Deconstruction

The last two posts have concentrated on the politics surrounding a photo of a Nazi show-trial, now for the background. Towards the end of WWII, a Nazi official was giving a speech at a university and started to harangue the women in the audience for not being good breeders (remember, Nazis). A few of the women in the audience stood up and started to walk out, and the Nazi ordered them arrested. At which point, the men of the audience stood up, and prevented both the women from being arrested and the official from finishing his speech.

Stories of this exchange went around the German university system, eventually inspiring three students to print up leaflets decrying the war, pseudononymously distributing them on various campuses over the course of a year. The students signed their notes “The White Rose Society“, and they were all eventually arrested and executed for their “crime.” The photo is a still from a movie about those events, “Sofie Scholl – The Final Days,” and I stumbled into the story via an article at the paleo-conservative lewrockwell.com.

The last thing I want to say about the photo is (as before) about the use of color. Specifically, how the judge, Ms. Scholl, and the Nazi flag have the same color scheme: red with a white “center”. Conversely, everyone else is in the drab grays and browns of their uniforms. I would hope it goes without saying that Oscar-nominated docudramas do not do such things by accident:

So why color things that way, and what are the psychological effects of it? I think the likely answer to the first question (why) is technical: the most important things to the story are the judge, defendant, and the government writ large, so it’s important to distinguish them from the spectators—in effect making the Nazi, the resister, and regime the foreground, while fading the everyone else into the background.

Which leaves the second question: what effect does this photo have on your brain? I think it can easily push towards the viewer towards drawing some kind of emotive equivalence between the victim and the victimizer. By way of analogy, I can recall feeling less sympathetic towards Luke Skywalker when he faces down Jabba at the beginning of the movie, because he’s wearing all black—a color which only Darth Vader and the Emperor (the bad guys) wear.

In Star Wars, however, it’s safe to assume Lucas intentionally chose to have Luke wear black, just as he intentionally chose to have Luke cut Vader’s hand off. He did so to show how Luke was turning into the same man his father was, making the same mistakes (albeit without the doomed love interest to throw him off balance).

On the other hand, up until Return Lucas could be easily criticized for his simplistic approach to color. Is it safe to assume the director of Sofie Scholl wanted to convey a more nuanced scene, where one cannot judge things based on the colors flown—where even the occasional person wearing Nazi colors was capable of good? Two members of the White Rose Society were soldiers in Hitler’s army, and fought to conquer France and Russia (under orders, obviously), so there may be something to that.

Whatever the directorial desire, it’s an interesting exercise to look for emotional messages that the user of color can convey, whether intentionally or not.

And that’s all I’ve to say about that damned photo.

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