Eric Koch is spending two weeks in Europe. A number of his regular readers have generously volunteered to compose guest-postings – this is one of two from Richard Nielsen.
Lars Von Trier, Danish film director, stands condemned by the world for his favourable remarks about Adolf Hitler delivered at the Cannes Festival where his most recent film was in competition.
Von Trier was asked by a member of the assembled media how his discovery that he was half-German, rather than half-Jewish, as he had supposed, had affected him. Von Trier replied that he had always liked being half-Jewish, but now, being German, he could understand Hitler.
Actually, he was making a joke – a Danish joke – ridiculing the question. Danes are particularly if not uniquely, attracted to jokes that push logic to an illogical extreme.
A Swede in a foreign country, perhaps Canada, is introduced to a man named Hansen.
“You’re Scandinavian?” The Swede asks, and receiving a nod in reply, continues: “Swedish perhaps?”
“No, Danish.” Hansen replies. Prompting this from the Swede:
“You know what we Swedes say of the Danes – we say they are not to be trusted.”
To which Hansen replies: “But my parents said they were Danish. Perhaps I shouldn’t have believed them.”
Soren Kierkegaard, the only significant Danish philosopher, provides another example. He wrote that there was nothing funnier than the spectacle of three men beating up two whom they had caught beating up a third. No telling where that kind of moral indignation could lead.
And then there was the encounter on The Tonight Show between Victor Borge, the Danish comedian, and feminist Germaine Grier. As Grier made the case for liberation, Borge kept repeating just off-camera: “But what about the children?” Finally, she turned on him, annoyed, and said: “If I had to choose between liberating women and coddling children, I’d help women.” To which Borge replied: “You’re right, to hell with the children.” He got a laugh.
So why is it that the world was not outraged with Kierkegaard or Victor Borge since their opinions were as outlandish at Von Trier’s? Because Kierkegaard’s remarks were written. What he said was therefore between him and a single reader. In Borge’s case, it was on television and unmediated. Those watching knew he was trying to make us laugh. After all, he was a comedian.
It was Von Trier’s misfortune to be dealing with the world’s entertainment media – so attracted to scandal that they will routinely attempt to destroy the people who create the events they get paid to cover.
Lars Von Trier will never live this down. Two weeks after the event, he was described by the Toronto Star as having “sympathized with Adolf Hitler.”