Mocking Cameron, or How I Learned to Love the Downfall Meme

Via Anne Thompson, a look at the most recent update of the “Downfall Meme,” the long-running video mashup technique, in which a video creator takes an iconic scene in the movie Downfall, in which Adolf Hitler, as played by Bruno Ganz, has a complete meltdown, and substitutes new subtitles, creating the effect that a hapless Hitler is complaining about the fall of the Republican Party or Sarah Palin’s resignation from her position as Governor.  When I first encountered the meme with the famous “Hillary’s Downfall” video, I felt somewhat conflicted, admiring the creativity while ambivalent about any text that equated an American politician with the Nazi dictator. But as the meme has continued to evolve, the use of the scene now seems increasingly abstracted from the original history being depicted, and it has become a powerfully funny way of commenting on any number of issues.

With that in mind, I really enjoyed “Hitler Learns that the Avatar Trailer Sucks,” an incredibly clever take on the backlash against James Cameron’s expensive and, potentially overly obscure, experiment in 3D storytelling, Avatar.  As Kristin Thompson points out, the entertainment media and fan reaction to the film has sparked debate about whether 3D is “over,” whether it is a viable direction for the future of cinema, and  more tellingly, how 3D fails to achieve perceptual realism. The maker of “Avatar Trailer” shows a keen understanding of movie publicity practices and demonstrates a principle articulated by Nicholas Rombes, Bill Wasik, and others that we are all media theorists now, that the act of self-conscious theorizing is becoming a crucial part of our films and TV shows.  In this particular video, Hitler complains (in subtitles, of course) that Cameron “has taken the Hollywood opiate of putting technology before story while being surrounded by yes men, trivializing the 3D age as a pet project,” attacking not only Cameron’s notorious reputation as a bit of a bully but also the celebration of technological novelty that has become a crucial component of Hollywood’s marketing of high-concept films, a reading echoed in one of Hitler’s later remarks in which he complains that “all these old masters have lost their minds in the depth of a hard drive.”  A cutaway to a crying woman shows a second woman consoling her: “Don’t cry.  Cameron will never make that Spider-Man treatment.”

The video parody is loaded with references to Hollywood insiderism–script treatments, online fanboy cultures, and transmedia texts–some of which are funnier in context, so I won’t reveal them here.  Whether the video truly “goes viral,” recieiving millions of views (or whatever measure you’d choose), it would be easy to dismiss it, using Wasik’s language as yet another nanostory, a disposable moment of culture doomed to be forgotten soon.  An it’s likely the case that such a topical video will disappear from our memories soon after Avatar finds its way to the DVD bin at your local big-box mart.  And yet I’m tempted to see something else here: a compelling reading of the hype associated with Hollywood blockbusters.  The parody remains affectionate.  The videomaker would presumably love to see a well-made film and embraces the best elements of entertainment culture but fears that Cameron has finally become too immersed in the special effects that once served the story rather than overwhelming it (that being said, I still think that Titanic sucks!).

8 Comments »

  1. Bill Said,

    August 30, 2009 @ 2:32 pm

    Thanks for pointing to these other entries in the Downfall Meme, which I wasn’t aware of. A question: do you know how people go about getting the video in the first place? Just ripping the scene from a DVD?

  2. Chuck Said,

    August 30, 2009 @ 2:53 pm

    I honestly don’t know how they “get” the video, but presumably they just rip a non-subtitled version. And a clean version may be online somewhere at this point, also ready to be ripped.

    The meme is utterly fascinating, one that has truly evolved and appears to be flexible enough to allow for many different permutations.

  3. Bill Said,

    August 30, 2009 @ 11:19 pm

    I find the meme utterly fascinating, as well, for so many reasons. I can’t wait to have students read some of your book as well as some theory on remixing and then get in to it. The aligning of what is going on on the screen with the parody will be fun to see.

    I really enjoy the meta discussion that is going on in this version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OL3L1wnpVb8

    Here is the link to the video without subtitles. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=72HsKDmo1tw

  4. Chuck Said,

    August 30, 2009 @ 11:28 pm

    My discussion of the Downfall meme in the book is probably a little more ambivalent. Now I find it to be a fascinating and flexible tool for commenting on popular or political culture, and you’re right: the meta-discussion in that first video is quite good.

  5. Hitler y el trailer de Avatar Said,

    August 31, 2009 @ 4:09 am

    [...] he encontrado en Mocking Cameron, or How I Learned to Love the Downfall Meme, una muy interesante discusin sobre el meme de Hitler y su increble [...]

  6. Sean O Said,

    September 2, 2009 @ 4:10 pm

    For the uninitiated, check out the New York Times article: “The Hitler Meme”:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/26/magazine/26wwln-medium-t.html?pagewanted=all

    My (meta) parody, “Hitler Is A Meme“, was removed from the ‘Tubes a while back, but is still available to watch here:
    http://sean-o.com/hitlermeme

  7. Andy Said,

    October 12, 2009 @ 6:13 pm

    Weirdly, Hitler rants against his own meme has become something of a meme in its own right.

    Here’s mine, (done – I swear to God – before I saw all the others)…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7vMUvgce_5s

    –Andy
    MastersofHumility.com

  8. The Chutry Experiment » Jay, Conan, and the Downfall Meme Said,

    January 17, 2010 @ 11:17 am

    [...] been a fan of the “Downfall meme” for nearly two years now.  Because righteous indignation and mock outrage are such common idioms on the internet, the [...]

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