Monday, January 28, 2013

Fascism: Could It Happen Again?

Though we haven't studied World War 2 yet, my kids are aware of WWII, Hitler, and the Holocaust.  The very idea that the Germans would vote Hitler into power and then stand by as he decimated the Jewish population is difficult to imagine.  The idea that a lead like Hitler could rise to power again is unfathomable.  For awhile now, I've been waiting for the time when I'd show them a movie from my own childhood about this very topic.

Years ago, ABC broadcast a series known as the ABC Afterschool Specials.  One of these specials was The Wave.  The Wave is based on the true story of Ron Jones, a California school teacher who designed a classroom experiment to show his students how easy it is for a totalitarian leader to rise up and create a fascist society.  The experiment, which only lasted a week and a half, spiraled out of control.  Later, the movie The Wave was produced about the experiment.  I remember it having a profound impact on me; I remember the movie thirty years later even though I only saw it once.

Unfortunately, the quality of available copies is rather poor...difficult to watch poor.  I discovered that there is a modern German remake of the movie, Die Welle,  and decided to try that one.  It was also well-done, though there are a couple of scenes I would have preferred to do without (one in particular) and a much more violent end.  It would probably be rated PG-13.

I've been thinking about the two films since we watched it a couple days ago.  The 1981 version is only 47 minutes long and much gentler.  The point is still made.  The 2011 German version is an hour and 47 minutes long, contains some sexual content*, and ends violently.  The point is well-made in this one as well.  I like the teacher in the German film better.  He leads the class with questions; through these questions, the students come up with the elements of their new Fascist club themselves.  Most of them don't even realize it.  The impact of the society on the members is more pronounced.  The message is bigger, more in your face, than in the original.

We'll continue our little side-study with a viewing of Lesson Plan, a documentary about the original experiment.  It is directed by one of the original students and features interviews from other original students.  We are looking forward to watching it.

There is also a novel of The Wave.  My daughter has expressed interest in reading it as well.

If you've ever wondered how Hitler managed to get the Germans to go along with his plans, check out the movie or book.  If you've ever wondered if it could happen again, definitely check them out and remember that they are based on a true story.

If you don't like spoilers please stop now.  For those who might be considering watching these movies with their children (older children) and are concerned about appropriateness, I'll briefly describe the scenes so you can decide if your children should watch it or wait.


Near the beginning of the movie, kids enter a dance club.  One boy is shown bringing a beer bottle to his crotch and stroking it.  He then spits up beer as if he's ejaculating.  The scene is shocking but only lasts a few seconds.

In another scene a boy sees his mom arrive home drunk with a man in tow.  She's heavily made up and  they grope before heading to the bedroom.  It is obvious that this is a regular occurrence; she is either a prostitute or simply promiscuous.  It is also a very short scene.  Unlike the previous one, I felt this one helped with character development as the boy goes on to become one of the more enthusiastic members of The Wave.

In another scene a married couple gets affectionate as the father's hand squeezes the mother's rear.  This momentary scene also assists in character development of their daughter.

A boy is shot before the shooter turns the gun on himself.  It happens quickly but is fully shown.  It happens on school grounds.  Fortunately, as far as I can tell, this did not happen in the original experiment.

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