Today, as promised, I have this review of the new Rammstein music video “Deutschland” (“Germany”), by Russian reporter Anton Krylov. The headline reads:
Rammstein Offended German Officials With Their View of German History
European officials are not much different from Russian ones in that respect: They are wont to be horrified by certain works of art. And this time it’s all due to the cult music group Rammstein.
The best known, and most popular of all the German rock groups, after a 7-year silence, have put out their new music video for their song “Deutschland”. And people in Germany immediately started criticizing it before they had even seen it! Or rather, after seeing just the short, 30-second trailer for it. The full video itself is 9 minutes long.
When people started blathering about the “instrumentalization” and “trivialization” of the Holocaust, that’s not much different from summarizing the content of Taras Bulba as the description of a Jewish pogrom; or relegating all of Doctor Zhivago to Yury’s stint in Liberius Mikulitsyn’s battalion.
The Rammstein clip begins with a revelation to the Roman legions of around 16 AD. The revelation of “Germany” as a black-skinned goddess, portrayed by Ruby Commey. The “Diva” is dressed in crazy gear, animals skins, a necklace made of lions teeth, waving a sword, and slinging a severed head, as is her wont. The Romans find her terrifying, as would anyone.
The name “Germania” by the way, is what the Romans called this territory, and these people. According to wiki, the origin of the word is uncertain, but was known by Julius Caesar’s time, and may be Gaulish in origin. The Germans themselves don’t call themselves Germans, they call themselves “Deutch”, which is similar to “Dutch” and basically means “people”. Russians call Germans Nemtsy, a probably derogatory term in its origin deriving from the word “nemoi“, or dumb, i.e., people who don’t know how to speak our language (Slavic). Not unlike the Greek word “barbarian”, which means people who can’t speak Greek and just go around muttering “bar-bar-bar-bar…”
It is quite common in human history for many people to simply call themselves “the people”, and to denote other people (who can’t speak their language) as “people who can’t speak the language”. In any case, one thing is certain: It is very unlikely that the Germanic tribes encountered by the Romans, were Africans by ethnicity. But you never know, people did travel around a lot, even in those days.
German History In A Nutshell
Returning to Krylov’s analysis: The Rammstein clip proceeds through several eras of German history. During which Ruby continues to clutch the severed head of Rammstein lead vocalist Till Lindemann. Or sometimes, he clutches hers. Which is only fair.
The clip is so packed with images, and so much symbolism, that every time you watch it, you discover something new. For example, Krylov noticed that the puppies to which “Germania” gave birth, are of the breed Leonbergers, which almost went extinct twice, each time after a World War! And then got resurrected. Symbolism, much? The severed heads: allusions to Salome and John the Baptist? Or the “Death-Head Division of the Nazi SS? Krylov also noticed that in the barroom-brawl scene, one of the brass-knuckle brawlers looks like a young Hitler, and the other like German Communist leader Ernst Thälmann. This isn’t even symbolism any more, just naked history. The fact that these artists can pack in so much imagery in such a short time, is one metric to judge that this clip actually is a work of art on its own merit, even apart from the actual song.
How people react to art, can also be illuminating. The Rammstein boys really gave it to Germany on the chin. Germany, which even today is the political and economic powerhouse of Europe, and yet cannot get a handle on its own history, nor can offer its people a path into a bright future. Ignoring all the great things and great people in Germany’s past, Rammstein just focus in on all the negativity and violence: the Crusades, the Plague, endless rounds of violence, the Nazis, etc.
It is natural that German officials would huff and puff at such unpatriotic content; but also revealing that they zoomed in on what is probably the least offensive moment in the clip: The Holocaust. Since the concentration camp prisoners actually gain the upper hand and hang the guards. Or maybe that is what distressed the German bureaucrats so much? The notion of accountability? That their victims among the ordinary Volk might turn the tables on them some day?
The Magnificent Negress
The most talked-about issue, of course, is not even the Holocaust bit. It’s why Rammstein made the artistic decision to personify Germany as a Negress, when Africans have actually been quite sparse in Germany history. (Up until modern times, of course, what with the mass migrations and all…)
There are several theories about this: Firstly, “political correctness”. Artists in the past have been stung by accusations of racism when they, for example, only depict King Arthur as being white. Therefore, one attempts to “diversify” history after the fact. (Personally, I think this theory is dubious in Rammstein’s case, since they have not shown any particular striving for political correctness, that I can see.)
Second theory: Perhaps Rammstein are hinting at Angela Merkel’s unpopular immigration policies which are leading, inexorably, to a “colored” German population of the future. (Again, dubious…)
Third theory: Rammstein hiding behind a Negress to shield themselves from accusations of being Nazis themselves. WTF, that’s just insane!!!!
Fourth theory: They just picked this girl because she is beautiful and powerful. That sounds more plausible. Artistic license, let’s call it. These guys are great artists, so they are allowed to do whatever they please, that’s how I call it.
Although… I have to admit, that whenever I think of the personification of Germany, my mind’s eye always goes to the pale-skinned Margarete Schön, she of the crazy eyes who portrayed Siegfried’s wife Kriemhilde in the insane Fritz Lang/Thea von Harbou masterpiece, “Kriemhilde’s Revenge”. Now, that white girl could out-crazy Ruby Commey any day of the week!
Closing the Ring
Talk of Siegfried and Kriemhilde and the Bugundians (which was also an episode in the richness of German history, when Germans intermarried with Huns and stuff) leads us back to the theme we started with, namely Germany mythology, and Wagner. And by the way, it would be perfectly conceivable to stage a Ring Cycle with an all-black cast — a black Wotan and a black Brünhilde — and nobody would blink an eye. Because that’s Grand Opera, and it’s completely cosmopolitan and integrated in this modern era. There is one exception, though: I note in the schedule for next season’s Metropolitan Opera line-up, their new production of Porgy and Bess. I love Porgy, it’s my favorite American opera, maybe even the only American opera of any worth, and I can’t wait to see it.
But here’s the thing: There can never be any non-African characters in Porgy, aside from the small speaking roles of the detective, and the policeman. (It is the thankless job of these white men to try to keep law and order on Catfish Row, despite the numerous homicides and egregious gambling taking place there!)
But, people might say, isn’t that reverse racism? Why is it that an African girl like Pretty Yende can portray a French orphan in La Fille, but a white girl can’t sing Bess?
Well, here is the reason, my friends: It’s contractual. It’s because the Gershwin Brothers stipulated that, in any production of their masterpiece, the main cast must be all African-American. It’s a legal requirement, that’s why. The Gershwins were great and genial artists, and true artists are allowed to make up their own rules.
As Rammstein showed us.