If there was one way pro-independence Catalans could bring discredit on themselves, it was to stoop to the level of their opponents. For years, independentists have had to put up with regular accusations of being selfish, greedy, insane, stupid, terrorists, ETA, 18th century throwbacks, fascists, Nazis, Hitler.
So when last week’s ‘Polònia’ on TV3 ran a sketch comparing Mariano Rajoy to Hitler in the famous bunker scene from Downfall, I turned to Gemma and said “That’s not good”. Since then, the PP has threatened legal action and my fellow independentists have gone into overdrive defending the sketch and mocking the Spanish right’s “sense of humor failure”. Here’s why they’re wrong.
The Meme – not great comedy
The sketch was yet another version of a meme based on 2004’s German film, Downfall. It’s a great film and in context, a powerful scene. Hitler berates his generals for their failures, all the while refusing to accept the truth: that it’s all over. That the noise and the rumbling all around them is Soviet artillery already in Berlin.
The meme is first recorded in 2006, with Hitler re-dubbed in German complaining about Microsoft writing off its popular Flight Simulator game. Since then, around a thousand more parodies have been made, generally dubbing the original footage but sometimes simply imitating it.
I’ve written poorly about comedy here in the past. I watch a lot of comedy, read about comedy, listen to podcasts about comedy, read comedy scripts, think about comedy: it’s something I love and an important part of my life. And in my opinion, the Hitler Bunker Meme got pretty tired pretty quickly. Around about the time that guy used it to complain about Microsoft Flight Simulator. A thousand versions later and it’s one of the worst jokes I can think of. Dull, trite, derivative, unimaginative, OLD. Let’s face it: if you’re writing comedy in 2014 and you think the Bunker meme is right for this week’s main sketch, you need to catch up. That joke is 8 years old (and wasn’t that funny at the time).
Which brings me onto Polònia itself. Since 2006 (yeah), it has been one of the best comedy shows on Spanish TV. It brought a kind of satirical irreverence which people across Catalonia (and Spain – Dan Hancox records in Ghosts of Spain that anarchists in Andalusia enjoy watching it) just drank up. Its treatment of the royal family and the main political actors in Spain and Catalonia became legendary and made it the most popular show of the week on Catalan TV. I adored some of its musical numbers, including Imagine reimagined by Artur Mas and Oriol Pujol in 2012.
But shortly after that sketch aired, something happened to Polònia. In a fairly short time frame, the show suddenly started to poke far less fun at Artur Mas, previously mocked for his vanity and his upper-class attitudes. It started to treat him with reverence, which I found pretty unpleasant. Since then, Toni Soler’s show has continued to go downhill. If I catch it, I’ll still watch. But I get few laughs out of it now. Basically only if the princess is on it.
You can be sure that the writers at Polònia wouldn’t never even consider using the Bunker meme to joke about Artur Mas, even if he were in the middle of a deep crisis. It would undo the work of the last 2 years.
Banal and self-defeating
Besides which, it was ideologically foolish. Much has been made in Catalonia of the ‘banalization of Nazism/fascism’ on the part of the PP and Ciutadans. And quite right, too. Unwilling to debate the political issues surrounding potential independence for Catalonia, both parties (now representing a combined 10% of the Catalan vote, according to recent polls) have used the most atrocious rhetoric to criticize the process. They’ve almost certainly encouraged some fence-sitters to join the pro-independence side, sick of the insults and the dismissive attitude.
And now they’ve thrown all that goodwill away.
As for the independentists who have howled like banshees over the last week, complaining that the PP lacks a sense of humor, or the intelligence to understand a joke… they should take a deep breath, read their words back and see whether they can detect any discrepancies in their attitudes. The joke wasn’t remotely funny by any real comedic standards. And calling Rajoy Hitler in the Bunker is not the way we’re going to win the argument.
I won’t be watching tonight’s Polònia. El Gran Wyoming, however, always has a place at my table.