There’s a saying in Hollywood: The two things you can always kill without turning the audience against you are Nazis and zombies. Maybe that’s why J.J. Abrams is producing a movie about Nazi zombies, and why the Nazi Zombie mode in Call Of Duty is so popular.
But zombies are cartoons — one-dimensional humanoid villains to blast apart with indiscretion before they rip you apart in their single-minded pursuit of brain hoagies. Nazis are not cartoons, and yet we’ve spent decades of popular culture reducing them to avatars of badness, completely free of context and stripped of the emotions they are supposed to instill in us (beyond the feelings of disgust and revenge, of course). Shooting endless waves of slobbering undead Nazis while a gleeful heavy metal soundtrack thrums along and the voice of a delightful celebrity guest star provides snarky quips is undeniably fun for some people, but it feels grimy and shameful if actual Nazis intersected your family at any point. It’s like making a video game wherein you blast your way through waves of Al Qaeda werewolves inside the collapsing North Tower.
There are reasons America has been awash in World-War-II-centered entertainment ever since the war ended. It’s the most black-and-white conflict the United States has ever been involved in, to the point where one side can literally be called “evil.” Whereas if you make a movie or a video game about Vietnam, the Korean War, or Iraq, you must either uncomfortably address the subject of American imperialism or uncomfortably ignore it. The Civil War isn’t good shoot-em-up movie fodder either; people are still arguing about what it was about to this day. We’re still pretty close to World War II, relatively speaking — most people can connect themselves directly to the conflict by tracing back one or two generations. Also, it’s the last war America really “won,” or felt good about winning. We hold it up as the ideal of America as a world power, so we keep coming back to it. And Nazis make good bad guys — they dress like villains, they have sinister accents, and they murdered innocent people to comply with an insane doctrine of white purity.
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