Friday, August 17, 2012

It’s a modest psychopathic wine, but it does have some global ambition

A Philadelphia couple came in for a bit of a shock in Italy recently when they stopped into a shop in Garda, Italy, and saw wine with Hitler’s face on it on the shelves. Not something that most decent folks would want to see displayed, but in this case, matters were made worse. The wife of the couple is the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, and had grandparents and an aunt murdered at Auschwitz. (Source: Huffington Post.)

I’m actually not surprised.

When in Rome this past April, we saw a number of souvenir stands selling Il Duce fridge magnets and other Benito Mussolini paraphernalia.

And, in fact, the Lunardelli winery that offers wine with Hitler on the label – in dozens of different versions, including one with the cover of Mein Kampf on it – also sells Mussolini wine. I strolled around the site a bit and also found a combo Adolf-Benito version. As well as one sporting a coy picture of Eva Braun, and others featuring Goering, Himmler, and Hess.

Why let good taste and common decency get in the way of wringing a buck out of someone lacking in good taste and common decency?

It’s axiomatic (or almost) that if someone’s willing to buy it, then someone should be able and willing to sell it. (I say almost axiomatic  because there is, after all, kiddie porn and snuff which, while they do have an audience and represent a “market” of buyers, should really and truly have no sellers.)

So  there shouldn’t be a law against selling Fuehrer wein. And there shouldn’t need to be a law – other than the implicit rules of taste and decency. And apparently there isn’t a law:

Prosecutor Mario Giulio Schinaia spoke with news agency ANSA, saying the "only crime that could be currently attributable to this is that of apologising for fascism ... At this point, though, it would be opportune to invent the crime of human stupidity."

I actually disagree with Schinaia here. This isn’t a “crime of human stupidity.” It’s a crime of being willing to go pretty darned low to make money.

The owner of the supermarket that sold the wine defended its sale, saying it was a part of history, "like Che Guevara."

It is certainly true that both Adolf Hitler and Che Guevara are, indeed, part of history. And both wore facial hair. But beyond that, there really isn’t a whole lot the two had in common. And whether you worshipped at Che Guevara’s altar, or thought he was the devil incarnate, Che did not bear a good portion of the responsibility for World War II, nor was he responsible for the deaths of millions who weren’t collateral damage from the war itself, but were victims of genocide, singled out specifically for their religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.

Thus, while lack of decency and taste should never be a surprise, it was still pretty surprising to read that:

Last month, a woman told European gay news site Pink News that she was ejected from a London gay bar when she objected to a bottle of wine adorned with the image of Adolf Hitler.

Have we become such hip, jaded, cool, raised-eye ironists that someone stocking the shelves in a gay bar would think that this was a good thing to do?

Hitler wine, by the way, has been around since the 1990’s. A decade ago, vintner Lunardelli noted that Hitler was his “bestseller, moving more than 30,000 bottles a year.

And it’s not just Hitler wine in Italy.

Sales of wine and schnapps with Adolf Hitler on the label are increasing all over Austria.

An Austrian website was selling bottles with portraits of Hitler and the swastika. The site offered sales of spirits in “nostalgic bottles of former historical greats.”

The man selling the wine and schnapps was identified only as Roland M. Legal officials say he was motivated by profit, not ideology. (Source: Weekly World News.)

Profit, Profit,  Über Ideology.

That makes it better. I think…

Other uses of the Hitler “brand” include a “Nazi-themed” clothing line that was withdrawn last year by a Hong-Kong clothing company.

Asia is apparently a hot-bed when it comes to the use of Nazi imagery, which figures, I guess, since there aren’t a lot of relatives of Holocaust victims floating around to object. According to Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League:

“They [Asians] don’t really have a concept of Hitler. I’ve seen a lot of really bizarre things [in Asia] — like [advertisements for] ‘German pianos at Jewish prices.’ It’s bizarre. There’s a bar named after Hitler.”

This all raises a lot of questions around when, where and how it’s okay to start commercializing rather than demonizing horror shows like Hitler and Mussolini.

Personally, I think it should wait a few generations, when there are no longer any actual and once- or twice-removed victims to be horrified by a commercial use of their victimizer images. Thus, I’d wait a few more decades before going to town with a line of Hitler anythings.

Meanwhile, it you want to have tasteless wine, that’s probably tasteless in both respects, there’s always Vlad the Impaler and Genghis Kahn to grace your labels. Nobody around to remember those bad boys!

I think it’s absolutely okay to make fun of Hitler and Mussolini. Along with ignominy, it’s exactly what they deserve. (I love The Producers.) But using the name and image to turn a profit by encouraging those with no sense and/or taste, or – how ghastly that would be – those who are genuinely nostalgic for the good old days of fascism. A pox on their vineyards!

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