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Monday, August 11, 2003

Fashion Fuhrers

Via LGF comes this tale of a Hong Kong clothing store which is using Nazi imagery to sell its clothes. This is not just a few random swastikas, but full-blown Nazi banners. There's a picture at Big White Guy's site, as well as on LGF.

This reminds me of an incident that made headlines in Australia when I lived there, back in 1999. An advertising company in Taiwan got an account to sell German-made heaters. So they whipped up some clever little billboards showing a jolly cartoon Hitler, with the slogan, "Declare war on the cold front!" According to this article in the Taipei Times:

Shen Yu-shan...of the K.E. and Kingstone trading company, which sells the German heaters in Taiwan, said the company designed the ad campaign, which began this month.

"We decided to use Hitler because as soon as you see him, you think of Germany. It leaves a deep impression," said Shen, who works in the company's planning and design department.

Boy, does it ever. (The article is accompanied by a small picture of the ad, but you can click on it and get a larger one.)


Both [Patricia] Kortmann [of the German Cultural Center] and [Johannes] Goeth [of the German Trade Office] said the advertisement didn't surprise them because they often encounter Taiwanese who admire Hitler and lack a deep understanding of European history.

"Taxi drivers will often tell me Hitler was a great man, very strong," Goeth said.

Googling up this story, I also found that Taipei also had a jail-themed restaurant (named Jail) that displayed photos of concentration camp victims. (Again, click on the picture for a larger view.) They also labelled their restroom "Gas Chamber". Har!

The manager said that he didn't know what those pictures were, and took them down right away. Kept the jail theme, though.

Meanwhile, in Seoul, a bar popular with college students called itself "The Third Reich" and was decorated with many Nazi themes. Under government pressure (says ABC) the bar closed down. That article is dated March 9, 2000. By the time of this Time Asia article of almost three months later, the bar was reopened under the name "The Fifth Reich", and still hangs its Nazi flags. (Another Time article (by the same author, Donald McIntyre) says that the "Hitler" bar in Pusan, South Korea, changed its name after protests---to "Ditler".)

[This makes me think of the startling scene in the bad Japanese movie Invasion of the Neptune Men [aka Uchu Kaisoku-sen,] which was shown on MST3K in its Sci-Fi Channel days. Japan is---as it is frequently---under alien attack, and one of the many buildings shown exploding is one with an enormous cut-out of Hitler on it. "No! Not the Hitler Building!" cry Mike and the Bots. "What about the children? Where will they go to see the Hitler memorabilia? The Hitler rides and games?" I'd always assumed that cut-out, if real, was some symbol of Axis solidarity during the war. But maybe it was just another ill-conceived advertising gimmick.]

As far as I'm concerned, it's not hard to know what to make of this---East Asians are untroubled by the implications of Nazi symbolism because that symbolism didn't march down their streets. The first of the Time articles shows this very well---"But at least they dressed well," an English Literature student tells McIntyre. This must be what Izzue, the Hong Kong clothing company, was thinking.

Big White Guy wants to know how the Chinese would view a business that advertised with the Rising Sun flag. Well, McIntyre asked the Koreans at The Fifth Reich that very question, he reports in his second article (actually an opinion piece). They said they'd be outraged. That would be different.

So, despite the anxieties of the LGF peanut gallery, I diagnose terminal cluelessness rather than the rise of anti-semitism in East Asia.

However, this cluelessness was inevitable. As memories---even (or especially) collective ones---fade with time, our ancestors' demons lose their power. After all, little kids play cowboys and Indians without thinking very hard on what it might really mean to be scalped. Kids did this years ago, too---even kids whose grandparents might have actually lived in fear of attack. People who have never experienced a danger can be pretty nonchalant about it.

That doesn't mean we have to just shrug this sort of thing off, but it does show that we shouldn't over-react, either.

UPDATE I: More pics at LGF. That one fellow in the top photo---the only person you see clearly---looks disturbingly like someone I know, but I can't think who.

UPDATE II: Tim Blair points us to this interesting article on the meaning of "dissent" and how easy it is to be an intellectual these days ("Whatever it is, I'm against it" is the intellectual credo.) The author says:

Even today, a nostalgia for the Soviet Union reigns in some circles, including portions of the academy. There is even a KGB bar in New York City. As one wag observed, it is difficult to imagine scholars or the literati flocking to a Gestapo bar...

Poor fellow! Such a limited imagination.