Germany and Italy forbid glorifying Nazis or fascism, but disagree over whether these tasteless, kitschy wines qualify as harmful to society.
A bartender pours a glass of Lundarelli Führerwine. (AP)
The Fuhrer is causing a furor. Italian winemaker Vini Lunardelli's breathtakingly tasteless line of Nazi-themed wines has offended again, with two American tourists understandably peeved about discovering some bottles adorned with Adolf Hitler's image in a shop in Veneto province. The Italian-produced wines bear dozens of different labels displaying, with no hint of irony, such names as "Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer!" (a Nazi slogan meaning "One people, one empire, one ruler"), "Der Prosecco Vom Führer," and, simply, "FÜHRERWEIN." Another line bears the images and slogans of Benito Mussolini and his fascist regime.
The American tourists, incensed (one of them noted that her father lived through Auschwitz), protested to Italian authorities and to the local, and then international, media. "We would think of it as neo-Nazism," one told the U.K. Telegraph. "It makes you wonder about the sympathies of the local people." You don't have to be Jewish or the child of a Holocaust survivor to find the wine labels appalling and odious, but it doesn't hurt. Local prosecutors say they've opened a formal inquiry, and a cabinet-level Italian minister issued a statement to "reassure our American friends" and to condemn the wines for "compromising the image of Italy abroad."
Italian officials might be expressing shock, but the Vini Lunardelli wines have been offending for almost two decades, and this is not their first international incident. There's no doubt that Führerwine is offensive, and it's difficult to know the vintner's motivations for sure. But it might reflect less "neo-Nazi sympathies" and more a crass willingness to exploit shock value and Europe's particular sensitivities to the fascist legacy -- not to mention the international media attention that comes with infuriating foreign governments -- to make a few bucks. And it seems to be effective.
Lunardelli launched their "Historical Series" in 1993, printing labels bearing "personages of Italian and world political history." The first Führer vintage was introduced in 1995, becoming "a great marketing success," the winemaker later toldDecanter. In 1997, the German government began lodging official complaints. Germany takes the Nazi legacy very, very seriously: neo-Nazi parties are illegal, Hitler's autobiography Mein Kampf has been officially banned for decades, and the German Parliament almost blocked approval for a relatively straightforward genetic testing law, apparently over the echoes of Nazi eugenics programs. By 2003, Germany's battle against Lunardelli had so escalated that the German justice minister wrote a formal letter to her Italian counterpart asking for Italy consider shutting down the "contemptible and tasteless" wines. The German state of Bavaria, the closest to Italy, opened an investigation as to whether any bottles had crossed the border.
Nothing came of it at first. Then, in early 2007, some German tourists ended up buying some number of the wines while in Italy. It's not clear how their purchases became public, but it re-sparked the old controversy. In September, Italian police finally moved against the wines, confiscating bottles for their "glorification of the perpetrators of crimes against humanity." The public prosecutor, according to Lunardelli, accused the winemakers of being Nazi apologists. Like in Germany, Italian law forbids the glorification of the 1930s fascist regime that helped spark World War Two, which cost tens of millions of lives. But, one month after police had seized the wines, an Italian judge ruled that they were OK to sell; the second time that Lunardelli had been exonerated of promoting fascism.
It's a sign of Germany's sensitivity to anything remotely hinting of Nazi sympathies that the government would not only formally investigate whether a bottle of Führerwein might have entered the country, but publicly request that the Italian government intervene to stop production. It's also an interesting contrast to Italy's own laws, which while similar in intent to Germany's, appear to be laxer in restricting speech, at least when it comes to these wine labels.
I don't have an answer as to whether or not the wines promote Naziism and fascism, but it's worth noting that this doesn't seem to have been Lunardelli's intent. "We would not have produced them unless there was a demand," the winemaker toldDecanter in 2007. "In fact the Hitler labels were not our idea, they were specifically requested by customers in Germany and Austria. ... When they saw the labels with Il Duce and Che Guevara, they suggested a series with Hitler." The company's website proudly boasts the line, not as a victory in Aryan soft power, but as a marketing triumph. "Thanks to this invention, the wine company Alessandro Lunardelli has obtained a lot of attention from the media all over the world both for the originality of the idea and for the quality of the wines." They say that line, which has 50 different labels, now makes up half of their sales.
In any case, some of the labels carry images of Stalin, Marx, and Che Guevara, not savory figures by any means but sworn enemies of Hitler and fascism, suggesting that the line is indeed less about glorifying any singular ideology than about shock value and the free marketing that comes with, for example, stories like this one.
The wines are interesting test case for Europe's decades-old speech restrictions against glorifying the nightmarish regimes of the 1930s and 1940s, meant both to guard against the rise of all-too-real neo-Nazi or neo-fascist parties and to maintain the carefully instituted national histories that hold these ideologies as a horrid mistake. It seems unlikely, as the Italian courts may have concluded in allowing continued Lunardelli production, that slapping Hitler's face on a cabernet label is going to increase popular support for a return of the Third Reich.
Still, Neo-Nazism and the ethnic nationalism behind it remain real, if marginal, forces in Europe. Treating Hitler and his Nazi slogans as kitsch, as fodder for a bit of silly shock value, would seem to risk divesting these images of the horror and shame that two generations of Germans and Italians have ingrained to remind themselves of one of history's greatest crimes. Buying a bottle of Der Prosecco Vom Führer might just be a bit of harmless fun, but maybe, from the German perspective, that's exactly the problem.
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
Thicker ink, fewer smudges, and more strained hands: an Object Lesson
Recently, Bic launched acampaign to “save handwriting.” Named “Fight for Your Write,” it includes a pledge to “encourage the act of handwriting” in the pledge-taker’s home and community, and emphasizes putting more of the company’s ballpoints into classrooms.
As a teacher, I couldn’t help but wonder how anyone could think there’s a shortage. I find ballpoint pens all over the place: on classroom floors, behind desks. Dozens of castaways collect in cups on every teacher’s desk. They’re so ubiquitous that the word “ballpoint” is rarely used; they’re just “pens.” But despite its popularity, the ballpoint pen is relatively new in the history of handwriting, and its influence on popular handwriting is more complicated than the Bic campaign would imply.
The neurologist leaves behind a body of work that reveals a lifetime of asking difficult questions with empathy.
Oliver Sacks always seemed propelled by joyful curiosity. The neurologist’s writing is infused with this quality—equal parts buoyancy and diligence, the exuberant asking of difficult questions.
More specifically, Sacks had a fascination with ways of seeing and hearing and thinking. Which is another way of exploring experiences of living. He focused on modes of perception that are delightful not only because they are subjective, but precisely because they are very often faulty.
To say Sacks had a gift for this method of exploration is an understatement. He was a master at connecting curiosity to observation, and observation to emotion. Sacks died on Sunday after receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis earlier this year. He was 82.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
On the desperation behind the migrant tragedy in Austria
On Thursday, as Krishnadev Calamur has been tracking in The Atlantic’s new Notes section, Austrian authorities made a ghastly discovery: a truck abandoned in the emergency lane of a highway near the Hungarian border, packed with the decomposing bodies of 59 men, eight women, and four children. They are thoughtto be the corpses of migrants who suffocated to death, perhaps two days earlier, in the bowels of a vehicle whose back door was locked shut and refrigeration and ventilation systems weren’t functional. Stray identity documents suggest that at least some of the victims were Syrian—refugees from that country’s brutal civil war. The truck featured an image of a chicken and a slogan from the Slovakian poultry company that the lorry once belonged to: “I taste so good because they feed me so well.”
Protofeather fossils discovered entombed in amber from the Late Cretaceous era support theories of dinosaur and avian evolution
Protofeather fossils discovered entombed in amber from the Late Cretaceous era support theories of dinosaur and avian evolution -- and make for one beautiful gallery
Dinosaur and bird feathers preserved in amber from a Late Cretaceous site in Canada reveal new insights into the structure, function, and color of animals that date back to about 78 million years ago.
Researchers led by University of Alberta paleontologist Ryan McKellar say these specimens represent distinct stages of feather evolution, from early-stage, single filament protofeathers to much more complex structures associated with modern diving birds. After analyzing the preserved pigment cells, the authors add that these feathered creatures may have also had a range of transparent, mottled, and diffused colors, similar to birds today. They can't determine which feathers belonged to birds or dinosaurs yet, but they did observe filament structures that are similar to those seen in other non-avian dinosaur fossils. Their findings appear in the current issue of the journal Science.
A new study pinpoints the Facebook status updates that irk us to the point of no return.
In the 1997 movie Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, the two title characters, worried that they haven’t done anything noteworthy to share at said reunion, decide instead to lie and claim they invented Post-it notes.
Their story quickly unravels, of course, but had the movie been made a decade later, even the very concept of the ruse would have been impossible. Everyone would have known about Romy’s daily slog at the Jaguar dealership through Facebook.
Or would they?
The ebb and flow of Facebook friendships has become fruitful territory for social scientists in recent years. At least 63 percent of people report having unfriended someone on Facebook, but what prompts these digital rejections can tell us a lot about both the nature of real-life friendship and about how we manage our online personalities.
What it's like to look for romance when "a big smile can be frightening"
The way to Paulette's heart is through her Outlook calendar. “Honestly, if you want to be romantic with me, send an email through Outlook and give me all the possible dates, locations, and times, so that I can prepare,” she said.
The former Miss America system contestant and University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music-trained opera singer knew she had a different conception of romance than her previous boyfriends had and, for that matter, everyone else.
“People tend to think of romance as spur of the moment and exciting,” she told me. “I think of romance as things that make sense and are logical.” However, she didn't know why until this year when, at the age of 31, when she was diagnosed with autism.
This is a low-stress way to ease back into the ancient art of blogging. Our leaders, from J.J. Gould to Chris Bodenner, have explained the logic behind this new feature on The Atlantic’s site here. My colleagues, including Ta-Nehisi Coates and Jeffrey Goldberg, have gotten into the swing of things as you will read.
A taxonomy of how we talk about class and wealth in the United States today
Last week, President Obama went on the road promoting an economic agenda for the middle class. As expected, John Boehner and other Republicans fired back by charging Obama with “squeezing the middle class.” It’s not even an election year, yet “middle class” is hotly contested linguistic real estate. But nobody seems to know what this term means.
“Middle class” remains our favored self-designation, although the percentage of Americans who select it fell from 53 percent in 2008 to 49 most recently, according to Pew Research. As a friend’s high-school teacher loved to say, “The great thing about America is that everyone can be middle class.” Good thing she wasn’t teaching math.