The Wokeistas Come for Winnetou and Fail

 

If you have lived in Germany, or even German-speaking Europe, for any length of time in the last 100 years or so, you have probably heard of Karl May. For those of you who have not, a brief introduction is in order.

Karl Friedrich May (1842-1912) was a minor con man, then newspaper editor, then an astonishingly productive author of mostly orientalist and western-themed adventure novels that sold like warme Semmel as we say around here. He is by a good league the most-read author in German (Sorry Goethe and Schiller, love you, but Zahlen lügen nicht) and his most famous creation is without a doubt Apache Chief Winnetou, who appears with his European-frontiersman ally, Old Shatterhand. In four full-length novels, bearing the name Winnetou in the title, and as a supporting character in several short stories and other novels. The cover of one popular edition of the first Winnetou book is shown above.

The novels were filmed in the 1960s. Here’s the trailer for the first one, starring Pierre Brice as Chief Winnetou (Warnung: Deutsch):

 

And Lex Barker plays Old Shatterhand. Yes, the films have a rather high cheese quotient, but they are as fun as most Hollywood westerns of their era. Not cinematic masterpieces, but above average. And with a solid moral framework in their storytelling.

Then, just a few weeks ago, the new kids’ movie Der junge Häuptling Winnetou was released. It was the first new (non-parody) Winnetou film in 54 years, and the public was thrilled with the idea. At least, some of the public. Until it hit theaters.

Some reviews took the film apart as a kitsch-ridden, cliched, badly-acted kids’ film, the likes of which Germany is kind of known for (the Bibi und Tina movies come to mind).  And the box office results showed. Financially, the movie is a disaster, having cost about 5 million Euros and brought in barely a hundred thousand.

You’d think that it would be allowed to sink into obscurity in peace…but, Nein! The Wokies of Deutschland saw the release of the film and the book as an opportunity to attack “kulturelle Aneignung” and “Rassismus” in the Winnetou series as a whole. The publisher, Ravensburg Verlag, which had planned to release new series of children’s books based on the film, withdrew them, stating that their publication had “hurt other people’s feelings.” The broadcaster MDR said it would apply a “racial stereotypes” warning to the films in the future. And from some quarters, particularly the readers’ comments sections of Die Zeit and other papers, there were calls to ban all media with “Sexismus, Rassissmus, White Supremacy,” of which the Winnetou books and movies are just one example. (Link)

Then, a funny thing happened. Politicians on the left and right, from Sigmar Gabriel (SDP)and Claudia Roth (Greens) to Carsten Linnemann (CDU), came to the defense of Winnetou and Old Shatterhand, saying that May’s Apache Chieftain in Sioux attire was “a German hero” (Gabriel), that “the books were staying on her bookshelf” (Roth) and that his voters wanted him to talk about “real problems” (Linnemann), not whether or not one should use the word “Indianer.”

Also, an investigation by T-Online showed that much of the sturm und drang about Winnetou was, well, made up. As in, there were a whopping 17 attacks on the new Winnetou movie online prior to the decision to take the books from the market. Much of the media playing up the attempt to cancel Winnetou was, consequently, responding to what we call a sturm im wasserglas around here. And the German media, by and large, took the side of Karl May’s most famous creation, not of the fashionable form of race-obsessed Maoism that drives modern “woke” sensibilities.

Professor Susanne Schröter of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe University of Frankfurt put it this way: “Turning this into a scandal was absurd. ….To put a fine point on it, all of human history is a history of cultural appropriation,  without which there would have been no progress.”

Ganz genau. Und danke, Frau Dr. Professorin.

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  1. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    Good news!  Vielen Dank.

    • #1
  2. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    A fine post, HvA, very informative!

    • #2
  3. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    I love reading a piece about one subject, and then being pushed into learning something about language.  The “Connections“, as that one British TV series title, hosted by the inimitable James Burke, called them, many years ago. 

    My own language, every time I (did) read a Bill Buckley article.

    French, every time I (do) read a Quote of the Day (Citation de Jour) by my old friend Jean-Jacque Auffret.

    And German, every time I (d0) read a HvA!

    I never learn just ONE word, either. It’s always a few.  For one thing, I can’t stand to learn just the bare definition. I HAVE to know how it fits in to the whole of human history, starting with, ‘where did the word come from and how is it related to similar words today in German and in my language?’

    (As you can guess from the above, I will be really, really interested to read that someone has finally fixed the bug in English, which I am sure I must have reported to the cultural authorities in the 5th Grade, where read and read are spelled the same way.)

    • #3
  4. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Just wait until they let everyone know Hitler was a big fan of Old Shatterhand. (Really. He even considered moving to the US in the early 1920s and moving out west. Shame he did not do that. He might have ended up a pulp SF author like  Norman Spinrad posited in The Iron Dream. The world would have been spared the Holocaust.)  

    • #4
  5. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    Seawriter (View Comment):
    Just wait until they let everyone know Hitler was a big fan of Old Shat

    So was Albert Einstein.

    • #5
  6. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    David Foster (View Comment):

    Seawriter (View Comment):
    Just wait until they let everyone know Hitler was a big fan of Old Shat

    So was Albert Einstein.

    The Wokesters will probably claim that makes it a Jewish conspiracy.

    • #6
  7. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Just wait until they let everyone know Hitler was a big fan of Old Shatterhand. (Really. He even considered moving to the US in the early 1920s and moving out west. Shame he did not do that. He might have ended up a pulp SF author like Norman Spinrad posited in The Iron Dream. The world would have been spared the Holocaust.)

    Hitler was an anti-smoking vegetarian too. 

    Drop that next time a veggie rags on you for lighting up.

    • #7
  8. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Hartmann von Aue: If you have lived in Germany, or even German-speaking Europe for any length of time in the last 100 years or so, you have probably heard of Karl May.

    I learned about Karl May from German tourists in Canada. Sort of. 

    In 1997 Mrs R, youngest son, and I drove around Lake Superior and then visited historical sites near Penetanguishene on the south end of Georgian Bay.  The highlight was a visit to Huronia Museum and Huron Ouendat Village, where we learned about the French Jesuit activities in the 1600s and the conflict between the Iroquois and Huron (Wyandot) Indians that was made deadly by Dutch guns in New Amsterdam being supplied to the Iroquois nations. I was impressed by how knowledgeable the docents were.  

    I mentioned that I didn’t see any other U.S. license plates in the area, which seemed strange because that story should be known by Americans, too. It is part of our Great Lakes history, and can be said to have culminated in the founding of Detroit if you want to take a Detroit-centric view of it all, and before that, the movements of many of the Algonquian nations (including the Sauk, Mesquaki, Potawatomi, Miami, Shawnee and several others) to get out of Michigan and Ohio so the Iroquois could have modern Michigan and Ohio as a private hunting ground.

    But the docent told me they don’t get many American tourists.  They get more German tourists than Americans, and he introduced me to Karl May’s influence in bringing about that state of affairs. That was 25 years ago, but I’ll bet the tourist situation is much the same.

    We did go back, later that same year, on Labor Day weekend.  We camped along the way, and in the morning while using the shower facilities, somebody said that Princess Di had been killed in an auto accident.  I told Mrs R about it and later in the day added, “You know, here in Canada that’s probably going to be a big deal.” 

    • #8
  9. Hartmann von Aue Member
    Hartmann von Aue
    @HartmannvonAue

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Just wait until they let everyone know Hitler was a big fan of Old Shatterhand. (Really. He even considered moving to the US in the early 1920s and moving out west. Shame he did not do that. He might have ended up a pulp SF author like Norman Spinrad posited in The Iron Dream. The world would have been spared the Holocaust.)

    There was a planned film version of Winnetou: The Treasure of Silver Lake (I think, might have been Winnetou I) in 1940-42, but Goebbels killed it because Winnetou was not an Aryan. 

    • #9
  10. Hartmann von Aue Member
    Hartmann von Aue
    @HartmannvonAue

    And- anyone know why I didn’t get an autothumbnail with the video? I put the spaces in correctly, I thought. 

    • #10
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