Monday, June 10, 2013

Dead Funny: Humor in Hitler's Germany - Rudolph Herzog

Dead Funny: Humor in Hitler's Germany Dead Funny: Humor in Hitler's Germany purports to be about the history of jokes about Hitler, the Third Reich, and the Holocaust within the bounds of Germany before and during WWII.  And indeed, it does start off this way, expounding on the history of political jokes and how they're used to relieve stress, and were actually good for Hitler's government.  However, after that, it rapidly falls apart into a disorganized jumble that can't even decide which continent it wants to focus on.  While subjects like the treatment of the Holocaust through humor by the Jews, the treatment of jokers, and the changing attitudes of the Nazis toward political jokes are broached, they're tossed in with confusing accounts of Hollywood comedies and BBC radio skits.  While those certainly pertain to Nazi humor, they don't exactly pertain to humor in Hitler's Germany, and they don't pertain to telling jokes in Hitler's Germany, either.  The German title of the book is Heil Hitler, Das Schwein Ist Tot!  Lachen unter Hitler--Komik und Humor im Dritten Reich, which seems to translate to Heil Hitler, the Swine is Dead!  Laughter Under Hitler--Comedy and Humor in the Third Reich, which retains the focus on Germany, so there's no clarity there, either.

Additionally, I think there's a problem with the translation.  Or, not so much a problem with the translation--it's a very comprehensible translation--but a problem with the concept of this particular book being translated.  Herzog repeatedly says that certain jokes are completely untranslatable, which makes their inclusion seem pointless when there are so many others which, when translated to English, retain their point if not their clever wordplay.  Paired with the disorganization and seeming inability to focus on one topic, jumping from jokes in Germany to cabarets in Switzerland to a long-winded explanation of the plot of an American movie, it's not exactly a riveting read.  It does have its moments, of course, but overall it reminded me more of a poorly-conceived thesis paper than a professional, structured book.

2 stars out of 5.

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