October 24, 2005

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Asia's sad obsession with Nazi-ism

The headline reads Naked Nazi porn provokes Hong Kong fury (NSFW), although the article itself points out it has not provoked fury or outrage, yet. Below the jump the article is reproduced sans NSFW photos and it's an entertaining read.

Yet is the outrage from the English language press over the use of Nazi memorabilia as a marketing gimmick unjustified? We've previously looked at Asia's ambivalence to Hitler. While many here wonder what the big deal is, I'll leave it to commenter Joe to pose the problem in a different light:

...ignorance isn't an excuse. I'd imagine that the equivalent of that would be someone standing on the London Tube or the 'A' Train in New York in full Japanese Imperial Army regalia.....but the difference is that wouldn't happen (unless someone knows otherwise of course).

Can you imagine, if that did happen and the Chinese press caught wind of it?

Besides the offensiveness of such trivialising of Nazi-ism and its evils, the double standard, the ignorance, the insensitivity and incomprehension are massive. As Jonah Goldberg wrote in an excellent piece last week, Hitler is suppose to define the outer limits of evil, not the lowest threshold. There's no point in comparing evils - each attrocity is unique. But for a contintent that has endured its fair share of evils, Asia's fascination with Nazi-ism reflects an intolerance that is all too common.

There's no outrage here. Just sadness and pity.

(Article via Spirit Fingers)

Akasi, a quarterly publication for the discerning Nipponophile, has become the latest convert in Hong Kong’s love affair with Nazi Germany. The October issue of the top-shelf glossy is dominated by pictures of an attractive young lady partially dressed as a tank commander and cavorting with wartime general Heinz Guderian.

But unlike every other local business that naively or cynically cashes in on Nazi notoriety, Akasi has yet to generate a single raised eyebrow. Until this reporter spotted a copy on the top shelf in a Causeway Bay 7-11 last week.

In Hong Kong’s English language media, there are few subjects more likely to generate an outraged print campaign than the use of Nazi memorabilia as a marketing gimmick.

There's nothing a Hong Kong girl loves more than a man in Hugo Boss with a handbag. To many Hong Kongers, Nazis represent the epitome of desirability. Their tanks were made by Mercedes and Porsche; their uniforms were original Hugo Boss. Twenty years after the last British skinhead tired of the joke, it’s still not unusual to see a Hong Kong teen in an Adolph Hitler European Tour t-shirt.

And whether it be a karaoke den with photos of Germans executing prisoners (a strange choice of decoration, admittedly), a fashion store decorated with swastikas, a TV station describing its ad breaks as “the final solution” or a coffee shop picking Hitler for its daily quote, German wartime symbolism is never far from the editor’s outrage button.

Yet somehow, Akasi’s efforts have slipped below the radar. It’s hard to imagine how this could be, since Hong Kong 7-11’s are apparently full of penniless gweilos looking for love these days, and from our experience, at least some of them are likely to be journalists.

More importantly, the magazine pulled out all the stops to ensure someone would be offended: They’ve put the girl on the front and back covers, dressed her in death’s heads, seig-heiling on a swastika backdrop. And just in case anybody missed the connection between the uniform, the tank the swastika and the jackbooted nipple tweaking love interest, the magazine even has a centrespread article about Guderian’s life and works.

With poses like this, it's hard to imagine Asak's publishers were not aiming to offend. Guderian is often credited as an architect of the Blitzkrieg and a vocal proponent of the destruction of Warsaw. He rose to become Hitler’s army chief of staff before conveniently falling out with him a few days before the war ended.

As Guderian has been dead for fifty years, getting him to pose for Akasi would have proved difficult. But the magazine found a cunning way around that little difficulty: They popped down to the shops and bought a plastic replica.

And they did the same thing with the tank.

But we’re digressing. If it was news notoriety Akasi was after, something went badly awry. The directors of the Calvin Group, which publishes Akasi, must be kicking themselves over the acres of scandalised newsprint they’ve failed to inspire. This cynical attempt at media manipulation should have generated a maelstrom of outraged Sunday front pages and inside page follow-ups.

But it hasn’t. All they’ve managed to do so far is inspire this one solitary Web report. How could they have so misjudged the media?

It could be that the strip is simply too silly to horrify anyone. Anyone who can pose a topless babe alongside an Action Man with a moustache must surely possess a sense of humour. And you’d have to be either a satirist or a very disturbed tank nerd to think of Photoshopping topless triplets into a Tamiya Tiger tank.

Or it could just be that the girl is just too cute to cause offence.

At the time of going to press, Netnewsasia had been too lazy to bother contacting Akasi, so we have no informed opinion on the publisher’s motives. All we can offer is speculation. We also noted that the printer’s name is Flying Wind. If that's not significant, we don't know what is.

Pictures on this page have been reproduced in the public interest. As a concession to those readers for whom the sight of an unclothed nipple may cause distress, Netnewsasia would like to point out that we have carefully avoided reproducing any display of muff in this report.

This is a great pity, because it’s an awfully nice one.

posted by Simon on 10.24.05 at 10:54 AM in the Hong Kong people category.


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Insensitiveness, ignorance, bad taste, I agree. In fact, Hong Kong designers seem to love to borrow from Japanese military flag (red sun and red ray of sunshine).

But that:
"To many Hong Kongers, Nazis represent the epitome of desirability. Their tanks were made by Mercedes and Porsche; their uniforms were original Hugo Boss …… it’s still not unusual to see a Hong Kong teen in an Adolph Hitler European Tour t-shirt."
is simply untrue.

posted by: LfC on 10.24.05 at 12:48 PM [permalink]

I too condemn the terrible taste of the pictorial. I would also suggest that Hong Kong, like many Asian countries, does not have the benefit of a large, significant or vocal Jewish community that, in Western nations, have played a leading role in educating the public about the horrific deeds of Nazi Germany and to understand that borrowing its imagery for any purpose except appropriate education or remembrance is in incredibly poor taste.

Having said that, Stephen King and Thomas Pynchon (the first, whose real name is Richard Bachman, is a Jew)as examples have both used (some might say exploited) Nazi imagery and associated them with sadomasochistic acts; these can be read on many levels but there is a clear element of titillation. I guess the difference between King/Pynchon/others that use Nazi paraphenalia in novels and the chick in the Nazi outfit in Akasi is that using Nazi imagery for purely titillation alone and for pleasure is an abhorrent act; those other authors in their books remind people in many places of the horrific deeds of the Third Reich.

posted by: HK Dave on 10.24.05 at 01:12 PM [permalink]

Came here today from Little Green Footballs in the US. Just wanted to point out that in the US, outside military history buffs like myself, knowledge of history in general in the US is lousy. This is caused by our pathetic, "feeling good aboout self is more important than knowledge" school system. People may know about Pearl Harbor or D-Day, but only because it shows up on network TV or they saw some, usually old, movie about it. Our media does like to beat the drum about the A-bomb attacks on Japan, the Japanese-American internment during WW II, and the Jewish Holocaust. However, few Americans know about the Rape of Nanking, or anything else about the Jap-China war that was going on before Nazi Germany invaded Poland and continued past VG Day. WW II in the Pacfic, for the US, is about aircraft carrier battles and US Marines invading small Jap held islands. Again this is primarily known from old movies. So I find Asian ignorance of non-Asian history unsurprising.
Another point I wish to raise is that the Nazi regime also has it fascination for us in the US. No stores decorate with the "crooked cross", but sales of books about the Nazis, models of their war machines and action figures are good. When faced with a huge tank based Soviet army in Europe during the Cold War the US Army took lessons in defense and offense from WW II Germany writings and from the surviving members of the WW II army. We find the effectiveness and professionalism of the German WW II war machine endlessly interesting. We also find the rise of the Nazis and their methodic, modern industrial way of commiting mass murder endlessly, and grimly, interesting-like rubber necking while driving past a gruesome car crash; "How did that happen? And would you look at that mess..."

posted by: KJB43 on 10.24.05 at 01:40 PM [permalink]

"Having said that, Stephen King and Thomas Pynchon (the first, whose real name is Richard Bachman, is a Jew)"

This isn't correct. Richard Bachman was a pseudonym King used in the 70s and 80s. He's not Jewish.

He does have one novella which fits your description (Apt Pupil - made into a not-very-good movie, featuring David Schwimmer of "Friends" fame).

posted by: Knemon on 10.24.05 at 04:55 PM [permalink]

KJB43, There's a great difference in using Nazi Chic in ads aimed at the top people and having a lot of magazines, films and video of the Third Reich -which is true in Australia too. That makes sure the new generation are somewhat familiar with this period even if they get no history in school. Chic is what flatters and imitates Nazism consciously.
My beef is that the even worse crimes of Stalin and Mao are not equally known, because they aren't so photogenic or available, I guess. Do Hong Kongers wear Mao caps? Weren't a lot of these people refugees from the evils of Mao just a few decades ago? Have they lost any sense of the evil oppressions of the Beijing communist regime they now live under?
Or are they racists and measure Europeans' evil as worse than their own to increase their national self regard?
Big questions...

posted by: Barrie on 10.25.05 at 02:19 PM [permalink]

Knemon, my mistake. I thought Richard Bachman was his real name and Stephen King the pseudonym. Anyway, Apt Pupil was indeed the story I was referring to. And as for Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow is quite an eye-opener, not least for the coprophilia...

posted by: HK Dave on 10.25.05 at 06:17 PM [permalink]

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