Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Idiots, Nazis or Pranksters?
Admittedly, Germans are not known for their ha-ha-fall-down humor. It's just not them.
But what they do like to do is make each other look stupid. (And before you frown and disapprove, let me remind you that American humor does that also - or do you really think Jon Stewart makes George Bush look intelligent?)
For example, the Hitler card game.
A small Berlin publisher jumpstarted a mini-scandal when it put out a card game featuring the faces and CVs of dictators, from Hitler to Idi Amin. The game is based on the popular German children's card game called "Quartett", in which you have to match features on your cards to features on the cards of another player to gather their cards - or something like that. Usually the cards feature cars or soccer players.
Immediately German officials realized that someone here wasn't being appropriately respectful of Hitler and complained. A politician of the liberal party SPD called it "tasteless," etc. The newspaper wrote about it and internet forums gathered opinions. It stupid, of course: Getting upset about Hitler is a standard in Germany, you have to drop everything and get all excited about it, like telling a Vegan, "I smell meat in this salad. Do you smell meat in this salad?"
What most people didn't see is that is was a joke. A joke on them. The publisher did it not only to sell cards, but to push buttons, and German buttons are easy to push. It was a prank - a prank on the general public and on any politician or opinion leader willing to stupidly comment. Germans can do pranks.
But the better prank was a few months earlier.
There is a popular comedy show on German TV called "Hello Taxi," in which an excellent improv comedian named Hape Kerkeling pretends to be a taxi driver and drives his passengers nuts on hidden camera.
One of his tricks to to eat, phone, etc., while driving. Using your cell phone while driving in Germany is against the law and is punishable by fine.
Just last week it was reported that several months ago a TV viewer reported Kerkeling to the police for driving a taxi while using a cell phone, because he had seen it on TV.
At first I thought: This guy is an idiot. Especially because he didn't name Kerkeling in his accusation, he named Kerkeling''s fictional TV-character.
Then I thought: Can anybody be that stupid? Or is someone out there playing a prank.
It was a prankster, for sure, and the proof is that the prank worked: The district attorney (in Cologne) followed up on the accusation and initiated an investigation against the TV character. It was a prank on German bureaucracy. That's something Germans can do.
Nothing happened to Kerkeling, by the way: By the time this office sorted through the fake name and viewed the TV footage, several months had passed and it was to late to do anything: a misdemeanor as minor as this becomes invalid after only a few months.