Just as Amazon Prime's The Man in the High Castle is set to debut, Hulu is jumping on the wave, releasing its TRAILER for its eight part series based on Stephen King's recent novel, 11.22.63, about the attempt to prevent the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Given the notion that trends come in threes, where will we find the clincher?
Here is my review of the first two episodes of Amazon Prime's "The Man in the High Castle" from this week's Forward. Click HERE of the link.
If the entire series turns out to be a hit, we can possibly expect more cinematic renderings of alternate history novels in the future. Anyone have any suggestions as to what they'd like to see filmed? I wouldn't mind seeing The Two Georges, personally (maybe Richard Dreyfuss could have a leading role -- wouldn't that be meta?).
Politicians Ben Carson, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Jeb Bush have all commented on "what ifs" pertaining to the Nazi past in recent weeks. I commented on Carson's invocation of the Holocaust in explaining his opposition to gun control a few posts ago. I was interviewed on NPR last week about Netanyahu's implied counterfactual that if Haj Amin Al-Husseini had not met with Hitler in November of 1941 that the Holocaust would not have happened (click HERE). Meanwhile, Jeb Bush went public on the The New York Times Magazine question from last week: "would you go back in time to kill Hitler as a baby?" saying "hell yeah." (I was interviewed about this very issue by Mother Jones the other day; click HERE for the interview).
Thank goodness we have Steven Colbert to put together a mashup commentary on all the inanity.
To watch the hilarious clip, click HERE.
As for the deeper meaning of what's going on, I suspect it reflects an ongoing desire to seek moral certainties in a time of ongoing upheaval and political polarization by invoking what still counts as the benchmark of evil: Hitler.
On the campaign trail today in Florida, Jeb
Bush drew attention to a common kind of "what if" scenario that might be termed a “Rip
Van Winkle Counterfactual.”In the
same way that the famous Washington Irving character fell asleep and woke up in
the future, counterfactuals often relocate a historical figure from
the past into the present in order to comment upon it.
Speaking in Tampa, Florida, Bush
remarked: “If Lincoln were alive today,
imagine the foolishness he would have to suffer,” Bush said. “Advisers telling
him to shave his beard. Cable pundits telling him to lose the top hat.
Opposition researchers calling him a five-time loser before the age of 50.”
He said he was speaking from
experience. “I have gotten a lot of advice lately myself…more than enough. Some
is stylistic. 'Take off the suit coat; ditch the glasses. Get rid of the purple
striped tie,'" Bush said. But he has no plans to follow that advice."Man, I like that tie," he said. "It only cost $20."To see the full story click HERE.
There are many other examples of
Rip van Winkle counterfactuals.
Just to name two: the successful FOX television series, Sleepy Hollow, imagines the 18th century
revolutionary war hero, Ichabod Crane, coming back to life and becoming a
police investigator in present day New York state. Similarly, Timur Vermes’s best selling
German novel (now a hit film) Er ist
wieder da (Look Who’s Back)
imagines how a reanimated Adolf Hitler would have viewed contemporary German
These and similar
counterfactual scenarios obviously lack the plausibility of more sober “what
ifs.”But they are rhetorically
powerful tools for providing a new and defamiliarizing perspective on present day reality.
Norman Ohler’s new book, The Total High: Drugs in the Third Reich
(Der totale Rausch: Drogen im Dritten
Reich), raises interesting counterfactual questions about Hitler’s reign as
the dictator of Nazi Germany.
I haven’t yet seen a copy of
the book, but based on reviews in the German press, it appears that Ohler
argues that without a steady intake of illegal stimulants (cocaine, Quadro-Nox, Profundol, Belladonna Obistinol) and the “euphoria” they
provided, Hitler “would have been unable to pull himself together for military
conferences” and other important governmental meetings.(This claim can be found in the Tagesanzeigerreview).
Or as the Frankfurter Rundschau put it in a separate review:
“Without supportive pharmaceutical means, Hitler would not have been able to
play his demented Führer role, which cost millions of people worldwide their
lives, to the end.”
These counterfactuals seek to
underscore the importance of drugs for the Führer’s ability to function on a
daily basis in reverse fashion by
asserting how their absence would have affected him (rather than how their
availability actually affected him).
The claim can be seen as an example
of what might be called a reverse causal counterfactual.Or as Richard Ned Lebow writes in Forbidden Fruit, “If we hypothesize that
‘x’ caused ‘y,’ we assume that ‘y’ would not have happened…in the absence of
‘x’ (p. 40).”
Applied to Ohler’s book, this mode
of causal reasoning allows us to see that there is a difference between
claiming: 1) drugs enabled Hitler to function until the end of the war and 2) without
drugs Hitler could not have functioned until the end of the war. The latter claim assigns more causal weight to drugs than the former, as other things besides drugs (say, food) were presumably necessary to enable Hitler to function during this period. Claiming those things would have been insufficient in the absence of drugs underlines their causal importance more dramatically. This kind of counterfactual has also been called a "necessary condition counterfactual," meaning that a given factor 'x' (here, drugs) was a "necessary factor for "y" (Hitler's functioning). See Gary Goetz and Jack S. Levy (eds.), Explaining War and Peace: Case Studies and Necessary Condition Counterfactuals (2007).
The use of the term, “without,” in
the introductory clause of any conditional sentence is probably a good sign
that you are dealing with a reverse causal counterfactual, probably the most
basic type of formulation of all.