In a 10.16 “On Second Thought” essay N.Y. Times critic A.O. Scott regards Taika Watiti‘s JoJo Rabbit in the same authoritarian-mocking tradition as Charlie Chaplin‘s The Great Dictator (’40), Ernst Lubitsch‘s To Be Or Not To Be (’42) along with the less respected 1983 Mel Brooks remake, not to mention Brooks’ “Springtime for Hitler”, an inadvertently successful Broadway musical within the fictitious context of The Producers (’67), and the WWII German-spoofing in Hogan’s Heroes.
“But what if we don’t live in that world?,” Scott asks. “For a long time, laughing at historical Nazis has seemed like a painless moral booster shot, a way of keeping the really bad stuff they represent safely contained in the past. Maybe that was always wishful thinking.
“Recent history shows that the medicine of laughter can have scary side effects. Fascism has crawled out of the dust pile of history, striking familiar poses, sometimes with tongue in cheek. It has been amply documented that ‘ironic’ expressions of bigotry and anti-Semitism — jokes and memes on social media; facetious trolling of the politically correct; slurs as exercises in free speech — can evolve over time into the real thing. A dress-up costume can be mistaken for a uniform, including by its wearer.”
So Scott is saying that anti-Nazi humor doesn’t have the bite or relevance that it once had, and that on a cultural-processing level Jojo Rabbit may not be the anti-hate satire that its admirers believe it to be? Something like that. My first reaction to Jojo was why reach all the way back to 75-year-old Nazi culture to deliver an anti-racist message? Why not fiddle around with anti-immigrant Trumpster sentiments or focus on the go-along child of an ICE officer…something in that vein? Why use the filter of WWII history when it probably doesn’t register all that strongly with a good portion of the audience?
Side issue: David Poland has become an unofficial award-season Twitter lobbyist for Jojo Rabbit. As the Poland ardor ebbs or surges, so goes the campaign itself. Keep close tabs.