Indiana Jones punches Nazis. Is that OK?
Oh, sorry, I thought that was a given. Do we actually need to have a conversation about this?
Because it should be an easy question, right? Or at least I thought so. One of the reasons Nazis are such a common enemy in movies, video games and other forms of media is because there is pretty universal agreement that the Nazis were the bad guys in World War II. Even Germany has banned the use of most Nazi iconography (with exceptions for historical relevance), because they admit that, yeah, they got that one wrong.
Yet controversy about this topic has been popping up now. In 2017. More than 70 years after World War II ended.
You can see it in the response to ads for the upcoming video game Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. The Wolfenstein series, which started in 1992 with the Dallas-developed Wolfenstein 3D, stars an American spy (of Polish descent) fighting Nazis during World War II. In a ridiculous twist, the final boss of Wolfenstein 3D was Hitler in a giant robot suit.
This new game, the second in a reboot of the series that takes place in an alternate-universe in which the Nazis won the war and invaded America, has been promoting itself with phrases like "Make America Nazi-Free Again" and Twitter hashtags like #NoMoreNazis.
That prompted criticism on social media that the game's developers were attempting to make their game "political." As if a game series in which you kill thousands of Nazi soldiers during a war had zero political ties before now.
The folks behind the Wolfenstein ads have leaned into it. A tweet from @wolfenstein earlier this month proclaimed "There is only one side." It included a video in which text reads, "If you are a Nazi" is immediately followed by gameplay footage of a Nazi getting punched in the face. The short video ends with the text "GTFO."
Wolfenstein isn't alone. The television show Man in the High Castle centers around the same "what if Nazis won the war?" idea. The upcoming video game Call of Duty: WWII goes back to World War II (surprise!) and will have players killing Nazis in a more historically accurate setting. (To a point, anyway. It's still a video game.)
It would take serious historic revision to make Nazis a group you should cheer for. I may not have been alive during World War II, but I'm still horrified by the Holocaust. American heroes like Indiana Jones, Captain America and Wonder Woman should be as anti-Nazi as possible.
The very first issue of Captain America, published in 1940 (before Pearl Harbor) featured the now-classic image of Cap punching Hitler in the face. The fact that Nazis are bad is ingrained deeply into our culture. It is, as comic writer Gerry Duggan said on Twitter, "As American as apple pie."
Yes, these stories are political. They always have been. They're just political in such a way that most humans with an ounce of empathy can agree with.
Plus, people all over pop culture love punching Nazis.
We can debate whether or not violence against another human being is ever justified, but if there was ever an antagonistic collection of people worthy of being marked as a universal villain, it was probably the Nazis. Using semantics to pretend that Nazis don't exist in modern-day America won't make these particular monsters go away.
What we can do, however, is keep portraying Nazis as what they are: villains. And in movies, TV, video games and comic books, villains often get punched.