I’d like to discuss an internet phenomenon here. It’s quite old now, but the long time it survived makes it even more interesting to analyze.
The term “Hitler Reacts” refers to the subtitled videos of a particular scene form the movie “Downfall” on YouTube and other Video sites. The subtitles do not translate the spoken words, but rather fake a totally different meaning, assuming that the audience doesn’t speak german. In fact, since I actually speak german, It’s quite hard not to get distracted by the spoken words and focus on the subtitles.
These videos are used to express the dislike of a particular fact by a particular person or group of persons. This must not necessarily be the author of the movie. In fact, many Hitler Reacts movies are used to mock the fuss about the fact which is topic of the video. As with many of these internet phenomenons, it is not known what exactly the first hitler reacts video was or when this phenomenon began to spread. Research on this this topic is made difficult due to the recent removal of most of these videos by youtube’s copyright protection system initiated by Constantin Film, the production and distribution company of the original Downfall movie.
But internet phenomena can’t be killed without killing the internet, and so, a few weeks after the comprehensive removal, youtube is flooded with plenty of Hitler Reacts videos once more. There are even hitler reacts videos dealing with the phenomenom of hitler reacts itself.
I could give dozens of examples of Hitler Reacts videos. But if you just enter “hitler reacts” in the youtube search along with the topic of your choice that gives any reason to get upset about currently discussed in popular media, you’ll likely find an example of a hitler reacts video.
I will focus on the dramaturgic and psychological aspects of Hitler reacts. The social aspects have already been analyzed elaborately.
There are dozens of similar videos uploaded every day that do not feature this scene from Downfall, so there must be a reason that this specific scene is so popular and widely used to communicate just about anything.
Hitler and Nazi comparisons are widely used to heighten the impact of arguments in debate. When reading an online debate as a unbiased outsider, we notice that the chance of one of the parties beginning to use Hitler arguments and comparisons is higher, the more desperately they are trying to convince their opponents. This usually happens when discussions grow longer without effectively leading to a solution. This observation was made by Mike Godwin in 1990 and later became “Godwin’s law“.
The simple reason for this is, that Hitler and Nazis are the most evil thing one could imagine and expect most conversational partners to know about. So Hitler is basically just a tool for accentuating.
the video as a whole
Hitler reacts videos use a 3 minutes and 57 second-scene from Downfall, showing Hitler’s reaction on receiving a message that basically implies that he cannot win the war. We could divide the scene in three acts:
- introduction: the Message
- confrontation: hitler freaking out
- conclusion: hitler realizing
These three “acts” are enough to make the video feel complete rather than just like an extract. The same three acts are present in most modern feature films. Even the act’s share of screen time in Hitler Reacts videos is similar to many feature films.
We also find some other elements, widely used in screenwriting, that surprisingly work very well independent from the rest of Downfall. For example, a B-Plot (the folks Outisde of hitler’s room, listening), the character (Hitler) and his intentions alter to the end of the “movie” and there is a conflict with others (the generals trying to justify their actions) that’s being resolved. There are basically two major plot points in the movie. The first is Hitler having noticed that he cannot win the war, the second is hitler having realized that he cannot win the war.
Due to the great screenwriting by Bernd Eichinger, Hitler reacts to the message, may it be that the iPad doesn’t support flash or that Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Price, very comprehensible. The excessiveness of the reaction is secondary and the point of the satire. What’s more important, and the reason that this particular scene is used for these videos is the potential completeness of the reflection on the problems.
There are certainly numerous ‘bad’ ones, but, surprisingly, most Hitler Reacts videos actually take advantage of the possibilites offered by the scene.
In the following, I will use a Hitler-reacts video I have made myself as an example. The message of the video is obsolete since Civilization IV can now be played by Mac users, but the Video may be some illustrative material now.
Hitler reacts videos begin with Generals explaining the situation to Hitler. This is usually not the situation that leads to Hitler freaking out, but a short introduction of the circumstances in which the reason for Hitler freaking out comes up later. The main characters, Hitler and the Generals are introduced and their role is explained. In the example video, Hitler is a Mac gamer who desperately wants to play Civilization IV on his Mac using Steam.
In Hitler Reacts videos, Hitler represents either a group of people, for example Civ IV mac gamers or, less common, a particular person. The Generals are only there to deliver messages from the outside world, not yet known to the group or person that Hitler represents. In some videos (like the Obama Peace Prove Video where Hitler compares himself to Barack Obama), Hitler is just Hitler, but transported into the current time, confronted with our current problems and current events.
There are two short cuts to a map of berlin and it’s tricky to find an explanation for why these cuts are there. Of course, in the original movie, their purpose is to explain the situation in Berlin. However, in the YouTube Videos a new meaning must be found. For example, they show the location of the Steam Servers on the map (like in my video) or show where the apple employees have already been looking for the iPhone 4G Prototype.
Now, hitler makes an assumption. Dependent on what the author of the Hitler Reacts video wants to communicate, Hitler either states that a certain problem won’t be so bad or announces that is not possible. The subtitle states that Hitler doesn’t know something particular and assumes that exactly what he fears is not going to happen or that something will work as planned. For example, playing Civilization IV on a mac.
Silence in the room. Hitler’s plan doesn’t work and the generals know that. They hesitate, but are ultimately revealing the core issue the author of the video wants to communicate. Hitler’s shaking hands (excellently played by Bruno Ganz) introduce Act 2.
However, Hitler asks several people to leave the room before. In the original movie, he names a few people he wants to stay.
This is important for the message of the Hitler Reacts video and should not be subtitled with any random text that has roughly something to do with the core message like the map scene in the beginning.
Hitler reacts videos are widely used to communicate certain problems a particular group (for example Mac OS X Users) has. In internet culture, discussions about something like that often lead into Troll and flame wars where some users downplay the importance of the issue by referencing to the majority of users not having the problem.
However, the point of Hitler Reacts videos is not only to talk about a particular problem, but rather make the viewer (often ironically) understand the importance of the problem and leave no confusion by silencing all major points of contradiction that may come up in the viewer’s mind.
The people leaving the room symbolize the group of people who don’t care about the problem. Sometimes, however, they symbolize the people who are not responsible for it.
The following stream of words can now be subtitled freely. Hitler’s rage gives the author the chance to go in depth about the problem; however, more importantly, to discuss certain aspects that may make the viewer ignore or somewhat reduce the problem.
From a filmmaking standpoint, the original scene is outstanding. It shows not only Hitler’s rage but the other people’s reactions. As we’re talking about satire videos here, the quality of the original material makes the video even more comical. Also, Bruno Ganz is such a good actor, that the video has a similar effect on us like videos of celebrities with altered voices or subtitles. We somewhat don’t see both, the video and the subtitles as faked but accept the video as the real thing which makes the subtitles even more comical.
Two times, a general is talking to Hitler, trying to justify the evoked occurrence of the problem (for example, state that Civilization IV wasn’t advertised as SteamPlay compatible before) or explaining the necessity of the actions that got Hitler upset. He could also suggest a workaround for the problem.
All these possibilities heighten the viewer’s impression that the problem is relevant, cannot be circumvented and the only way to solve it is not to live with it but to eradicate it. The general’s objections are usually the most common objections from users trying to downplay the problem in online discussions.
After Hitler throws the pens onto the table, there’s a beat, allowing the author of the Hitler Reacts video to address another aspect of the issue afterwards. Another good point to slightly alter the topic is about 2:28 when Hitler sits down on the chair. It can be used for addressing the reasons the problem even exists or to further empathize the importance of the problem.
There’s a short “B-Plot”, allowing the author of the video to talk about how the problem is seen by users not directly affected by the problem (“we can still play the game on BootCamp”).
After this short B-Plot scene, we’re in act 3. Hitler has now realized that the Problem cannot be solved and grieves about it. This does not necessarily mean that the author of the video also thinks that the problem will never be solved. It just, usually ironically, addresses the personal need for the problem to be solved.
This scene resembles the psychological process of acknowledging problems. Unknowingly, we all think the same way hitler does in the movie. No, we usually don’t freak out, especially since our everyday problems are as trivial as the problems addressed in the Hitler Reacts movies, but the ways of thinking are the same. We don’t lose wars but we think about everything just as we did.
When we learn about a problem, for example, that a kitchen device is broken, we are first shocked (hitler taking down his glasses) then we usually act prudential (for example, ensuring that nobody would be hurt.). Hitler does so by ordering several people to leave the room. Now we’re angry about it and try ton find out the reason for the problem. When the problem’s small (like with the kitchen device), this phase is usually very short. When the problem’s bigger, we look for someone responsible for it.
We also think about what we could have done by ourselves to prevent the problem. This is usually not in a Hitler Reacts video, but in the real movie, hitler does so and talks about it.
Now, we try to solve the problem. Hitler however, realized that it’s too late to solve the problem. If we do so, we stop anything we do and reflect about it for a moment.
To conclude this, I’d summarize the reasons for the popularity of Hitler Reacts videos as follows.
For the video authors, these videos are a great opportunity to explain and ridicule a certain issue. It is hard to create a piece of media that explains all aspects of a problem. “What is the problem?” “Why do we have it?” “Why can’t we just…” — all these question can easily be answered in a Hitler Reacts video. Also, Hitler Reacts makes it easy to create a video that is somewhat complete, since, as we learned, all the dramaturgical components necessary for creating a somewhat satisfying and understandable experience for the audience are already there, they just need to be subtitled.
For the viewers, it’s easy to understand the issue. For those who are already aware of the problem (like most of the viewers of some hitler reacts movies), it is an entertaining way to reflect about the issue. Hitler Reacts videos also unconsciously give us the feeling that there’s no more reason to discuss the issue because they resemble the way we think about it. The video thinks with us. The video thinks for us.
Internet phenomena aren’t just random. They can be explained.
And I hope, I just somewhat explained the popularity of the Hitler Reacts movies.