In American pop culture tradition – in every movie or TV show you’ll ever see – the villains never come with the standard vanilla Mid-Atlantic English. On the rare occasion that the bad guy is American, he usually either speaks in an ethnic or urban tough guy vernacular or if the story is “politically correct” – meaning that there is something inherently white about the bad guy’s badness – then he’ll speak with a Southern drawl (of the strictly redneck variety).
But the vast majority of the time, the evildoer is a foreigner, with his scary foreign accent. Back when I was growing up in the 1970s and 80s, it was quite common for the bad guys to speak with a Russian accent; though I do recall that one of the Lethal Weapon movies had South African bad guys. And remember Die Hard? Those bad guys, of course, were also foreigners, of the seedy European variety (often with mischievous British accents).
You see, the worst of the worst used to be the Germans. Back before the only threats to the world came from Islam and we had Homeland, 24, and a Fifth Amendment that didn’t apply to certain groups, Germans were the scrooges of the earth and always made for the perfect bad guys (cut to the Nazi faces melting scene in the Raiders of the Lost Ark).
Over the past few weeks, my (almost) three year old and I have been watching Santa Claus is Coming to Town, that 1970 Christmas special that I used to love when I was a kid. Guess who the bad guy was? The Burgermeister Meisterburger. A ruthless autocrat wearing lederhosen, shouting in a German accent, and outlawing toys.
As some of you may recall, the Germans – a white, Christian people from Europe – sought to dominate the world, impose their superior culture, and eliminate the undesirable races through genocide. Seventy years later, we have thankfully accepted that societies evolve and times change, and we no longer equate all things German with a mortal threat to our pristine society. There is no anti-German movement in the U.S. passing laws to protect the public from being contaminated by Germanic culture, values, or beer. Instead we have new accents and skins tones to type cast.
But it is ironic when you think about it: there is so much talk these days about how our imaginary Santa Claus must continue to be white. What’s so good about being white? I am old enough to remember when the real life Hitler and his followers were oh, so milky white.