Mel Brooks, The Producers and the Ethics of Satire about [email protected]

So, um I’ve been seeing umm… alot of people recently using Mel Brooks as a sort of blanket defense of any kind of, you know Satire that transgresses societal taboos, and you know this is nothing new I’ve been seeing Mel Brooks used in this way for decades but the problem with that line of thinking is that it misunderstands what made Mel Brooks great. What makes him resonate. So today we’re going to talk about Mel Brooks The year was 2004 “You gonna eat your tots?” The United States had just invaded Iraq the black-eyed peas were getting retarded in here Zach Braff was at his artistic peak And the producers was still one of the hottest tickets on Broadway Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick had returned to the roles which they had originated which had netted event record-breaking 12 Tonys Student rush tickets were really cheap back then so I was seeing every musical that I could on Broadway. But to this day. I have never laughed harder at any stage production than at that original cast of Mel Brooks’ “The Producers” in 2004 And if you’ve only seen the movie adaptation of the stage musical you might be wondering Really?? “work work work work work work” And yes. I can’t even really explain what was lost in translation in the movie adaptation of the musical. It’s functionally identical Perhaps too identical because everything that made it work on stage it just doesn’t work on film. that the aesthetics of breaking the fourth wall on film are just different than on stage? “Why Bloom go so far camera right?” The stage Musical is also a big love letter to the heydays of the 40s and 50s Musical pageantry and the world of the stage in General we all love this thing go for theater the movie version Either did not know how to capture this or did not care to capture this on film But maybe it’s just being in the same room with these world-class Trained showgirls tap dancing and stormtrooper outfits is just hilarious. We’re on screen. It’s like It just feels tired. It feels like we’ve been here before “I was born in Dusseldorf, and that is why they call me Rolf.” “Don’t be stupid, be a smarty, come and join the Nazi party.” You guys want to talk about mel brooks and where when and how he was a comedy innovator? Then let’s talk about mel brooks Mel Brooks was born Melvin Kaminsky in Brooklyn New York in 1926 his father died when he was 2 and the youngest of four boys He was a small sickly kid who got picked on a lot. Brooks would later go on to say that this was where he learned to use comedy as a defense mechanism to cloak his pain in humor. “I want to thank Hitler.” “For being such a funny guy on stage” Mel Brooks would also like you to know that he is a Jew. Behind me you see a Phalanx an avalanche of Jews who have come with Their I? Don’t like the way, you’re walking you’ll get into the sacramental wine again After serving as a corporal in world war II in Germany engaging in such operations as defusing landmines Brooks was hired by sid Caesar to be a television comedy writer It was during this period as a television writer that Brooks developed his comedy ethos Which is basically throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. Do Muster shoot on adrenaline? You see this in his most popular movies It’s just joke after joke after joke if there is a dud there’s hardly time for it to land before the next joke starts “Well, that’s the end of this suit.” So while Brooks definitely had an ethos, biases and the point of view in his comedy The Rapid-Fire nature of it kind of make it clear that he didn’t think through the implications of a lot of it “You’ve just entered the territory of Robin Hood and his merry men.” “No, no, we’re straight. Just merry.” Some of Brook’s comedy with gay characters in particular has aged poorly while Brooks was certainly not adverse to physical comedy and slapstick His bread-and-butter tended to rest more on transgression of Societal taboos some of it has aged well gone “How about a good old *bleep* work song?” “I get no kick from champagne…” Some of it has not. “Watch me faggot.” And here’s why that doesn’t bother me personally as a viewer Comedy is the quickest to age and the most likely to age poorly. Yes, some of it even a lot of it is problematic Yes, you can still enjoy it. I do his 1974 film Blazing saddles is one of the great transgressive comedies of all time here. We take the good time in trouble too slow or every last thing in the west and for what? So then your point is share. It’s blacker than any Indian. From top to bottom Blazing Saddles is a razor-sharp skewering of the absurdity of racism these are people of the land the common Claims a new West And this is part of what makes Brooks so Fondly remembered today where the likes of, say, David Zucker are Kind of sad well people still think airplane is funny. So there’s that As an outgrowth from his difficult childhood Brooks wasn’t just about comedy for comedies sake Comedy could be a weapon and one of brooks’s favorite targets happened to be history’s greatest monster heckler on High Brooks saw comedy not just as a weapon of ridicule But as a way of robbing Hitler of his posthumous power Brooks’s approach of Reductio ad absurdum To Nazis was a catharsis for Jewish identity and this hardly started with brooks Yiddish folklore is full of these trickster bugs bunny style characters who confront corrupt and unjust power structures using nothing, but their wits Hershel of Ostropol being one of the most well known “the inquisition look out see we have our mission to convert to the Jews” With real subjects also weren’t limited to Nazi violence against the Jews Take one of the more famous scenes in history of the world part one. It’s better to lose your skull cap than your skull Oh my God There you have Brooks on film making light of a period of history that while nowhere near the holocaust in terms of scale, still openly targeted Jewish citizens And it’s debatable how mining Jewish suffering even if you are Jewish for comedy in the Spanish inquisition Differs from the Holocaust which brooks has always avoided depicting directly But he has also gone on record as saying that the root of a lot of his humor is anger specifically anger at antisemitism The problem with this kind of media created by a jew as an expression of Jewish identity to be consumed largely however by a gentile audience is that And there’s a little bit of troubling history of things that Jews say and do be misrepresented and used against them let’s go back now way back back before brooks – what laid the groundwork for Springtime for Hitler to even survive and thrive in the first place yes, let’s go back to the big h in question marks no Film about World War II was box-office gold before the united states even entered the war and most everything that came out during that time Glorified the war machine just as much as anything germany was charting out film and literature about the war were used to boost a narrative of American exceptionalism and great according to Thomas Doherty: But while this American ascendancy was fueled by images of the machine of war Little confronted the actual ideology of Fascism or the true horrors perpetrated in the name of Hitler’s Reich One of the earliest and most well known examples of satirizing Hitler’s brand of Fascism came in the form of Charlie Chaplin’s the great dictator A huge chunk of the great dictator is a very surreal watch today it consists of cute wacky Hijinx in the Jewish Ghetto in the fictional Country of Tomainia. See, concentration camps were certainly a thing in 1940 and it was a seeing American knew about have any idea would you’d have to look forward to if you stayed here “9 chances out of 10 we both wind up at a concentration Camp. Isn’t that true?” But the scope of it was not the scope We know today the great dictator was made in a time when Hitler’s death machine was only a possibility and not a historical reality The Great Dictator is unique not only in that it confronts Hitler’s ideology “Greed has poisoned men’s souls.” Has barricaded the world with hate has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed But that it also puts Hitler’s biggest targets the Jews at the Forefront : oh His excellency has just referred to the Jewish people But Chaplin gives neither hitler nor the Nazis even the dignity of being named the Hitler analogue adenoid Hynkel Is not even given a language the great dictator dictates in Gibberish But the Jews are given a name the great dictator does not pussyfoot around about who exactly Adenoid Hynkel intends to exterminate The Jews are given a name and an identity where Hitler is only alluded to Less well known World War II era comedy following in Chaplin’s Footsteps was ernst lubitsch’s to be or not to be which follows the exploits of Jews in occupied Warsaw Mel Brooks loved this movie So much that he remade it in the 80s, and that did not go over as well as The Producers or Blazing Saddles While the Great Dictator was a success. It was not without controversy with resistance against the film coming from isolationist Americans and fascist sympathizers despite the success of the great dictator few in Hollywood Dared Follow in Chaplin’s footsteps by openly addressing Hitler’s ideology But this did not go on to start a trend of films that were terribly concerned with the plight of the Jews in Germany and the rest of Europe because Americans weren’t Terribly sympathetic to the plight of the jews in 1942 put it in perspective Americans are more receptive to the idea of welcoming syrian refugees into America today than they were Jewish refugees in 1939 there was a lot of World War II themed media during and after the war But not a whole lot followed in Chaplin’s footsteps In 1963 political theorist Hannah Arendt herself a German Jew who fled the Reich during Hitler’s rise to power reported on adolf Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem in a series of essays for the new Yorker called Eichmann in Jerusalem A report on the banality of Evil Eichmann who was on trial for Nazi War crimes showed No remorse and claimed no responsibility for what he had taken pardon He was remarkable for his unremarkable ‘ti the israeli government sent no fewer than six psychologists to examine Eichmann none of whom found any trace of mental illness Arendt essays discredited the idea that nazi criminals were psychopathic or different from normal people as Eichmann saw it, he was just doing his job. He not only obeyed orders he also obeyed the law “…discussed verbally there was no place for discussions these were orders.” Eichmann proved that you do not have to be a born-and-bred monster to do monstrous things That anyone was capable of this Arms Report in addition to a wider cultural understanding in America of the breadth and scope of Hitler’s atrocities began to cause a shift in the American relationship with the mere idea of war especially With the looming threat in Vietnam where earlier films about world war two seemed heroic and necessary this shift began to see such films omissions of Hitler’s atrocities as unpalatable There was a need to reconcile the humanity of the nazis with their actions in order to continue making media about them But the reality that evil is really quite banal did not make for compelling, Hollywood cinema According to barlow the Nature of Evil itself argues Hannah Arendt is thought defying Because thought tries to reach some depths to go to the roots and the moment it concerns itself with Evil It is frustrated because there is nothing that is its finality in the two decades following the end of the war a Changing understanding of Hitler’s atrocities and their relationship to the American identity would shape the way that nazis were portrayed in film in Regard to depicting the German Nazis seen by American film and culture Aaron Barlow outlines two phases an initial one generated by the needs of war and a later one reacting to that earlier version a Major characteristic of that later phase reacting to that earlier phase was the attempt to grapple with the unthinkable evil encompassed by the holocaust What about the rest of the world? They did not know the intentions of the third Reich Did not hear the words of Hitler’s broadcast all over the world But an increasingly complex understanding of World War II moving away from the machine of war and moving towards the tragedy of the holocaust Began to Dampen American Desires to see World War II portrayed on screen There’s just no real glory in conquest when you know what those soldiers are going to discover on the other side of those woods so exit, best years of our lives and sands of iwo, Jima enter the diary of Anne Frank the Pawnbroker and Judgment at Nuremberg “Where’s the responsibility of the work leader Winston Churchill who said in an open letter to the London times in 1938 1938 your honor Were England to suffer national disaster should pray to god to send a man of the strength of mind and will of an Adolf Hitler Are we now to find Winston Churchill guilty?” Part of the problem with attempts to come to terms with the unbelievable horrors of the holocaust Also came to be an unwillingness to delve too deeply into the commonality of Evil that shows real negotiation with the American people’s own culpability “Where’s the responsibility of those American industrialists who helped Hitler rebuild his armaments?” Aaron Barlow contends that Americans began to push away the questions raised Turning the perpetrators into unhuman villains into parodies of villainy into something that we can live with for it becomes absolutely Removed from us Hollywood’s later approach would escalate to the likes of Steven Spielberg adding literal supernatural elements to a seemingly supernatural evil in films like raiders of the lost ark we see this perhaps most explicitly with Captain America and Hydra where the red skull is posed as making the Nazis look like the lesser evil compared to hydra Even though from their look to their coconspirator to their goals to their goofy salute. They are functionally identical to the nazis Hey Glider also holocaust what holocaust but in the 1960s at the still early stage in American identity Reconciling its relationship to the holocaust the horrors were still too fresh for the kind of direct representation We would see in the 90s and 2000’s with the likes of Schindler’s list The Pianist and Life is Beautiful finding a way to keep world war two narratives relevant in sympathetic was proving increasingly difficult in light of the new cultural Concerns and As the war receded even further and further into the past and possibilities for spectacle reached their limit Which is to say nothing about that other cloud hanging over the world at the time? that mushroom cloud Dr.. Strangelove, or how I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb according to Pauline kael opened a new movie Era indeed Strangelove seems to be where the switch flipped both in the wider cultures relationship to its past and to its doomed Present in the film’s own subtitle how I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb and Boy yeah had to stop worrying and love the bomb in the 1960s just to live Like today, we do not appreciate how close we came several times to total nuclear war kind of a miracle We still exist the Nazi presence in Strangelove is more subtext than text with the titular Strangelove an implied former Nazi War criminal who now works for the global Nuclear war machine The evil of the Nazi is almost trivial when pitted against cold war era global nuclear annihilation. The effect of this was not to trivialize Nazism but to give filmmakers new tools with which to explore the horrors both of their past their present and an increasingly unlikely Future and if dark comedy and satire were used to come to terms with the sword of Damocles hanging over the head of every American And Russia and well, everyone during the cold war Then so too could dark comedy be used to come to terms with and explore the horrors of Hitler’s Reich Andrew Gross and Suzanne Rohr describe the problem of comedy tackling heavy subject matters as a perception of comedy being generally considered less sophisticated read Incapable than the more so-called noble genres such as tragedy or conventional historical drama Part of what makes a societal taboo a taboo is the presumption that it should not be touched or discussed even by higher arts much less lower arts like comedy This of course does not give comedy particularly black comedy It’s due credit black comedy is sometimes the best means for challenging harmful Societal constructs and mores According to Aaron Barlow comedy is most persuasive Which is perhaps to say? Instructive when put in the morally realistic context of tragic potential thus much of what is called black humor and its attendant Infinity derives from the recognition that the truest fiction requires fusion of the tragic and the college, what do you think of Mr.? “I gave him my baby to kiss, and he bit it.” Farce allows obscenity to succeed or at least be dealt with in Situations where otherwise audiences would be offended and even non-existent. “Life’s a piece of shit when you look at it.” It might be argued that Farce was not only inevitable but necessary in order to prime audiences for dealing with more realistic sombre portrayals and holocaust fiction when used smartly Comedy puts the unspeakable into understandable symbols through absurdism Without dragging marginalized groups through the mud through farce the problems that were arising within filmic presentations of the Nazi Problems arising from new recognition that the simplistic diversions into good and bad that had been useful for the war effort bit that were of little real validity could be sidestepped. Prima fachy evil the Nazi could always be insulted and abused or turned around the Nazi can lose without sympathy this turn to Farce aloud World War II film to survive even as aspects of it that now seem troubling began to fade from the Genre The late 1960s also saw a rise in films that took a more farcical bent to approaching Hitler’s regime including the dirty dozen hogan’s heroes CatcH-22 and of course the producers for money Producers tells the story of Max Bialystock played by Zero Mostel, a washed-up hack Broadway producer who talks Leopold Bloom played by Gene Wilder a mousy emasculated accountant seeks comfort in his blanket into creating an intentional Broadway flop in order to write off the business losses and steal the money from the financed ears But when the worst show they can find springtime for hitler at gay romp with a dolphin Ava through Burt’s Garden becomes an unexpected success the two end up in prison One of the studios brooks initially approached said that they would make the producers if and only if brooks changed it to springtime for Mussolini universal because they said Hitler is too strong too menacing How about springtime for Mussolini? Given that Mussolini’s depiction in American media in comparison to Hitler seem mostly to be about making fun of Fascism and being BFFs with Hitler while not having to get our hands dirty with that whole holocaust thing and when we talk about the Producers now especially as a defense of a joke about Whatever one facet of the gestation of the producers is that it was actually pretty controversial upon initial Release time has been kinder to the producers than critics were in 1968 the Busby Berkeley musical Centerpiece springtime for Hitler caused considerable offense prompting numerous mostly Jewish Walkouts during the film’s initial release in Brooks’s own words: It was only after Peter Sellers gave the film a glowing public Endorsement in variety that the film gradually built up a cult audience and brooks eventually won an academy award for best original screenplay for the producers But while the joke in the film is that Bialystok had found the most offensive musical possible guaranteeing a flop in his mind Brooks’s use of Hitler as its subject was not Arbitrary. In Brooks’s own words: Brooks later stated in an interview at 60 Minutes: though The Producers was initially met with mixed reviews the film has since become Celebrated for the way at ridiculed fascism in the same vein as Chaplin’s the great dictator particularly Springtime for Hitler film Historian Robert Rhymer celebrate springtime as a triumph of anti-fascist satire Susan gubar interprets as parody of Fascism as racial camp mocking the shoddy theatricality of Fascism both gubar and rhymer side with brooks in their interpretation of the springtime number that ridicule of Nazi Propaganda Methods does Rob hitler of some of his posthumous power But again this praise of the producers is not universal film historian Petrol Ral takes a much colder view on the producers in addition to finding many of the comedic elements thoughtless and hypocritical. Oh like what did these people expect in a musical called Springtime for Hitler? she particularly takes issue with Brooks’s appropriation of fascist imagery there’s one frame during the springtime for Hitler number wherein the dancers moved to form a swastika on the stage a direct reference to Leni Riefenstahl doing the same in Nazi Propaganda rell argues that the tools of fascist theatricality are not shoddy as brooks describes and Are rather highly effective propaganda tools? That’s why they weren’t merely recreating the tools of fascism in a heightened cartoonish state is not enough to create satisfying satire and in that way Brooks’s use of Hitler can feel almost incidental Really making a play about the most offensive thing imaginable could have been about anything Since the butt of the joke is really Bialystock and Bloom underestimating the audience not Hitler himself So the question then becomes where does satire cross the line from being a valid? Transgressive Art that challenges harmful Societal constructs to to subtle and perhaps in danger of people missing the point entirely and That’s the problem there isn’t a line. This is a journey into money Nodes of money there is an episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s Podcast Revisionist history, which is called the satire Paradox which with apologies. I will borrow from a great deal here The episode begins with a discussion on Harry Enfield a well-known comedian in Britain and also an avowed leftist who hated Margaret thatcher no nigel no bad dog nigel Enfield in his partner Paul Whitehouse dreamt up a character to embody thatcher’s England and it sort of just became this of thing like really where? We just go loads of money about everything. You know his name was loads the money He was a construction worker catapulted to suddenly delirious wealth by the eighties building room So we sort of did it the other way which is just to go look at me aren’t I great isn’t money great? Everything else is Rubbish only money is good But the lesson Enfield took from the whole thing was despite the clear derision with which loads of money was framed People only took it as it was intended if they already were aligned with Enfield politically.
You know I mean It’s great fun to do but generally you know. It’s just about questioning. What’s there because we’re allowed to question What’s there so we do? But it doesn’t ever change anyone’s mind Same with Stephen Colbert. The real Colbert has never made a secret of the fact that he holds liberal political views in real life everybody Was saying has America lost his mind and the answer is evidently backed off buddy We got 300 million guns and we’re kind of stressed right now But conservative viewers of the Colbert report don’t see his character the same way Liberal viewers do. Yes, obviously the Colbert of the Colbert report was a character, but where the left-leaning viewer sees a character to be mocked. I’m sorry I’ve never been a fan of books I Don’t trust them The conservative leaning viewer sees a funny man speaking truth to power I think I would have made a fabulous press secretary I have nothing but contempt for these people So essentially they saw what they wanted to see so the big takeaway here of this study was that this is what we would call Motivated cognition or biased perception see also tina fey’s Sarah Palin. I can see russia from my house This character might have been made by and for liberals But Palin was just so darn likable that Conservatives who supported Palin were endeared to it too. Tina Fey even went on to make an episode of 30 Rock about this very paradox I put after take a moment here Instead of my testicles earlier and the heft of my body smashed them to smithereens Okay, start working on the way the in universe shows parody of a dangerously inept political candidate ends up making him more endearing Because it’s making him likable. He’s actually very mean, but with Tracy Jordan playing. He’s a lovable buffoon They’re just talking about how funny tracy is And Fey’s character Liz Lemon is faced with the dilemma of what to do with this But these are all examples of deliberate satire the issue gets even more thorny when you look at representations That is not satire American history x is a great example of the satire Paradox or something that is not satire the text of the film is explicitly? anti-fascist a cautionary tale that unmistakably condemns white supremacy, but you know what group loves the imagery in American History X? Neo-Nazis Neo-Nazis love the imagery in this movie the text shows neo nazism and white supremacy is bad, but isn’t it also kind of badass Isn’t it kind of cool the way? He’s framed is an Edward Norton of badass when he’s an uncooked Neo-Nazi Alpha, and then there’s hans Landa from inglourious basterds Who has become more of a symbol for fun and charm and Charisma than of evil? That’s a bingo And you might argue that that’s the point But how valuable is that point if what people remember most about the movie is how fun the evil Nazi was? Audiences might have lost the thread of the intended point And then there’s Tomorrow Belongs to Me, a chilling moment from the film version of Cabaret Which has recently been adopted by some white nationalists as an anthem, but do you know what hasn’t? “Springtime for Hitler and…” So we have explicitly anti-fascist dramas where the text has been appropriated by white supremacists But in this case the comedy which satirically praises Hitler has not which lends credence to Brooks’s notion that Highlighting the absurdism a fascist theatricality actually does rob hitler of his posthumous power But just because you can’t help what the world will do with your representation be it satirical or non-satirical It doesn’t mean that satire is free from criticism Satire needs intent. It needs logic. It needs to be making a statement about the thing it is satirizing, or else. It’s bad satire Brooks describes this as satire of the shoddy theatrics of Fascism To Row’s credit the theatrical techniques of Fascism were highly effective, but they were also extremely fragile Which is why the police state maintains such a stranglehold on the press you weren’t allowed to ridicule fascism in Nazi Germany Because it’s the ettrick ality at its core could not survive ridicule will you please shut up dose cut that? “You are the audience. I am the author. I outrank you!” This is what hyper nationalism looks like women dressed as pretzels and beer this is what Nazi theatricality looks like tap dancing Stormtroopers and marching and swastika formation that image is lifted directly from Nazi Propaganda and it doesn’t take a lot of modification to make it look Ridiculous see this particular scene is all about lens the Nazi vision in the producers is the text written by a literal Nazi Produced through a Jewish lens for a gentile audience Would you ever believe in a million years you’d ever love a show called “Springtime for Hitler”? The story the framing and who is telling the story is all relevant So this isn’t just hitler for Hitler’s sake this is heightened theatricality that unmistakably showcases the absurdity of Ethno-nationalism Which is why white nationalists tend not to like it in the way that they like American history x you can’t make it not Absurd we had lesbian hitters we had the you name it They were hit live in all shapes and sizes So the idea that brooks wanted to make a musical out of the most offensive thing and just kind of picked Nazis at Random is False brooks had something to say about the nazis about the way they viewed themselves And the way they presented themselves to the world But this also rubs up against that satire Paradox perhaps the intended target of the satire goes missed by a large portion of the audience Man, you know I kind of missed the days when it was like taken as a given by most people that a joke at the expense of hitler isn’t the same as a Joke at the Expense of millions of murdered Jews, but yeah the times They are a-changin, and I guess this is a discussion that needs to be had “Heil Trump. Heil our people. Heil victory.” given the rise of Far-right Movements Fascism and neo Nazism in the last two years all over the western world much debate has arisen as to the ethical concerns of laughing at the devil As Brooks has done do films like the producers rob Nazis of their power Or do they create an atmosphere that encourages audience not to take a serious issue seriously? It is fallacious to say that the answer to that question is either/or It’s a little of column a and a little of Column B the seriousness of the holocaust was not lost on brooks and according to brooks all comedy must have limits and Intent in the Spiegel interview Brooks says: So where does Brooks draw the line? “Welcome to hanging house not to worry Everyone is equal in my eye.” In 1974 I produced the western parody blazing saddles he continues in which the n-Word was used constantly “I’ve got to talk to you. Come here. You’ve gone berserk. Can’t you see that that man is a ni–” “Baby, you are so talented. And they are so dumb.” and there’s been a lot of debate as to whether or not Brooks is liberal use of the n-word and blazing saddles is helpful or Harmful, and I’m not going to go into that today “Good morning, ma’am. And isn’t it a lovely morning?” “Up yours *bleep*” But the point here is Brooks believes that not all comedic targets are created equal. “Aw prairie shit. Everybody.” Comedy is by its very nature Transgressive and borders and norms do need to be challenged even surrounding such sensitive topics as the Holocaust but in order to be effective that transgression must be used carefully and within the offense bar is also much higher now unlike with the original film which caused a flurry of controversy when the broadway show and subsequently the Adaptation of the Musical got released these barely got an indifferent shrug on the issue of depiction of Nazis by this point even moms Don’t find it Edgy. We’re gonna Post South Park World a post family guy world a post Downfall Meme world so perhaps hitler is too Powerless and when people Express concerns about Literal Nazis or not the adjacent useful idiots a little to be white It’s to be a striver a crusader it is our inheritance and it belongs to us The responses become why do you have to call everyone you disagree with a nazi? But this cartman ization of nazism is also a sign of changing times. Just like the producers was a sign of changing times in 1967 and I’m not even saying that that’s a bad thing But it is having an effect on the way that we treat our history media like South Park Reinforces a worldview where nothing really matters and everything is fair game. And South park has historically gotten away with this because the message and intent is clear But South Park’s imitators seem not to understand why South Park gets away with transgressive humor with relatively little blowback And they don’t how is your representation framed is it romantic, or is it derisive? Or is it comedic and most importantly at whose expense Is the joke? “Have you gone berserk? Can’t you see that that man is a ni–?” all humor is based on some form of Transgression even a pie in the face is a very tiny tiny societal transgression I’m not saying don’t transgress, and I’m not saying societal mores and constructs don’t need to be challenged however if you are going to make a joke at the expense of a historically Shadowkhan group That is not your own You need to accept also that there might be consequences and people might not think you’re funny. Number one There is no such thing as equal opportunity offenses because not all groups exist on equal footing Maybe one day probably never but right now We are nowhere near that. Brooks cited the near lynching of Bart in Blazing Saddles is a line he would not cross There is nothing funny about the image of a black man being lynched and Brooks owns the fact that he a white Jewish comedian Has no business depicting the image of a black man being lynched used for comedy. Number two Brooks is not down with gentiles appropriating Jewish suffering and genocide Let alone shocking for shocking sake and ridiculing Hitler’s theatricality is not the same thing as making a joke about Jewish genocide It’s just not mel brooks is a 91 year old man He spends a lot of time these days going on tour and jumping around on stage doing interviews talking about what? Guy gene wilder was and I hope he keeps doing that It was such a wonderful part of my life. Yeah I hope he spends his twilight years reflecting on his Successes and doesn’t find out that a very large portion of the gentile internet is using him as a defense for why gentiles making anti-semitic? Jokes is really okay? Because all satire is created equal look at the producers Even if you only call a satire after the fact because your joke didn’t land so yeah You can totally joke about whatever for the time being free speech is the law of the land but if you’re looking for a defense for your edge Lord satire may be the Jewish man who served in Germany during World War two? Who has publicly spoken out against media that trivializes the suffering of the holocaust? Who has stated several times that there are lines that should not be crossed out of respect for oppressed groups? Who has maintained that comedy is a weapon and even owing the fact that you will fuck up its target should be Considered with caution and care and never with the intent of upholding unjust power structures rather than dismantling them Maybe this guy this guy is not your best defense my I’m a german ethel Merman don’t you know crossing border the New world? here

100 Replies to “Mel Brooks, The Producers and the Ethics of Satire about [email protected]

  1. the best line i've ever heard about comedy is "gallows humor is only funny and appropriate if you're on the gallows. if you're in the audience, it's just disgusting."

  2. So my conservative Limbaugh-listening grandpa didn't know Colbert was satirizing O'Reilly until after the correspondents dinner. Satire is important but I do think it can become a bit choir preach-y.

  3. Also I do kind of get uncomfortable with making fascists seem gay/effete/queer idk, especially given LGBTQ people were also targeted by Nazis and continue to be targeted by fascists today.

  4. But we could easily be killed by the bomb at any time. Why do we act like we’re past this(listen to leher’s song we’ll all go together when we go)

  5. 30:00 Evil and Badassery. Glorifying badassery is precisely what leads to so much evil – especially when contempt for weakness is so strong that being merely civilized, humane, and not hurting anyone is treated implicitly as a consolation prize for losers or – at best – a boring but admirable trait for winners. You combine uncritical contempt for weakness with uncritical glorification of badassery, then a world overrun with evil badasses is bound to happen sooner or later. Look up any video about GG Allin and you'll see the logical conclusion of badass-worship + despising the weak.

  6. As a Rom/Jew with a degree in German language and literature, may I suggest Der Hauptmann von Köpernick (if you’re stuck with the campy English translation, okay)? The Germans have a LONG history of making fun of the military, and Brooks is smack in the middle of that dry, sarcastic, often silly tradition. It’s a balancing act, and if those losers on the right don’t get it, all the more reason to ridicule them.

  7. Excellent essay, that will tragically elude the mental grasp of the very edge-lords it means to target. If it can be said that a lack of education breeds contempt for the educated, the question is, do we dumb down our critiques of that contempt in order to combat it. And by "educated" here, I don't simply mean Jews. There are plenty of uneducated Jews who have their own biases. And I am heartened by the fact that Ellis isn't a Jew herself, yet identifies with the issues concerned here.

  8. After watching this and watching Springtime, I am wondering if someone could make a another parody mocking people in todays society who are toxic. Other than the obvious Trump; Borris Johnson, for instance I am wondering if someone could mock Youtubers who have been and always are corrupted. So how would you make a joke out of Logan/Jake Paul; Lele Pons; and others who have gotten away with being basically complete filth on the platform. How would you mock their personalities; wealth; egos; their obvious actions that were on purpose.

  9. If there is one thing us as Jews are good at, is making fun of ourselves. We do this to try and level out the anti-Semitic action and words hurled on us on a daily basis. It helps us make sense of the Holocaust and other atrocities against the Jews.

  10. Except of course, Mel Brooks said Mel Brooks wouldn't be allowed to make a Mel Brooks movie today…

    Mel Brooks: ‘Blazing Saddles’ Would Never Be Made in Today’s ‘Stupidly Politically Correct’ Culture.

    “Blazing Saddles” may be a groundbreaking comedy, but director Mel Brooks doesn’t think Hollywood would make the iconic Western parody in this current “stupidly politically correct” climate.

    The Oscar winner discussed PC culture in a recent interview with BBC Radio 4, calling it “the death of comedy.”

    “No, no, I mean maybe ‘Young Frankenstein.’ Maybe a few. But never ‘Blazing Saddles,’ because we have become stupidly politically correct, which is the death of comedy,” he said when asked if he thinks he could get films like “Blazing Saddles,” “The Producers,” or “Young Frankenstein” made today. “It’s okay not to hurt feelings of various tribes and groups. However, it’s not good for comedy. Comedy has to walk a thin line, take risks. Comedy is the lecherous little elf whispering into the king’s ear, always telling the truth about human behavior.”

  11. Im saying like the joker🤡) Comedy is subjective, Murray. Isn’t that what they say? All of you, the system that knows so much, you decide what’s right or wrong. The same way that you decide what’s funny or not.😊

  12. Prisoner camps are happening now in Tibet. Whole nation is imprisoned and brain washed on daily basis.
    Yet, the world says nothing. Dictators are being supported by US and EU even today. Unless they are competitors, like Putin.

  13. Steve Martin played a white guy who was such a jerk (he couldn't understand he wasn't black) in the film "The Jerk". That movie is still funny af.

  14. An issue with criticising satire, is that critiquing it ultimately rests on the intent of the satire, but intent is easy to miss or misunderstand. A thing I saw making the rounds a while ago from some faux-woke people was "without clarity of intent, satire is no different from the thing it's trying to satirise", which is basically just 'if I don't get it, it's not satire'. At the end of the day, the lines we draw are arbitrary. It only get blurrier when you involve social power structures, like race. Mel Brookes felt he couldn't show a lynching in blazing saddles because he was Jewish, but I personally believe that race is irrelevant – even if he was African-American it would be jarring, unfunny and crass. The creators of south park are Jewish, but that hasn't protected them from getting flak for their more tone-deaf satire.

  15. if one wanted another one look at the Harry Enfield problem check out the new statesman a Rik Mayall series about a venal Thatcherite mp Alan B'stard who is beyond abhorrent and some tories are completely fans and the writers frequently complain of people coming up saying "we need more mps like him"

  16. Mel Brooks' films are all great!

    If you like Mel Brooks you may also like Stephen Chow. He's a Hong Kong actor and director and he's done some of the greatest comedies of all time. You probably seen Kung Fu Hustle and Shaolin Soccer but those films aren't on the same level of Mel Brooks. I'm a fan of Kung Fu Hustle and Shaolin Soccer but they're the least funniest in my opinion.

    Just like Brooks, dialogue gets as much love as the acting. Chow is great at it, the funny sarcastic remarks, the multicultural references, the inside jokes, they all land really well. He often makes fun of mainland China (punishable by death nowadays I think) and he seldom goes the low brow route. Like derogatory terminology, shallow discrimination, or racial stereotypes.

    In fact, he breaks and subverts those elements. Women are stronger than him (a male protagonist) in almost all films, if not literally stronger (Chinese Odyssey 1 & 2) or mentally stronger (God of Cookery) than him then they are of a higher status (The Flirting Scholar) than him.

    When there's a non Chinese person in the film, they aren't utilized for humor. His film 'Fight back to school' did not portray the Germans to be loud, repulsive, racist, oppressive, evil white men in power. Instead they are smart terrorists that tries to terrorize a school, only to be stopped by Chow.

  17. I think I've actually fallen for the effect you've described at 36:45. I couldn't imagine people unironically making speeches about white superiority and receiving applause in a public event, but lo and behold Richard Spencer is a publically active neo-nazi.

  18. When Brooks used ant kind of offensive stereotype, or perjoritive word, always came with this tone of it being a joke and not a slight. That is why its acceptable, because its commentary on something that DOES happen. But he makes it funny. He by that tone let's you know, it OK its not a personal view its a joke that outlines the place prejudice has then it strips it naked for us to laugh at it. His use of Gay syeroryoe and slur for me as a Gay man, gets a pass, know why? From the lesser celebrated "To Be or Not to Be….'
    " Without Jews, Fags , and Gypsies there would BE no theater…" Mel, you rock….

  19. An interesting parallel development would be the continued popularity of comedies filmed under the Nazis in Germany, particularly DIE FEUERZANGENBOWLE(1944), a kind of pre-"Never Been Kissed".

  20. It's worth noting that in those days of US indifference to Nazi policy, the American Legion protested vigorously against the Nazi "German-American Bund".

  21. I've said it before and will say it again: Blazing Saddles was leagues ahead of its time.

    To illustrate how well it was executed: Somehow it made it through the Apartheid government censorship in SA as we entered the most politically unstable period of our history, two steps from a civil war, and SOMEhow got us (my family) to laugh as opposed to angered.

    That was a remarkable feat, for me.

  22. Neo nazis don't use springtime for Hitler as an anthem not because mel brooks was right in his views on satire. They don't use it because mel brooks is a jew and he wrote it. Also i know at least 3 legit neo nazis (that i know of) and they all hate american history x because it generally portrays them as white trash. In real life one of them is a freelance journalist, other is a high school English teacher, and the other is a chef downtown. They don't have tattoos of nazi shit all over their bodies shouting sieg heil at secret meetings. They just have some really fucked up views.

  23. I can't watch Captain America. He's too pure. However: they don't dance around the Holocaust in the comics. There have even been modern and futuristic concentration camps. Why would the movieverse?

  24. I saw 'Life is Beautiful' in the theater. I was offended. Not like, start a protest offended, but it was SO RIDICULOUS!!! (It's not the worst idea for a film but the execution. If it had been done more like Pan's Labyrinth, then maybe. It wasn't actually from the point of view of the child so it made NO sense!)

  25. Looking back on what I may have said about this movie (I was one that used Mel Brooks as a defence), I now realise how ill informed I am. Yes Mel Brooks managed to get The Producers to work. But the thing about Satire is that not everyone may get it. There are lines where you just can't touch with comedy, without making yourself look like an insensitive prick. Then there's the added problem of political correctness.

  26. I used to identify with the alt-right, and while it's definitely true that appropriating fascist imagery can accidentally serve to glorify fascism, this effect can swing both ways. As you mentioned with American History X, a lot of nazis like the imagery of the film, and a lot of the people I used to talk to posted it and made references to it. Wanting to see the original for myself, I watched the movie, and in doing so saw what the film was actually trying to say about fascism without having realized that I was going to see that (had I known, I probably wouldn't have watched the movie). Tricking fascists into thinking they're about to see something that agrees with them by appropriating images can, at least if my experience is to be believed, have a positive effect.

  27. People may not have noticed it, but 2019 proved wrong every ignorant child who parrots "You can't make a Mel Brooks movie today."

    Go watch Jo Jo Rabbit. In 2019 the director of Thor 3 made a movie about a 10 year old nazi youth brigade boy who has to juggle the insane and childish things his imaginary best friend version of Hitler tells him to do while dealing with the fact his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their upstairs crawl space.

    The fact that this movie exists at all disproves the cliched "you can't be funny 'cause political correctness" party line that keeps getting vomited up by idiots.

  28. Do people only remember Hans Landa being fun? Do they not remember the chilling opening? The fucking apple strudel? I see what you mean but the bingo line made me shudder

  29. That's also part of why you can take justifiable issue with Tropic Thunder(2008). To make fun of racists and people who do blackface is one thing, but actually putting on blackface is another. In doing blackface, you change the target of the ridicule from the racists to the actual blacks, making you no different from what you're trying to satirize.

  30. Lindsay, watching this now really makes me wonder what your thoughts were on JoJo Rabbit, if you saw it. I personally thought it was the best movie of 2019, but I'd be really interested to hear your take.

  31. Wow, I've been binging on your videos in the last days, and this is exceptionally great. Congrats and thanks.

  32. Thank you! Thank you thank you thank you! You are a blessing upon the world, Lindsay Ellis. I don't know how you make it through your videos without screaming at some of the things people do.

  33. I, personally, am an advocate for the Starship Troopers route. If we tell people that the fascist system is fucking horrible and bad, no one fucking listens, so let's just give them what they want. The perfect fascist society, all their ideals, and all it's good for is killing fucking BUGS.

  34. Nothing rubs me the wrong way more than people who say:

    "yOu cAn'T MaKe jOkEs aBoUt iT PeOplE DIeD"

    Am I going to be running around making childish jokes about how people died and thats sooo funny? No. But as you said, more dramatic pieces which show the true face of historical and modern fascism have been adopted by hateful groups than comedies. If anything, historical comedies have done MORE to push people AWAY from hateful ideologies. This isn't to say dramatic pieces are bad and we should stop showing history as it was, on the contrary. But satirizing history can be an effective way to, well, eliminate cultural PTSD, I suppose?

  35. And to add insult to injury, 'Life is beautiful' shows American troops liberating Auschwitz, which was sort of liberated by the Soviets: I'm kind of sure that the reason why you guys gave that piece of shit film an Oscar.
    Btw, Brooks himself said that his pictures could not be made today because, of, I quote, 'PC culture', so maybe the truth on this topic is somewhat in the middle.

  36. When we say “you couldn’t make a Melbrook’s movie today” we are NOT saying you couldn’t make something like the producers or blazing saddles.

    Because the targets of their humor (The Nazis and The Mythology of the American Western) Are perfectly acceptable targetsFor ridicule today. Because today we know it’s OK to laugh at the Nazis and that the American west was a terrible racist era we shouldn’t mythologize. They were the holy cows of their era of film and it was satisfying and hilarious to see Mel Brooks tear them down.

    We ARE saying you couldn’t make something that BBQs modern day cultural holy cows the way “Blazing Saddles” did for the ones in its generation. Because if you did you would face horrible real world consequences to both your career and your social standing. Because social media has enabled overly sensitive people to shut down any kind of art they disagree with. If social media had existed when Mel Brooks was around producing Blazing Saddles, when the political right held power. Blazing saddles would’ve been shut down before it even got past preproduction.

    I dare you to try and produce a movie like blazing saddles or the producers but goes after. . . I dunno. Radical Feminism, or Islam, or violent Transgender Rights activists. (Basically anything that people in today’s world adamantly refuse to accept any satire about).

    It wouldn’t get past preproduction because those are cultural holy cows of our day. And nobody wants to take the risk out of fear of backlash from the people who have an interest in protecting said holy cows.

  37. I remember in HighSchool, a girl who was Very conservative, but Loved Steven Colbert. I never understood that until this. She literally didn’t understand that he was meant to mock what she believed

  38. Our high school had to take out all references to race when putting on a production of Hairspray. It was so ridiculous because no one understood that the whole point of the musical was to say racism is bad, not good. It just became a show about someone wanting to dance.

  39. 1:05

    I remember thinking that version of the song was an urban legend until I heard it in the background of a BMX game. It felt like that M&Ms ad, “He does exist!”

  40. When people say, "You can't make <some movie> today," what they mean is that no studio would back it and no audience would watch it. However, you CAN make any movie you like. There's no law against making a bad, unfunny or offensive movie. Its only the social conscience that has changed – and that's generally a good thing. Now if only we could make some progress in shattering some of the puritanical, repressive, arbitrary "moral" codes that continue to dog the media still. Why is nudity and offensive language still considered more harmful to society than violence and gore? Makes no sense.

  41. I've watched this video like six times and I only wish that it had come out two years later because I would've loved to see you put Jojo Rabbit in!

  42. Interesting. In chapter 7, I expected you to say the intended butt of the satire was the broadway audience itself and not the nazis at all.

  43. Brilliant breakdown and explanation of why people need to stop hiding behind the name of Mel Brooks and start owning the reality that their 'satire' is actually a lame, offensive attempt at humor. ;p

  44. I remember watching this essay on satire by Mel Brooks and Fascism and their adherents like Trump and many in the GOP, people of the common earth even, who would be truly shocked to find out they are indeed functioning Nazis, as they see themselves as regular "Good People" that would never actually do anything bad.

    The academy award winning prisoner of war WWII movie "Stalag 17" had a funny but impactful line during a scene mocking Nazi indoctrination techniques: "Are we all goot leetle Nazi's?" "JAWOHL!".
    The Nazi guard, tho finding it funny pleaded with the POW's to tone it down asking "Are you guys trying to get me shot?!"
    Immediately all answered: "Jawohl.."

  45. We had to learn to "love the bomb" in the 60's, right up to the 1980's, I've just discovered your channel, fantastic, hi from the UK. Are there some subjects beyond satire?

  46. I desperately would love even a mini, off the cuff vid following up on this video discussing your opinions on jojo rabbit.

  47. This is brilliant! Super in agreement on practically everything. Including South Park / Family Guy (which tries to substitute very serious, holy, and conscientious anti-fascist irreverence with categorically flippant nihilism). Would love to hear your take on starship troopers and jojo rabbit sometime (do it, pleeease!) My question for you would be (genuine curiosity, cause I have no idea what the answer is): do you think it's more a problem of the form of representation, or more a question of audiences being able (or no) to read satire properly? I think you're making a really convincing argument about the possibility of creating a satire immune to misreadings, but I'm also interested in the potential for films that can turn people off from it, even as they're consuming it in their day-to-day lives (my personal take on Starship Troopers, for instance, is that it's generally effective as both satire and pedagogical text about/against fascism and militarism, but by no means immune to the kind of destructive misreading you call out- see the really positive RLM review, which I generally like but have a couple of issues with, namely that it does seem to take what you're saying into account, by generally and irreverently calling people who misread the film idots, but maybe not taking those idiots as seriously as they should be). In your mind, is the most important question a) what could Paul Verhoeven (or like-minded author) have done differently? b) Should Verhoeven have even made it at all? or c) what would it take to make sure people don't misread something like this? Are they all important? Is (c) even possible? Anyway, many questions still. But really enjoyed!

  48. It's also a fact that the nazis were heavily anti homosexual…so having a literal effeminate queen play him in the producers, it mocked the anti homosexuality and masculinity the nazis wore about themselves.

  49. sadly you realized that a good satire of nazis is make them gay. People hates gays, and gay things that would never make Hitler simpathethic to white supremacist, they are fond to male supremacy, male wounded ego, male insecurity

  50. I honestly don't know what I'm more impressed with, the depth of this analysis or the fact that you somehow managed to make a Phantom of the Opera reference.

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