Evil Genius: South Park Takes Aim At The 'Ugly German'

Essay: "South Park," the popular and sometimes over-the-top American animated series, has just aired an episode in Germany built around harsh German stereotypes, with allusions to the Nazi era. How does the cliché of the German lack of h

South Park's version of Angela Merkel on stage with the 'Funnybot' (Comedy Central)
South Park's version of Angela Merkel on stage with the "Funnybot" (Comedy Central)
Ulf Poschardt

BERLIN - Germans matter again.

We can credit Germany's economic success, growing national confidence, and an evermore crucial leadership role in Europe. But we must remember that this new role has consequences. Inevitably, the more seriously Germans are taken, the more they become a target of ridicule and derision.

Earlier this year, it was time for the over-the-top-cringe-inducing folk of "South Park" to take on The Germans. In the "Funnybot" episode of an animated series that by now has won virtually every prize for low-blow, but high-standard television entertainment, German characters march into the South Park elementary school to protest against having been given a Comedy Award for being the un-funniest country on earth.

"The Germans' – high-ranking politicians led by the country's President Christian Wulff and Chancellor Angela Merkel – react to the award with a complete and absolute lack of humor. They storm the school armed with guns to force the kids to reverse the vote.

The trembling kids expect the worst. The only one who speaks German is a full-blown anti-Semite who offers Wulff a scapegoat – Kyle, a "juicy Jew." This is the point where the laughter of most Germans -- who viewed the episode for the first time when it aired on Sunday in Germany -- got stuck in their throats.

The way The Germans appear on "South Park" follows an Anglo-Saxon tradition of fascination with a supposed Germanic evil genius that has been associated with the country since at least 1933. The animated Merkel and Wulff characters, as well as current Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, follow in the footsteps of Christoph Waltz, the actor who played SS Colonel Hans Landa in the Quentin Tarantino movie "Inglourious Basterds': they represent a sadistic, amoral fusion of intelligence and formality, utterly devoid of humor.

Waltz got an Oscar for his portrayal of an abysmal character who ends up cooperating with American Nazi hunters. Landa speaks several languages fluently and is possessed of a steely charm that underneath all the cultivation reveals the beast within.

In Bryan Singer's 2008 "Valkyrie", Tom Cruise plays resistance fighter Claus von Stauffenberg in a high-drama heroic way that has nothing to do with the laid-back American heroes of John Wayne, Luke Skywalker or Eddie Murphy. Steven Spielberg's Holocaust movie "Schindler's List" juxtaposes two radically different kinds of human beings: the good and courageous Oskar Schindler (an ethnic German born in what is now the Czech Republic) -- and the abnormal, evil Austrian Amon Göth. All of which is to say that Germanic types are not usually portrayed by Americans as peaceful, relaxed, or positioned on any measured, middle ground.

Monsters with an over-developed intellect

In fact: whether it's in the jarring erotic movies of Russ Meyer, the sarcastic adventures of the Simpsons, or the cynical punch lines of American sitcoms, Germans tend to be presented in terms linked to the most dismal chapter of their country's history. As a general rule, the monsters have over-developed intellects that have somehow disconnected from all that is moral and human.

Ironically perhaps, German firms have long been using this image to their advantage. Volkswagen advertised the new Golf GTI 2006 with spots in which a German engineer destroys the souped-up car of an American teen and utters the words "Unpimp the Auto" in heavily-accented English. The whole world laughed at that and registered that the Germans had learned to laugh at themselves.

The VW advertising followed the same strategy that the Düsseldorf band Kraftwerk discovered as early as the 1970s. After the huge success of their "Autobahn" album in the United States, they toured the country with meticulously cut hair, form-fitting suits and high-tech sound, billing themselves as the "Children of Wernher von Braun and Fritz Lang."

Their über-cool style scared the best-known pop journalist of the day, Lester Bangs, so much that after band members cut off an interview saying they were tired, he expressed relief that they were human enough to at least need sleep.

The steely heart of "Funnybot"

Before the barbaric German politicians leave in the "South-Park" episode, they bring in a robot created by German engineers – who gets laughs. As far as scoring points is concerned, the power of the Germans would appear to be scariest when it emanates from an artificial intelligence.

"Funnybot" appeals so much to the American public because it takes the most vulgar Anglo-Saxon humor, condenses it however schematically to its nihilistic essence, and then plays it back. The German engineers have studied the grammar and language of the Americans so precisely that in the end "Funnybot" comes up with better punch lines than American comedians.

The moment that has Americans hanging on every word from the metallic lips of the "Funnybot" is when the German robot reveals what he stands for: genocide. He is an exterminator who aims to wipe out his audience, indeed to stamp out the whole world and all the people in it. It's the ultimate joke, the last and best punch line.

That the canny South Park kids manage to prevent this at the last minute accords entirely with American "Happy Ending" logic – while of course the Germans once again enrich pop culture as Apocalypse virtuosos. There's no getting around the fact that in everyday culture, at least, associations of Germany and death won't die anytime soon.

Read the original article in German

Photo - Comedy Central

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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