Friday, August 7, 2009

Props as shorthand for radical evil

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A page-long obituary in Maclean’s magazine informs readers that the late Walter Paul Sieber, better known to professional wrestling fans as “Waldo von Erich,” owed his fame as the prototypical villain to a decision in the 1960s to adopt a German Nazi persona. 

“[I]t was his German Nazi persona that propelled Waldo von Erich into superstardom. With his monocle, helmet, armband and whip, Waldo incited rage among fans still reeling from the Second World War.” [1]

Pro wrestling back then offered fans a version of the black-and-white morality plays of the Middle Ages, where characters personifying good and evil clash head on. Waldo’s use of such standard “Nazi” props as the monocle and the swastika armband, the Wehrmacht soldier’s helmet and a whip -- like Ilse, She-Wolf of the SS -- was par for the course in terms of the often garish, mass-appeal morality play so inherent in pro wrestling. 

As it happens, the Holocaust “memoir” sometimes fills up the same niche, falls into an identical slot. Consider this rather glammed-up, thumbnail sketch of the SS general, Odilo Globocnik, as he appears -- with all the Satanic majesty of a wrestling villain -- at the gates to the Majdandek concentration camp in the 1980 “memoir” The Survivor by Jack Eisner:

“... I watched the [“beautiful white horse and rider”] gallop closer and closer. In the saddle was a majestic, monocled figure in an SS general's uniform decorated with red velvet lapels, topped by a striped SS cap. A long white cape lined with red satin floated behind him. Several SS officers, using their whips and guns, cleared a path for the ‘emperor.’" [2]

Note the reference to the monocle. Mind you, Globocnik, the SS general, never wore one, but no matter. The radical evil that Nazi villainy embodies is flagged by a number of signifiers, which Waldo duly incorporated in his Nazi persona, among them a monocle. 

The monocle also makes a cameo appearance in Elie Wiesel’s “memoir” Night. Notice I have hedged the term memoir between quotation marks to underscore its uncertain status as such.  

You see: Oprah was still reeling from the realization that she had promoted James Frey’s fraudulent memoir A Million Little Pieces as the real thing, when she fell back on Wiesel’s Night and promoted it, amazingly enough, as the genuine article, as a counter-measure, notwithstanding the fact the cover on thousands of copies of the book had for many years included the words A Novel to denote its fictional status. [3]

Here the monocled Nazi arch-villain is the notorious Auschwitz physician, Dr. Josef Mengele. Wiesel:

“In the middle [of the square] stood the notorious Dr. Mengele (a typical SS officer: a cruel face, but not devoid of intelligence, and wearing a monocle.); a conductor's baton in one hand, he was standing among the other officers. The baton moved unremittingly, sometimes right, sometimes left.” [4]

Ah, yes. The conductor’s baton. Forgot about that! Another in the list of hoary Hollywood props that are shorthand for radical evil. 

One final note about Waldo. His signature move was to knee-drop onto his opponent from off of the top rope and so deliver a crushing, often final, blow. The name he gave this ploy: The Blitzkrieg.

1. Cathy Gulli, Maclean’s magazine, August 06, 2009.

2. Jack Eisener, The Survivor, New York: Wm. Morrow, 1980.

3. Hillel Italie (AP), “Amazon recategorizes Elie Wiesel’s ‘Night’ as a ‘memoir’,” Seattle PI Books, January 18, 2006.

4. Elie Wiesel, Night, Bantam paperback edition.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post,
    I like it,
    One of the more interesting things to collect, however, which would make anyone envious of the celebrity collectibles, are actual props from the films which these actors have appeared in. Owning the different props that one sees in the films can give anyone a sense of wonder when it comes to a memorabilia collection.