Back in May, I wrote a brief entry on the “Downfall Meme,” in response to Hillary’s Downfall, a YouTube video that took a pivotal scene in Downfall, Oliver Hirschbiegel’s movie about Adolf Hitler, and matches the scene with subtitles expressing Hillary Clinton’s outrage at being pushed out of the nomination by Barack Obama. I soon discovered that the practice was just one example of a more sustained meme, in which Hitler is depicted as stuck on hold with Microsoft’s Help Desk, to name one example. As Karina pointed out at the time, the meme seemed to serve as an unexpected form of publicity of Hirschbigel’s film, perhaps even introducing the film to audiences who hadn’t seen it.
However, six months later, the meme persists, with the recent “Republican Downfall,” which attempts to depict the sinking McCain campaign. It’s not the most successful version–the Hitler character’s identity is somewhat ambiguous. Is he McCain or someone within the campaign? It isn’t always clear. The persistence of this meme has prompted new analysis from Karina and a New York Times article from Virginia Heffernan. As Heffernan points out, it is almost impossible now to watch these scenes without thinking of the parodies. Like her, I had not seen the film when I saw “Hillary’s Downfall” and others within the meme. Now, I’m unsure I’d be able to watch the film and take it completely seriously, suggesting that the parodies have, in some sense, overtaken the original meaning of the film. Heffernan ultimately reaches on what might be an unsettling conclusion: that many of these videos oddly cast Hitler as a hapless Everyman (note the Xbox and Microsoft help desk examples), placing him precisely in what Heffernan calls “the brute voice of the everyman unconscious.”
One of the problems that I’ve tried to think about in some of my writing on political parody videos is the longevity of certain memes or genres, and like the “Brokeback” meme (also cited by Heffernan), the Downfall meme continues to live and evolve in fascinating and sometimes troubling ways.