Paging Mel Brooks! Madison, Wisconsin’s Halloween Hitler Costume Freak-Out

I don’t understand this story at all. It represents a complete loss of perspective, human, societal and ethical. I do not know how we got to this place, but we need to get out of it, and the faster the better.

On Halloween, a man was seen in Madison, Wisconsin walking down state street dressed as Adolf Hitler. We are told that horrified onlookers called the police. Oh, fine. In a college town, more than one person, who would normally be the village idiot, thinks it is illegal to dress as a historical character. The police department felt it had to issue a statement explaining that wearing the costume did not “rise to the level of a prosecutable crime” and that the faux Nazi leader “engaged in protected freedoms of speech and expression.” The statement, however, also said that the act of such costuming  justified “fear and disgust” and was “troubling.”

Well, after Ethics Breach #1 in the episode, the ignorant fools calling the police, this was Ethics Breach #2. It is not the police department’s job or function to critique Halloween costumes, especially in Halloween. “Fear’??? This was too scary a costume for Halloween? Or does “fear” mean that the alarmists legitimately felt that they would be harmed by…what, looking at the guy? Were they afraid he would invade Poland? As an ethicist, I’m disgusted that the Madison police would validate hysterical feelings of disgust. The guy was wearing a costume on Halloween! It is not the police department’s business to announce how anyone else should feel about it.Then this fiasco gets worse. After the photo’s of the Adolf impressionist circulated on-line, the Madison Children’s Museum confirmed his identity and that the man had been an employee there for 10 years. Then the museum suspended him, and fired him…for wearing a Halloween costume some officious hysterics chose to be grievously offended by.  So far, I can find no indication that he wore the costume to work at the Children’s Museum: now THAT would have been a workplace breach of conduct. Firing him, however, for his choice of Halloween costume away from work is unconscionable and wrong. Ethics Breach #3.

Welcome to Madison, however. The museum’s statement isn’t unethical, just painfully woke and obnoxious: “Regardless of his ongoing employment status, we hope to engage this individual in a restorative justice process that would redress the harm done to the community while allowing him to understand the effects of his actions and accept accountability.” What an impressive array of woke virtue-signaling, while containing no substance at all! “Restorative justice” for a Halloween costume!

And what “harm”?  The purveyors of harm are the complainers, the police and the museum who are injuring an innocent man who was well within legitimate boundaries in his edgy choice of costuming. Did Chaplin do “harm” by mocking Hitler in “The Great Dictator”? Did “The Producers” do harm by presenting multiple Hitler imitators to humorous effect? Hitler’s been dead for more than 80 years—is the theory that it’s “too soon”? The museum says, “It is our understanding that he believed his costume to be mocking Hitler.” Oh, like Chaplin, who did his bit while Hitler was alive and ranting? It’s too bad the victim of this self-righteous mugging didn’t say he was costumed as Chaplin….or maybe the silly child’s eye version of Hitler in “Jo-Jo Rabbit.”

The news articles suggest the costume was anti-Semitic. Absolute nonsense, indeed it’s such nonsense I’m offended by it. I think I’ll call the police. It can be argued that all Halloween costumes seek to mock evil and frightening entities, thus robbing them of their ability to frighten. The assumption that a costume is intended to endorse or honor what it portrays—witches? Monsters? Zombies? Demons?—is false on its face. Like so many other examples of an outrage mob flexing its muscled because it can, this is an exploitation of an innocent individual for attention and as a demonstration of power. It’s a classic violation of Kant’s Categorical Imperative. Ethics Breach #4.

Everything I wrote about the Jeffrey Dahmer costume kerfuffle applies to this, but the Madison Hitler freak-out was much worse. The innocent party was the guy dressed as Hitler, and he really was harmed.


Pointer: Paul Schlecht

28 thoughts on “Paging Mel Brooks! Madison, Wisconsin’s Halloween Hitler Costume Freak-Out

  1. “Welcome to Madison, however.”

    Sheesh! I long for the days when coming up one CommonSENSELESS Council vote shy of renaming Bassett Street to Ho Chi Minh Trail, installing the Plastic Pink Flamingo as our Official City Bird (DISCLOSURE: One of the originals lies within 50 feet/15.24 meters from where I type), an apparently submerged Statue of Liberty in Lake Mendota, and holding Boom Box Parades gave us a reputation for being eccentric…edgy…fun…zany…out there.

    No more; now we actively seek big steaming piles of $#!t to jump into…..from on high…with bare feet!

    It gets worse.

    Jeffrey Dahmer…um…holed up a mere 85 miles/137 kms from my front door…

  2. Would kids dressed up as policeman create fear and harm in the Black community. Would the police feel that is disgusting and troubling.

  3. More recent antics aside, remember when Prince Harry copped a shellacking for wearing a Nazi uniform to a BAD TASTE PARTY!

    Personally I think the kid nailed it – and obviously everyone who whinged about it thought he did too!

    P.S. I have been criticized in the past for using the ‘K word’ to describe children. The world really does need to take a teaspoon of cement powder and harden up!

  4. Unbelievable. Freedom of speech does not include freedom of choice in a Halloween costume? The really ridiculous thing is that there are many, many historical figures who did great harm but few who would be recognizable in costume and mocking behavior: Some might be upset with a Mussolini, an Ivan the Terrible, Mao Tse Tung, etc., etc., but evil as they may have been, they just weren’t funny. At least in retrospect. Hitler is.

    Enough time has passed that I think we can ridicule this man. Doing so does not deny the millions who died at his hands, but reminds us that even the most ridiculous can gain power — if we let them. It is funny for Halloween, and also a lesson of history that should not be forgotten. “If we let them” should be fried into everyone’s brain as the key phrase here: After Germany and all of Europe were gone the US still considered negotiating a peace with this maniac. Ridiculing him is easy. But how can we do the same to the fascist members of the 1930-40 State Department who desperately, desperately wanted a peace they would never ever achieve with Adolph Hitler.

    And using Hitler as an object of ridicule on Halloween is both funny and a grim reminder of what “thought leaders” will let happen if not checked.

  5. My knee-jerk reaction is to agree with you. However, I’ve learned a lot about human fear since I was young, so I’ll play devil’s advocate here.

    Disclaimer: These are not excuses for calling the police or censoring someone’s Halloween costume, only reasons why people might not want other people to wear a Hitler costume beyond the mere ick factor.

    There are a few differences between dressing as Hitler in public versus going out dressed as a vampire or zombie.

    First, Hitler isn’t quite outlandish enough to be reliably taken unseriously. There are (somehow) still humans who admire Hitler, for the same reasons that Hitler got any support in the first place: they’ve latched onto an “answer” to their problems that involves designating a group of people as enemies. (This is a very common human habit. It just so happens that designating ethnic groups as enemies is less fashionable in the United States than it used to be; right now the vogue enemy is the political party.)

    With that in mind, there’s a reasonable fear that someone chooses to dress as Hitler because they admire him rather than because they consider him a monster. If I myself were to see someone dressed as Hitler, I would assume the latter, but for me the cost of being wrong about that assumption is relatively low. Others may not be willing to take that risk. Poe’s Law means that if you want to make it clear you’re not serious, you often need to include incredibly unrealistic details, and even then you won’t appear crazier than some humans out there.

    Second, the jokes and in-character moments for a Hitler costume are a bit too ethnically-specific and (again) a bit too close to what some real people still believe that they would come off as unfunny and uncomfortable, even if the audience knows for a fact that the faux Hitler despises Hitler.

    People prefer to avoid blurring the line between real bigots and people mocking bigots, because Poe’s Law makes it very difficult to tell where a stranger on the street stands on politics. To sarcastically quote racists without hurting people’s feelings requires 1) the implicit trust of the audience (either because they know the quoter personally or because they know what to expect, as with a comedy show), and 2) an ironic setup or ridiculous twist so that it’s actually funny and not just gratuitous.

    Third, there is a reasonable fear that anyone who is willing to dress as Hitler in public despite the two reasons above is deliberately trying to make people feel uncomfortable based on their ethnicity or other factors. That’s not necessarily the case, any more than people dressing as the Spanish Inquisition are trying to make non-Catholics feel uncomfortable, or people dressing as George Washington are trying to make British people feel uncomfortable. Still, it’s enough of a factor that it leads people to make assumptions about the person in the costume, considering how many costume options there are.

    This situation is one of those classic tensions between short-term and long-term approaches to cultural hangups. In the long term, we want Hitler to fade away into a historical boogeyman like Jack the Ripper or Caligula. If we want that to happen, we’ll need to build a world where it’s ridiculous to assume anyone would support Hitler. When we stop people being hurt in the present, people will stop feeling hurt by the past. Until then, the short-term solution is to employ a baseline level of mindfulness and tact when it comes to costumes and jokes.

    Does that all make sense?

    • It does. I would add that the current political trend where Democrats accuse Republicans of being Nazis this was a poor taste in a Halloween costume. Calling the police is unacceptable and uncalled for. The police response should have been, “a guy is dressed as Hitler? . . . What’s he doing? . . . Walking down the street? . . . Call us when he breaks a law. We’re busy trying to keep fentanyl out of them Smarties and Nerds. Bye.”


  6. I bet I could dress as Pol Pot, hand out blue scarves, and tell everyone that the cities are parasites living off the work of labor of the countryside and I’d get many more people agreeing with me than ones who are outraged by my costume. (To be fair, I bet most of them wouldn’t know who I was dressed up as even if I wore a name tag.)

  7. Days were when the veterans would have assaulted that guy. The Jews still might. I’m tempted to say they’d be right. Unless you’re engaging in a reenactment or a dramatic performance, there’s really no reason to dress up as the greatest villain in history. Some people just need their alarms rung by a blow to the head, like the time British far-left, anti-Semitic politician George Galloway was posing for pictures with admirers when Neil Masterson confronted him, called him out for the anti-Semite he is, then hit him in the face and broke his jaw. I’d say Galloway got the message.

    • … Some people just need their alarms rung by a blow to the head, like the time British far-left, anti-Semitic politician George Galloway was posing for pictures with admirers when Neil Masterson confronted him, called him out for the anti-Semite he is, then hit him in the face and broke his jaw. I’d say Galloway got the message.

      You, sir, are the intolerant one here. This is just precisely the sort of “reasoning” that justifies the woke in their own minds about their own position. Galloway is certainly far left by U.S. standards, though not if you use the term in a British context. But he is only “anti-Semitic” by the very same sorts of tests that the woke use to classify anything else than them and theirs as racist; specifically, Galloway has only ever remarked on people using cries of anti-semite as cover to deflect from their own individual behaviour, and on the same thing writ large as cover for the state of Israel and its Zionist and terrorist history. In other words, it is no prejudice to call things as you see them in a provisional way rather than as an unexaminable finality (that way prejudice lies), even if you happen to be wrong, provided only that it is in furtherance of understanding rather than itself as a cover.

      Over and above all that, even if 100% of the charges against Galloway were true, it is signature significance to make out that it would make him worthy of assault to convey a message like that, for the only message there is that the unworthy are less than human – and readers have seen that in the history of anti-semites as well as in the present of the woke.

  8. I’m actually surprised at how seriously everyone’s taking this. My parents, first generation Germans during WWI, were bullied in grade school and called Huns. This was understandable to my grandparents who specifically left Germany because they didn’t want anything to do with the Kaiser’s aggressive tendencies. This grade school unpleasantness was an early lesson to learn but a useful lesson for surviving life. By the time WWII came along, my parents were in their 20s and had to deal with the bad rap of being Nazis by birthright. As I was told, you always have to gauge a person’s opinion of yourself by your opinion of them which usually tells you all you have to know. What in the world happened to self-esteem and self-confidence? This is just much ado about nothing. I do think the man in the Hitler costume should have thought through the situation a bit more realizing there are wackos around every corner and put a sign around his neck that he was going to a “Bad Taste” party. His costume was unquestionably appropriate and all of the complaining people are pathetic and looking for a reason to be a victim.

  9. One of the linked stories says the guy “has a cognitive impairment from a traumatic brain injury”. If that’s true, it makes the museum’s actions even more grotesque. They know their (former) employee is mentally handicapped, possibly such that he couldn’t fully understand the implications of his costume, and they still couldn’t find the spine to resist the mob. Gross.

    • I decided not to mention that detail, because firing the guy was unjust and cowardly whether he was suffering from a closed head injury or not. The article also made it sound like dressing up as Hitler was something only a brain damaged individual would do….just a bit of bias that I didn’t feel like endorsing.

  10. Skokie is apparently too far back in the mists of history. Did I actually see a reply that beating up hitler was a reasonable retort to his poor taste in costume?

    • I didn’t say it was reasonable, I said it might have happened in the past. I also said it might be the right thing to do. In the end I’d probably have to come down against it, however, I don’t want to give everyone a license to beat up those they are angry with. Still, I can’t fathom dressing up as Hitler outside of very limited circumstances.

      • Read in haste on a phone..thanks for the clarification. if he had targeted a jewish neighborhood and said some horrible things, it wqould certainly be more tempting…

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