The Art of the (German) Gang bang


There's an old saying: Nothing draws a community closer together than a good gang bang.

That is certainly true in Germany, where an idea – sometimes smart, often stupid, almost always in some way threatening to Germans – can become a kind of national hysteria overnight. The media concentrate all their efforts on it – the subject pops up endlessly in the news, in the talk shows, in the headlines. You can hear the idea in every party, in every bar, in every family, often repeated with a rush of anger and indignation:

The French are destroying our beloved culture (19th century)! The Jews are taking over (20th century)! The Americans are taking over (20th/21st centuries)! Bush is the devil (21st century)!

When that happens, it's amazing how little dissent there is. Everyone jumps on the bandwagon, making the idea seem so clearly correct that no one bothers to question it anymore, and it becomes a national obsession. It's amazing how universal the consensus becomes. In America, when an issue is controversial, here is still usually a pro and con of close to 50/50. During the Bush gang bang, about 80% of Germans thought he was the devil personified. (Of course you could mention the Red Scare as a good example of an American gang bang, but even then, I would guess that there were more than 20% dissenters.)
It's amazing how much a people can think of themselves as logical, deep-thinking and emotionless and at the same time whip themselves into hysteria. Especially when it's about things that are wholly insignificant in every way:

1. The Eva Herman gang bang.

Eva Herman is a TV talkshow host who – in a country where the media is definitely dominated by liberals – discovered the Germany, too, has what we Americans call a Silent Majority" – a large rural population with very conservative views. To capitalize on this surprisingly big crowd, she wrote a couple of anti-feminist reactionary books calling for women to return to home-making. The outrage in the liberal media was amazing. Everyone hated her. The consensus that she was stupid and evil was so universal that it was hard to explain who was buying her books, which were bestsellers. Recently, she was dumb enough to give them an excuse to jump on her: She said "At least the Nazis did something to support families."

It was a stupid remark (Myself, I don't think she's a Nazi, though clearly she is a reactionary, a wannabe demagogue and not too bright), and it was exactly what people were waiting for: In the press she was immediately portrayed as a Nazi and fired from her job at a state broadcaster and uninvited to talkshows where she could have explained herself. She immediately apologized and rightly pointed out that he had made in clear in (unquoted) parts of her comments that she in no way wanted to justify the Nazis, but it was too late. Now she is one of the most hated people in the media and also in the country. 2. The Scientology gang bang.

There are about 7000 Scientologists in Germany, a country of 82 million. They have about as much influence and clout as a cigarette butt. But they are always at the top of the news. Even when they don't do anything: According to politicians and TV commentators, they are trying to infiltrate the economy and the government, they are opposed to democracy and trying to turn Germany into a Scientology dictatorship. It's amazing how evil and dangerous such a tiny, insignificant group can be, and everyone believes it when it's stated on TV or by authority figures. (Or course, the established churches, which have successfully infiltrated the government and economy thousands of years ago and have successfully put an end to any attempts to separate church and state in Germany, are the most vocal opponents of Scientology, but that's to be expected: They have to protect their near-monopolies against competitors.) The German "constitutional police" have been observing Scientology for years and have never found a reason to take them to court or to accuse them of anything, but that doesn't stop politicians from screaming out dire warnings of a soon-to-come Scientology dictatorship. It's amazing. When Scientologist Tom Cruise wanted to make a film in Germany about a national German anti-Nazi hero, people in all seriousness discussed whether they could allow that to happen. Even when that controversy died down (a few months ago) and most people made an about-face and agreed that Tom Cruise was not the Devil Incarnate, the fear of Scientology wasn't allowed to flag – and continues to make headlines and to be featured in talk shows on state-run TV.

There are a lot of weird things going on in the world today, and frankly the world could use German help once in a while. Myanmar, Iran, Iraq, the future of the European Union – all these things could use a little German elbow grease. But that would mean joining a rational international dialogue, committing oneself to do something and perhaps making mistakes. Instead, Germans prefer to whip themselves into mini-rages over things that are blatantly unimportant.

But neither the Scientology nor the Eva Herman hysterics are not about politics. It' about the feeling the country has as they communally jump her bones – they feel vindicated, they feel together, they are on a kind of high, they feel they are all doing something to defend their community (and the entire world, of course – Germans always feel they are saving the world from something). It's a kind of animalistic, national community high that they just can’t resist.

Comments

Robert Shapiro said…
Eric, I have considered what you said in your article, albeit with tongue in cheek, about the so-called "emotionless" Germanic peoples. As a person who's inherited this kind of quality of detachment at least insofar as my ability to stand back and look at the world but not my desire or application of separating myself from the world and thus do what I can to help it, I feel that there is more going on here and I know that you know that.

There are other places in the world where people have inherited certain stories of who they're supposed to be. When you have that story placed upon you by family, then perhaps friends or relatives, then reinforced by society, cultural and other values associated with those whom you meet and come into contact with eh - then you begin to take on those qualities or simply since they are one of many in the case of so-called "emotionless" eh then there is that possibility to simply be what you've been assigned to be.

But ultimately it creates the Vesuvius in a bottle doesn't it. Everybody thinking or saying to themselves or feeling which is more the fact, "I want to be more!" So it's not surprising is it that people overreact in the situations where they are given the permission. When you consider that - in the examples you've given which I know you understand - are not surprising at all are they.

Vesuvius in a bottle is the explanation in fact for a great many of the actions taken, often regretted. In other words it is a good example of the performance that results in history. For no matter what the rationale of this group or that group who look at something and say, "I want that. I don't care what it takes to get it" or another group that might say, "Well - I want that. I don't care what it takes to get it as long as I don't have to make the sacrifice" then we have the circumstance, don't we, where whole other groups of people need to be malleable and if you know that Vesuvius is in a bottle and that these people want to be more then it's not that difficult to push the frenzy button and get them to act and react about something that may not be a very big thing but it gives them permission to let that lava out of the bottle.

I know you understand these things but I just want to let you know that you are not alone my friend. Lets go on doing what we can and hopefully, in our respective fields, we will leave the world a better place. This we can hope for and only others will in retrospect when we are gone, discuss - perhaps over tea but I would guess not likely with frenzy.

Goodlife my friend.
Eric T Hansen said…
Thank you so much for your comment! It got me thinking (damn it, why won't it just stop?) - give me a couple of days and I will reply in the blog - Thanks for checking in now and then, I appreciate your comments and am glad you aren't gone! Warmest aloha to you, Eric

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