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YouTube Hitler parodies go viral

Last updated 09:13 30/09/2008
FUN WITH SUBTITLES: A screengrab of a YouTube clip from the Adolf Hitler biopic Downfall, with parody subtitles.

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Adolf Hitler is the unlikely star of a new viral internet fad on YouTube that has revived interest in a foreign language film about the dictator's final days.

In yet another case of an online parody taking on a life of its own, hundreds of internet jokers are dubbing over a scene from the film Downfall, in which Hitler explodes with anger when told he has lost World War II, with their own subtitles.

Released in 2004, the Oscar-nominated Downfall depicts the final 12 days of Hitler's life in a bunker in Berlin. In the YouTube clips, all of the original audio and video are preserved but the subtitles are changed to create new narratives.

The narratives include Hitler fulminating about being kicked off Xbox Live, football star Cristiano Ronaldo leaving Manchester United to join Real Madrid, Barack Obama giving a speech in Berlin and being forced to see an Adam Sandler movie.

Other Downfall clips include Hitler reacting to having his car stolen, being banned from World of Warcraft, Hillary Clinton's nomination defeat, getting rejected from university and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's disastrous Glasgow byelection results.

Even the infighting in the Labor party in the Australian state of New South Wales was transformed into a Downfall satire, with former premier Morris Iemma and former education minister John Della Bosca both portrayed as Hitler. Iemma's own chief of staff was blamed for the latter clip, which surfaced in June when Della Bosca was being touted as a leadership contender.

Many of the clips have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times; the most popular one, based on Ronaldo's rumoured move, has garnered more than 1 million views.

Iain McDonald, co-founder of digital marketing agency Amnesia, said the number of regular internet users mashing up and manipulating existing content had exploded in recent years thanks to social networks and sites such as YouTube, which made it far easier for people to pass on their creations.

"Many famous memes like Numa Numa and Star Wars Kid appear to be accidental heroes but there is a genuine subculture that exists that appears capable of popularising this type of content around at lightning speed, especially if it is newsworthy or topical," he said.

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Keith Wheatland, 58, a public servant from Hobart, is one of a number of Australians who have seized on the Hitler satire trend.

He has published no fewer than four clips on YouTube showing Hitler raging about the poor state of broadband in Hobart, the Tasmanian pulp mill, Tasmania's bid for an AFL team and even the supermarket duopoly.

Wheatland said the scene from Downfall was perfect for web satire because "it's got everything in it".

"Somebody says something to him and then he seethes up and starts to boil up and starts to rant on from there and then quietens down a bit - I think it's really good," he said.

Wheatland said he believed the internet remixes of Downfall had done wonders for the film's sales.

"I actually went out and bought the film because I've never seen it, and I know of at least another five people who have gone out and bought a copy," he said.

Despite this, the production company that made Downfall, Constantin Film, has approached at least one Hitler satirist asking them to remove their clip due to copyright infringement, The Guardian reported.

McDonald said advertisers were constantly trying to tap into the web mashup phenomena but with limited success so far.

Cadbury's ad showing a gorilla playing the drums was an accidental viral hit last year, while Lenovo's dig at Apple's MacBook Air laptop has been viewed 1.3 million times.

YouTube ad parodies, despite distorting the original message, can often expose products to millions of viewers who might never have otherwise seen the advertisements. Parodies of ads for Nintendo's Wii Fit and Microsoft's Surface computer have been viewed nearly 2.5 million times each.

"It is the user generated content that produces the real gold and it is users themselves who decide what becomes a meme and what doesn't, not advertisers," McDonald said.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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