Nazi Kitsch's New Low

To be filed under ‘failed experiments in cultural libertarianism’, consider one Max Mosley, the Fuhrer of grand prix racing in Europe, Reichschancellor of the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile. Mr. Mosley’s career has blown a tire. He enjoys, you see, the harmless pleasures of the S&M dungeon. Or harmless they would be, were they not organized according to a Holocaust theme.

… beyond the licentiousness of the episode, it was the suggestion of Nazi undertones in the role-playing during the session in a basement in London’s fashionable Chelsea district that led to demands for Mr. Mosley’s resignation as president …

Now, every leather S&M suit arguably leans heavily on Nazi undertones. But what’s rankling about this episode is how utterly pathetic and effete and trivial Mosley’s Nazi fetish seems to be:

… two of the women wore black-and-white striped robes in the style of prisoners’ uniforms. The video showed Mr. Mosley counting in German — “Eins! Zwei! Drei! Vier! Funf!” — as he used a leather strap to lash one of the women.

“She needs more of ze punishment!” he cried in German-accented English. One woman appeared to search his hair for lice while another called off items on an inspection list. Mr. Mosley, naked, was bound face-down and lashed more than 20 times.

Good heavens. She needs more of ze punishment? To use the world’s most horrifyingly transgressive episode in human civilization for titillation this meager and ridiculous is to mark a new low in the history of bourgeois decadence. How drei indeed, one wants to say, no funf at all…

Contrast, for example, this feeble attempt at sexual electro-shock therapy with the actually shocking and instantly notorious sequence in Gravity’s Rainbow featuring Nazi-inflected coprophagia (file under ‘how to bitterly divide the Pulitzer committee’).

All the more bewildering in Mosley’s case is his inability to renovate his own personal Nazi history to greater effect:

Mr. Mosley, 67, is the younger son of Britain’s 1930s fascist leader, Sir Oswald Mosley, and the society beauty Diana Mitford, whose secret wedding in Berlin in October 1936 was held at the home of the Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels and included Hitler as a guest of honor.

Then again, Nazi Germany itself managed to accelerate Marx’s doctrine of the Farcical Return to rocket speeds; not hard to do, considering the awkward circumstances of its birth. The Mosley affair is a tawdry reminder of the interrelationship between evil and the banalization of transgression. Martin Amis has just been clobbered silly by an uncharacteristically unhinged Michiko Kakutani for “repeatedly” drawing “a nonsensical analogy between terrorism and boredom,” but surely we can agree upon the unsettling relationship among boredom, soul sickness, and evil. Perhaps no position in that menage a trois is more repugnant than that assumed by Mr. Mosley. The moral failing involved in diluting wickedness down to the idle kick of kitsch turns on choosing to confuse actual evil and harmless entertainment so as to generate a sense of transgression where the guilt reflex has atrophied away. In a world where some varieties of Nazi kitsch can still lay claim to a kind of stupid innocence, this sort of attempt to squeeze a few last drops of poison from one’s own corruption deserves all the cruel laughter we can muster.