Reviews of The Man in the High Castle and the Misunderstanding of HistoryCulture Watch
tags: Nazis, Germany, television
Dr. Elizabeth Stice is an Associate Professor of History at Palm Beach Atlantic University.
The Man in the High Castle has just finished its final season on Amazon Prime. Like so many sci-fi shows, it is based on a novel by Philip K. Dick. It presents an alternate universe in which the Axis won the war. America is divided, ruled in the east by the Nazis and the west by the Japanese, with a small neutral zone in between.
The counter-history premise made the series interesting from the start. What would society look like if the Nazis had won the war? How would Americans take to Japanese occupation? The show started with this intriguing premise, but it was driven by plot and character development. It worked its way across alternate universes and even the villains, like Obergruppenführer Smith, evoked ambivalent emotions by the end. Though the show had an uneven quality, much of it was compelling.
With the final season now out, the Amazon reviews are coming in. Like always, these Amazon reviews are interesting and sometimes idiosyncratic. Many fans criticized the last season for understandable reasons like inadequate character development and a lackluster finale. But despite the show’s many flaws, in some cases, the reviews were more disappointing than any of the show’s failures. Some of the one-star reviews reveal something dystopian about our own time: how little people understand the actual history behind the counter-history.
“So far season 4 is filled with SJW politics. Pretty disheartening.”
“9/10 of the show is SJW propaganda, gender reversal. liberal agenda Black Communist Resistance?? No reason for this! Not part of the show SJW propaganda rewriting scripts to fit their narrative. Season 1 and 2 are the only season to watch.”
“There is a point when enough is enough of the SJW poison.”
Many reviewers took issue with the apparent “SJW” agenda of the show. (SJW stands for “Social Justice Warrior.”) Based on multiple reviews, the “SJW poison” was closely related to gender politics, homosexual characters, and racial politics. An especially upsetting part of that alleged agenda for some viewers was the emergence of the Black Communist Resistance in season four.
“After watching the first episode of season 4, I felt it was ok but not has good as previous seasons. Then in the second episode the BCR (Black Communist Resistance) is hiding books and records from the Japanese. In actual history you would think the Bible, which many risked there lives and many lost there lives over. Not here, it was Karl Marx. Enough said I done.”
“If "Communism" is better than Freedom, please go live in China and give it a try…”
“Banality as its cheapest. In reality, Phillip K. Dick unveiled a communist plot to disseminate propaganda through science fiction. With this in mind, the cheap, trendish injection of politically woke narrative into Dick's classic tale has trashed another great sci-fi production in a tragically ironic fashion. Race baiting and affinity for communism has been placed above plot and character development in this seasons franchise killer. Season four begins by executing developed characters who are replaced with generic angry black victim/warrior stereotypes and the baffling trope of communism somehow being an antidote to its fascistic sister ideology. The politically charged race baiting is a disappointed yawn and the stilted political illiteracy have ruined another great series. Only under communism would a film like this be a smart move for Netflix. We are sick of your woke Amazon! Themes relying on current tropes and racial stereotypes are gross and only vapid virtue signalling grist mill operators find them valuable in entertainment media. I do however anxiously await the sequel to Bright, which found a way to present themes of shared social judgement through a commutative lens. Bright was entertaining and unifying and it left me feeling closer to my fellow man. TMitHT season four just left me feeling icky.”
It is very possible to criticize The Man in the High Castle without having ulterior motives or a suspect political agenda. It was never a perfect show and it will not go down in history as such. But some of the venom directed at the show and its alleged “SJW” politics reflects a tragic misunderstanding of the actual relevant history. Some fans may have missed subtext, but quite a few seem to be ignorant about both fascist ideology and the facts of history.
In “actual history,” communists did fights fascists in the Second World War and the US even allied with them. We should not be surprised to see communists in the fight against fascists in a fictional storyline. We should not be surprised to see racial politics and social issues in the storyline. Historically, there was no Nazi Party apart from their racial and social agenda. It was a party founded on racial distinctions, with a vision to dramatically transform their society. The Nazis disliked and persecuted anyone who they did not consider Aryan. They persecuted and killed Jewish people, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and communists, and they wanted to eliminate people with mental or physical ailments. The Nazis pushed women out of the workplace and actively promoted patriarchy. In the 1940s, no one used the terms “woke” or “SJW,” but fighting the Nazis meant fighting on behalf of all of those populations vulnerable to their racist and Social Darwinist ideology.
For example, in his July 28, 1943, fireside chat, President Franklin Roosevelt said: “We will have no truck with Fascism in any way, in any shape or manner. We will permit no vestige of Fascism to remain.” The US did not enter the war simply to protect our own borders. FDR continued: “In every country conquered by the Nazis and the Fascists, or the Japanese militarists, the people have been reduced to the status of slaves or chattels. It is our determination to restore these conquered peoples to the dignity of human beings, masters of their own fate, entitled to freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. We have started to make good on that promise. I am sorry if I step on the toes of those Americans who, playing party politics at home, call that kind of foreign policy ‘crazy altruism’ and ‘starry-eyed dreaming.’”
Some people seem to think that The Man in the High Castle, and opposition to fascism, can exist without a social agenda or at least without an agenda that supports the people that actual fascists opposed. They misunderstand history and fascism. The Man in the High Castle holds up a mirror to its viewers. In this case, it reveals a troubling lack of historical awareness. The show’s alternate universes are not ours to worry about, but in our own universe we can do much more to ensure better historical understanding.
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