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Various observers have pointed out that among the countless memes that have spread on the Internet, one of the most familiar has been Adolf Hitler. He has been featured in online videos and photographic images; he has inspired groan-inducing puns and mindless games. The forms have been diverse, but what links them all is the use of humor. Whether employing irony, parody or satire, Internet representations of Hitler have been linked by the playful tendency to exploit his legacy for laughs.
The Hitler meme first attracted notice in 2006 with the first of what have since become thousands of YouTube video parodies of the German film “Downfall” (2004). Users combined clips of Bruno Ganz’s famous German-language meltdown scenes from the film with new, humorous and often profane subtitles expressing complaints about unrelated topics, whether the foibles of politicians, the music of teen heartthrobs or the late arrival of pizzas.
That same year, the Hitler meme found more bizarre expression with the creation of the website Cats That Look Like Hitler. Created in Europe, the site was devoted to posting user-contributed photographs of felines (called “Kitlers”) that allegedly resembled the Nazi dictator by virtue of the dark markings under their noses.
Soon thereafter, the spin-off site Things That Look Like Hitler was created, featuring photos of random objects (light switches, smoke alarms and belly buttons, among countless other things) that allegedly displayed signs of the Führer’s physiognomy, especially his moustache, parted hairstyle and upright arm.
The playfulness of Things That Look Like Hitler was soon echoed in actual Internet games involving the Nazi dictator, such as “Six Degrees of Hitler,” in which Web users employ Wikipedia to try and land on Hitler’s entry in the fewest possible clicks from an initial, randomly generated entry. In 2012, an actual app for the game became available on Google Play.
The Hitler meme has spread most dramatically, however, in the form of image macros. Composed of photographs with ironic, superimposed texts, image macros have quickly become a staple of Internet visual culture — a classic example being “LOLcats” (photos of cats with grammatically stilted slogans, such as “I Can Has Cheezburger?”). Most Hitler macros are parodies of existing memes. One image pokes fun at LOLcats by portraying a Kitler with the accompanying caption, “I Can Has Poland?” Tens of thousands of other examples can be found on sites like Meme Generator, with many of them aspiring to incongruous absurdity (“Disco Hitler,” “Advice Hitler,” and so forth).