June 06, 2006

Springtime for snowclones

Sarah Lyall recently wrote in the NYT ("It's Springtime for Soccer, and for Rowdy England Fans", June 2, 2006) about the latest World Cup worry for the British and German authorities. It's not that British fans will "rampage through the streets, destroying things and attacking people", but that they will make fun of the Nazis.

"It's not a joke," Charles Clarke, then the home secretary, warned at a pre-World Cup briefing earlier this spring. "It is not a comic thing to do. It is totally insulting and wrong."

That means, basically, no getting drunk and goose-stepping in a would-be humorous manner. No Nazi salutes. No shouting "Sieg Heil!" at the referees. No impromptu finger-under-the-nose Hitler mustaches.

"Doing mock Nazi salutes or fake impersonations of Hitler — that's actually against the law in Germany," Andrin Cooper, a spokesman for the Football Association, which administers English soccer, said in an interview.

The unnecessary redundancy police have doubtless been firing stern emails off to the Football Association, asking whether real impersonations of Hitler are legal or not, but we don't care about such things here at Language Log. Instead, we're enjoying the article's headline, which contains a classic snowcone: Springtime for Soccer.

This of course is a reference to "Springtime for Hitler", a musical-play-within-a-movie from Mel Brook's 1968 The Producers (redone in 2005, and now on Broadway as a musical). According to the Wikipedia article:

Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp With Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden is a musical about Adolf Hitler written by fictional Nazi Franz Liebkind.

The play is chosen by producers Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom in their fraud scheme to raise substantial funding by selling several multiples of a 100% stake, fail the play, and keep all the remaining money for themselves. In order to ensure the play is a total failure, Max picks the worst director he can find, Roger DeBris, a stereotypical homosexual/transvestite caricature, and gives the part of Hitler to an uncontrollable hippie named Lorenzo St. DuBois who calls himself LSD.

A quick web search {"Springtime for"} turns up not only soccer, but also quite a few other substitutions that allude more or less directly to Brooks' fictional title: killing in Afghanistan / Ahmadinejad / realism / Blair / Trotsky / Dictators / Summers / slanderers / Mahmoud and the 12th Imam / Jacko / The BNP / venture capital.

Speaking for myself, I think it's wonderful that Hitler has ended up 60 years later as a figure of fun; but it's more problematic that the British find so difficult to refrain from making Hitler jokes around the Germans. I noticed this cultural tic in Stewart Lee's odd meditation on the alleged role of the German language in alleged oddities of German humor, where he complained

There is less room for doubt in German because of the language's infinitely extendable compound words. In English we surround a noun with adjectives to try to clarify it. In German, they merely bolt more words on to an existing word. Thus a federal constitutional court, which in English exists as three weak fragments, becomes Bundesverfassungsgericht, a vast impregnable structure that is difficult to penetrate linguistically, like that Nazi castle in Where Eagles Dare.

Would an American comedian would have thought that joke was worth trying to make? I don't think so.

[Or maybe I'm wrong. Eric Bakovic points out:

Don't forget Dr. Strangelove's Nazi-salute tic, which is just as funny to Americans as I imagine it is to the British, even today. (And FWIW, I've observed Americans making Nazi jokes around Germans, and convict jokes around Australians, and other such things. It often has a faint whiff of that check-out-what-I-know-about-world-history to it, which I imagine is more absent or less obvious with Brits, but of course I may be wrong about this.)

And surely you also read this other article in the Times? "Surge in Racist Mood Raises Concerns on Eve of World Cup".

It starts out:

As he left the soccer field after a club match in the eastern German city of Halle on March 25, the Nigerian forward Adebowale Ogungbure was spit upon, jeered with racial remarks and mocked with monkey noises. In rebuke, he placed two fingers under his nose to simulate a Hitler mustache and thrust his arm in a Nazi salute.


Posted by Mark Liberman at June 6, 2006 03:41 PM