Sunday, August 8, 2010

80% Say Very Familiar with Hitler

It’s past the two-week mark for my WWII Political Leaders Opinion Survey. Thanks to all who have participated thus far. I’ll be collecting responses until the end of the year, but I’ll be providing periodic updates due to the number of requests I’ve received. (I won’t be reporting on the main questions to prevent future participants from biasing their responses.)

So far, 80% of respondents report being “very familiar” with Hitler’s name, while smaller percentages report the same for other political leaders, including President Roosevelt. So my first story will center around the Führer’s legacy of sorts.

Last fall, my baby brother needed to visit a local art museum for an Art Appreciation class assignment, so he and I went to LACMA on a crowded Saturday. Since I knew next to nothing about German Expressionism, but had an interest in WWI and the Great Depression, I found the tour of that gallery particularly fascinating. The docent did an excellent job setting the interwar period in our minds, conveying the political, economic, and social turmoil and how those conditions directly influenced the art.

When the docent led the group over to Magnus Zeller’s The Orator*, she had reached a climax in her narrative. She related the scene directly to the German people’s desperation for a great leader, a savior who would deliver them. Then she asked who the “orator” in the painting reminded us of.

It’s one of those moments where you think the answer’s rather obvious, so you remain silent to let some little kid respond, but some man who’s anxious for everyone to think he’s smart blurts it out instead. The docent was infuriated that someone would dare say the H-word. Who did she think it represented?


Yes, you read correctly. Mind you, this was back when there were a number of people insisting on connecting the two men. The surprising thing was that this woman wasn’t one of them. She was an Obama supporter, interpreting the painting in a positive light!

I still relive the shock of that moment whenever I see that painting. Obviously, there are some docents who are too eager to relate exhibits to the present.

*Sorry, I couldn’t find an image online for free use. You can come visit me and see the painting in person.