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Controversy over Roger Waters’ fascist display at Berlin concert

Pardon us if we over-explain this, but we have run into younger people who have never heard of any of this before, and we believe in educating people. Roger Waters is one of the co-founders of the British band Pink Floyd—generally called a ‘progressive rock’ band (‘progressive’ here is not a reference to politics but to the style of music). One of their most famous albums was The Wall. It is a concept album (an album where all the songs tell one long story), about a man who gradually builds up an emotional ‘wall’ within himself, descending into madness, bigotry and fascism. However, crucially, the character eventually realizes he was wrong, and sheds those negative attitudes as he tears down the metaphorical wall. And the album has a ton of wild and surrealistic images as it tells its story. For instance, at the climax, he is put on ‘trial’ in his mind by a giant worm. Things get weird.


There is a good chance you have heard at least some of the songs from this album, at least on classic rock radio. It is a pretty great album. For instance, here is a live performance by what appears to be most of the band reunited to sing one of the best and most recognizable songs on the album, Comfortably Numb:

As we said, this song is one part of a longer, album-spanning, story. In the song, an ethically challenged doctor drugs up the main character enough to go on with a concert. During the concert, in the song In the Flesh, the main character takes on a new persona who gets ugly, fast:

Are there any queers in the theater tonight?

Get them up against the wall. (Against the wall!)

There’s one in the spotlight, he don’t look right to me,

Get him up against the wall. (Against the wall!)

That one looks Jewish!

And that one’s a c**n!

Who let all of this riff-raff into the room?

There’s one smoking a joint!

And another with spots!

If I had my way,

I’d have all of you shot!

(Racial slur censored.) The key thing to get in this moment is you’re not supposed to think this is good behavior. You’re supposed to be dismayed that he is going down this road, which sets him up for redemption, later. And during his concerts, which are famously theatrical, he often dons costumes that are deliberately evocative of fascist and nazi imagery, to illustrate his character’s descent into evil as he plays songs depicting that descent.

And suddenly this has become controversial.


Of course, Germany is acting very on-brand about the whole thing:

Police in Germany have launched an investigation of the British musician on suspicion of incitement after he was filmed wearing a long black coat and red armband – featuring crossed hammers instead of swastikas.

This is because Germany makes it a crime to depict Nazism, even to denounce it, and generally has repressive ‘hate speech’ laws. For instance, famously the entire video game series Castle Wolfenstein was banned in Germany. To give one of many examples of stories documenting this ban:

If you are not aware of that series, it is a long-running game series typically centered around a Jewish American soldier named B.J. Blazkowicz who kills like, all the Nazis. He’s there to kill Nazis and chew bubble gum and he never had any gum in the first place. Indeed, you can even kill Hitler in three of the games. Here’s a scene from Wolfenstein 3d where you Hitler in a mech suit:

Wow, it’s like living through history. Clearly, it was necessary to prevent impressionable Germans from seeing this so they wouldn’t suddenly decide to be Nazis. /sarcasm

Returning to Waters, Matt Taibbi has been livid about this controversy:


It is amazing to see a reporter say it is unfortunate that he wasn’t stopped. Even if this was a pro-Nazi rally, Nazis don’t lose their freedom of expression based solely on their beliefs.

And before someone says ‘but if we had hate speech laws in Weimar Germany, maybe we could have stopped the Nazis’ bear in mind there were hate speech laws in Weimar Germany, and they actually helped the Nazis:

From the post:

Far from being an impediment to the spread of National Socialist ideology, Hitler and the Nazis used the attempts to suppress their speech as public relations coups. The party waved the ban like a bloody shirt to claim they were being targeted for exposing the international conspiracy to suppress ‘true’ Germans. …

Considering the Nazi movement’s core ideology, as espoused by Hitler in ‘Mein Kampf,’ rested on an alleged conspiracy between Jews and their sympathizers in government to politically disempower Aryan Germans, it is not surprising that the Nazis were able to spin government censorship into propaganda victories and seeming confirmation of their claims that they were speaking truth to power, and that power was aligned against them.

Indeed, censorship that was employed ineffectively to stop the rise of the Nazis was a boon to the Nazis when it came to consolidating their power. The laws mentioned earlier that allowed Weimar authorities to shut down newspapers, and additional laws intended to limit the spread of Nazi ideology via the radio, had their reins turned over to the Nazi party when Hitler became chancellor. Predictably, the Nazis used these preexisting means of censorship to crush any political speech opposing them, allowing for an absolute grip on the country that would have been much more difficult or impossible with strong legal protections for press and speech….


In other words, Weimar censorship gave the Nazis a useful Streisand Effect when they were out of power, while setting precedents that the Nazis used to suppress dissent when they took over.

Returning to Taibbi, one person responded:

Taibbi responded to this absurdity:

Indeed, by @fwcats1’s logic, we’d have to ban Schindler’s List, because of all the people dressed up as Nazis in that movie (not to mention the best Indiana Jones movies). It’s an unworkable approach.

Taibbi went on:

Waters himself put out an unapologetic message:

Here’s the picture of his statement. Embiggen as necessary:

Sadly, its not clear that anyone got it (but some did):


He’s not a hero and you’re not supposed to think he was.


We think the last ‘of’ is a typo, and she meant to say ‘or.’ We write that as an expert in Typonese.

Freedom of speech doesn’t require one to be tasteful.

Now, one complicating factor is that Rogers is a vehement critic of Israel. We happen to be a vehement supporter of Israel, but we won’t say that a person who criticizes Israel is automatically an antisemite—even if they are deeply, deeply wrong on the subject. At the same time, it is not impossible for a person to hate Israel because it is chock full of Jews. For ourselves we found him saying in a publication called Counter Punch that ‘The Jewish lobby is extraordinary powerful here and particularly in the industry that I work in, the music industry and in rock’n roll as they say’ which smacks of the old trope that ‘joooooos control the media.’ And it is strange that he refuses to do a concert in Israel, but he did at least one in Communist China. We’re fair enough to say we aren’t convinced, but we are also suspicious.

And there might be other evidence out there that would convince us that he is antisemitic that we aren’t aware of. But in all frankness, if he an antisemite, this performance is not evidence of it. In context, the song and performance could not be more clearly condemning fascism, Nazism and antisemitism.


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