end of the Second World War. The mother is a Nazi who idolises Hitler, their father an SS officer who served in Belarus. They are destined for denazification and a war crimes trial respectively and the children are left alone to march across Germany  to reach the sanctuary of their grandmother's peaceful home.

As the children struggle through a devastated countryside with a devastated population, Lore (the name of the eldest child) begins to realise that her entire world has been based on a lie, that Hitler, Germany and her father have all participated in the most horrific of crimes, that the American propaganda is true.

As the film progresses, the layers of deceit become more complex. Hidden pasts mix with disguised presents and delusional futures Photographs play a large part in this. There are the lies of identity photographs and a very direct example of how a symbol ( a yellow Star of David) can overwhelm photographic evidence. There are photographs used as evidence of atrocity and the reactions of the German population to them; denial, anger and realisation. And there is the deceit of a family album with pages photos torn from its middle, the Nazi past obliterated from the heart of the happy family as its meaning becomes apparent.

That erasure of the Nazi elements of the German family album is the idea at the heart of Philip Ebeling's Land Without Past, a project where he combines elements from 1930s German family albums with rephotography from the present.

But not all German family albums did have the Nazi elements removed. My German Family Album is one of those where the Nazi elements still remain, and I think that is interesting, especially in the way that the Nazi elements affect how we see the more benign pictures in the album. Everything becomes threatening and sinister when there's a Swastika or a raised arm around the corner.

And that also connects back to Lore. One of the central ideas (and one that Paolo Marchetti touches on in his work on contemporary European fascists) is that you can't just bury an ideology. Its traces will still remain even if its outer skin is removed. You don't have to be a fascist to be a fascist in other words. You don't have to be a Nazi to be a Nazi.

Roger Ebert did a good review of Lore here in which he questions whether we are so distant from horrors perpetrated by the Nazis and others in the Second World War.

Wherever “Lore” is apt to screen, most audience members are likely to be citizens of the 27 NATO countries that signed onto America's War on Terror. How many of these folks are as loyal and unquestioning of the war's aims and practices as Lore is of her Fuhrer early on? How many Americans among them believe in extrajudicial killing of fellow citizens “suspected” of ties to terrorism -- and in assassination-by-robot-plane of individuals thought to be linked to Al Qaeda? How many Westerners subscribe to the “better there than here” philosophy that has kept thousands of foreign civilian deaths out of our sight? (An international treasure, thenausea.com, was censored off the web a few years ago, due to its raw images and videos of war atrocities that shame governments on every continent.)
I'm referring to a specific contemporary situation, but “Lore” offers up its lessons for all time. Citizens everywhere are often lost in the fog of their nation's propaganda, until reality comes crashing in. Lore's mental breakdown begins at an exhibit of fresh holocaust photos. The Americans taunt her and her neighbors with stark black & white images of concentration camp bodies piled high. Denial and acceptance push her to the verge of suicide. This can't be real. I don't live in a country that could do this to innocent people.

1 comment:

Stan B. said...

Not positive, but I think it was Václav Havel that said, "The problem with you Americans is that you believe yours (propaganda)."