I'm sure you've all seen one incarnation or another of the Downfallmeme (or Hitler meme). Maybe in the version you saw Bruno Ganz' original English subtitles from the Oscar-nominated German film have been replaced with complaints about Obama winning the Democratic primary or about the premature negative reactions to the first Avatartrailer or the unveiling of the iPad. Most appropriate to this week's turn of events, maybe you saw the one where Hitler is furious about yet another viral video putting false translations to his monologue. Well, say goodbye to these humorous -- though definitely overdone -- parodies, because Downfall's producer, Constantin Films, is attempting to remove them all from video hosting sites (and yes, Hitler's upset about that, too).

I understand the company's reasoning. Though the spoofs have been good for a laugh or two, even from the film's appreciative director, Oliver Hirschbiegel, the point of fair use has been passed, and now a number of complaints about certain mutations to the meme that cross lines of decency and defamation have given Constantin no better choice than to eradicate the concept completely. Unfortunately, that means even the innocent versions are being squashed in a move that both harms this new art of creative transformation and poses the threat of a huge backlash against the production company and the source material it means to protect.
I'm currently taking a class on user-generated content and the culture it's spawned, and the Downfall meme was discussed the day we focused on memes. It turned out that many of my classmates had never heard of the film before seeing one of the parodies and were afterward intrigued enough to rent it. Constantin doesn't believe the videos have either positively or negatively impacted the film's DVD sales, but even a classroom's worth of people seems enough new viewers to consider the meme a good thing, exposure-wise.

Of course, some of these people seeing Downfall after being introduced to it through the meme aren't likely to take it as serious as the film should be taken. Then again, the parodies also make Hitler into enough of a clown that these viewers won't overly sympathize with the fuhrer. Less criticism of the humanization of Hitler will come now that he's been lampooned. Then again, many don't like the idea of joking about Hitler and the Nazis either.

Should this internet sensation be wiped out fully and forever? Fortunately, nothing on the internet can die so easily, but I'd prefer that Constantin not even attempt to let Keyboard Cat play the meme off the web. Or let Epic Beard Man beat the crap out of the meme on a bus. Or let Christian Bale go on a tirade about how he and the meme are done professionally.

Though it's true that in nature and society memes have historically become or should become extinct (fascism, genocide and Nazism themselves could be considered memes, for instance), in this case I think the meme is pretty harmless. I'd like to know one brand claiming to have been so slandered by one of the videos as to deem it a threat. And I'd like those people who think it's a problem because it lends itself to the encouragement of neo-Nazism to calm down. Many neo-Nazis have also appropriated the skinhead look. That doesn't mean we should eliminate all copies of early reggae records celebrating skinhead culture, right?

Do you think Constantin should attempt to wipe out the Downfall meme?
categories Cinematical