Saturday, 5 March 2011

BAN THIS SICK FILTH! #libnews digest number 7

The most entertaining story of the week has been the press and political bunfighting generated by a Gloucestershire Libraries "Downfall Mashup". This first came though my feedreader in this article where leader of the local council, Mark Hawthorne, condemns the video as insulting the "the eleven million human beings that Adolf Hitler murdered and the four hundred thousand British servicemen and women who gave their lives to stop him".

Genuine question here (for once I'm not being facetious) but does it?

I was a bit outraged this week when I heard that a member of staff got called a Hitler for asking (politely I might add) that someone take their coffee out of the library. In this case someone was doing their job by enforcing a regulation put in place to protect all users of the library. That kind of personal abuse is just not on. But then thinking about it I've beeen just as guilty of this in the past. My innate reaction to traffic wardens is to mutter something similar under my breath. But they too are just "doing their job". I think it's interesting that the phrase "little Hitler" was brought into use by the generation that actually lived through the war.

Another quote from Mark Hawthorne actually made me laugh out loud: “I am always disgusted when idiots try to use Hitler, Nazism and the Holocaust to score political points." er, so you're not trying to score any points with your condemnation then? Irony anyone?

An opposition councillor, Booth, had a different opinion. Initially rating the mashup as "great stuff". Two little words I suspect he now regrets. Councillor Booth later withdrew his comment from YouTube and apologised, which I think is a shame. If he agrees with the sentiment of the video I'd expect an honest politician to argue his point rather than backing down and scurrying off with his tail between his legs.

Fortunately the creator of the spoof was more eloquent in his defence. Making the point that it symbolises extreme and ridiculous behaviour. I think the point I've reached on this, and the reason it's been occupying my mind this week is that there is a difference between calling someone a Hitler and using the story to make a political point. The former is just abusive and bullying and is absolutely wrong. The later is satirical. Yes there is humour in the association of Gloucestershire County Council with the Third Reich. But that humour leads the viewer to think of parallels and highlights the ridiculousness of both. For me it's along the same lines as Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator - which spoofed Hitler (although Chaplin later said that he didn't understand the full horror of the situation at the time, and couldn't have made it if he did). Humour is a very powerful way of us making sense of our demons. This is understood by children's literature, for example, part of Voldemort's power in Harry Potter comes from the fact that people dare not utter his name, yet Harry speaks his name and even jokes about him.

Spoof and satire allow us to make sense of our demons but also act as a cautionary tale. Hitler came to power by playing on national fears and misconceptions. At the time the German economy was dire, in part because of the reparation from the First World War. It wasn't too difficult for Hitler to manipulate this situation to his own end and once in power it's well established that his control of information was paramount to maintaining control over the German people.

I think one of the reasons librarians are so passionate in their defence of libraries against the cuts is that they are aware of the importance of information in a just and democratic society. Libraries provide free access to the information people need to be informed citizens - more importantly in the Internet age they help people to make sense of it.

I can see how people would find this Downfall mashup tasteless or offensive but it is important to remember what can happen when people seek to take away our freedom of information - and indeed freedom of expression.

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