Nazis are not a fictional construct. I say this not to be pithy, but to make a clarification. In the past 11 months, this country has watched a sharp rise of fascism in public forums, of antifa being discredited for being the only organization to take the threat of fascism seriously, and The New York Times recently published an article about how polite, well-mannered, and human Neo-Nazis just so happen to be.
Keep in mind that when Michael Brown was murdered at 18 years old, The New York Times called him "no angel."
This is the reality of the environment we live in as queer people, a place where our oppressors are being humanized and praised, and we are being villainized for standing up for ourselves. This is not new, this is not modern. This is America, and there is historical precedent in favor of white nationalism. But what I want to stress right now, most of all, is that this is real.
Why then, do writers in comics and in television still think Nazis, white supremacists, and slave owners, are some interesting, fun thing they can work with in fictional stories? And I am not talking about Captain America punching Nazis, I'm talking about Nick Spencer's Secret Wars. I'm talking about The Man in High Castle. I'm talking about Confederate. I'm talking about the upcoming DCTV crossover clusterfuck. Nazis are not a fictional construct. So why do people entertain narratives that suggest they are?
And listen. I'm not saying let's sanitize all fiction. I'm not here to play fiction cop. They made me turn in my fiction badge and fiction gun last year. I'm here to specifically call out how these narratives are written, these narratives in which Nazis won WWII, narratives where the south won the Civil War. Because aside from being trite ideas in fiction, there are some major points that need to be examined when we discuss these narratives.
First, no matter the intention of the writer, letting the Nazis win WWII is glorification. It makes the Nazi party seem smarter and more capable than they were. It creates the laziest dystopia possible, and in all honesty, one that couldn't possibly exist. The Nazis tried to invade Russia in winter. Their battle strategies were not these marks of genius that certain historians want them to be. The Nazis lost WWII because it was not possible for them to win, and the same goes for the Confederacy in the US South. To change history in any way that favors the Nazis of the Confederacy follows the same kind of propaganda put out by said white nationalists. I don't care what the original intent of the story was, because that is where the narrative aligns. Refusing to acknowledge that is indicative of an ignorant writer.
Narratives which put Nazis in power never give Jewish people, Rroma people, LGBT people, or disabled people the right to their own stories. Instead, these people are helplessly victimized, shuffled from camp to camp, waiting for a Straight, White, Able-Bodied Hero to save them.
In Nazi narratives, there are always one or two white people, usually who start on the side of the oppressor, and become enlightened through the Suffering of Those Poor Dead People. Then, we, as oppressed people, are expected to praise the White Protagonist(s), expected to side with someone who is, for all intents and purposes, still an oppressor.
As a queer, Jewish woman, I'm tired of pretending Jews were helpless and simply laid down to die. I can only imagine how it would feel to look at, say, Confederate, and know that the protagonist is going to be a Sympathetic White Man. Sure, he'll be friends with slave owners, he'll watch them inflict violence, but he's a good person deep down. Really.
This idea that oppressed people are waiting for a White Savior is not only disingenuous, it's dangerous. It takes power away from people who violently fought back against oppression and succeeded: People like the Sonderkommandos at Auchwitz-Birkenau that blew up Crematorium IV, or the participants of Nat Turner's Rebellion, where 70 slaves lead an uprising in Virginia. These stories are not ones with happy endings, in the short run, but in the long run, they are markers of resistance, and of Jews and Black people who gave their lives in violent and powerful acts of rebellion.
When these historical rewrites come out, we are then expected to sit here and ignore history- Actual history, where oppressed people do not take their suffering so lightly, and instead choose to act. This is Jewish history. This is Black history. This is Queer history.
What we see in coverage of White Nationalists is our history is being stolen from us, rewritten in front of our very eyes. So why should we allow fiction to do the same thing? Why should we accept fiction in which yet another White Man fixes the death camps? I demand stories that tell the truth, that tell the stories of survivors and oppressed people fighting their oppressors. These are the only kind of Nazi narratives that need to be told in the current political climate. Anything else is a marker of propaganda.
Now, I'm sure this question will come up: "Isn't the entire point of superheroes that they uh... Fight Nazis? Isn't it antithetical to call out a plot where superheroes fight Nazis, like in Secret Wars or in whatever the fuck the DCTV crossover is doing? Well, here's the thing.
When we look at these narratives, there's a staunch difference between having superheroes fight Nazis and having superheroes be Nazis. It's kind of fascinating, having watched the fallout from Nick Spencer's run on Captain America, to think "Well, hopefully this teaches a lesson to White Liberal Comics Dude that he's actually pretty shitty," and then, thanks to DCTV, to be reminded that I should never again hope for anything in my life, ever.
Superheroes, especially when we consider these narratives that fight oppressors, were not created, at least not in their time, for non-Jews. Despite what films will have you believe, there is nothing Christian about Superman or Captain America. They're Golems, creatures of Jewish magic made to protect Jewish people. So when I talk here about how oppressor narratives rely on oppressors (but nice ones) to save the day, we should remember that comics were originally in direct opposition to that idea.
So when we see someone like Captain America or the character Supergirl do a Nazi salute, that should disturb us. Writers seem to think that it's edgy or interesting to pervert the legacies of comics characters. But here's another thing: it's just more white nationalist propaganda. It's what's being put out there right here, right now, in our very own darkest timeline reality. And most of all, it's completely unoriginal. At least Superman being a symbol of Jewish strength is something powerful and unique. Saying "but what if Nazis...?" isn't just gross. It's boring. And not to say that the worst thing about Nazis is that they're boring. SPOILER ALERT: it's just that they're Nazis. It is to say, though, that writers who are mostly male, almost always non-Jewish and white, think that these are interesting and exciting stories to tell, far more so than the true stories of oppressed people fighting back.
And to those writers who are Jewish, it's an honest shame that they forgo their heritage to write yet another boring Nazi story. That's not what they teach us to do at my Shul. Perhaps these writers should come join us for a service.
If anything, take these stories of constant White Saviorism and use your spite to fuel you. Write narratives that are truthful, that speak volumes over stale propaganda. These stories constantly ask, "what if your oppressors won?" Well, guess what? They didn't. Because of people like you, who use their voices and yes, their fists. I'm not suggesting you punch TV writers, because I think that will get me sued.
But I am suggesting that when these stories sadden you, suffocate you, make you feel that things you love or freedoms you cherish are being taken from you, do your homework. Because the truth of the situation is, I promise you are a more original writer than the people churning out White Savior narratives. Let the truth of resistance power you through oppressive narratives. And I hope that stories of resistance inspire the beautiful creativity you have in your heart.
After all, that's how we got Superman.