On February 20, 1939, a crowd estimated at twenty thousand gathered in Madison Square Garden in New York City. They were American citizens of German descent and had gathered to hear the leader of their organization, a naturalized citizen but native of Munich named Fritz Julius Kuhn, supposedly extol the virtues of Americanisation and celebrate George Washington’s birthday. What actually took place was a Nazi rally fit for Nuremberg, complete with swastika flags, signs denouncing Jews, and thousands of stormtroopers with hands raised in Nazi salutes.
The group, known as the German American Bund, was ostensibly founded to show, with war in Europe looming, that those of German heritage were still loyal and patriotic Americans. What it was, in reality, was an American arm of the Nazi party. Kuhn, in full Nazi uniform and to the applause of the brown-shirted rabble, referred to President Washington as “the first fascist” and raged against President “Rosenfeld” and his “Jew Deal.”
Not everyone in attendance was a supporter, however. At one point, a young Jewish man named Isadore Greenbaum managed to get on stage and take a swing at Kuhn but was tackled by jackbooted body guards and severely beaten before police rescued him by arresting him. Outside, a force of 1,500 NYPD members struggled to hold back a crowd of as many as fifty thousand protesters who greatly desired to gain entrance and have a word with the Nazi sympathizers. Police did what they could to protect the Bund members from the crowd but a number of what were described as “pitched battles” broke out, most notably between some stormtroopers and a group of Jewish WWI veterans.
The full horrors of Nazism weren’t known in February of 1939, of course. But enough was known that a whole lot of New Yorkers weren’t particularly interested in hearing about the First Amendment rights of Fritz Kuhn. The events of Friday night and Saturday in Charlottesville, Virginia, seem to indicate that not much has changed on that score: Nazis are still inflammatory and despicable, protesters of Nazis still can’t control their (justified) emotions, there are still hucksters espousing rhetoric that leads to violence just to make a buck (Kuhn would eventually be convicted of embezzlement and tax evasion and have his citizenship revoked), and for the most part law enforcement still recognizes the rights of Americans to peaceably assemble no matter how distasteful their views.
There is one anecdote from the 1939 rally which indicates things have changed in some ways. The journalist Dorothy Thompson, an early foe of Hitler and in fact the first journalist he banned from Germany (in 1934), attended the Bund event. Seated in the press gallery, she loudly laughed at some preposterous claim or another by one of the speakers prior to Kuhn and exclaimed “Bunk!” In an effort to disabuse similar interruptions by others, she was promptly removed by a few of the stormtrooper guards, who walked her outside to let police know she was barred from re-entry. Outside, Thompson prevailed upon her escorts and the officers that, just as she recognized the Constitutional right of the Bund to hold their rally despite her feelings about Mr. Hitler, she had a Constitutional right to heckle. Whether due to the force of her argument or admiration for her moxie is not recorded, but Dorothy Thompson was escorted back to her seat.
I am an unabashed Sharknado fan. The first iteration premiered on the SyFy Channel on 11 July 2013. I heard about it on Twitter, I think. I had only started actually using the platform in April that year, and it was easier to just have fun back then. The idea piqued my interest, and I decided to watch it. Mainly to see if I, too, could ‘live tweet.’ It turns out I can. Only just, but I can.
I absolutely loved Sharknado. Partly because of the freshness of the idea (I mean, OTT doesn’t get close), partly the cameo appearances, and just the speed and silliness of the plot. And the intentionally terrible effects. And the protagonists are likable in the main. And almost everyone is expendable, as you might expect when sharks are flying around eating everybody.
Here’s the thing, though: If it weren’t for Twitter, I would never have watched Sharknado. It is a truly brilliant series of movies made for a wide range of goofballs of all demographics. And as far as I can tell, most of us love it (eff off trolls). But I for one wouldn’t watch if I were isolated. It isn’t that kind of movie. It’s almost like a ritual by now. For the record, I wouldn’t watch “Attack of the Crab Monsters” either.
I haven’t missed a single premiere showing of Sharknado since that first movie lo these many years ago. I have also never watched any of them again. I comment live on Twitter throughout the 2-hour premiere, and then look forward to the following summer for the next one.
This was brought to mind when I started watching an old Bond film on cable tonight. Many people say they’ll never watch Sharknado because it is just too ridiculous, that the makers are just feeding off the stupidity of their audience. Fair enough. Do you recall the scene in “Moonraker” where the young girl is outrunning two Dobermans through a forest while she’s wearing heels and they’re on her scent? Never mind the moon or a cassette tape in a Tiffany Case or supervillains or Soviet nukes. Have you ever outrun a poodle? In heels? In the woods?
I love old movies. Not just the silly ones which knew they were silly and traded on it (if there’s a Bond film I haven’t seen more than once, it’s a newer one). Casablanca may be my favorite film of all time. But ask me when I’m watching another and I might give you a different answer. Most John Wayne movies would compel a different answer in the moment, especially if Maureen O’Hara co-stars. The King’s Speech is also a favorite. I’m not drooling into my grandma’s bowl of Circus Peanuts over here.
Movies like Sharknado have been around since the beginning of the medium. Art evolves and devolves and transmogrifies (thanks, Calvin!). Nowhere is this truer than in film. Police Academy, Scary Movie, Halloween, Airplane, Naked Gun… There is no end to cinema that doesn’t take itself seriously except at the bank. Ever seen “The Mouse That Roared?” Or any other Peter Sellers movie? Hashtag ‘Zee auld blag aboot Clouseau ploy, eh?’
Think back to the horror features of the 1950s and 1960s (and the drive-ins of my youth). “The Blob,” “I Was A Teenage Werewolf,” “The Fly…” OK, I’ll stop there. You get the picture. (SWIDT?)
I watched Star Trek a lot as a kid. A lot. I still do on occasion. I knew the trouble with tribbles before I was six years old. Took a bit longer to discover how to make the noise to make the NCC-1701 doors open, but kids are clever. Suspension of disbelief is second nature to all of us by now. #Woooosh
Sharknado has seen five annual iterations now. As happens with every serial-film venture, it has become increasingly difficult to shock with schlock. The cameos are no longer new or all that surprising. They try to make up for this with more silly romantic drama and ever-increasing world destruction. Looking forward to the Great Sharknado Spot.
The franchise has lost some of its glow in the last couple years, but that’s how these things go. That won’t stop me from making sure I know when next summer’s fishy weather event is imminent. I don’t intend to miss a Sharknado. Ever. Subject to change, of course. I’m not a weatherman. I reserve my right to yada yada yada...
Gotta run. There’s a fat dude running a “laser’ toward my balls and some little Asian cat throwing an edge-brimmed bowler hat-cum boomerang at me.
Be excellent to each other.
Just a gaggle of people from all over who have similar interests and loud opinions mixed with a dose of humor. We met on Twitter.