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Downfall, also known as “Hitler Finds Out…” or “Hitler Reacts To…” is a series of parody-subtitled videos based on a pinnacle scene from Der Untergang (2004), a German WWII drama revisiting the last ten days of Adolf Hitler’s life and eventual suicide in his Berlin underground bunker. Due to the film’s international success and Bruno Ganz’ haunting portrayal of the Nazi dictator, numerous segments from the movie soon fell fodder to hilarious parodies on YouTube, spawning hundreds of anachronistically subtitled videos of Hitler getting upset over topical events and trivial gossip.
Der Untergang is a 2004 German war epic film directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel and based on the book “Inside Hitler’s Bunker.” In the climax scene, Hitler (played by Bruno Ganz) hears from his generals that the final counter-offensive against the Soviets never took place and Germany’s defeat is imminent. Hitler then orders everyone to leave except the four highest-rank generals, who oblige and listen nervously to his breakdown:
The earliest known subtitle spoof of Downfall was uploaded by YouTube user DReaperF4 on August 10th, 2006. Titled “Sim Heil: Der untersim” and subbed in Spanish, the video shows Hitler fuming over the lack of new features in the demo trial of Microsoft’s Flight Simulator X, which was released in October 2006.
On August 30th, DReaperF4 uploaded the English sub version of “Sim Heil” after popular request in the comments, making the joke accessible to the rest of Flight Sim fans on YouTube. The original YouTube video was deleted upon copyright claim by the film studio on December 26, 2009, as documented by MIT’s YouTomb project.
There are over thousand estimated derivative videos with subtitles in English, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese and many many other languages, typically discussing topical events and trivial news or gossip.
In April 2009, YouTube channel HitlerRantsParodies was launched to serve as an archival platform and forum for the parody community at large. As of January 2012, the channel remains in active service with over 560 uploads and 29 million views, averaging 29,000 views a day. However, many of the videos on the channel lost their original view counts after a wave of takedowns in April 2011.
In the best parodies -- and “Hillary’s Downfall” is a good one -- Ganz embodies the role assigned him by the parodist by the time his glasses come off. This is the moment in the original film after Hitler has been informed that he cannot win; as he eases up on denial, he’s coming down on fury. In “Hillary’s Downfall,” you can’t believe how quickly the haircut and costume recede and the Hitler factor fades, eclipsed by Ganz’s tough old fork-tongued grandpa performance. Hitler becomes not the author of the Holocaust but a salty dog who, though all is lost, doesn’t stop piercing pretense and speaking in slangy, heartfelt language, expressing the most deeply felt needs of the human id. We may have repressed that speak-for-the-people Hitler, the one he decided to be in “Mein Kampf”; but in the form of these videos, he has returned.
On October 6th, 2009, Telegraph also published an article explaining the meme, as well as a selection of 25 best parodies. That year, the chairman of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Brad Templeton, made his own Downfall parody after taking on a number of illegal DMCA cases against creators of these videos.
On January 15th, 2010, New York Magazine’s entertainment blog Vulture interviewed Hirschbiegel, asking his opinion of how the scene has been used online:
Someone sends me the links every time there’s a new one…
I think I’ve seen about 145 of them! Of course, I have to put the sound down when I watch. Many times the lines are so funny, I laugh out loud, and I’m laughing about the scene that I staged myself! You couldn’t get a better compliment as a director.
Production Company’s Disapproval
Despite the film’s director seeing the remixes in a positive light, the production company did not approve of their footage being used in this manner. On April 19th, 2010, TechCrunch, BoingBoing and LaughingSquid reported that Constantin Films began sending DMCA takedown notices to YouTube. On April 21st, the AP reported that Martin Moszkowicz, head of film and TV at Constantin films in Munich, finds many of the parodies distasteful and trivial in light of the seriousness of the Holocaust and World War II.
Resurgence of Downfall Parodies
Shortly after the beginning of YouTube takedowns, Downfall parodies saw its greatest resurgence in number of uploads, possibly as a result of Streisand Effect. By mid-2010, thousands of such parodies still remained online, including many in which a self-aware Hitler, angry that people keep making or taking down Downfall parodies.
During this extensive period of censorship, many contributors began applying the “mirror effect” on their parody uploads, flipping the original clip before adding subtitles, in order to bypass YouTube’s visual-based copyright detection software. In October 2010, the Downfall Parodies Forum users reported that Constantin Film Studio put an end to its YouTube blockade on Downfall-derived parody videos, even placing advertisements on some of them.
On January 14th, 2012 a Scottish Labour party Member of Parliament named Tom Harris uploaded a Downfall parody to his personal YouTube channel, tomharrismp, criticizing Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond’s stance on the referendum on Scottish Independence up for vote in Parliament.
The video was seen as a direct comparison of Salmond to Hitler, and this negative public response forced Harris to resign from his position on January 16th.
Wrongful Copyright Claim
In response to Constantin’s attempted takedown of these satirical videos, the Institute for Internet Studies offers this helpful public service announcement explaining how to dispute a wrongful copyright claim on the grounds of Fair Use.
Fair use is a doctrine that provides protection for individuals using copyrighted material without receiving permission. The material can only be used in limited ways like commentary or criticism, and Downfall videos, as well as many other memes, can be argued to fit this criteria.
For more information on the YouTube takedown process, visit the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Guide to YouTube Removals. For more on Fair Use in Online Video, check out the Center for Social Media.
Search for the videos started registering on August 2008 and saw it’s first small peak in December of that year, coinciding with the New York Times article. It has peaked several times since and have been on the upswing since late 2011.