George Orwell and the ridicule of extremists

Today’s mockery on Twitter of the Creeping Sharia hashtag prompted my friend Andrew Haydon to tweet:

“Love how #CreepingSharia amply demonstrates that there is no Defence more English than taking this piss out of extremists. Of any stripe…”


This in turn reminded me of George Orwell’s wise comments on laughing at fascists:

“One rapid but fairly sure guide to the social atmosphere of a country is the parade-step of its army.

“A military parade is really a kind of ritual dance, something like a ballet, expressing a certain philosophy of life.

“The goose-step, for instance, is one of the most horrible sights in the world, far more terrifying than a dive-bomber.

“It is simply an affirmation of naked power; contained in it, quite consciously and intentionally, is the vision of a boot crashing down on a face.

“Its ugliness is part of its essence, for what it is saying is ‘Yes, I am ugly, and you daren’t laugh at me’, like the bully who makes faces at his victim.

“Why is the goose-step not used in England?

“There are, heaven knows, plenty of army officers who would be only too glad to introduce some such thing.

“It is not used because the people in the street would laugh.

“Beyond a certain point, military display is only possible in countries where the common people dare not laugh at the army.”


Being able to openly ridicule and mock those in power – or seeking power – is perhaps a more important right than many realise.




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6 thoughts on “George Orwell and the ridicule of extremists”

  1. To confirm the truth of Orwell’s comments, one should watch Leni Riefenstahl’s ” Triumph of the Will” her Nazi propaganda film of the 1934 Nuremburg Rally. The marching and goosestepping is beautifully choreographed and this makes the film mesmerising to watch.

    No less instructive is the British response which had UK wartime cinema goers laughing in the stalls at the Nazis. Riefenstahl’s propaganda masterpiece had been cut and edited by an allied film studio and the Nazi marching and speeches from the Nuremburg Rally had been reset to the tune of “The Lambeth Walk”. The film is introduced as a ballet – Nazi style, and it is very funny, even today. Ripping the piss out of tyrants can be a very effective weapon as this film shows. Goebbels was not pleased when he viewed it!

    Both films can be viewed on UTube and are well worth a watch.

  2. I was thinking something similar the other night, watching the North Korean rally on TV – all those soldiers with their giant round hats applauding the Leader, just inviting a round of laughter.

  3. Rot. Orwell’s claim to intimate knowledge of the collective consciousness of the German people and its reasons for adopting the goose-step is one more example of his over-reaching imagination in attributing motives to people which they simply didn’t have. (I recall Dorothy L. Sayers taking him to task for attributing all kinds of psychological disturbances to mystery writers on account of their horrific, blood-soaked passages, not realizing that those purple patches were used purely technically as a simple distraction from clues.) He was a clever man, but far too inclined to sensationalist explanations of other people’s behavior. This goose-step business is just another example.

    The goose-step is not intrinsically horrific, or people would not laugh at it at all, rough hew it in the editing room how you will: no one laughs at funny re-editings of dive-bombers. It is a parade-step, and as such is what it is meant to be: pompous, showy, and exaggerated. Moreover, it is specifically designed to be LOUD ― to bring the flat of the foot down on the pavement with a slap, re-emphasizing the thump-thump-thump of a march-tune. What could be more natural for a musical, melodramatic nation like the Germans?

    When one visualizes Orwell’s celebrated image of a boot coming down on a human face forever, does he, in fact, think of a stiff, extended leg, with toes pointed out, slapping down with the flat of the foot? Does he not rather imagine lifting the foot with the knee bent, coming down hard on the heel, and grinding the face with it? When one imagines a trampling beast, is it more horrifying to envisage a flock of high-stepping geese than, say, a herd of bison or cattle? I have not yet heard that rampaging oxen point the toes in their forward progression.

    One gets a little tired of these wiseacres blithely explaining the psychological nuances of foreign nations. If one cannot trust a man’s judgement in so small a matter as a particular way of walking, why should one trust his judgement as to the best form of government or the economic system that brings the most freedom? Why should I trust Orwell’s opinion on capitalism when I see I can’t trust his opinion even on boots?

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