So if it isn’t Hitler’s skull, does that mean he didn’t die in the bunker?
Hitler’s possible escape, and the theories about his ongoing life in South America, were among the greatest tabloid stories of my youth. It was an exotic and stubborn tale that persisted even in the face of definitive evidence (which now turns out to be less than definitive) about his end.
Boys my age went to bed dreaming of finding Hitler (I swear).
For two generations after the war, we lived in a Hitler-obsessed culture. (The Brits—the skull story first appeared in the UK—are still quite Hitler mad.) For 30 years Hitler was the titillating, cautionary, backdrop to the news. Indeed, if the news ever got boring, a Hitler rumor always gave it a lift.
This is to say that the essence of popular news is something that excites us in vaguely unnatural and prurient ways.
Such stimulation has become, since those quaint postwar days, an even greater driving force. News is not in the event, but in the reaction. Shivers of sudden intensity and fits of extreme (even apocalyptic) emotion define a great story. News is an emotional rather than rational exercise.
Hitler, was, in his way, a balm. We were all united in the horror, outrage, and strangely pleasurable excitement of a hiding and plotting Hitler. (I came to believe it was as likely that he could be living near me in New Jersey.)
Such horror, outrage, and strangely pleasurable excitement is now, necessarily, generated by much smaller personalities and affronts, but I’m not sure it is so different in nature (perhaps why everybody is always accusing everybody else of being Hitler-like).
The inconceivable, for some, fact of an Obama presidency is clearly creating such paroxysms of fantastic, nearly sexual, emotion among a certain retro set. Likewise, Sarah Palin does something to many liberal people that it is hard to quite explain (the pleasure in their antipathy is palpable). And health care, of all things, has turned many people into a quivering mass. And now there’s Glenn Beck and his daily provocations. And Roman Polanski, judging by Newser’s aroused commenters. We depend upon our bogeymen.
Anyway, like the thrilling and fearful notion of Hitler hiding in our backyards, all this Sturm und Drang, this bewildering passion, this personal relationship to remote people and impersonal events, is a form of enjoyment, however guilty and perverse. We love having something to fear and hate, however make believe.
And Hitler, I learn from Newser’s account of the disputed skull, who would be 120 today (hence, no worries), was 56 when he died (or theoretically died). It is shocking to realize that he was just an ordinary middle-aged guy—like me.
More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/NewserColumns.