By Ira Bedzow
While there is a popular marketing expression that “there is no such thing as bad press,” there is one very important exception to this rule–Never Go Nazi.
On Thursday, Facebook removed an ad posted by the Trump campaign because it contained a symbol–the upside down red triangle–that is reminiscent of the marker on concentration camp prisoners that identified them as political prisoners. One could see the cunning marketing mind at work. Hinting that angry mobs are Nazis condemns them in a shocking and controversial way.
If Facebook wouldn’t pull the ad, it would get millions of views and become a conversation on social and other media. If Facebook does pull the ad, it would still get millions of views and become the conversation on social and other media. Either way, the Trump campaign would get immeasurable exposure, condemn and alienate their opposition, and pull the conversation to become one of good against evil–peace and stability, law and order, against violence and brutality.
As the Facebook message declares, “It’s important that EVERY American comes together at a time like this to send a united message that we will not stand for radical actions any longer…” Forget the fact that the metaphor is misaligned, since the angry mobs would be the political prisoners, i.e. the victims of Nazi persecution. The implication is enough. The Trump campaign went Nazi.
“Going Nazi” is a counter-productive strategy because it does two things simultaneously. It stops conversation while at the same time makes light of the gravity of the conversation that can no longer occur.
By calling someone a Nazi, one refers to his or her opposition as the worst of the worst. It also implies that anyone who seeks to understand the opposition’s side is guilty by association. Who is ever right by sympathizing with Nazis? Those who side with the Nazi callers–rather than those called Nazis–are also vindicated because they now see themselves on the side of good against the ultimate evil.
The result is that the now-named Nazis no longer see a point in advocating for their views through social discourse. This leaves anomic activism which at its best turns to protest and at its worst turns to violence. The Nazi finger-pointers reap the rewards of confirmation bias by creating a situation where the consequences of their name-calling leads to its own justification. Most importantly, it leaves everyone in the middle–and society at large–with no peaceful means to confront and resolve the underlying challenge that was at stake in the first place.
While, of course, it is important to call things what they are, “Going Nazi” makes light of the atrocities of the Holocaust in a way that disrespects the millions of people who were brutally murdered for no other reason except hatred and prejudice. It also creates a mockery of all injustice– past, present and future. When everyone is a Nazi, then no one is.
Remember when the show Seinfeld went Nazi? The “Soup Nazi,” who first made his appearance on the show in 1995, made fabulous soup, but his insistence on a strict ordering regimen made him seem like a soldier in the Third Reich. When George complained about not receiving bread with his soup, the then (maybe still) famous catchphrase “No soup for you!” made everyone watching the show laugh out loud. It was funny because it was dark. It was also socially damaging.
Comedy is meant to portray solemn ideas in absurd ways in order to allow critique without condemnation. When done right, comedy becomes social commentary in a way that is non-threatening. It allows people to think about serious issues lightly by toning down the emotional stakes so that the real truths of the matter can be examined. But, when it makes light of an issue, such as with the Soup Nazi, comedy risks turning that issue into a parody of itself. When this occurs, there is no longer a perceived threat to the issue, since all anyone can see is the parody. At this point, the threat becomes stronger and more ubiquitous, simply because no one can see it lurking underneath anymore.
What the Trump campaign did wasn’t funny, and it wasn’t meant to be comedy, but it accomplished the same thing. It made light of the conversation in such a way that it risks making us lose sight of the darker picture. Social discontent is high and political instability is rising. What communities need now are ways to keep conversation going, not ways to stop them. It needs ways for people to see other points of view for what they are, not ways to castigate people with the hope that they don’t rise up.
As the Trump campaign’s Facebook message states, “It’s important that EVERY American comes together at a time like this,” but going Nazi is not the way to do it.