The hottest ticket at this year’s Berlin Film Festival is a self-proclaimed “B Movie” called Iron Sky. Its consciously over-the-top plot features Nazis trying to conquer Earth from a swastika-shaped base on the far side of the moon.
I doubt Iron Sky will ever make it to our local multiplex cinema, but the movie’s popularity shows, once again, that people are endlessly intrigued by Nazis. Books, movies, and TV shows involving Nazis always seem to find an audience.
The original Star Trek had two episodes involving Nazis — one in which a drug-deranged Dr. McCoy goes back in time and changes history so Germany wins World War II, and another where a famous historian tries to help a culture by modeling it on Nazi Germany, with predictably disastrous results. Nazis make great bad guys (and often comic relief), as Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Inglourious Basterds, among many others, have demonstrated. Some years ago the book Fatherland, about a detective who uncovers a dark secret in a triumphant Nazi Germany, was a best-seller. Alternative histories in which Germany prevails in World War II also are a staple of that genre.
Nazi Germany was one of the most brutal, bloody, awful regimes in the history of the world. Why is it such a popular subject for fiction — to the point where it can even be the subject of humor? Why does Nazi Germany seem to be a far more popular setting for fiction than, say, Imperial Japan?
Perhaps it is just because Nazi Germany, with its goose-stepping soldiers, stiff-armed salutes, and elaborate uniforms and ceremonies, already seems so fantastic that it is especially well-suited to whatever embellishment a creative mind could supply. I also wonder, however, whether fictionalizing Nazi Germany is just a kind of cultural defense mechanism. If you routinely depict Nazi Germany as a setting for outlandish activities, maybe it is easier to forget that a racist, bloodthirsty, soulless government actually existed, slaughtering Jews by the millions and dominating Europe, only 70 years ago — within the lifetimes of millions of still-living people.