"Fascism is theater" as Genet said. As is sadomasochistic sexuality: to be involved in sadomasochism is to take part in a sexual theater, a staging of sexuality - Susan Sontag"I love the women's movement ... especially when I am walking behind it - Rush Limbaugh
In this paper, we explore the linkages between Nazi imagery employed in pornographic movies and a particular skein of the discourse of the American right wing that concerns women and feminism. 1 The connections between the two are not immediately apparent, but are important. When Rush Limbaugh uses the term "feminazi" or when Newt Gingrich uses sexually loaded language to describe the fascination of the right wing with fascism, they are not speaking innocently. They are drawing on a symbolic reservoir that refers back to popular conceptions of Nazism inscribed in sado-masochistic sex, in pornography, and in a popular culture that has become saturated with images from the two. It is thus our intention to draw out these linkages and to discuss the effects of the transposition of the language of Nazism from pornography into the realm of political speech.
Since at least the beginning of the 1990s, right wing commentators and politicians have been using the language of Nazism to attack the left. Some of this undoubtedly originates from
arguments made by earlier writers such as Friedrich Hayek, in The Road to Serfdom which purported to demonstrate an equivalence between Nazism and socialism. This mode of thought identifies Nazism with oppressive state interference and can be seen in places as disparate as the 'humour'of P.J. O'Rourke and the language of the National Rifle Association. But intertwined with this general description of the left as fascistic is a particular discourse which uses Nazi epithets to attack "uppity" women, and in particular feminists. The near complete separation of this language of hate from its source in Nazi Germany can be seen in an anonymous letter received by the columnist Molly Ivins. This letter is worth quoting in full
"Molly Ivins: We have a strong response to leftist, feminazi, elitist media persons such as yourself. You are an enemy of the White race, the White family unit and White America. You will be defeated along with your agenda of social subversion and decay. The People of Cincinnati and of the Nation have rejected your agenda and your clown prince Clinton. We are taking our nation back and we are ready to deal with you and your ilk by any means necessary! WE DESPISE YOU AND YOUR KIND!!!"
The letter was adorned with a sticker of a swastika in black, red and white. The irony that a self-professed neo-Nazi should insult a "leftist" by describing her as a feminazi seems to have escaped the writer. This irony is of crucial significance: it is only possible because of a profound caesura between historical Nazism and the term "feminazi". Through a peculiar reversal of language, latter-day fascists can attack women as Nazis without any hint of self-consciousness.
Our purpose in this paper is to describe how this reversal has taken hold, and how it not only patterns the discourse of the extreme right-wing, but also the language of "mainstream" conservatives. Our argument is that the use of Nazi language to attack feminists does not derive directly from images of Nazis and Nazi state power, but from a sexualisation of the Nazi aesthetic that was largely mediated through pornography.
In both sado-masochistic sex and porn, Nazi symbology and dress has come to serve as a shorthand for relations of domination and submission. When used in a heterosexual context this imagery has reflected an ideological conception of the gender roles of men and women. This paper will analyse the way in which Nazi porn films represent gender roles and fantasies about the power relationships between men and women. It will avoid a simplistic use of psychoanalytic theory that would identify male characters simply as subjects and female characters simply as objects. Instead it will argue both that these films are representations rather than re-presentations of reality, and that the roles played within these films inscribe a complex and multiple dialectic of power relationships that cannot be reduced to the simple subordination of women to men.
It will then go on to examine the way in which these films' use of Nazi imagery to describe sexual power relations has been transposed into popular culture, and, more particularly, into political speech. Films such as Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS introduced a stock character that has proved extraordinarily potent: the blonde, blue-eyed Aryan Nazi bitch who dominates and castrates men. The blonde sex-vixen has become diffused into popular culture. It now serves as the template for an image of the woman as a perverse monster, who has exploded from the enclosed realm of the private sphere, and who uses her sexual power as a means of dominating men in the public world. The political speech of figures on the right displays a deep discomfort with women who exercise power, or who wish to reconfigure the public sphere in any significant way. They use the language of Nazism to attack these women and to depict them as unnatural.
The first main section of this paper lays out a theoretical model that is then used to discuss two representative examples of a genre of porn movies that use the imagery of Nazi Germany and the death camps, Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS, and Love Camp #7. An interlude section discusses the transposition of this imagery into cinematic descriptions of American politics, focussing on a B-Movie, Hitler's Daughter. The second section discusses the use of Nazi imagery in the realm of political speech as properly conceived, looking at Rush Limbaugh's speech and writings, and at Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen's book 1945. The final section offers some tentative conclusions that draw the various strands discussed by the paper together.
SECTION I - GENDER ROLES AND IMAGERY IN NAZI PORN FILMS
In this section, we intend to discuss the way in which gender relations are represented in two porn films that are pervaded with Nazi imagery: Love Camp # 7 and Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS. In order to do this, we use a theoretical framework that borrows both from psychoanalysis and post-modern film analysis without being reducible to either or both. It is important that analysis does not lose sight of the larger relations of institutions of oppression and power and thus lose political significance. Our aim is not merely to look at a homology between power relations in Nazi porn and those in society, but to identify and map a transliteration of the fantasies of desire expressed through Nazi imagery and themes in pornographic film into fantasies and anxieties of power and gender in the public sphere of political discourse.
This paper uses the tools of psychoanalysis to unravel some of the intricacies of gender relations in porn films. However, it does not rely upon or promote a purely psychanalytic model. Although psychoanalysis is useful in decoding the iconography of film, it ultimately leaves us trapped within a repetitive structural unconscious. Sexual relations in the film are seen as re-presenting pre-existing sexual relations in the "real world", conflating the represented with the re-presented and allowing the law of the phallus to reinscribe itself.
In one of the more interesting examples of psychoanalytic film theory, Laura Mulvey uses Lacanian psychoanalysis to explore "where and how the fascination of film is reinforced by pre-existing patterns of fascination already at work within the individual subject and the social formations that have moulded him." In other words, she looks to see how and where film reinscribes Lacan's "law of the phallus" which orders gender formations and relations. Within this taxonomy of gender roles and relations, the male subject's formation as a recognizable complete and unified (and thus powerful/meaningful) self is predicated on the shattered mirror image of the female object. The phallus symbolizes power by signifying a "whole" while the female's lack of a phallus (which she experiences traumatically as a loss) signifies an incomplete being in want of completion (penis envy). The "law of the phallus" thus refers to the ways in which men play the roles of complete subjects, and thus (be)holders of power, and women are depicted as fragmentary objects in perpetual need of completion.
Mulvey argues that "the law" is reinscribed through the structures of voyeurism and scopophilia inherent to film. Defining scopophilia as the "pleasure of looking", Mulvey claims women's appearance in film is encoded to emphasize their "to-be-looked-at-ness". Women as objects thus become spectacles or icons in film. Since the male subject cannot withstand objectification, men in film are thus often re-presented in film as powerful or power itself. The male, preserving his active subject-ness, has a dominating gaze that roams about the woman/en in the film. As the possessor of the controlling gaze, the male in film also bears "the look of the spectator", i.e. the viewer. However, the woman as icon may threaten to evoke castration anxiety. This leaves the male in the film two escape routes; he can either demystify her by "devaluing, punishing, or saving the guilty she-object", or by fetishizing (overvaluing) her, rendering her more reassuring than dangerous or threatening. The former voyeurism functions to re-enact the trauma of her initial recognition that she lacks a phallus, and the latter fetishistic scopophilia functions to disavow castration anxiety. In control of what is seen and how, the gaze of the camera is thus identified as masculine and scopophilic.
This account might serve as a means to explore the symbology of Nazism in porn. However, it suffers from serious theoretical limitations. Psychoanalytic theory's economy of filmic re-presentation, conflates the filmed she-objects and he-subjects with their "real-world" counterparts. This leads to what Linda Williams has called a naive realism that dates back to Balzin's Ontology of the Photographic Image.
The theory that pornography is a form of re-presentation, and is directly complict with the real, is particularly attractive to anti-porn feminists such as Andrea Dworkin and Catherine Mackinnon who argue that the movement of sexual relations onto film is a "transference of reality." The confusion from which this theoretical position stems is natural; pornography, after all, strives to convince the viewer of its realism and of its connection to the real. Therefore, it is easy to see how many confuse its representation with reality. These naive realists effectively have come to argue that viewers of pornography are complicit witnesses to (often) violent acts acted upon real people. However, as Linda Williams has pointed out, film is a representational medium, which represents things outside their usual time and space, and therefore must not be conflated with the actual "flesh" of reality.
Therefore, a purely psychoanalytic critique is insufficient: it confuses the represented with the re-presented. Instead, we propose an analysis that moves beyond a mere exploration of the obvious presence of domination and submission. We look specifically to the theater of power relations in these films to bring into focus the gaps which disrupt the apparent seamlessness of masculine-dominated heterosexuality. This form of analysis broadens the scope of film analysis and offers the means for critical engagement with symbolic representations in ways that help produce/promote action. Our goals are political; we seek to produce a politically (i.e. critically) informed analysis that brings forth the Achilles' heel of right wing attacks on feminists. By illuminating the sources and hidden patternings of right wing rhetoric, without simplistically conflating the real and the represented, we hope to provide the basis of a compelling critique of the representations being studied.
Like Williams, we argue the gaze of cinematic pleasure is more bisexual than masculine- identified. By placing the gaze on a bisexual continuum, we are no longer limited to discussing how the he-gaze controls the she-objects in pornographic film; instead we can begin to look to the ways in which the masculine and feminine, the sadistic and the masochistic interact. Since much of the Nazi imagery used in the films discussed here plays on sado-masochistic themes, it is necessary that we be clear about what S/M involves.
First and foremost, as every defender of S/M emphasizes, the term itself implies a particular consent. As Pat Califia argues, it is an act of theater that involves mutually consenting individuals who engage in polarized role playing to produce intense sexual pleasure, replete with "safe" codes or signals that set personal limits and imply trust. It is important to emphasize that the role-playing of sado-masochism is fantastic; people who engage in S/M acquire the role of either a "top" (sadist) or "bottom" (masochist) and can change roles at will. In contrast, we cannot change our race, socioeconomic status, or biological gender. The theorist should therefore not conflate an individual's S/M role with their being per se. Furthermore, the dynamics of S/M sexual pleasure require that the top and bottom view each other as possessing a degree of power. The top must view the bottom as his or her superior, whom s/he symbolically degrades. Likewise, the bottom must look to the top as his/her momentary superior, but also as one to be trusted, to derive pleasure from the ritual of S/M. The theater of S/M is therefore not a direct transference of real-life power dynamics onto sexual acts, but rather a parody thereof; the ritualized power plays of S/M do not re-enact, nor re-inscribe sexual domination in society, they play on-, off-, and around structures of power. Similarly, porn films that use S/M imagery do not act as instruments of male hegemony in any simple way.
Women as bottoms in S/M pornography can thus no longer be viewed simply as she-objects characterised only by abject terror. Williams argues that the female masochist wields power by turning punishment into pleasure. She seeks pleasure indirectly and parodoxically "by playing the role of helplessness and abandon". She pretends to deny what she has - agency. Female masochism thus involves movement within a bisexual continuum. Her feminine "passivity" is only a ruse she implements for the purposes of sexual recognition and pleasure. The masquerade of passivity upon action and agency produces a complicated play of bisexuality that cannot be reduced to a simplistic symbol of female-ness. Similarly, the sadist cannot by identified solely as a symbol of male-ness. The sadist's control over the masochist is also a ruse employed for the purpose of recognition and pleasure. The sadist is dependent upon the masochist's recognition. The veil of control that conceals this dependency also implies a play of bisexuality. These plays of bisexuality are integral to understanding the films to be discussed in this paper, in which uniforms function to lend figures varying gender and power roles.
It is vitally important to emphasize here the difference between S/M in its practice, and the S/M represented in these films. S/M as a practice does not derive necessarily from heterosexual relations. This line of reasoning would lead us back to the restrictive logic of Lacanian psychoanalytic reasoning. Both same-sex as well as heterosexual couples engage in the fantastic and parodic role-play of S/M. Again, S/M neither re-presents nor necessarily represents heterosexual relations: it plays with and off power roles (one of which may be masculine domination) for the purpose of pleasure. These films however, are very different. By using S/M to describe heterosexual sexual relations, these films assert a unity of S/M and heterosexuality. They therefore attempt to represent an illusory seamless whole of heterosexual relations. Yet heterosexual relations in society are neither totalizing nor complete. Furthermore, as cinema, these films at best can only represent these illusions, and while they try hard to convince us of their realism, their very reliance upon the theatrical tools of S/M reveals gaps both in the economy of power they attempt to re-present and between that which they attempt to re-present and that which is represented.
Thus, we have established that the sexual acts represented on film cannot be conflated with reality. While the blood, gore, and pain accompanying the films discussed here may look real, they are not. Likewise, we have established that the theater of S&M cannot be conflated with real-life power relations and gender formations. This general argument is somewhat more problematic when applied to films that use the imagery of the death camps to reinforce S/M scenarios. The use of Nazi iconography provides an extra-textual reference to the Holocaust in an attempt to make its scenarios of sexual power plays seem more real, and appears to do so via reference to a historical event in which the threat of death was immanent: many of these films even begin in a mock-documentary style . The perverse in these films is not the acts themselves per se, but rather the ways in which a theater of power can negate a theater of pleasure. Nonetheless, it is important to remember that these films are not documentary films, and that the actors were not subjected to an actual threat of death. Though these films try to provide a semblance of the real, in order to titillate their viewers, they are not real or even depictions of reality in any meaningful sense.
Camp Concentration: Nazi Imagery in Porn Movies
Love Camp #7 is an example of what might be described as the "aggression" phase in Nazi-themed porn films. It seeks to titillate the viewer through the repeated humiliation and degradation of women. As such, it seems open to an analysis based on psychoanalytic technique - men are depicted as subjects and women as incapable of subjectness. However, the film's use of S/M dynamics reveals an implicit presumption of female agency. While the men in the film attempt to deny these women their agency, the sexual pleasure they supposedly derive from such domination implies a degree of power for these women.
The film tells the story of two allied female soldiers who engage in a reconnaissance mission as undercover agents in a "Nazi love camp" -- a camp of women held captive for the sexual pleasure of various Nazi officers and soldiers. The film has a framing narrative: the story is purportedly "told" by an English officer who, as it turns out, not only married one of the undercover agents, but also masterminded the mission. The officer begins telling the story when an American visitor casually refers to the war map on the wall, saying, "Boy, I bet you've seen some action in your day". The officer then explains how he sent the women in to retrieve military secrets from an imprisoned Jewish assistant to a recently deceased German rocket scientist. The film's two heroines thus are presented as women who consent to undergo sexual and physical degradation for the sake of the state. Once they successfully retrieve the needed information and destroy the power structure of the camp (with the help of a male SS officer who does not approve of the camp's purpose), the women escape with military secrets that help the Allies towards their eventual victory.
As a pornography film that iterates grossly overgeneralized heterosexual themes of sexual power, Love Camp 7 appears at first to hold to the law of the phallus. Uniforms and costuming are important in the film; they serve as a language in which male dominance and female submission are articulated. The male's state of partial disrobement emphasizes his power and control by circumventing the possibility of his objectification - he remains a solid subject. His phallus is never revealed, thus preserving its ubiquitous symbolic power. In contrast, the women prisoners are presented as interchangeable orifices, all clothed in skimpy drab robes. They do not express any individuality except when they occasionally refuse sex, and then they are tortured and degraded for their pains. Their robe-uniforms serve a dual purpose. First, the robes give the women the appearance of consent. Shots of these bored women waiting for their next bout of sexual duty lends them the appearance of perpetual readiness to serve, of a universalised and unthinking consent. As mere slips that barely cover their bodies, the robes offer "easy access" to modes of demystification and degradation: the men in the film constantly brush the collar of the robes off to the side with hand or baton to expose a breast, usually while making some form of verbal threat or ridiculing the woman. The camera indulges this fantasy of demystification by lingering on their exposedness.
The film indulges degradation fantasies as well, through prolonged scenes of bondage and torture. The camera's gaze thus imitates that of a "top" seeking to engage its "bottom" viewer to identify him or her self with its masculinized "top" role. The film thus attempts to emulate S/M dynamics. The women in the camp appear to be defined entirely by their degradation: they exist only to satisfy the masculine subject's need to define itself in relation to a mangled, (seemingly) passive, and obviously inferior female-object.
Although there are long periods of filmic foreplay, there is very little representation of penetrative sex. Men remove only their shirts and repeatedly grope naked uninterested blanks of women. Although this is supposedly taking place in a Nazi camp, the "sex" scenes are reminiscent of depictions of awkward teenage groping in 1950s junior delinquent films. Sex serves as a minor counterpoint to the major themes of degradation and demystification of the female.
While we are encouraged by the camera to see the women as the Nazis in the film do-namely as objects to be degraded for the purpose of buttressing the male gaze and subject, the mere fact that the Nazis need to be able to see their charges as consenting women implies their power. Here we get at the crux of S/M fantasies: the sadist, or top, cannot derive pleasure without perceiving the masochist, or bottom as a consenting individual. There can be no pleasure without power-for both. It's no fun conquering a blank.
What is perverse in this film is the way in which the prisoners must play the role of a consenting female for survival--the very fact that these women are Jewish prisoners in a Nazi camp provides an extra-textual reference that contradicts the goals of the film. The film aims to offer the viewer a parallel to the filmic Nazi's fantasy of consent. However, the historical fact of Nazi genocide renders it grossly perverse and impossible for us to identify Jewish female prisoners as masochistic pleasure seekers. Thus, the film perverts the goals of S/M by representing a very real historical struggle for survival as a game of sexual power.
If Love Camp # 7 is about aggression, Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS is about transgression and the redefinition of gender roles. It, and films like it, reveal a deep masculine unease about women's penetration of traditionally masculine realms. As the sexually powerful SS commander of a prison camp, Ilsa the ice-maiden sadistically dominates men and women. The film opens with a naked Ilsa on top of a young male Jewish prisoner; driving him to an orgasm which serves as his ticket to castration and death. Ilsa appears driven to sadistically dominate both men and women: she engages in frequent sex with her male prisoners, only to castrate them once they succumb to her sexual prowess. Her spare time is spent developing what she claims will be a "superwoman" able to withstand more pain and torture than any man. Obsessed with proving that women are actually superior to men, Ilsa carefully selects female candidates of defiant character and physical stamina, and subjects them to torture. She focusses her attentions on one particularly brave prisoner who exhibits no apparent fear of Ilsa.
Subjecting her charges to prolonged and bloody acts of sadistic torture, Ilsa inverts traditional notions of masculinity and femininity, wielding her sadistic power as a metaphoric phallus over her subjects. By assuming the role of a sadist, Ilsa takes on the semblance of masculinity, which is communicated through her Nazi uniform. The Nazi militarism and power represented by her uniform cloaks a sexually bursting female body with a masculine exterior. Prolonged shots of Ilsa's plentiful chest threatening to break out of her crisp, white, barely buttoned blouse emphasize Ilsa's veiled feminity, which ultimately makes her vulnerable.
Ilsa's role as a masculinized sadistic "top" is most clearly expressed in her relations to other women. During one of Ilsa's "selections" in which she sizes up her new female prisoners, the camera assumes the vantage point of her icy gaze. Roaming about the bodies of disrobed and exposed women, the camera lingers on their breasts, their muscle lines, and facial expressions. Searching for signs of strength and/or defiance, Ilsa emulates a top in search of a "worthy" bottom.
Once selected, Ilsa's female proteges are subjected to protracted acts of torture. Tearing through the flesh of a female "object", the camera seeks to reveal the secret core of the human body. The goal is demystification and exposure of the body's fleshy secrets, and the knife or razor are the tools. Ilsa's attempt to prove women's superiority is thus an exploration and mapping of the hidden geographies of their bodies. She tests her female prisoners' strength, increasing their torture incrementally as she seeks to force a response. True to S/M film technique, the camera (which often supplants Ilsa's gaze) searches for involuntary response and signs of strain, focusing on the the prisoner's face and body parts as the whip cracks or the voltage is increased. One prisoner appears capable of withstanding extreme pain, only to be eventually cast aside. Unable to provoke any submissive reactions in this woman, her prize subject, Ilsa's torture ultimately kills her Frankenstein's monster-like test case. The attempt to produce a superwoman is revealed as futile, preserving women's role as the inferior sex. The search for women's hidden power leads only to their death.
In contrast to the relatively straightforward gendered S/M roles discussed in Love Camp 7, Ilsa's role as a sadist in relation to the male characters of the film reveals a more complicated oscillation between masculinized and feminized S/M roles. As noted before, Ilsa's uniform plays an important role in lending her an apparent masculine authorial power. Indeed, her uniform complements her position as commander. This masculine exterior provides her the power to demand sex from her male prisoners at will and then punish them for their vulnerability. Once they succumb to orgasm, Ilsa castrates them. As a pseudo-male, Ilsa is able to sadistically drive these men to their ultimate demise, just as she drives her female subjects to theirs. In one moment of ultimate role reversal, Ilsa's masculine exterior allows her to engage in watersports with a visiting General. Like the Nazi officers of Love Camp 7, Ilsa only partially disrobes. Removing her uniform from the waist down only, and thus preserving her semblance of masculinity, she appears to urinate in the General's mouth. The camera focuses on Ilsa's upper half, eliding the act and thus the difficult subject of masculine masochism.
Ilsa finally meets her match in a young American prisoner, with Aryan good looks, who himself has the surname "Wolf". He possesses the ability to continuously please Ilsa without climaxing himself. The quintessential stud, he effortlessly maintains an erection, and never gives in to orgasmic loss of control. Unable to make him come, Ilsa gradually reveals her feminine vulnerability. As she grows increasingly dependent upon his sexual prowess, she becomes increasingly insensible of the happenings about her and gradually loses control of the camp. The stud-hero uses his sexual power over her to plot an insurrection. He drives Ilsa into a sexual delirium, where she is stripped of any semblance of masculine power and is revealed as hopelessly feminine, and then ties her to the bed and escapes. The hero-stud thus returns masculinized and feminized S/M roles to a safe constellation of heterosexuality. The SS General who Ilsa has previously urinated on comes back to the camp and kills her: she is too vulnerable to resist and too dangerous to be allowed to live.
Ilsa articulates the fears of heterosexual men as women move into domains that were traditionally reserved for males. Ilsa wields power over men as if she was a man, and dominates them as if they were women being dominated by a man. However, the mythology of Ilsa is ultimately reassuring. Beneath her icy blonde exterior and her Nazi uniform, she is nothing more than a woman with "natural urges" in need of domination. Her sexuality is her weakness: because her power is predicated on her becoming an artificial man, she is deeply vulnerable to a form of sexual attack which reconstitutes her as a frail and ultimately dependent woman.
As with Love Camp 7, the perversity in Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS lies in the supplantation of sexual pleasure with survival for the prisoner character. The representation in these films of what Andrea Dworkin calls the "concentration camp orgasm" is deeply disturbing. The form this concept takes in both of these films grossly perverts the goals of S/M pleasure seekers. While it is important to distinguish these films as only representations (as opposed to re-presentations) of this disturbing concept, we also cannot ignore the possibility that such identificatory positions exist. However, as Williams has argued, that which seems to trouble feminists most - the specter of a female masochist's "concentration camp orgasm" - remains an impossibility. In other words, there is no true pleasure to be found in the total loss of self to the will of another. Pleasure, power, and agency are inextricably bound; without a modicum of power, there can be no pleasure.
INTERLUDE - HITLER'S DAUGHTERS AND THE DIFFUSION OF NAZI IMAGERY
The previous section has discussed the mechanics of domination and subordination as described in Nazi-themed porn films. This section will discuss the way in which these themes became diffused into popular culture, and gradually assumed political significance. It will do so by examining a B-Movie, Hitler's Daughter that uses symbology derived from Nazi pornography to attack the increasing power of women in American politics.
The film's plot concerns neo-Nazis who intend to install a Fourth Reich in the US under the leadership of a secret daughter of Hitler. The hero finds out about this from a Jewish professor who is then killed: the film concerns his efforts to find out who Hitler's daughter actually is. There are three possible candidates - the Vice-President's wife, a prominent TV anchorwoman who is sleeping with the Vice-President, and a Senator. A number of clues point to the VP's wife, but then she is murdered. The hero then realizes who Hitler's daughter is, and attempts to assassinate her. He fails, and is mowed down by her guards in a hail of gunfire.
This film is clearly a hostile response to the advances made by women in American politics. It starts with a scene from 1945 in which a woman is giving birth, and then cuts to a present day scene in which expensively coiffured women stalk around in power-suits giving orders to men. The contrast between the "traditional" and present day roles of women could not be made more clearly. What is interesting is the way in which the film uses Nazi imagery to characterize women's encroachment on the public realm. Hitler's Daughter, although it was filmed in 1988, clearly anticipates the rhetorical cannon-fire that was trained on Hillary Clinton in the 1992 Presidential campaign and after. As such, it also offers some interesting insights into the ideological substratum on which these attacks were founded.
The main "suspects" in Hitler's daughter are blonde power-hungry bitches, who use a combination of ruthlessness and sex in their efforts to win political power. They are not only identified with Nazism but with Nixon: the scene in which the hero is informed of the Nazi conspiracy in a car-park is a clear quotation of the Deep Throat scene in All the President's Men. The message is clear - women are dangerous.
In contrast, the men in the film, and particularly Vice-President Benedict, who is running for President are weak and ineffectual. Benedict is depicted as incapable of taking a decision of his own, perpetually vacillating between the control of his wife and his mistress, the anchorwoman. The only strong man represented in the movie is the hero, who of course eventually dies in his attempt to stop Hitler's Daughter. As the only man who is not vulnerable to either the sexual blandishments or the threats of Hitler's daughters, he gradually assumes greater and greater symbolic import, till his death scene, which literally depicts him as a Christ figure. In his efforts to stop Hitler's daughter he has stolen a "Just Married" car, with a heart-and-arrow painted on the bonnet. When he fails in his assassination attempt and is mowed down by Hitler's Daughter's guards he is splayed twitching against the bonnet of his car, his arms spread as though he was been crucified. His body obscures most of the heart-and-arrow, only leaving its upper right hand visible, so that it appears to be a partly concealed circle with arrow pointing out of it, the traditional symbol for masculinity. He has quite literally become a martyr for manhood.
Hitler's Daughter uses Nazi imagery to attack women's new role in politics, in a way that implies both that politically active women are unnatural and are mixing sex and action in the public sphere together in unhealthy ways. In this it anticipates in cinematic form the ideologies of Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich which are discussed in the next section.
SECTION III - FASCINATING FEMINAZISM - SEX AND NAZISM IN POLITICAL SPEECH
The previous sections have described the ways in which films have depicted gender relations using Nazi imagery. This section will discuss the transposition of a sexualised Nazi imagery into the realm of political discourse. It is obviously quite impossible to provide a simple, genetic, account of how Nazi language has come to serve as a means of vilifying feminism. Speech and political culture are protean, and it is quite probable that the language of "feminazism" has roots other than the ones explored in this paper. Nonetheless, we argue that the transposition discussed herein has been the primary determinant of this language. The section discusses this transposition through a detailed examination of its influence on two right wing ideologues, Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich. These two figures have had a dominating influence on the development of the American right wing. The "fit" that Rush Limbaugh and his dittoheads see between feminism and feminazism is only explicable in light of broad anxieties about gender that mirror those represented in Nazi porn films. Similarly, the language in which these anxieties are articulated in Newt Gingrich's fiction is in large part borrowed from these films, and uses many of its stock elements. Limbaugh and Gingrich's ideology uses Nazi and S/M themed language to articulate two moments of an economy of desire. The first moment is an ultimate claimed desire for an absolute separation of public from private, and a return to a peaceful, ordered, social world in which women know their place. But, as an ultimate aim, this desire can be perpetually deferred. What Newt Gingrich is interested in is not so much this world, as the ceaseless striving to reinscribe the boundaries between public and private that is necessary to reach it. This is the second moment of the economy. Gingrich's fiction shows how this act of re-inscription has been lent sexual connotations and attractions through the use of S/M imagery. Limbaugh's "feminazi" slur uses the imagery of Nazi porn as a tool of reconstitution, simultaneously demonising and alienating forces that threaten it. Thus, the right wing's attacks on feminism reproduces both the foundations of their world-view and of the public-private split that it is based on.
None of this is to say that the sphere of political speech is directly analogous to that of porn, or that the issues of consent, gender and power have the same significance in the two. Consent, in particular plays a very different role in political discourse. It is not the mutual consent and trust of sexual relations, even in the debased and parodic form that is represented in porn films. The consent that Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich are concerned with is a far more general phenomenon: it is the consent of women to the existence of boundaries between public and private that enforce and articulate an economy of gender constraint. Right wing ideologues use a language that is derived in large part from Nazi porn to reinscribe these boundaries between public and private, and to characterise women who refuse this consent and transgress these boundaries as monsters, as "Ilsas" who need to be isolated from the political. But at the same time, these political speakers have a covert sexual fascination for these transgressors, because they need them - without female opponents to force into submission, politics loses most of its meaning and attraction.
This section will explore these complexes of representation through an examination of Rush Limbaugh's political "philosophy", as revealed in various texts and interviews, and a discussion of the novel 1945 written by Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen. These texts reveal a complex and partly coherent amalgam of ideas about women and feminism which is expressed in language that owes much to Nazi imagery in porn.
Rush Limbaugh's radio shows, books and newsletters made a key contribution to the victories of conservative Republicans in the last US Congressional and Senate elections. He is best described as a populist conservative. While he eschews overt racism, homophobia and misogyny, he has been a direct opponent of organizations and individuals that aim to advance the interests of minorities, gays and women. His description of radical feminists as "feminazis ... feminist(s) to whom the most important thing in life is ensuring that as many abortions as possible occur" is notorious. While he claims that there are fewer than twenty-five feminazis in the US, and that there is a difference between feminists and feminazis, his distinction between the two, is, to put it mildly, fluid. His use of the term "feminazi" reflects an unconscious, ideological model of relations between men and women in the public sphere.
This ideology has its origin in a fear of the sexual power of women, which may originate in Limbaugh's own history as a young adult. Be that as it may, it is clear that Limbaugh harks back in his harangues to an Edenic 1950's middle America which was corrupted by the twin serpents of liberalism and feminism. In the natural order according to Rush, women and men are complementary, but clearly different from each other. This world view is traditional - men are doers and makers, while women "have it in their nature to nurture children." A woman's primary purpose in life is thus to find a husband, who will support her, and will provide the material resources necessary to raise her offspring. Limbaugh claims that a woman will automatically prefer a good provider as a mate to a weedy New Age type who wants her to work while he minds the kids.
Limbaugh argues that most men and women understood these truths until the last few decades, when liberalism and feminism made their appearance in America. He argues that feminism had some powerful arguments at first: men and women were not treated with equal respect. However, feminism was taken over by groups such as NOW, peopled by women "whose views were based on a belief that women no longer needed men ... the roles defined by nature for women and men became clouded in their minds." Feminist ideology was created by ugly women, who didn't stand a chance of getting a man, and who thus argued that women didn't need men any more. They began to lead the feminist movement and hundreds of thousands of unfortunate dupes towards an agenda that promoted abortion and lesbianism, and that was predicated on the irrelevance of men. This led to general social confusion, as men who tried to be chivalrous and give women the special treatment that they deserved were spurned and scorned. The feminist movement is now led by a small elite of feminazis who are intent on destroying normal relations between men and women, and who indeed want to make women into men: in Rush's words,
Actor Michael Caine once said something that is perhaps the most succinct analysis of the primary problem with the feminist movement. Everything they're doing, he said, is oriented toward making themselves more like men. They want to join men's clubs. Now they even want to march into combat. That is why there's so much opposition to militant feminism. Men, as well as the overwhelming majority of women, don't want to blur the distinctions between the sexes
Limbaugh's arguments, as set out above, may seem like an unexceptional, albeit elaborately argued version of conventional conservatism. Indeed, in some senses, it is. However, when unpacked it is revelatory of some interesting, and contradictory implicit assumptions about feminism, which both mirror the anxieties expressed in the films discussed earlier, and are indirectly derived from them.
Limbaugh is both terrified of, and fascinated with, a feminism that, as he sees it, threatens to free women of the need for men, and therefore allows them to become men: beings who are able to both have a public and private existence, and who are not entirely defined by their biological purpose. This fear would appear to stem from a basic fear of women's sexual power. Limbaugh fantasizes about a world in which this power is limited to the private sphere and only employed in ways that reproduce, rather than challenge male hegemony. Thus, in his ideal world, women will consent to their domination, and indeed define their identity within the bounds set by that domination. Women will "naturally" set goals for themselves that propagate the conditions of their subservience.
Limbaugh perceives feminism as an attempt to create an alternative power structure, in which women can define themselves on their own terms rather than in terms of their reliance on men. Feminism is fuelled by ugly women, who have no chance of exercising power of the "normal" feminine kind (influence over men) and by feminazi zealots who wish to do without men altogether. It is notable that Limbaugh perceives feminism, and its chances for victory, entirely in apocalyptic terms. He seems to believe that a feminist victory would not be a reinscription of the private and public spheres according to principles of equity, but would be the victory of female hegemony. Men would not even occupy the subordinate position that women do today: they would have no place or influence whatsoever. Thus Limbaugh's political speech is aimed at reinscribing the conditions of consent among women upon which his social universe is founded.
This need for consent ineluctably leads to Limbaugh's rhetorical desire to isolate women who are liminal between public and private, who claim that the boundaries between the two are a contingent instrument of hegemony, or who argue for a reconstitution of the public sphere. Thus he employs the figure of the feminazi, a totalitarian zealot who wishes to create a new politics based on abortion, lesbianism and hatred of men. Feminazism is of course a distorted and parodic version of feminism, which bears little resemblance to the real thing. Limbaugh gives an extended definition of a feminazi as
any female who is intolerant of any point of view that challenges militant feminism. I often use it to describe women who are obsessed with perpetuating a modern-day holocaust: abortion ... A feminazi is a woman to whom the most important thing in life is seeing to it that as many abortions as possible are performed. Their unspoken reasoning is quite simple. Abortion is the single greatest avenue for militant women to exercise their quest for power and advance their belief that men aren't necessary. They don't need men in order to be happy ... Abortion is the ultimate symbol of women's emancipation from the power and influence of men. With men being precluded from the ultimate decision-making process regarding the future of life in the womb they are reduced to their proper, inferior role. Nothing matters but me, says the feminazi
Feminazis "have adopted abortion as a kind of sacrament for their religion/politics of alienation," and are "an elite corps of abortion-on-demand zealots".
The image of the feminazi owes much to Ilsa and her sisters. The term feminazi is what Lewis Carroll called a "portmanteau word": it quite literally conflates feminism and Nazism together, without any regard to historical reality (National Socialism sought to confine women pretty well entirely to the private sphere). "Feminazism" has no basis in historical images of fascism: it instead draws its power from images of the domineering blonde, blue-eyed Nazi bitch, that were introduced into popular culture through the vector of pornography. This is evidenced by attacks made on Hillary Clinton by Limbaugh and others, which harp on her physical appearance and depict her as an icy, power-obsessed blonde feminazi, who has pretended to have domestic concerns when it was politically expedient, but is in reality defined by an overwhelming lust for power.
The feminazi, like her iconic "mother", Ilsa, is a male fantasy of female power. Limbaugh cannot see feminist politics as anything else than an attempt to destroy a "natural" male hegemony and put a female hegemony in its place. The image of the feminazi provides a parodic figure of the feminist as a destructive figure, who is literally against nature. The feminazi not only does not wish to bear children, she wishes to destroy them. Abortion has become a sacrament. The feminazi wishes to be entirely independent of men, and to deny that women need men to provide for them. As feminazis are monsters, who are seeking to reverse the natural order, Rush argues that they must be isolated and robbed of all their political power.
Thus, Limbaugh sees feminazism as a threat to male hegemony. However, feminazism is not only a threat but a fantasy, and a necessary engine of the right-wing economy of desire. In order to understand the fascination of feminazism, it is necessary to look at the ouevre of Newt Gingrich. Like Limbaugh, Gingrich sees divisions between the sexes as natural (as witness his ludicrous theories about men as hunters and women's vulnerability to diseases if they try to wallow in ditches). However, Gingrich articulates a theme that is only latent in Limbaugh when he uses feminised Nazi imagery as the basis of a sexualized politics of reinscription.
Newt Gingrich's recent fictional book, 1945, co-written with science-fiction author William Forstchen, envisages an alternate history in which the US never got involved in World War II, and the Nazis won in Europe. The book's protagonist, James Mannheim Martel (James "Man-Home Hammer" translated from German and French) is attached to the US Embassy in Berlin, but is disgraced and imprisoned as a result of FBI incompetence. The FBI has failed to finger a highly placed intelligence leak, and tries to blame Martel for it. In fact the leak is the President's Chief of Staff, who is having an affair with a blonde "Swede" (who turns out to be a German spy) called Erica/Erika (the book is inconsistent). Martel is rehabilitated after questioning, and stumbles upon a secret German plot to invade Britain and simultaneously raid the US to prevent it building the nuclear bomb. He is recruited to a secret intelligence agency and is sent to help protect the nuclear facility from the Germans. Thanks to further FBI and federal government incompetency, the Germans are able to raid and destroy the weapon making facility; however, complete disaster is averted by local sheriffs who round up armed private citizens to repel the invaders. The book ends with Martel, the President, an inventor, and various military personnel engaging in a frenzy of techno-geek speculation as they prepare to fight against the Nazis in defence of Britain. A sequel is promised.
1945 is an unextraordinary book in itself. The writing is undistinguished, the characters are cyphers struggling to be stereotypes, and the political messages clumsy and obvious. What makes it interesting is in its sexual imagery, and the way in which this relates to Nazism and power. The book teeters between a "neutral" political/military notion of power, and a notion of power that is articulated in sexual and gendered terms.
The first notion of power is seen in the particularly masculine notion of honour and mutual understanding that 1945 promotes. The world of war is a man's world: "soldiers understand each other and the necessities of war." The book pits Martel against a German SS officer, Skorzeny (who has no great liking for Nazism), in a battle of wits, in which each man has an antagonistic but genuine respect for the other. For these men, power rests on cunning and brute force: their world is a stark world of clear loyalties and male sparring. But this clean fight of man against man is being corrupted and contaminated by a Nazi state which is based on a different sort of power, a power that the authors find sexually attractive.
The second kind of power and power relations is articulated in a language of sexual dominance and subordination, as when Martel contemptuously refers to a male FBI interrogator as the "girlfriend" of his main tormentor, or when Winston Churchill complains that the US President (a Democrat) wants Britain to passively await a German attack, "as pure and pathetic as a virgin about to receive her rapist."
The conflict between these two conceptions of power is symptomatic of a deeper conflict in the book, between a male-constituted public space, and forces which threaten to destroy it, but are somehow terribly attractive. According to the first conception, the public and private realms are separated from each other. Thus men can interact in a public world of clear loyalties that are utterly removed from muddy sexuality and turbulent emotions. Of course, this world's main constitutive principle is that women have no proper place in it; while they may act to support it, they may not act in it. Martel's girlfriend, the "good" girl of the novel, is absent through almost the entire body of book and has no role except to remain loyal to Martel.
This world is threatened in its fundaments by an ideology that sees power and sexuality as intimately linked. This conception is a corrupting one, which threatens to subvert the barriers and fissures on which the first traditional masculine concept of power is based. By identifying power as sexually based, it threatens to unmask male hegemony and the current constitution of the public power for what they are, gendered. But at the same time, it is fiercely attractive to right wing politicians like Gingrich because it offers the possibility of a politics of domination and subordination in which sexual mastery is not automatic, but requires the enforcement of submission and the breaking of female wills.
The sexual attractiveness of this conception to the right comes out most explicitly in two key scenes of the book - the section where the President's chief of staff discovers that his mistress is a Nazi spy, and the opening pages, which describe a Nazi parade.
In the middle of the book, the President's chief of staff finally finds out that his mistress is a Nazi spy, and tries to murder her in order to prevent the scandal from destroying him. He fails miserably, and is knocked unconscious by his mistress's lover and superior officer, who apparently derives a sexual thrill from kicking him. Having failed to destroy her he is destroyed by her - he is broken by failure and becomes her creature and her puppet
Though he did not answer directly, his sobbing became audible. Kindly, she took that for assent. Explicit submission to her will could wait until he had composed himself. She was, after all, rather fond of him, and genuinely looked forward to new "games" in the context of their new relationship
The second passage of critical importance is in the opening scene, where Martel is watching a German military parade. His feelings towards it are overtly sexual
Again, Martel became uneasily aware of how his own blood was set racing by the sense of power and glory that drenched the entire artificial drama. It was like being aroused by a woman one despised. No matter the revulsion, despite the inner certainty that never would one yield; beneath all moral rectitude there lurked a dark, compelling attraction
These passages reveal a conjunction of sex and power that is expressed through Nazi imagery. The section from which the first passage is taken is very clearly influenced by Nazi-themed pornography of the kinds described in the first part of the paper. It uses the stock elements and set themes of this kind of porn - a blonde Nazi dominatrix who wields power through humiliating men - in a way that cannot be innocent or unrelated. The second passage, when examined together with the first, reveals the way in which this conception of power, originally derived from the porn discussed in the first section, has taken on a particular political significance. Gingrich and Forstchen's images of Nazism are ultimately derived from porn rather than history, from Ilsa rather than Goering and Hitler. Nazism, as it is represented in their book, is based on the threat that feminism poses to the ideological ensemble of male hegemony. It has both feminine and feminist overtones - Hitler's Germany is depicted as a country where women have taken over - "Women controlled the money now and spent it as they pleased." It is thus attractive as a female enemy-figure, who must be forced to submit to male power. Gingrich's linkage between Nazism, feminism and S/M is derived from porn. It allows him to recast the battle between feminism and the right wing in sexual terms, which he expresses through a distorted and parodic language of sado-masochism. But this language of sado-masochism also articulates Gingrich's own desires for a politics of genuine mastery, in which the right wing can force feminists into submission and compliance. The "dark compelling attraction" that Martel feels is an attraction towards a politics that is based on sexual relations of domination and subordination in which the dominator gets a kick from the process of domination. One of the "villains" of the book refers to political success as "the power, the knowing, the surge of exaltation," clearly equating politics with orgasm. The reinscription of the boundary between the public and private is recast in terms of sexual violence - the breaking down of feminist resistance gives the politician a sexual kick.
In summation, the texts discussed above reveal two moments of a single economy. The first moment is the final fantasy that both Gingrich and Limbaugh hark to of an ultimately peaceful world in which women are firmly confined to the private sphere, and happily consent to their confinement. However, this fantasy is unsatisfactory in itself, and indeed Gingrich and Limbaugh do not really want it to come about. What really concerns them is the second moment: the reinscription of the boundary between public and private which is needed to bring the absolute separation of public and private into place. This reinscription is sexually desirable in itself: what Gingrich and Limbaugh desire is not the end-result of domination (peaceful patriarchy) but the process of reinscription itself. The enforcing of submission, rather than submission as such is what is exciting. Thus the end-result of patriarchy is endlessly deferred in favour of a sexualised politics of domination that supposedly has this patriarchy as its final aim. Thus, the importance of the feminazi, and of the feminized Nazism of Gingrich and Forstchen's novel. If domination is to provide orgasmic thrills, someone must be forced to submit. Feminazism provides a female enemy-figure, who can be isolated and dominated. Furthermore, the language of feminazism serves to silence voices that speak about the consequences of the public-private split, and that articulate an alternative and egalitarian politics that would destroy the fundaments of Limbaugh and Gingrich's social ideology.
In this paper, we have traced a skein of right wing discourse that attacks feminism to a transposition of imagery from Nazi-themed pornography into the public realm. We have discussed the bricolage of sex, sado-masochism and Nazi imagery that is found in two typical films from the Nazi porn genre, and how this bricolage cements sado-masochism and heterosexual relations together to form a spurious continuum and paper over profound fractures and weaknesses in the construction. This ideological ensemble has been assumed into popular culture, and then into political discourse where it serves as the basis for right wing fantasies of feminism.
Two major conclusions can be drawn from this analysis. The first, and most obvious, is that the right wing's images of feminism have very little to do with the reality of the feminist movement. The right wing's images of feminism discussed in this paper run the somewhat limited gamut between the grotesque and the ludicrous. They are not derived from a principled examination of feminism but from the right wing's own unacknowledged and unanalysed desires and anxieties. Limbaugh and Gingrich's characterisation of feminism is not a description but a distorted reflection of their own fears and hopes. They have used a symbolic language derived from Nazi-themed pornography to create a Manichean and symmetric universe of warring good and evil which achieves its symmetry only through the manner in which the "villains" manifest the most deeply held and deeply denied desires/anxieties of the "heroes" and provide a rationale for their heroism.
This means that the right wing is very vulnerable to critique, at least on the level of discourse. The language that the right wing uses displays a lamentable lack of engagement with the social, and a navel gazing obsession with their own problems and anxieties. Insofar as criticism can point out and highlight the right wing's lack of contact with reality (as well as the foul rag-and-bone-shop of pornography from which their high-sounding rhetoric is derived) it can counter this discourse's purpose of reinscribing a seamless hegemony, and can reveal the fissures, disjunctions and distortions underlying the right-wing's apparent ideological continuum. Of course, criticism of this kind is doomed to be ineffective unless it is accompanied by praxis, but that lies beyond the scope of our argument.
The second point to be drawn is that the ancestral similarity of Limbaugh and Gingrich's rhetoric to its source extends far beyond the iconography employed. In particular, the Nazi themed pornography discussed shares with right wing political rhetoric a incoherent alternation between two fantasies of power. The first is one of absolute submission - Love Camp # 7 and Limbaugh's idealised America in which women are entirely confined to the private sphere and utterly dependent on men. This fantasy erodes its own foundations: it is not only unrealistic, but from the point of view of the dominating male it is boring - there's no challenge in complete and abject submission. Therefore, politicians such as Gingrich are not so much interested in the utopian end result of a complete split between public and private as the act of reinscribing the boundary between them through sexual force. The language of S/M, as transposed from pornography, not only sexualises this re-inscription - it simultaneously creates enemies and isolates them. In its original setting it served as a means of articulating anxieties about powerful women who seemed to behave like men, and of soothing these anxieties through the destruction of these women. This is why Ilsa has to die at the end of Ilsa: She-Wolf of the SS. In political discourse, the iconography of Nazi porn not only serves to articulate anxieties and fantasies, but to support reactionary political action. By casting feminists and powerful women as unnatural it manufactures imaginary feminazis who must be forced to submit, and serves as a rhetorical tool to help enforce their submission by isolating them from mainstream politics. Thus, it serves both to preserve the apparent unity of right-wing ideology by expelling and stereotyping elements incompatible with this ideological bricolage, and to become a means of attacking, segregating and destroying these elements once they have been expelled. A critique that exposes the gap and contradiction between an idealized world of patriarchal peace and the politics of sexual domination that will purportedly bring it into being can serve useful political purposes.
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