Dictators, Democracy, and American Public Culture: Envisioning the Totalitarian Enemy, 1920s-1950s

By Benjamin L. Alpers | Go to book overview

4

THE AUDIENCE ITSELF IS
THE DRAMA DICTATORSHIP
AND THE REGIMENTED CROWD,
1936-1941

In May 1937, three years after its special issue on the Italian Fascist state, Fortune printed an extensive assessment of the Nazi regime. In 1934 the magazine had focused on Mussolini—his life, personality, and philosophy. Il Duce, it wrote, had personally forged the fascist state and remained its guiding light. But Hitler appeared in the 1937 analysis only as an object. "There have been reports . . . that Hitler's mind is cracking under the strain," Fortune reported. "But inasmuch as Hitler's supreme value is symbolic, these reports have little relevance to the future of Nazism. Hitler doesn't have to do the work of the ordinary executive; all he has to do is remain alive, a palpable god for the Germans to revere. . . . As a matter of fact, he has never done much actual State work other than sign State papers." The backbone of the Nazi state, the magazine argued with explicit apologies to Hans Fallada, were the Pinnebergs of Germany. The "Little Men" who "felt on the outside of things during the Social Democratic days now have a sense of political participation, and they love it." 1

As in 1934, a huge crowd was the dominant visual image of the 1937 article. The earlier issue featured a photograph of a crowd taken from high above, with a large picture of Il Duce superimposed over it. In 1937 the lead photograph showed columns of SS men arrayed at Nuremberg. Photographed from behind and only slightly above head level, the troops face a speaker who is so distant as to be invisible. The earlier image, like the earlier article, revealed the dictator's great personal control over crowds. In 1937 the crowd remained, but its function had changed. As the caption for the photograph of SS troops stated, "THE AUDIENCE ITSELF IS THE DRAMA." 2

The change in Fortune's view of the European dictatorships—from a product of the mind of the dictator to a great mass regime in which the dictator was of crucial, but symbolic, importance—is but one instance of a marked shift in the understanding of American cultural producers. In Janu

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