Nazi Chic: Where's the Empathy?


A punkish employee arrived at my store once sporting a swastika earring. She was 17. She removed it after I launched into an anti-Nazi tirade. We never spoke of the incident again. Later she spent a year studying in Germany. I assume that her youthful dalliance with fascist irony never returned.

When I read about 20 year old Prince Harry wearing a Nazi uniform at a friend's party, I recalled my former clerk. On one hand, it's a poor attempt at childish humor; on the other, it's almost criminally insensitive. Harry's written apology resembles the forced I'm sorries yanked out of small children: "I am very sorry if I caused any offence . . . It was a poor choice of costume and I apologise." You can almost smell the insincerity.

Royal children are usually a wayward bunch. Royalty has little to do anymore besides keeping tabloids in business ' it's not as if they'll run a country or anything. Like most celebrity offspring, they are famous only for pedigree. Like Paris Hilton, Harry shows no discernible talent besides his ability to party hard. Partying dressed like the Fuehrer ' if Paris did that, she would be celebrated as Ilsa the Nazi She-Devil. No wonder Harry wonders what the big deal is.

But what is wrong with the world? Sick irony isn't just for rich kids ' our children are laughing with ease at brutality as if it's a joke read on live journal. My daughters calmly watch unspeakable horror portrayed in the media while "Psycho" still gives me nightmares. I see photographs of Fallujah destruction and cry; many Americans see dead Iraqis and give each other a high five. Symptoms of creeping heartlessness are everywhere.

The military psychologist David Grossman, who coined the term 'killology,' studied how to make recruits less inhibited about killing other human beings (during WWII, 15% of soldiers actually shot with intent to kill; by the Vietnam War, the U.S. achieved a 95% shoot to kill rate). Boot camps replace personal morals with a willingness to kill. Many psychologists worry that the endless bombardment of violent imagery in media, coupled with the reflexive shooting involved in most video games, is producing young people who suppress the midbrain resistance to kill one's own kind. Like soldiers. In nature, only sociopaths lack this resistance. The conditioning to overcome this begins early--and we create children without basic empathy.

I'm not suggesting that a majority become murderous sociopaths. But in myriad small ways ' wearing Nazi attire, for example ' insensitivity is becoming a fashionable joke. In the video game JFK Reloaded, a player recreates the presidential assassination. is a website featuring an image of Matthew Shepard burning in hell. In my daughter's school, kids use racial slurs like "porch monkey" and "wetback" about classmates for humorous effect. Jokes about 9/11 abound. It's a sick, sad world.

It is suggested that Prince Harry take a trip to the death camps and remember who the Nazis were. I believe that we need to be similarly sobered up to the realities of death and suffering. The word "entertainment" means "something that amuses, pleases or diverts." Images of violent death should not be so amusing that we forget what violence is. It's not so funny when it happens to you.

We can't be afraid of appearing unhip by refusing to tolerate sick humor or by being insensitive to the suffering of victims of violence. Look at the dead and maimed until you reclaim your empathy. We don't just need to laugh; we also need to remember how to cry.

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