Thursday, April 19, 2012

FTT Off-Topic: Documentaries About Hideous People

Going way off the boards today, people. Buckle up for some of the worst search engine traffic in the history of the blog.

Following last week's vacation, the Shooter Wife has been catching up on her sleep in the evenings while I catch up to the second and third shift needs of The Day Job. Mostly, that means staying awake to grind through work that stops interesting me in mid-task, so I fire up Netflix Instant, and plow through the stuff that would upset the wife, to provide distraction background fodder while I work and blog.

Anyway, with the Sixers' season falling into its most dispiriting conclusion since the tail end of the Iverson Era, and baseball only providing so much in the way of interest just yet, I've been watching documentaries. Two, in particular, that shouldn't be viewed back to back if you'd like to keep any kind of hope about the human condition. The first is called "Fall From Grace", and it stars the lovely Phelps Clan (or is it Klan?), and the second is "The Goebbels Experiment," where the actor Kenneth Branagh reads the Third Reich's Minister of Propaganda's diaries from a 25-year period, from his start as a gloomy literary doctoral student to his grim immolated murder-suicide finale in Hitler's bunker.

Let's start with the people who are alive. "Grace" does a lovely job of getting the Phelpses to open up without hostility or artifice, and you are struck by the following six points.

1) These are not stupid people. They are experts at provoking a crowd, able to think on their feet, and articulate. If you are looking for frothing at the mouth hate-mongers, these aren't your people.

2) Censoring them, and destroying the First Amendment in the process, is not an option, not if you truly love what this country stands for. (And not, of course, what the Phelpses want to return us to.)

3) They know this, and are exceptionally skilled in their ability to exploit this fact.

4) If you want to pick and choose what you want from the Bible (Old Testament strictures against homosexuals that were undoubtedly meant to protect minors, rather than legislate against consenting adults, a wrathful God who seems to delight in the torment of the damned) and modern life (the Internet, modern medicine, media coverage of your cause)... that is a hollow faith. I'd cut these people more of a break if they also told us God Hates Shrimp, or lived like the Amish. But that misses the cynicism, and creates doubt, the most misunderstood of God's gifts.

5) Ignoring them, and hoping they will go away, might be the only way to starve the fire. But that's not going to happen when they delight in the death of U.S. military personnel, which is all kinds of disturbing in and of itself. Making a Hate Circus of a gay person's funeral was fine, but not a Marine? Interesting.

6) Their entire existence would not be terribly interesting, or all that poignant, if it weren't for the presence of untold numbers of children who are being raised in a permanently warping situation. Some of the Phelpses have escaped from this life, and are heard from in the film, and it's, well, haunting. The only thing that seems to be keeping these folks from the Waco Moment is that they are bright enough to not wave guns around. But if you wanted to give me a bet on how this ends, I'd bet on violence.

Now, on to the 20th century's most lasting legacy of death, the Nazis.

I don't know about you, but I've always been kind of mystified as to how these thieves and hate mongers ever got into power. When you see excerpts of the rallies, it's always the party leaders (and generally, it's Hitler) ranting and raving, and this would go on for hours. How does that work, even in an era before television, even in an era before cynicism about media?

Well, when you watch the full footage, you start to actually see it. There's stagecraft here, religious level crowd manipulation, and utter... well, there's no way to get around this: integrity. Goebbels comes across as petulant, melodramatic, manipulative, industrious... in other words, human. Whether his diaries avoided the most virulent anti-Semitism or the film makers simply omit it to keep the awful momentum on track, there's really not so much that's Monster with a capital M here.

Let's just say it this way: if Goebbels were alive today and American, he'd have no shortage of work. Probably in AM radio, but maybe without any fame at all.

Finally, and here's where this dovetails, there's how the movie ends... with the Allied forces exhuming the roasted corpses of Goebbels and his wife, and laying them next to the poisoned bodies of the man's children. You see these kids all throughout the movie, in propaganda movies and private films, and...

Well, they could be anyone's children. And they died, as did so many others, murdered by some of the worst people that ever lived, and the crime still echoes. You can't un-see this, it still nauseates three generations later, and the fact that so many others were killed doesn't enter into it.

There are just the children, as if asleep, lying next to this grotesque, all dead, dead, dead.

And as the Phelps show... it won't be the last time it happens.

So.

How about them sports, huh?

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