Tuesday 17 October 2017

Ian O'Doherty: By calling someone a Nazi, you only prove your own ignorance

Icon: Comedian Jackie Mason
Icon: Comedian Jackie Mason
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

I once had the honour of interviewing the great comedian Jackie Mason. I'd loved him since I heard one of his records when I was a kid and the more I got into comedy as I got older, the more I kept coming back to him.

Growing up listening to the likes of Richard Pryor, Joan Rivers, Woody Allen, the sadly forgotten Bob Newhart, and Mason was a joy - a window into a different world and, in a country where Brendan Grace was the king of comedy, a desperately needed reminder that comedy can actually be important as well as funny.

Of these icons from my childhood, I got to interview two of them - Rivers and Mason.

It was an honour and a pleasure to speak to Rivers on a few occasions, and she was everything I had hoped she would be. Apart from being her wonderful, bitchy, funny self, she was also surprisingly warm and had a generosity of spirit I wasn't expecting.

With Mason, on the other hand, it was undoubtedly an honour. But there was very little pleasure involved.

Some interviewees are so difficult, so truculent, that it actually becomes a weird game trying to get anything noteworthy out of them, but Mason brought it to a new level - anyone who didn't like him was a Nazi; anyone who skipped a queue ahead of him was a Nazi; any bad review was written by... a Nazi.

It was a strange and tiresome gambit from a former Rabbinical student who had lost much of his family to the Holocaust.

When I pointed out the jarring nature of a man of his background being so profligate with a word which contained so much horror, he dismissed my concerns on the not unreasonable grounds that I wasn't Jewish and I hadn't lost anyone in the Holocaust.

That was a fair point, although I didn't agree with him then and I don't agree with him now.

But at least he knew what he was talking about, and if anyone had the right to use the word, either as hyperbole or in an effort to simply mock the phrase out of existence, then it's a Jewish comic with personal experience of what the Nazis did.

In other words, he had earned the right.

What excuse do all those people who currently bandy the word about with gay abandon have?

The language we use has been under threat since the mid-1980s, since the first tentacles of political correctness began to cross the Atlantic.

That process has been accelerated in the last few years but it is really in the last few months, in the wake of Brexit, and particularly Trump, where we find ourselves entering a new paradigm - the people who will loudly squawk "you can't say that!" will usually be the ones who incontinently splutter "Nazi!" at anyone who dares to displease them.

You'd have to be mad not to be concerned about Trump's upcoming presidency - and I say that as someone who would still have voted for him over Clinton - but the moment you start calling him a Nazi, you only prove that you either don't know what you're talking about or there is something seriously askew with your moral compass.

Are they motivated by sheer ignorance or is there something more to it?

Have these people never heard of Godwin's Law, the internet maxim which states that the first person to mention the Nazis loses the argument?

I know we live in hyperaccelerated times, when trends come and go and then everyone pretends they never existed in the first place. But there was always a general consensus, among sensible people at least, that anyone who dropped the 'N' bomb was just a fool.

The problem wasn't that the phrase is offensive - it's up to you whether you want to be offended by it or not - but it was merely a sign that the person who invoked the word was simply telling the world that they were an hysterical idiot who didn't know their history.

Yet the word was actually trending in Ireland the other day when a bunch of the usual suspects, who operate in a state of permanent disgruntlement, decided that someone they didn't like was, yes, a Nazi.

Similarly, the word 'fascist' has now come to simply mean someone you don't like.

In fact, both Nazi and fascist now appear to mean anyone who doesn't share your outrage over some perceived outrage, no matter how slight.

But if these clowns want to play that game, let's play it with them.

Nazis were people who wanted, more than anything else, to eliminate the Jews. That was the ultimate aim of the war - even when they were losing, they still diverted rolling stock away from vital military use to ensure there were enough people sent to the ovens.

Similarly, fascists were happy to burn publications they didn't like and kill writers who displeased them.

So, by the now unfashionable metric of logic, the only group comparable to Nazis and fascists we have in the West are actually Islamic extremists. But we don't hear as much condemnation of them because nobody wants to be seen as racist, do they?

It probably stems from the sheep-like cult of self aggrandisement. By calling someone a Nazi, these people become sanctified, like they're a modern Sophie Scholl - if they even know who she was, that is.

Use the word all you want, but remember that you're guilty of cultural appropriation of the Holocaust and, according to Jackie Mason, that means, ironically, you're the Nazi.

You monster!

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