Respectful Insolence

Like most people, I have my limits. Actually, I have a pretty high tolerance for tastelessness. It’s a necessity in a world like this, where tastelessness increasingly goes beyond the pale. But even I am not above finding something like this so tasteless and offensive that I can only shake my head:

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – A Carnival float with a pile of model dead bodies commemorating the Holocaust is causing unease before the lavish parades in Rio de Janeiro this weekend.

The Viradouro samba organization, or school, plans to feature the grim display when it marches in the Sambadrome parade strip on Sunday, despite objections from a local Jewish group.

Oh. My. God.

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Not surprisingly, Jews and Jewish organizations in Brazil are outraged. I wonder why. There will only be half-naked women dancing about but a huge crowd of partying people seeing this display. In defense of this float I found the most amazingly disconnected statement I can ever recall seeing:

Viradouro insisted its Holocaust float is not meant to offend anyone.

“The float is extremely respectful, it’s a warning, it’s something shocking that we don’t want to happen ever again,” said Paulo Barros, Viradouro’s artistic director.

Viradouro’s parade theme is “Shockers” and it includes floats depicting the shock of birth, the shock of horror and the shock of cold.

Barrossaid the Holocaust float would be the only one without dancers on top.

“If we had people dancing on top of dead bodies that would indeed be disrespectful,” he told Reuters.

Well, as long as there are no half-naked dancers dancing on the dead bodies, it’s OK then.

Comments

  1. #1 Wes
    January 30, 2008

    Unbelievable.

    What the hell kind of thought processes lead to the notion that putting a float full of dead Jews in the middle of a raucous parade would be a good idea? At least they had the “sense” to realize that having naked women dancing on top of the dead Jews might not be well received…

  2. #2 Muse142
    January 30, 2008

    I… I don’t know. I just don’t know.

    This might work as an art piece. But as a PARADE FLOAT?!

    I think I would faint if I saw that thing going down the street. Or call the cops. Jeez…

  3. #3 daedalus2u
    January 30, 2008

    I think it is a great idea. What with ethnic cleansing now going on in Kenya.

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080130/ap_on_re_af/kenya_election_violence;_ylt=ApAJAhMC9Im.dW1bkuhRv_lvaA8F

    The Australian government finally apologizing for its genocidal policies against the Aborigines.

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080130/ap_on_re_au_an/australia_aborigines_timeline;_ylt=AtdClpjweFbqqDsDSrwWGahvaA8F

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080130/ap_on_re_au_an/australia_aborigines;_ylt=AkDd.M4M9fQ49p5wtBMnN_hbbBAF

    and with genocide still going on in Darfur. I can’t think of a more appropriate float.

    Which is less respectful of the dead, to ignore what happened to them and let it happen to others?

    Or make sure it isn’t forgotten, and make “Never Again” more than just an empty slogan?

  4. #4 Sven DiMilo
    January 30, 2008

    Where does it say “dead Jews”?
    They might be dead Romani.
    Or dead homosexuals.
    Or dead Jehovah’s Witnesses.
    Regardless, you have to admit, it IS a “shocker.”

  5. #5 Uncle Dave
    January 30, 2008

    “Well, as long as there are no half-naked dancers dancing on the dead bodies, it’s OK then.”

    Maybe that Terry Gilliam film Brazil isn’t that weird afterall

  6. #6 David D.G.
    January 30, 2008

    o_0

    Well, the parade theme is “Shockers,” and this undeniably fits the theme, both in its own appearance and in reference to the shocking original event that it signifies.

    Frankly, I think the people making the float have a good point and very good intentions here. Unfortunately, this is just a terribly wrong sort of venue for this type of presentation.

    A float in a memorial parade of some kind would be a proper venue for this — not for a parade in what is supposed to be a purely fun event. People are going to be in a mood for full-tilt fun; a stupendously depressing and disturbing float like this, no matter how legitimate otherwise, will be as welcome as bodily waste in the punch bowl. Instead of inciting sympathy, this can incite only hostility toward themselves and, by extension, their cause — exactly the opposite of the reaction they want.

    I hope they are persuaded to withdraw their float and save it for a suitable occasion (or even relocate it to a museum or gallery as a Holocaust-related exhibit). It looks as if the work on it has been exceptional, and it would be a shame to waste that.

    ~David D.G.

  7. #7 Caledonian
    January 30, 2008

    How bizarre.

    It will be more informative to see how people in the local culture respond to it. Will they also be horrified? Or are their cultural norms very (very, very) different from ours?

  8. #8 PalMD
    January 30, 2008

    The reason “dead jews” is mentioned is that Jews were the largest group murdered by the nazis by orders of magnitude.
    The infamous slaughter of Gypsy families at Birkenau near the end of the war was an attempt to “get rid of evidence”, but the Nazis weren’t nearly as efficient at mass murder when it came to homsexuals, commies, and gypsies—although, given enough time, they would have gotten ’round to it, I’m sure.

  9. #9 MRL
    January 30, 2008

    I find that float to be extremely tasteless and, indeed, offensive…

    …but neither of those are reasons to remove it from Carnival. The first one is actually something of an endorsement.

  10. #10 Caledonian
    January 30, 2008

    The reason “dead jews” is mentioned is that Jews were the largest group murdered by the nazis by orders of magnitude.

    No, one order of magnitude at most. Between ten and eleven million people died in the Holocaust, and only about six million of those were Jews. Some estimates put the dead in the camps at nine million, but even that doesn’t make a difference of multiple orders.

  11. #11 HP
    January 30, 2008

    Caledonian, did you not read the post? People in the local culture have responded, and they’re offended. Brazilian Jews are still Brazilians (and still people) after all.

    And Rio is hardly some quaint, mysterious faraway society where the people have strange foreign customs and live in isolation from the modern world. It’s a large, vibrant, cosmopolitan world city. They have computers and everything. (Actually, last I checked, Portuguese is the second or third most popular language on the Internet, after English. The millions of Portuguese-speaking bloggers don’t live in Lisbon.) They’re probably more plugged in than the average American.

  12. #12 Caledonian
    January 30, 2008

    Caledonian, did you not read the post? People in the local culture have responded, and they’re offended.

    A small subset of the population has responded. I want to see how society as a whole responds.

    And I’m aware Brazil is in contact with the modern world. Its cultures are still very, very different from the ones I interact with on a daily basis.

  13. #13 Gary F
    January 30, 2008

    I don’t get how “Shockers” is really appropriate for this kind of celebration anyway. I mean, what are the birth, horror and cold floats going to look like? A big pile of frozen corpses? Will a giant, afterbirth-smeared baby be catapulted from a car-sized vagina?

  14. #14 agnostic
    January 30, 2008

    It’s hard to think of similarly tasteless examples… perhaps if women’s groups who wanted to shock bourgeois audiences out of their complacency held a domestic violence reminder / activist event on Valentine’s Day, of all days. And if they did it every year, rather than during a particular Carnival.

  15. #15 AnonResearcher
    January 30, 2008

    Considering the parade is on Ash Wednesday, a day for contemplating your transgressions before god, death and mourning, it does seem somewhat appropriate.

    Mix that with a culture that appreciates the dead (Re: Finados in Brazil, Day of the Dead in Mexico) and this hardly seems out of place.

  16. #16 jen_m
    January 30, 2008

    I don’t see the connection, agnostic. I think it’s pretty appropriate to talk about intimate partner violence on Valentine’s Day. I don’t get the impression Viradouro spends a lot of energy trying to memorialize the Holocaust the rest of the year, or that their primary drive is to prevent the repetition of that atrocity. After all, they apparently have a lot of other floats, about things other than the Holocaust.

    Given that Carnival is expressly about celebration, fun and community spirit, it’s sort of hard to figure out how genocide fits in. I see some of Caledonian’s point – enough people in the samba school thought it was a good idea that they spent the money and energy building the float. The samba schools are important neighborhood associations, so presumably Viradouro’s parade does represent some values of its community. I can’t wrap my head around it, but I don’t want to be a bigot, so rather than immediately assume the float is the exploitation of human extermination for cheap thrills (which it would be if it were a Hallowe’en parade in the U.S., say), or just violent anti-Semitism, I will wait to see what arguments come out of the local community in favor of the float.

    That said, it’s disingenuous nit-pickery to deny that Jews are the group that immediately comes to mind when the Holocaust is mentioned, much less to over-parse the rhetoric of “orders of magnitude.” The Nazis murdered several different groups, it’s true, but the Final Solution was most of all about the Jews.

  17. #17 Caledonian
    January 30, 2008

    I nitpick the point only because there are people who say the Holocaust was only about the Jews, and I think that trivializes all of the other peoples the Nazis tried to exterminate. The Final Solution was about them as well – anyone that didn’t fit into their ideals of racial purity.

    They don’t get talked about as much.

  18. #18 Orac
    January 30, 2008

    I have to step in here, because I can’t stay silent anymore.

    The Holocaust was primarily about the Jews by an overwhelming degree. Of that there is no doubt, and saying so does not “trivialize” any of the other peoples that the Nazis tried to exterminate.

    In fact, the Jews are central to the Holocaust. Following Hitler’s wishes and rhetoric, Nazis picked out Jews for vilification and violence from the very beginning in the 1920s, long before they ever took power. When the Nazis came to power in 1933, it was the Jews who were their first and primary target. The new government called a boycott of Jewish businesses in April 1933, only a little more than two months after taking power. Jews were always the first target. True, Communists were also targeted early on, but Nazi rhetoric equated Bolshevism with Jews. Before the outbreak of war, Hitler said that if the Jews caused another war, he would annihilate them.

    Yes, Gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Russians, and Poles were also targeted, but they were secondary targets. The main target was always the Jews. I think Gord McFee put it quite well in the essay to which I linked above:

    The ultimate aim and the primary target never varied. Others were murdered in the course of the Final Solution, e.g. Gypsies, Russian POWs, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and so on, but the first and constant target was always the Jews. The Final Solution was intended for the Jews, was about the Jews and chiefly affected the Jews. There is no denying that, without the Jews, there is no Final Solution.

    To minimize or trivialize the “Jewishness” of the Final Solution is to seriously understate, if not, unintentionally perhaps, deny its essence. This does not mean that the suffering of other groups is to be ignored; on the contrary, it was terrible. But without the Holocaust, without the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question”, the others live. The term “holocaust” was coined to describe the uniquely Jewish aspect of the Final Solution. It does not seek to negate the suffering of the other victims.

    He’s right. Absent Hitler’s fanatical hatred of the Jews that ultimately led to his attempt to annihilate European Jewry, it’s unlikely that the others would have been targeted for extermination because the death camps most likely would never have been built.

  19. #19 Caledonian
    January 31, 2008

    The techniques that were initially used on the Jews were also initially used on the other ‘racial undesirables’ as well. The Jews were the largest population of ‘undesirables’ in the territory the Nazis controlled. They weren’t even the only ethnic group targeted for complete destruction. And yes, the others most certainly are trivialized. How many people know or care that the forced sterilization of the Rom went on into the early 1990′s?

    Every time someone says six million people died in the Holocaust, the others are trivialized. The intentional extermination was of the undesirables, of which the Jews were the most visible and most populous. But substituting the largest subgroup for the entirety of the undesirables is both absurd and insulting.

  20. #20 Orac
    January 31, 2008

    The techniques that were initially used on the Jews were also initially used on the other ‘racial undesirables’ as well. The Jews were the largest population of ‘undesirables’ in the territory the Nazis controlled. They weren’t even the only ethnic group targeted for complete destruction.

    No one said that they were. However, those other ethnic groups were only targeted after the extermination of the Jews began. Moreover, the radicalization and industrialized killing developed as a consequence of the Nazi policy of exterminating European Jewry. If the extermination of European Jewry were not a primary policy goal of the Nazis after 1942, it’s highly unlikely that those other groups would also have been targeted in that way, as neither the infrastructure for killing nor the policy precedent would have existed. Remember, it was the Final Solution of the Jewish Problem. As the Holocaust developed, the definition of racial “undesirables” expanded beyond Jews. In fact, the Roma and Sinti (a.k.a. “gypsies”) were originally considered Aryan, and were initially meant for “reeducation.” However, later the Germans changed their minds and decided to treat them just like the Jews.

    As the war continued, the Germans’ list of racial undesirables expanded, and it is likely that, had Germany prevailed (or held out longer), other racial groups would have been treated just like the Jews. Even so, it was always Hitler’s implacable hatred for the Jews that provided the spark that, while consuming the Jews of Europe, also expanded to the slaughter of other “racial undesirables.” Once again, it is not “trivializing” any of the dead to say that.

  21. #21 daedalus2u
    January 31, 2008

    The current Pope is German, was alive during the Holocaust, and is on record as saying that God was “silent” about the Holocaust. Maybe what should be on top is a statue of him with his hands covering his eyes, his ears, his nose, and his mouth.

    If someone as “holy” as the Pope couldn’t hear God saying that genocide was “wrong”, it is obvious to me that “God” needs to speak a little louder. That or the Catholic Church needs to choose leaders who are more “holy” and so are more capable of hearing what God actually has to say.

  22. #22 Caledonian
    January 31, 2008

    However, those other ethnic groups were only targeted after the extermination of the Jews began.

    Perhaps it was the beginning of ethnic targeting, but it certainly it wasn’t the beginning of the ‘racial cleansing’. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T-4_Euthanasia_Program .

    “The dying rituals and procedures applied under the auspices of this “programme” were invariably identical to those that obtained in the extermination camps. The underlying objective was the same – the eradication of unwanted segments of the populace.”

    I consider those individuals victims of the Holocaust, too. Clearly, you can choose to disagree.

  23. #23 David D.G.
    January 31, 2008

    Caledonian wrote:

    Every time someone says six million people died in the Holocaust, the others are trivialized.

    Undoubtedly, if anyone ever did. But I, for one, have never heard anyone make such a statement. I have always heard it said that six million Jews died in the Holocaust, but I never have heard anyone try to claim that this was the entire death toll, or that Jews were the only victims. Far from it. Therefore, I think that this characterization you present is inaccurate and highly unfair.

    Granted, it wouldn’t hurt to go on from that point and actually say, “Six million Jews died in the Holocaust, and so did so-and-so-many Romani, so-and-so-many homosexuals, etc.” But most people just don’t carry around extended statistics like that in their heads. “Six million Jews” is easy enough to remember, however, and it was undeniably the lion’s share of deaths by group designation, as well as the primary focus of the Holocaust itself, so it serves as a convenient and true marker for the scope of that horror.

    ~David D.G.

  24. #24 Orac
    January 31, 2008

    I consider those individuals victims of the Holocaust, too. Clearly, you can choose to disagree.

    Congratulations, Caledonian. You’ve just delivered what has to be the most obvious and blatantly stupid straw man argument that I’ve seen in a very, very long time. Not only is it mind-numbingly, painfully clear that it’s a strawman, but you even managed to make it offensive too. That’s quite a feat; indeed, you’re flirting with John Best territory here.

    As for the T4 euthanasia program, I realize that you don’t read here regularly but if you did you’d know I’ve written about it before as part of the Holocaust, dating back to my Usenet days in the 1990s. No one, least of all I, has said that the T4 victims were not victims of the Holocaust. If I thought you were in the least bit serious about having a discussion about the complex and important historical issues of the relationship between the T4 program and the overall Holocaust, how the Nazi view of the Jew as biologically different fed into the “life unworthy of life” justification for killing the “unfit” while the killing technology developed on a small scale during the T4 program was then adapted to large scale industrial killing of Jews and other that the Nazis perceived as enemies or “undesirable,” or how important the “Jewishness” of the Holocaust is compared to the non-Jewish victims, normally I’d be happy to engage and explain it to you. However, your last comment makes it very obvious to me that you are not interested in any such serious discussion. You’re clearly interested in only trolling. Given that, I consider it a waste of my time to interact with you any further on this issue. You’ll only do more of the same, and I find it quite tedious.

  25. #25 jen_m
    January 31, 2008

    “I consider those individuals victims of the Holocaust, too.”

    Of course they are! It’s just as abhorrent that people with disabilities, any people perceived as having heritable “moral deficits”, prisoners of war, the Romani, members of several religious minorities, and political dissidents were murdered. But the Nazis came very close to success in their attempt to extinguish Jewry, and that is worth separate and additional recognition. The mass murder of individuals based on their traits is abhorrent and sickening and must be remembered. But the campaign to eradicate the Jews deserves additional attention, because it almost worked, and because its rationalization underlay every twisted justification given for those mass murders.

    Please don’t think that acknowledging the enormity of the crimes against Jews means belittling the horrors the Nazis perpetrated against others. It’s all part of a ghastly, obscene campaign of hatred that must be recognized and remembered.

  26. #26 Orac
    January 31, 2008

    Great comments, jen_m, but Caledonian is trolling, which is why I’ve given up trying to reason with him. If he weren’t, he wouldn’t have said something so dumb about my supposedly not considering the victims of the T4 euthanasia program as being victims of the Holocaust.

  27. #27 daedalus2u
    January 31, 2008

    How about this as imagery for the top of the float.

    The Pope with his eyes clenched shut, his hands over his ears and his mouth zippered shut. Then with a Jesus figure on a cross, legs still nailed but with His hands clutching a gigantic megaphone shouting at the Pope. The Pope’s hair and clothes streaming away from the blast from the megaphone but still standing their immobile, unseeing, unhearing and completely silent. With tears streaming down Jesus’ face in complete agony and frustration that He is not being heard, completely oblivious to His own injuries but wounded to the core by the inhumanity being perpetrated.

    I would make sure there were proportionate numbers of obvious non-Jews on the float as well. Maybe some victims of other genocides as well. Cambodians, Chinese, indigenous peoples. Maybe something about the current status of indigenous people in Brazil.

    http://www.brazzilmag.com/content/view/9058/

    Maybe have the figure half the Pope and half a generic farmer/landowner driving indigenous Brazilians off their traditional lands. Including a generic farmer/landowner would probably be considered too offensive for Brazilians.

  28. #28 jen_m
    January 31, 2008

    Sorry, Orac, I managed to miss your comment while I was writing mine.

  29. #29 MRL
    January 31, 2008

    I refer, when I (rarely) do to the body count of the Holocaust, like this: “Six million Jews. Twelve million people overall.”

    Two numbers, fairly easy to stick in the mind, rather than doing a full ethnic/sociopolitical breakdown.

  30. #30 Caledonian
    January 31, 2008

    No one, least of all I, has said that the T4 victims were not victims of the Holocaust.

    I don’t want to take this discussion any further from the topic than we’ve already gone.

    But the people who say the term ‘Holocaust’ refers specifically to the Jewish people murdered? Most of the T4 victims weren’t Jews. It follows that they weren’t part of the Holocaust, using that definition.

    Undoubtedly, if anyone ever did. But I, for one, have never heard anyone make such a statement.

    Really? I’ve heard people say that six million people died in the Holocaust before. I’ve even heard people say that the ‘Holocaust’ refers specifically to the Jewish victims and should not be used to refer to the others – this is even alluded to in the beginning of Wikipedia’s entry on the Holocaust. The point isn’t to deny that there were other deaths, the point is to deny those deaths the label.

  31. #31 Samantha Vimes
    February 1, 2008

    It *is* a shocker. Introducing this into Carnivale is a bit like having live surgery at a party. The lucky people will somehow miss seeing it, and everyone else who has any empathy is going to have the fun knocked right out of them and possibly vomit.

    The float makers seem to have consciousness-raising as their goal, but the venue is just wrong for it. You either make people ignore it, or you ruin their party.

  32. #32 daedalus2u
    February 1, 2008

    It isn’t my float, it isn’t my Carnival, it isn’t my party, and I won’t be there or watching it on tv, so it is easy for me to comment on it.

    To my mind, until there is no genocide anywhere, then it is “fair” to bring it up anywhere. If people felt they had to work a little harder at stopping genocide so that floats like this didn’t show up at their parades and parties, maybe that would be a good thing.

    A judge has banned it from the parade.

    http://news.aol.com/story/_a/holocaust-float-banned-by-rio-judge/n20080131150909990030

  33. #33 jerith
    March 5, 2008

    Am I the only one thinking “Bring out your dead!” at this?

    I don’t think it’s a good idea at all, and it certainly doesn’t have Monty Python humour. Still, that was my first reaction.

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