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Hitler Comes to TV:
...and Ed Gernon loses his job


I had intended to write a piece about censorship for a while now...a light piece, wryly pointing out some curiosities about what is, and is not, aired. But something else has come up. Something far more serious, far more dangerous.

Perhaps, appropriately, it began with Adolf Hitler. Rather, it began with an up-coming, Canadian-made mini-series about Hitler. The program itself has been controversial, some people asking do we really need anything that might "humanize" one of the greatest mass killers in history? Particularly coming on the heels of the film, "Max" (likewise, examining Hitler's beginnings). But the controversy has spread beyond the film itself. One of the mini-series' producers, Ed Gernon, made the comment that a program about the rise of fascism was especially relevant today. He suggested that the climate in the United States, post September 11th, 2001, was not dissimilar to the climate that provided fertile soil for the growth of the Nazi Party. He wasn't saying the U.S. was like Nazi Germany, merely that the American people had to be vigilant -- as do we all -- that they don't get caught up in similar currents of fear and paranoia, throwing support behind those who offer easy solutions to complex issues.

That's why people make historical dramas, right? As cautionary tales. Historical dramas -- like science fiction -- are often employed as parables for modern events (Arthur Miller's Salem Witch trials drama, The Crucible, is seen as also being a comment on its 1950s era anti-Communist investigations).

For his comments, Ed Gernon was fired by his boss' at Alliance-Atlantis.

No, you didn't read wrong. He spoke his mind, he lost his job. Even if his comments were stupid, or outrageous, people don't generally get fired for exercising free speech in a democracy. In the United States itself -- supposedly the injured party in this maatter -- many columnists and editorialists have decried the firing of Gernon, seeing in it what it is: an attack on free speech, and an attempt to curtail any discussion that might actually challenge us all to ask hard questions. And Gernon's comments weren't outrageous. Hopefully they were overly pessimistic, even excessively alarmist, but not truly outrageous. Living outside the U.S., one is not unaware of the mood of "might makes right" that is permeating U.S. foreign policy, even as its domestic economy is, apparently, on the skids (President Bush evoking images of Emperor Nero fiddling while Rome burns). One is aware of a nation becoming increasingly insular and, in political speeches and (right wing) editorial columns, self-pitying, turning on not just perceived enemies, but even traditional allies who have the temerity to not fall blindly in line.

Is the U.S. another Nazi Germany? No, the above comments notwithstanding. Clearly Ed Gernon didn't think so, either, or else why say what he said? You don't tell a Nazi he's a Nazi -- he knows that. But you might warn a friend you consider generally good and well-meaning if you think they're in danger of becoming someone they don't want to become. It should be noted that Gernon made his comments to a U.S. magazine (TV Guide). He wasn't engaging in America-bashing in foreign climes, rather he wanted the American people to consider and weigh the value of his words.

But by firing Ed Gernon, his boss' simply prove his point. The climate of the times is becoming very dark and very dangerous. Even more bizarre is that Gernon was a Canadian employee of a Canadian company. Whatever pressure the American broadcaster of Hitler, CBS, brought to bear, the decision to fire him rested solely with Alliance-Atlantis. Did they fear losing future production deals with American partners if they did not offer up their sacrificial lamb? Was that even likely? There's been a long history of certain weak-kneed elements in Canada bending over backwards to not offend America, in situations where the Americans aren't even that offended (there's a story of a Canadian radio station that once pulled Gordon Lightfoot's "Black Day in July" -- about U.S. race riots -- from rotation so as not to offend Americans, while across the lake, in the U.S., it enjoyed frequent airplay!). America may or may not be in danger of becoming another Nazi Germany, but Alliance-Atlantis may already be a new Vichy France.

Aside from all other considerations, Alliance-Atlantis' decision completely, utterly, undermines their mini-series. I've often been critical of many movies that are "ripped from the headlines" and "shocking true stories". Too often such films are just lurid pornography, for the most part exploiting human misery for an evening's entertainment. But the claim, at least, is that such programs are meant to be enlightening, to be informative, to be cautionary tales, shedding light on what was to illuminate what might be. As George Santayana wrote: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." By firing Ed Gernon for doing just that, for trying to make the story relevant for modern viewers, to make us ask how did it happen, and could it happen again, Alliance-Atlantis is sending the message that their Hitler really is just entertainment, all in fun. Their life story of a man who ordered the deaths of millions isn't meant to be studied or scrutinized or considered. It's exploitation. It's pornography. Nothing more.

Pass the popcorn and don't think. Thinking is bad for you. Just ask Ed Gernon.

That's all for now,
The Masked Movie Critic

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