Hitler and Electric Speed

Posted on April 21, 2010


I just read an article on Salon magazine about the fact that Constantin Films, the producer of the original the 2004 filmDer Untergang which has become the spoofed series of YouTube viral videos, has begun pulling the videos off of YouTube.  Without knowing the whole rationale behind their decision, i’m guessing this is a big business mistake on their part for reasons mentioned in the Salon.com article.  I will probably dissect this a bit further in a later post, but for now, i wanted to highlight a few important factors in the Hitler viral video phenomenon.

There are literally thousands of versions of these videos.  A search of YouTube for “Hitler finds out” returns 2,230 videos, and a quick scan of the screens suggests that 99% of the results are a part of this meme.

These videos are often produced with a great deal of speed, which is important, since they often comment on a current event.  One of the videos, for example, depicted Hitler ranting about losing his March Madness basketball office pool as a result of top-ranked Kansas State losing to the University of Northern Iowa.  The video was created and uploaded the same day as the basketball games to which it refers, and as of the writing of this post, has 856,952 views.

While it is easy to pooh-pooh the amateurish creativity in these sorts of videos, a slightly closer examination reveals that there is often more sophistication going on here than might meet the eye.  Mind you i’m not suggesting that these are Cecille B. DeMille quality films, but when you consider the fact that the March Madness video was created in one afternoon, and managed to get 800k people to look at it and chuckle at least a little, it bears more than a passing glance.

One form of creativity is in the marriage of the narrative structure of the scene (Hitler finds out a first piece of bad news, then rants, then expresses a false hope, which keeps his advisors from telling him the second piece of bad news) to a current event.  In the March Madness video, for example, the first piece of bad news is that top-ranked Kansas State had lost to Northern Iowa.  Hitler rants about this, then takes solace in the fact that he still has Villanova as one of his picks, who he thinks could never lose to “..a college like Saint Mary’s” – a statement that makes his advisors squirm, since Saint Mary’s did beat Villanova later in the day – an inside joke not lost on a portion of the audience seeing this video.

Another simple form of creativity is the matching of certain key words in the subtitles to the German words spoken by the actor.  When Hitler mentions “Stalin” for example, the subtitles reference Kansas State’s “stalling” on the court, and there is a simple reference to the SS sprinkled in for the viewer who knows their history.

Viral Spread
On the day that i first viewed this video it had been online for five days.  In that span of time, it had already been viewed hundreds of thousands of times (the exact number escapes my memory).  Since i do not have the time right now to do a full scientific study into the science of its viral spread, i will make an estimated guess that its spread was due to a few key factors:

  1. It contained intertextual references, inside jokes, pointing to the hugely popular cultural meme of the Final Four, and perhaps more importantly, a sub-meme of the two major upsets that occurred on the day that the video was uploaded
  2. It was produced and uploaded to closely coincide with the games to which it was referring, so that anyone searching YouTube for clips by using the search term “KU lost to UNI” would find this video at or near the top of the search results
  3. It is part of a longer-running, large scale meme of similar videos which adhere to a similar aesthetic, and who no doubt are also watching this video and others like it
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