question of the day: Why do the Hitler ‘Downfall’ parody rants strike such a nerve with us?

BBC News Magazine this week ran a thoughtful, if mystified essay on the popularity of those YouTube Hitler rants (perhaps to coincide with this month’s 65th anniversary of Hitler’s death and the end of the Nazi regime). You know the ones: they borrow a scene from the amazing but serious-as-a-heart-attack German film Downfall, about Hitler’s last days, and add in new subtitles so that the Fuhrer appears to ranting about being booting from Xbox Live, or Sarah Palin’s resignation, or — my favorite one so far — the Season 2 finale of Torchwood.

The meme just won’t die, and in fact, the more that Constantin Film, which released the film, cracks down on the parodies, claiming copyright violation, the more of them spring up… like this brilliant one, in which Hitler rants about the Hitler Downfall parodies being targeted by Constantin Film.

Why are the parody rants so popular? BBC News can’t quite figure it out:

In some parodies, Hitler is being the public figure that is lampooned – Hitler becomes Hillary Clinton losing the nomination, or BBC chief Mark Thompson having to face Jeremy Paxman. But in many of the parodies, Hitler is simply reacting to events, the relegation of Sheffield Utd or Usain Bolt breaking the 100m record.

It is not an obvious subject for humour. Yet for millions of internet users there is something hilarious about this scene being turned on its head.

There is no clear explanation why this category of parody should have proved such a hardy internet meme, says technology writer Bill Thompson.

“It was just lucky. There is no particular reason why Downfall should have taken off.”

It seems to me that what’s being parodied in these rants isn’t Hitler but the passion with which some people complain about some things. You know, like how the ending of Torchwood Season 2 is surely nowhere near as bad a thing as the fall of Berlin and the Third Reich must have been for Hitler, but some people acted as if it were.

And there are probably many other factors at work, too. What do you think? Why do the Hitler Downfall parody rants strike such a nerve with us?

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