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10/09/2008 12:28

Nazi Germany in movies - media myth or reality?

Jonas Åblad, Stockholm University Informationsavdelningen / Communications Department
Schwedischer Forschungsrat - The Swedish Research Council

    The image of Nazi Germany in movies and computer games is often based on a mythical image that mixes reality and fantasy. In audiences, however, many people are critical and prefer a clear distinction between fact and fiction. This is shown in a dissertation by Eva Kingsepp, submitted to the Department of Journalism, Media and Communication at Stockholm University in Sweden.

    In her dissertation, Eva Kingsepp mainly analyzes films and computer games and interviews audience members and players. The focus of the analysis is on how history is portrayed in popular culture and how mythical features affect the view of history.

    "It's obvious that there is a gap between the media content and the audience when it comes to the view of history," says Eva Kingsepp. "While many of the films and games present a simplified image with clearly mythical features, centering on the struggle between good and evil, many people in the audience want a realistic depiction that shows 'the way it really was.'"

    Even though it has been more than sixty years since World War II ended, Nazi Germany is still highly topical in popular culture. There is a constant flow of new movies, documentaries, computer games, novels, popular history books, and articles on the subject, and this interest does not seem to be waning.

    The study, which covers more than two hundred films, among other sources, shows that the simplified, spectacular 'mainstream image' that exists of Nazi Germany, Hitler, and World War II is not quite as dominant as many people in the audience claim. But it has nevertheless had such an impact that it can be seen today as being part of our Western collective memory of the period.

    "The mainstream image contains clear features of the traditional myth, in which the world is ruled by supernatural powers. Hitler has taken over role of the Devil as the representative of inhuman Evil, which makes his followers servants of abstract Evil instead of ordinary people who are responsible for their actions. This makes it difficult to try to identify with the actions of individual people, and ultimately to be able to relate events from the Nazi era to any other place and time period. 'Learning from history' then becomes an empty phrase, since the people in the myth are not people like us," says Eva Kingsepp.

    "In many of the movies, and especially in several of the computer games, these connections are extremely obvious," says Eva Kingsepp, who continues: "The images of Hitler and Nazi Germany that are conjured up in popular culture often comprise a mixture of fact and fiction, and the result is therefore a 'fantastic' reality, with strong features of fantasy and science
    fiction, for example, alongside the real. There are therefore many indications that history in this case is being transformed into a myth, with traditionally religious features, at the same time as there is an authoritarian truth-speaking that does not expect to be questioned."

    One consequence of this, according to Eva Kingsepp, is that reality and fiction surrounding important events in our history become so intertwined that it becomes difficult to see nuances and to draw parallels with today's events that might explain why certain things are happening today as well.

    The dissertation Nazityskland i populärkulturen: Minne, myt, medier [Nazi Germany in Popular Culture: Memory, Myth, Media] is available in PDF form at

    The dissertation will be publicly defended on October 10 at 10:00 a.m. in JMK Hall, Garnisonen, Karlavägen 104, Stockholm. The faculty examiner is Göran Bolin, professor, Södertörn University College.

    Further information
    Eva Kingsepp, Department of Journalism, Media and Communication, Stockholm University, cell phone: +46 (0)73-919 12 70, e-mail

    For a picture
    phone: +46 (0)8-16 40 90 or

    Criteria of this press release:
    Cultural sciences, Media and communication sciences, Social studies
    transregional, national
    Research projects

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