Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Reich Stuff

More than a few of you have sent e-mails my way wondering why I haven't had anything to say about the current controversy surrounding Tea Party Republican House candidate Rich Iott of Ohio. For those whose cable systems don't get MSNBC for some reason, Iott's taking all kinds of heat over a particular hobby of his -- that would be dressing up like a Nazi on the weekends as part of one of those silly war reenactment clubs.

Alexandra Petri kind of nails not just Iott's fascination but the entire reenactment phenomenon in the Washington Post:

"You know how modern psychology and received wisdom urge us not to dwell on things that have gone badly in the past? There's another word for 'dwelling on things that have gone badly in the past,' and that word is 'reenacting.' Especially if you're on the wrong side, it's tantamount to returning to your elementary school and urging that one kid to kick you in the reproductive zone and cast aspersions on your home life. If you enjoy it, you're made of stronger stuff than I am! And Rich Iott clearly enjoys it."

I don't really have much to add to this whole debate, except to bring up two things: First of all, you know all those times you've done something socially unacceptable, embarrassing or generally inept and have thought to yourself, or even said out loud, "I guess I'll never be able to get into politics"? Well, it's a strange combination of both stupefying and oddly refreshing that a guy like Iott never looked at dressing up as a Nazi as something that might preclude him from running for office; it shows both his sincere naivete and his sheer lunkheadedness. And that brings me to point number two: Look at the bigger picture of what we've seen from the crop of Tea Party hopefuls who've dominated if not the political landscape then at least the political coverage over the past few months; they're a colorful rogue's gallery to say the least. Rand Paul is a conspiracy theorist who decried the civil rights movement; Christine O'Donnell didn't like to masturbate during the 90s and begins her much-parodied campaign ad with the words "I'm not a witch"; Carl Paladino sends racist e-mails to his friends, threatens reporters on camera, wants to ban all abortions, doesn't like gays and generally can't go 48 hours without tripping over his own tongue; Jan Brewer lives in a post-apocalyptic fantasy world where dangerous bands of immigrants roam the Arizona desert, Road Warrior-style, beheading American citizens; Sharron Angle vowed to end social security and federal benefits for veterans; Art Robinson is a crackpot who thinks nuclear waste is good for you; Joe Miller's just entirely full of shit; and now Rich Iott dresses up like a Nazi on the weekends.

While this kind of unadulterated crazy certainly keeps things interesting, it's only harmless if it's a sideshow, as opposed to being the main event -- and as I've said before, these clowns are quickly becoming the backbone of the Republican party. The kind of people you'd normally see ranting on soap boxes somewhere are suddenly being thrown behind a podium and afforded a heaping helping of entirely undeserved credibility.

Once again, the inmates are running the asylum.


L. said...

My sister and I were talking about the whole 'now that I've done that I can't ever get into politics' concept yesterday. It really doesn't seem to matter anymore, which is kind of mind-blowing.

The political landscape's become so 'us vs. them' in some people's eyes that anyone who is on their side can get away with anything. Any amount of ridiculous behavior is being dismissed with a wave of the hand as not a big deal or having happened in the past. It's fun to contrast that kind of tolerance with the amount of shit these same people are willing to give politicians on the other side of the spectrum for every tiny transgression.

Wait, did I say 'fun'? I meant horrifically depressing. We're supposed to be grownups.

Chugga said...

While I'll give you the rest of the crazy, I honestly don't see anything wrong with war reenactment. Maybe it's one of those American things that I don't get...

Eric said...

While there are some easy jokes and cheap shots I could take at a GOP wearing Nazi regalia, the honest truth is that I don't see something terribly wrong in this. Nobody seems to be offering any evidence that Iott likes Nazism, as opposed to likes dressing up for reenactments of historic events. Unless I've really missed something, nobody's come forward and said Iott has a huge collection of SS memorabilia, has decorated his study with Nazi paraphernalia, has associated with neo-Nazi orgs, has engaged in Holocaust denial or Hitler apologetics. Indeed, what Iott has done is, evidently, far more superficial and far less offensive than, say, what disgraced "historian" David Irving got away with under the guise of "academia" for decades.

There are different kinds of reenactment. People in the Society for Creative Anachronism, for instance, are engaging in role-playing and creating a fantasy medieval society, and participants might be assumed to identify with whatever they dress as. But a lot of historical reenactment is about simulating actual history, and while it's not something I'd directly participate in myself, it's got undeniable value: watching a bunch of guys reenact a battle from the American Revolution or American Civil War gives one perspectives that one really can't get just reading about it; the fury and noise of it, just how different the clothing and equipment was, etc.

And in that sort of reenactment, someone has to play the bad guys.

Put that way, I think it's fair to say that assuming Iott harbors Nazi sympathies because he plays a villain a few times a year is a lot like saying Ian McKellan and Laurence Olivier must be Nazis because they acted like Nazis in the movies.

Of course, any serious hobby will attract weirdos. No doubt there are people who like playing the villains because they like the villains. Maybe Iott is that way, but who's proven it.

And that's how fucked up this political season is: I just stuck up for a Republican accused of acting like a fascist. Thanks.

Chez said...

I actually don't have much of an issue with it -- nor do I worry about anything that doesn't have a direct impact on how he or any candidate will do his or her job. I don't care that Christine O'Donnell once said she tried witchcraft or that Iott likes playing dress-up on the weekends. I do care about Joe Miller and Sharron Angle's hypocrisy, Rand Paul's policies, Carl Paladino's anti-social issues, and Jan Brewer and Art Robinson's delusions.

Anonymous said...

To Eric in the above comments who doesn't see anything terribly wrong here. You really have missed something, and maybe you should have done a little research before you decided to defend Lott. Lott, in an Oct. 11 interview with Anderson Cooper, (available on You-Tube explains why the non-German volunteer SS troops he portrayed (or collaborators, as Cooper accurately describes them) were basically just "valiant men fighting for their (occupied) countries," and pretty much blows off the question of atrocities against jews with a "yeah there may have been a few incidents but so what." If his comments don't turn your stomach, and reveal to you a disturbed individual, maybe you have a few issues yourself.

Chez said...

No offense, dude, but I'm supposed to listen to the "research" of someone who doesn't even get the guy's name right?

Eric said...

To Anonymous in the above comments who didn't quite get my actual point: the bulk of the criticism I'd seen prior to the Anderson Cooper vid was criticism of Iott for engaging in historical reenactments dressed as a Nazi. The criticism Cooper makes is different and possibly valid: if the group Iott is a member of minimizes or denies the Holocaust, they're pretty fucking evil and should be called out on it.

Here's the funny thing, though. I went to the YouTube video you provided the address for expecting (from your comment) to find the smoking gun, aha!, Iott does more than just dress as a Nazi. But I'm not sure that's what I found. Cooper seems to be criticizing the group for not boldly stating on their website the thuddingly obvious: that the Nazis were evil. One might have thought that would go without saying anywhere other than, perhaps, a site run by white supremacist retards.

And I find it a little perverse that Cooper (I was under the impression he was a decent enough TV news talking head) doesn't seem interested in sussing out the difference between nuance and evasion. I cannot tell whether Iott is trying to dodge an issue or trying to acknowledge subjective qualities of experience, because Cooper is asking the wrong questions. E.g. it is likely some Nazi collaborators were motivated by a belief in their cause--asking if Iott thinks they were "valiant" is a really fucking useless question, then, since their bravery is irrelevant to whether or not they were good guys. (E.g. you certainly might say that Hermann Goerring was (a) a valiant flying ace and (b) a corpulent douchebag who deserved to hang if anybody ever did and hopefully his suicide was painful.) A better question might be, f'r'instance, "If the website doesn't contain a statement of the obvious fact Nazis were douchebags by definition, what do you, Mr. Iott, personally do to educate people?" or something along those lines.

So his comments don't turn my stomach, Anonymous; at least not yet. Which brings us to your charming and sad ad hominem attack (it's like a little dead butterfly whose wings have fallen off, or was it a moth?). I won't invite you to waste Chez's space with this, but I will point out that, coincidentally, I'm taking open questions over at my blog this week. So if you'd like to ask me about these "issues" you're thinking I must have, please, please, please. If you're feeling brave and honest, maybe you'll even sign your name to them. You'll be at the back (right now) of a lengthening queue that may take me into next week, so you might want to get your probing questions in soon!

Chez--forgive me if that invite sounded like self-pimping. I just don't know if you want to fill your comments thread with Anonymous' random stabs at barroom psychoanalysis of my wretched psyche.

Anonymous said...

To Anon:

Should we ban everyone who's ever played as the Germans in Axis and Allies for ever running for office?