Monday, April 16, 2007

Bryan Ferry

One of the reasons why the Nazi regime remains profoundly shocking to this day is the juxtaposition of genocide with high culture. Germany was not the only country in the twentieth century where terrible things happened, but for some reason we expect higher moral standards from the country that produced Beethoven and Goethe.

And we need to reflect on the fact that there were some extraordinarily talented people (including architects and film-makers) who dedicated their art to the Nazi machine. We cannot dismiss these people as artists simply because we are appalled by their political allegiances, any more than we can dismiss Salvador Dali as an artist simply because we may be disgusted by his curious sexual tastes.

But it is necessary to be extremely careful when praising any aspect of Nazi culture. Bryan Ferry was extremely foolish to make some positive remarks about Nazi iconography recently. Although he has since emphasized that he had no intention of praising the Nazi regime itself, it appears his career as a fashion icon will be adversely affected [BBC News, April 16th 2007].

I wouldn't regard Bryan Ferry as an intellectual or political role model, but I don't think he was being anything like as stupid or offensive as Prince Harry, who ill-advisedly wore Nazi costume to a fancy-dress party [BBC News, Sept 15th 2005].

Meanwhile, with superb timing, BBC Radio is featuring a biography of Leni Riefenstahl as the Book of the Week. Read by Kenneth Branagh [BBC Press Office, April 16th 2007]. I expect that the BBC will try to be more careful and precise than Ferry or Harry in framing its Riefenstahl coverage.

Meanwhile, the widespread response to Ferry's remarks may have the effect of dissuading people (apart from professional historians or professional bigots) from saying anything new or interesting about such matters. This is how taboos are created.